Most of us ain’t experts on public policy, which is too bad because as citizens we’re need to know when we are getting bad public service i.e. lousy public policy so we can hold the prick-rat-bastards accountable. So how the hell are we supposed to do that if we don’t know what good public policy is and our media friends are epically bad at explaining public policy?
First, let’s get a few rules established about what public policy is. It’s the services we receive from our elected government that we pay for with our taxes. Good public policy is when in return for our money, the government is a good steward; meaning that they deliver quality services for the money spent. That doesn’t mean the government is out to make a profit. That’s what businesses do by cutting costs and corners to make a buck while delivering a service we can CHOOSE not to have if we don’t like it. You can’t choose your police force, teachers or garbage pick-up if the corner-cutting does you damage. This is why government and business are two different words. Government provides public service, rules we live by, enforcement of those rules and protection of the commons against those who can’t play by those rules, which includes and especially applies to businesses. Putting profit into public policy will at some point allow the power of organized greed to overwhelm the capacity of disorganized democracy to contend with it.
Good government is responsive to the people it serves and upholds the democratic (with a small “d”) ideals of equity, reciprocity, transparency and access. Good public policy makes that possible and seeks to protect the public from the excesses of private interests by providing services for every strata of the population so that they can fully participate in the life of the city. There is certainly a place for market forces in Chicago… it’s just not deciding what happens to school children.
Here at the Tutorial we take public policy seriously and we also know that it’s not that complicated. If you have spent ANY time, with ANY elected official, corporate lawyer, CPA, investment banker or lobbyist you KNOW that whatever these people have come up with CANNOT be that hard to understand. Trust me on this… anything they can do you can REALLY do better. Here is all you need to know when you see a piece of public policy. If you can’t get or don’t like the answers to these questions then by definition it is bad public policy and the people who put it together should beaten like a cheap drum until they get the answers you want or implement the policy you need.
The Five Questions that Determine Good Public Policy
Who Benefits – Does the policy in question help the people it is meant to help or is it actually benefiting a third party more than the public it was meant to serve? Chicago’s privatization of its parking meters and Skyway are examples of public policy does not benefit Chicagoans but does benefit JP Morgan Chase and Macquarie Group Ltd.
Efficiency – Does most of the money go to the service or to overhead and profit? Note, teacher’s salaries and pensions are not overhead; cash sent to testing companies and private firms that measure efficiency or are like the Broad Superintendant Academy are.
Interactive – Can you get involved with the public policy once it starts or while it’s happening? Local School Councils and Community Policing Problem-Solving beat meetings are good examples of giving the public input once the policy is in operation.
Economic – Will it put living wage money into the pockets of Chicagoans both in the here and now and the future? When we pay taxes we receive services. The money from those services should shuffle through our economy not go flitting off into some Wall Street pocket far from our fair city. When we pay a $60K salary + a pension we are creating a living wage now and not paying for that person via poverty programs later and they are putting money into the economy. If we privatize the job where we pay 45K to a company that pays 35K to do the job with no benefits, we get less money back in our economy and later we have to keep this person off of cat food. NET LOSS for us and 10K bonus for some corporation.
Effective – Has this policy worked before or has it been a complete clusterf$!*? Do we know how it is going to be evaluated, does the evaluation criterion include feedback from those using the public service and is will the criterion be measuring things that meaningfully connects to the service being provided? Charter schools have been proven to be just as effective as public schools… why are we so interested in funding them?