Can Government Play Moneyball?
By David Bornstein
If you scrambled to file your tax return by yesterday’s deadline, you might take comfort in knowing that most Americans — 55 percent in a 2013 Gallup poll — say the amount they pay in income tax is fair (although that figure has been higher in recent years). The number conceals big differences of opinion, of course: while 66 percent of Democrats feel this way, the number drops to 49 percent for Republicans.
If there is one belief about taxes that unifies most people, however, it is the conviction that the government shouldn’t waste the money it collects on things that don’t work. That’s why, as the tax season comes to a close, it’s worth noting the growing use of rigorous evidence in policy making. It represents an expanding area of common ground among lawmakers from different parties, and it may be the best opportunity we have today to cut through partisan gridlock.
During the 2012 presidential campaign, a number of the critiques about government made by Barack Obama and the Republican vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan were strikingly similar. As Daniel Stid, a senior fellow at the Hewlett Foundation, has written, both candidates and their campaigns argued that the government spends too much money on ineffective social programs, needs to shift from top-down programs to greater support for community-based innovation, and should evaluate policies based on results, rather than funding levels.