I’ve always felt that government should govern smarter, not harder. There’s a lot of crazy inefficiencies that come attached to a big hammer approach.
By way of analogy, imagine an aquarium where I keep sharks. I could buy and feed them some fish everyday at great expense and manpower. Or, I could put lots of fish in there and smaller fish, and plankton, etc, and create an ecosystem. This system would fuel itself at little further cost to me.
OK, maybe not a great analogy. What I’m trying to say is that the machinery for a healthy society is so much more valuable than temporary applications of the end result.
My favorite example of this is community voice mail — free voice mail services for homeless people.
Being homeless makes it very difficult to aquire a job and thereby pull yourself up by your bootstraps. One huge stumbling block is not having a way for an employer to contact you. But a pay-phone-accessible free voice mail account solves that problem nicely at very low cost.
Another example is carbon credits, where polluters can buy and sell on an open market the right to pollute a certain amount. There’s now an economic pull to pollute less, because you can sell the unused credits. It doesn’t cost much money, is a very malleable system, and incentivizes responsible behavior without crippling the industry with excessive oversight.
By combining market forces with environmental stewardship, you get the principle actors to do much of the heavy lifting. This subtle change to the bottom line yields drastic results at the top.
Public education is also machinery for social good. It’s an admittedly non-trivial investment and the payoff is difficult to measure, but it’s not hard to believe it’s worth the cost. You get a skilled work force, a critically-thinking electorate, and smart people ready to solve the next round of social problems.
Such social investments elegantly sooth community ills much more effectively than the one-time relief oft doled out.