In an age of increasing economic and political uncertainty, should we take a more deliberately evolutionary view of policy development? Eric Beinhocker (Executive Director of the Institute for New Economic Thinking, Oxford Martin School, University of Oxford) thinks so. In his introduction to his 'new economics' research programme he argues that traditional approaches to economics, policy and regulation are too mechanistic:
'Rather than thinking of policy as a fixed set of rules or institutions engineered to address a particular set of issues, we should think of policy as an adapting portfolio of experiments that helps shape the evolution of the economy and society over time...
...Policymaking often starts with an engineering perspective – there is a problem and government should fix it. For example, we need to get student mathematics test scores up, we need to reduce traffic congestion, or we need to prevent financial fraud. Policy wonks design some rational solution, it goes through the political meat grinder, whatever emerges is implemented (often poorly), unintended consequences occur, and then – whether it works or not – it gets locked in for a long time. An alternative approach is to create a portfolio of small-scale experiments trying a variety of solutions, see which ones work, scale-up the ones that are working, and eliminate the ones that are not. Such an evolutionary approach recognises the complexity of social-economic systems, the difficulty of predicting what solutions will work in advance and difficulties in real-world implementation. Failures then happen on a small scale and become opportunities to learn rather than hard to reverse policy disasters. It won’t eliminate the distortions of politics. But the current process forces politicians to choose from competing forecasts about what will and won’t work put forward by competing interest groups – since it is hard to judge which forecast is right it is not surprising they simply choose the more powerful interest group. An evolutionary approach at least gives them an option of choosing what has been shown to actually work.'
An interesting view with lots of parallels.