Policy is Not EnoughMay 11, 2010 Leave a comment
David Brooks is making me think again. This time he is pointing to the limits of policy. Yes, he’s throwing stones at what is a sacred cow for change makers of all stripes – and I’m glad he is doing it. As happens too often with Brooks, he gets dangerously close to cultural determinism, but it is by walking that line that he can manage to highlight some very important empirical patterns.
Brooks picks a few examples that point to persistent patterns of inequality – patterns that stay the same, patterns that do not change – not over long periods and not through very different policy regimes. I appreciate his concluding three rules for policy making:
- Don’t promulgate a policy that will destroy social bonds – If you take tribes of people, exile them from their homelands and ship them to strange, arid lands, you’re going to produce bad outcomes for generations.
- Try to establish basic security – If the government can establish a basic level of economic and physical security, people may create a culture of achievement — if you’re lucky.
- Try to use policy to strengthen relationships – The best policies, like good preschool and military service, fortify emotional bonds.
Whatever we think of his ideological frame, what I appreciate most is his clear understanding of the pre-eminence of social bonds in determining a people’s success. While like Brooks, I too conclude that:
We should all probably calm down about politics. Most of the proposals we argue about so ferociously will have only marginal effects on how we live, especially compared with the ethnic, regional and social differences that we so studiously ignore.
What I think is even more exciting is that we can build social bonds, and we can focus our attention on strengthening social bonds in our communities with or without policy victories. How do we re-imagine our work – even our efforts to change policy – so that we are building strong communities every single step of the way? What are the ways in which movement can prioritize relationship?