True priorities in policy debates
One of the key issues I keep seeing in all types of policy discussions is that people don’t take the time to agree, or at least lay on the table, not just the goals/objectives of the policy, but more importantly, the *priorities* of those objectives.
Taking examples from my recent experience, wouldn’t it be refreshing to walk in to something like a CPUC public workshop and have everyone declare their top 5 priorities *in ranked order* at the outset? Everyone wants to appear that they are trying to find the best, balanced solution, but where the rubber meets the road, each has a definite ranking.
The Feed-In Tariff discussion is a great case study here. The base assumption is that for whatever reason, everyone wants more renewable energy online. But when we start debating FIT design, people’s actual detailed priorities emerge to some degree.
Every stakeholder who talks to a policymaker tries to say that their position is the objectively best position for everyone. But demanding an actual ranking of priorities will show how their position is grounded.
Whatever the actual order, policymakers who care what’s best for society (as opposed to just their reelection) should at least be clear within themselves what their priorities are and ask for clarity and honesty from all stakeholders. If a stakeholder’s priorities doesn’t line up with yours, then you know to discount their arguments and design ideas.
Looking at the apparent priorities of some of the louder stakeholders in the FIT discussion, then shows how you should evaluate what they say. Some examples:
– A major player in renewable energy regularly attacks the best-proven FIT designs even though a FIT would increase their addressable market 10x. What’s clear is that their top priority is not to expand the market, but instead to keep the market at a size they can dominate and keep the barriers to entry high to new entrants.
– A seemingly “grassroots” non-profit similarly advocates for programs that advantage larger, entrenched players. While one would assume that the non-profit would advocate for the best policies for the most people, the reality is that the org is sponsored by those larger players and the org’s funding is actually the top priority.
– An influential consultant consistently disparages FITs and discounts the success stories from around the world. Even though their job is to provide objective evaluation, this consultant has a clear ideological bias that prevents objective analysis in this space. Their top priority is to fight an ideological battle against “socialism in the US” rather than what’s best for renewable energy.
As a society we try to demand transparency from our policymakers. If a policymaker truly wants to design the best policies, they should demand or ferret out transparency from their stakeholders.
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