There are many things in the New York Times article on the transformation of Illinois under Rauner and the new Gilded Age finance barons that piss me off. But one of them really stands out as it offends me as a wonk:
His goal, Mr. Arnold wrote, was “to counterbalance these entrenched forces, on the right and the left, by providing policy solutions rooted in objectivity and solid analysis.”
There is no such thing as an objective solution.
There can be objective analysis in which an analyst discloses their model for review, adjusts the model to account for previous failures, makes explicit all of the assumptions embedded within a model, performs rigorous sensitivity testing of the parameters of the model, and then disclose results no matter what. That type of analysis can be as close to objective as possible. It is also likely to be wrong in the details of the outcome but it can be objective or at least as close to objective as we faulty humans can be.
This type of modeling and analysis allows a meteorologist to say it is highly likely to rain tomorrow.
However once an objective or more accurately, a fair attempt to be an objective, analysis leads to recommendations the recommendations are not objective. If the objective forecast is that it will rain tomorrow, the recommendation that everyone bring an umbrella to the bus stop has massive value assumptions built into it.
It values dryness, it values professional presentation, it values appearances, it values personal comfort over the comfort of others on the bus who now may seek to avoid a wet folded umbrella siting on the seat next to the guy who could have stayed just as dried if he waited three minutes to leave the house and run to the bus stop half a block away.
Any recommendation, even one supported by reams of objective research, is a moral question of what “ought” to be instead of what is or what is likely to be. “Oughts” are fundamentally political questions.
Should the US government increase the tax on alcohol by 10%? Objective policy analysis could fairly predict that a higher tax on alcohol will lead to fewer car crashes, fewer arrests for domestic violence and other bodily injury crimes, fewer teen drinkers, lower short term health expenditures and potentially higher long term health care costs and a thousand other benefits. It will also find that jobs at major breweries will decline as sales will decline and jobs at bars and restaurants will also decline. Now the policy recommendation to support a 10% increase tax on alcohol is a value argument that the benefits massively outweigh the costs while opposition could be grounded in either an argument that the concentrated costs of job loss are too real and too much for the dispersed benefits OR in a value of keeping taxes as low as possible OR in a value system that prioritizes a government incapable of interfering in private choices OR half a dozen other plausible value propositions.
Just keep that in mind whenever you see someone make a claim that their policy recommendation is an objective recommendation. They are bullshitting you, and most likely bullshitting themselves.