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Some New Year resolutions

By Ross Elliott - posted Friday, 30 December 2011


In no particular order, here’s a bunch of ideas for resolutions for 2012. Some are a bit tongue in cheek, some are impossible, but maybe one or two just might be worth trying?

We live in a democracy. Consumer preference should lead public policy, not the other way around.

Market forces and consumer preferences are now not just largely ignored, but too frequently the subject of public policy disdain.  Where consumer preferences don’t align with some ideologically driven position, they become the subject of attempts to ‘re-educate’ the public.  Stalin would be proud of how far we’ve come. Instead, in 2012, let’s have some public policy settings that actually ask the question: “what do the majority of people actually want?”  You can’t - and shouldn’t in a free and democratic society at least – impose unwanted ‘solutions’ onto an unwilling public just because someone in a position of power has deemed it’s good for them.

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The suburbs are fine, thank you.

If you live in a suburb of one of our cities you could be forgiven for thinking you’re the root of all problems from traffic congestion to obesity to rising seas and falling skies.  Anti-suburban intellectual snobbery isn’t anything new but lately perhaps it’s been getting a bit too much air time? So in 2012, let’s hear a bit less from the anti-suburban elites, and perhaps celebrate the fact that our suburbs have proven remarkably successful as places to live, work and play. There’s a lot that’s right about them, they’re popular with the community, and most of our suburbs were delivered before highly deterministic planning schemes were thought of. (How could that be?)

We can handle the truth!

Gathering impartial evidence and examining the facts are increasingly out of favour in public policy, at least it seems that way.  It’s become quite trendy to recite slogans and ‘truisms’ without asking for the evidence of whether they’re true and can be readily substantiated, or whether they’re just some new form of urban myth.  Maybe myth-busting and healthy scepticism should be taught in schools and universities, as opposed to the slavish adoption of public policy fashion. So how about in 2012, evidence and impartial factual analysis makes a comeback?

A bit less dogma?

‘Four legs good, two legs baaad.’ So bayed the sheep at Napoleon the pig’s insistence in George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm.’  Dogma is not a good thing. But much of what passes for public policy is often little more than dogma, designed to push, cajole or direct people toward some outcome that they’re otherwise not fond of. The private car, for example, is not a bad thing, but we are frequently told it is (or at least that’s implied). The detached home is not a bad thing either. The backyard, likewise, is something we can ‘afford’ to have. The truth about dogma of course is that’s often a willing bed partner of hypocrisy. ‘All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others’ was where dogma led to in Animal Farm. In public policy, it means ‘do as I say, not as I do.’ And there are plenty of examples of that. Maybe in 2012, we could have much less of that?

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Let’s give the word “appropriate” a rest.

A pet hate of mine is the way the word “appropriate” (or more often “inappropriate”) is used in justifying public policy assertions. Just what do people mean, for example, when they say ‘this form of housing is no longer appropriate’?  Appropriate? You mean it’s something you disagree with on a personal or philosophical level, and you want to impose your thinking onto others by suggesting there’s something fundamentally wrong with it? If that’s what’s come to be meant by the word in the public policy context, let’s give it a rest in 2012. If you just don’t like something, just say so and express that as your opinion, but don’t load it with a value judgement by telling me it’s not ‘appropriate’. 

A few less study tours to mediaeval towns or frozen metropolises

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About the Author

Ross Elliott is an industry consultant and business advisor, currently working with property economists Macroplan and engineers Calibre, among others.

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