There is no substitute for testing

Hypothesis are easy to generate for almost any topic. And in a surprising number of cases people are so confident in them they think testing them is pointless.

“The earth is flat, if you sail far enough you will fall of the edge!” Odd, that didn’t happen to the Chinese in 1421 or 100 years later to Ferdinand Magellan’s and his crew.

“If people carry guns there will be blood in the streets!” Nope, not really.

“A ban on ‘assault weapons’ will make people safer!” The data indicates otherwise, “the ban might reduce gunshot victimizations. This effect is likely to be small at best and possibly too small for reliable measurement.”

“The more education about sex and birth control the lower the teen pregnancy rate.” Surprise! Maybe not:

The reigning orthodoxy among public health officials is that the more government spends on sex education the fewer teen pregnancies there will be. Now, however, British researchers have found empirical evidence that appears to demonstrate the exact opposite.

In findings published in the Journal of Health Economics, Nottingham University Business School Professor David Paton and Liam Wright, a research assistant at the University of Sheffield, found budget cuts to sex education classes may have contributed to lower rates of teenage pregnancy in England.

Paton’s study compared changes in the rate of teen pregnancy with the change in the annual funding of teenage pregnancy services for 149 English local authorities between 2008 and 2014.

To their surprise, the researchers found that after sex education budgets were slashed, teen pregnancy rates fell by 42.6 percent.

Of course if you read that closely you should notice the data it is not about “more education” but “more government spending on sex education”.

I’m reminded that for many decades the USSR attempted to increase farm production and failed. While, during the same time period, the US government attempted to decrease farm production and failed.

I am of the opinion all laws intended to modify human behavior should be tested to make sure they achieve the stated benefits with minimal undesired side effects and are an effective use of resources. If they don’t, then the law should be repealed. But, as we know, politicians are more interested in increasing power and virtue signaling than in using government to improve the lives of citizens.

12 thoughts on “There is no substitute for testing

  1. Pingback: There is no substitute for testing | Gunpon

  2. Or require that the legislators make specific predictions about the outcome in terms of effects, costs, etc., and bet a sizable portion of their gross income on those results. Allow members of the public to make predictions on the same things, and put up money on it, too. If a majority of the public betting on the outcomes come closer to the actual outcome, the legislators income bet gets distributed to the public bettors and the legislator cannot run for re-election because they demonstrated they are so incompetent they literally cannot predict a law’s results better than Joe Public.

    Or, at the very least, generate the data to score the law-makers on just how far off they are.

    • If the legislator cannot run for re-election means a lifetime ban from public office and a lifetime ban from receiving remuneration from any government in the United States, I’d be willing to forego the public betting portion of your proposal.

      If, however, the legislator cannot run for re-election means they are only ineligible to be re-elected to that partticular office, I’d offer that your betting proposal is entirely inadequate because it involves only the partial committment of their in-office salary. Engage a very substantial percentage of their entire net worth in the wager and you might have something; I could see a new form of state-run lottery here, assuming there’s opportunity for winning big enough to be interesting.

      I’d also suggest it – whether “it” is lifetime banishment from government employment and remuneration, or even the wager involving a substantial portion of their net worth – be extended to the non-elected bureaucrats who inflict their regulations upon us, although most of them have low enough net worth that it would probably preclude the lottery option for the wagering business unless it included a sizable portion of the funds allocated for operation of the government agency in which they are employed.

    • A better answer would be to enforce the Constitution. A federal government that did so would not be a problem, since it would be about 99% smaller than what we have today.

      • There are state and city governments which are not as constitutionally constrained as the Federal government.

        • True, apart from the 14th Amendment. And the same principles need to be applied to states also. For example, the constitution of California clearly mandates Vermont Carry just like the Vermont constitution did, but unlike Vermont, California has refused to admit that.
          But considering that at this point the Federal government makes up well over half of all the government inflicted on us, reducing it to its lawful size would be a very big help.

          • There is no question that reducing the Feds to their lawful size would be a huge improvement. But the states do have powers beyond that granted to the Federal government or else the Tenth Amendment would lose a lot of its meaning. For example I don’t see where the Federal government was granted the power to prosecute individuals for the crime of murder. But that power surely exists at the state level.

          • Yes, the states clearly have the bulk of the power. It’s subject to their state constitutions, of course, which can be pretty good. It seems they are in practice ignored even more than the Federal Constitution (if such a thing is possible), perhaps because they are not well known among the general public.
            On the other hand, the explicit and clearly stated purpose of the 14th amendment is to have the specific restrictions of the Bill of Rights bind the states, too. Not that this really should be necessary for most of them; with the exception of the 1st amendment, the plain English of the others is not limited to the Federal government. And indeed this has (though only occasionally) been recognized in court. Halbrook references a gun rights case in Texas in the 1830s where the Texas Supreme Court held that the 2nd Amendment applied to the states as well. But in any case, the 14t Amendment was passed specifically to bind the states, and binding them to the 2nd Amendment was an expressly stated aspect of that at the time.

  3. If we had more engineers in government, we’d have a much better understanding of feedback and of unintended consequences.

    I’ve long felt that new laws ought to come with an automatic sunset clause, along with an explicit statement of goals, i.e. “This law is intended to address problem X by doing Y. We will know that this law has done its job, and can safely expire, when we see Z.”

    Of course, this presupposes that the purpose of passing new laws is to solve problems, rather than to accumulate power.

    • I’m not so sure about that. There are a number of well known examples of dictators with engineering degrees.
      Also, the presupposition you mentioned is demonstrably false, and has been forever.

  4. “I am of the opinion all laws intended to modify human behavior should be tested to make sure they achieve the stated benefits with minimal undesired side effects and are an effective use of resources. If they don’t, then the law should be repealed. But, as we know, politicians are more interested in increasing power and virtue signaling than in using government to improve the lives of citizens.”

    Other than Paul Koning’s comment, all of this smacks very much of “Central Planning Obsession”.

    It isn’t the government’s place to “make our lives better” other than by protecting our fundamental rights by retaliating against those who violate them. When it is believed that government’s job is to “Make Our Lives Better” or to “Modify Human Behavior” (Social Engineering) then government becomes the primary violator of rights.

    And so the point is that it doesn’t matter what the outcome of this or that attempted “behavior modification” scheme might be; it’s government over stepping its bounds.

    Of all people, Jesus of Nazareth hit the nail on the head, directly and succinctly;
    “The Kings of the Gentile exercise lordship over them, and those that exercise authority are called benefactors. YE SHALL NOT BE SO…” (emphasis mine).

    In that regard, the uniquely American (but not so unique at all, in the above sense) are totally “Christian”, ‘cause it was His idea.

    In other words; you’re not my fuckin’ benefactor (though you wish to think so) if you’re telling me what I may or may not do, or how much I have to pay you, or what I have to pay for, etc., under pain of some penalty of some kind. You’re just a fucking tyrant or criminal and eventually you’ll need to be dealt with accordingly. Mussolini and his bitch wife got theirs, for example– THAT is the proper treatment of Central Planners..

    • Minor nit to pick first. Mussolini’s wife was 89 years old when she died in 1979. So, maybe you confused her with Mussolini’s mistress, Claretta Petacci.

      At the state and local level there are lots of existing laws that I suspect exceed the free market in terms of functionality and don’t have all that much to do with protecting fundamental rights. Examples include requiring people to report real property sales to the city and county for entry in to property records, traffic laws, requiring people to control pests (weeds, insects, etc) on their property, containment of infectious diseases, eminent domain for roads, fish and game management, pollution of “the commons” (air, rivers, ocean, etc.), the creation and conduct of corporations, etc.

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