I cannot tell you how many loved ones I have lost to this totally preventable illness...
I would like to tell you about a serious condition afflicting thousands of policy analysts. It’s called Petty Little Dictator Disorder, or PLDD, and you or someone you love could be suffering from this epidemic sweeping through our think tanks, advocacy groups, and government offices. According to the description pending for inclusion in the DSM V, here are the warning signs of PLDD:
- Do you spend a fair amount of your time imagining how the government could be used to shape people’s behavior for their own good?
- Do you tell yourself and others that you believe in liberty and stuff but there are negative externalities, information costs, and children who need protecting from their parents, so we need to step in?
- Do you use the word “we” a lot to refer to government action by which you really mean you and your friends?
- Do you consider yourself an expert despite having never really done anything or rigorously studied anything in your life?
- Do you feel the need to communicate your expert opinions in no more than 140 characters more than 1,000 times a year because you need constant reinforcement in the belief that you are changing the world?
- Do you sit in cafes or bars with your colleagues and have conversations that resemble dorm room pot-smoking bull sessions about how it would be best for families to live in apartments above bodegas with the sound of light rail roaring just outside their window because, after all, the life you currently have and enjoy is the same thing that families with three children and a dog should want?
- Do you think science or a panel of experts can identify the right way to do almost anything?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be suffering from PLDD. But don’t worry, help is available. Here are some steps that may address your PLDD:
- Think about how others have plans for their own lives just as you have a plan for yours. Just because you don’t understand their plan doesn’t mean that theirs is not legitimate or that you should impose your vision on them.
- Recognize that just as others are subject to limited information and systematic deviations from rationality, so are you. You shouldn’t imagine that you are the rational, well-informed one whose plan can fix the defects from which others suffer.
- Remember that you and your friends are not the government. Once the government takes responsibility for an issue, no one can completely control what the government will do and those with the strongest vested interests (and often not the best intentions) are likely to have more influence than you.
- Be humble about the limits of your knowledge and expertise. You may have gone to an elite school and have always been told how smart you are, but that doesn’t mean that you understand everything. Understanding comes from real experience and/or rigorous examination of an issue. Reading a bunch of articles or having spent a few years as the deputy assistant director of whatever does not count as experience or rigorous examination...