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Decision Making

Every decision involves a prediction. Many predictions have very little risk. For example, when you reach for a doorknob, you predict it will be where you see it. However, other predictions are less certain, and this is particularly so of those made by the government. Government policies are based on predictions about what will or will not happen if proposed policies are or are not adopted. When policies are adopted by the federal government based on predictions that turn out to be in error, the damage is great. When policies are adopted by a small town and turn out to be wrong, only the citizens of that town suffer.


Because of the foregoing observation, many have argued over the years that government closer to home is better. Thomas Jefferson made his case for this principle based on his discernment of human nature. Others have relied on other bases. Pope John XXIII in Mater et Magistra (1961) made subsidiarity a moral principle. F. A. Hayek in his study of economics and political science reinforced the principle by his conclusion that, in making predictions, there will always be more that we do not know than we do know, with the effect that there always exists a high probability that a prediction in economics and political science will be incorrect. More recently, behavioral psychologist Philip Tetlock, Ph.D., has concluded that the predictions of pundits, particularly in economics and political science, are more likely to be wrong than random chance.


Since predictions are based on conclusions derived from facts applied to the values of a decision maker, his values become important to the average citizen. Although a statement of all facts relevant to any particular issue can never be entirely set forth, a conscientious person does the best he can ever mindful of the admonition of Hayek that there are many facts likely to be left out, resulting in unintended consequences. Because of this, every decision involves commitment, risk, and courage. Citizens prefer people with values like theirs because they think their predictions will be more reliable. This preference is reinforced by the Greek notion that reasoning without knowledge, tested by adversary debate to reach what is most reasonable, may be a superior method of making a decision than an untested idea of the President, for example, that appeals to the credibility of the voters.


The person making a decision has values, and it is sometimes a competition in values that generates the competition in elections. Each opposing political candidate may have different views on public policy derived from different predictions based on different facts and understandings and experience. If they were equally informed with similar values, they would likely be closer together than most people think. Because of this, the education and dedication of public leaders become important qualifications for elective office. For example, every day we hear some television commentator or pundit talk about taxing the big corporations to raise revenue for the government as though they are bad and that everyone will agree to tax what they do not have. This statement illustrates that the proponent did not read Peter Drucker’s book Pension Fund Socialism (1976), which established at that time that the largest corporations in America are largely owned by the pension funds whose beneficiaries are the workers themselves, with the effect that higher taxes on big corporation result in higher taxes on the common man.


We also live in a world where television has become the sole source of news for many people, with fewer and fewer people reading newspapers or other intellectual commentaries. The term “media bias” surfaces because those who are more informed are frustrated that those less informed are speaking to millions of Americans and disseminating incorrect information.


The common reference to polling has degenerated our republic into a more democratic form of government, where short-term interests dominate long-term interests. Pure democracies become tyrannical as noted by de Tocqueville and others.  As far back as Cicero, active discussions were undertaken as to the proper form of government.  It was because of these discussions that our Founding Fathers decided upon a republic and not a democracy.  Having faith that they were right in this assessment, it is our duty to reinvigorate the pillars of a republic and endow our elected leaders with the statesmanship needed to govern our country in a changing world.