Trump still ignoring facts, but numbers don't lie
© Greg Nash

President Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Democrat slams Donald Trump Jr. for ‘serious case of amnesia’ after testimony Skier Lindsey Vonn: I don’t want to represent Trump at Olympics Poll: 4 in 10 Republicans think senior Trump advisers had improper dealings with Russia MORE has brought many crusades to Washington.

One that has received less attention than his pledges to “drain the swamp” and his jeremiads against illegal immigration, is his administration’s systematic attempts to discredit objective analysis of policy problems.

This “war on analysis” has also spread to portions of the Republican establishment that have historically been among the advocates for an analytical approach to policy.

Support for policy analysis in general, and cost-benefit analysis in particular, has always been somewhat bipartisan but many of its strongest advocates have been Republican.

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The idea that we should analyze the potential impacts of a policy and evaluate them after they have been in place has been seen as a way to ensure that when the government intervenes in the market, it does so carefully and it pulls back when errors are made.

 

But in a number of instances, the Trump Administration has abandoned these principles. Most prominently have been the battles over the Congressional Budget Office scores of the various Obamacare replacements considered by Congress.

The Trump White House has called these analyses “fake news”. This has led to legislation in the House which would fundamentally alter CBO’s mission and move it away from analysis. All of this because Trump and fellow Republicans didn’t like the results of CBO’s analysis.

Another example is the Trump Administration attempt to repeal the Environmental Protection Agency “Waters of the United States” regulation. In its economic analysis, EPA simply ignored numerous categories of benefits that the original regulation would have created.

One economist who has worked for industry to repeal or modify the regulation called the analysis “the worst regulatory analysis I have ever seen.”

Finally the administration’s entire approach to regulation shows a disdain for analysis. The centerpiece of this approach was the President’s “two for one” executive order, requiring agencies to eliminate two regulations before promulgating a new one.

The order ignores the longstanding bipartisan commitment to cost-benefit analysis of significant regulations. Trump’s approach has largely been applauded and its anti-analytical approach ignored by Republicans.

The war on analysis is part of a broader war on expertise of all kinds. From ignoring scientists to deriding government produced statistics, the Trump Administration has tried to sow doubts of any numbers that raise questions about their policies.

Honest policy analysis makes no pretension to giving us the “right” answer to a public policy problem. The same is true of economics more broadly. Nor does honest analysis prescribe a particular solution to a policy question.

But good analysis is part of a commitment to give better answers to these challenging issues. It is a way of ensuring that political leaders make decisions only after seeing the best information possible. And ignoring or devaluing this analysis is a sign that “better” answers are not of interest to political decision-makers.

In the absence of analysis we are left with the gut feelings of political decision-makers or their appointees. And while there is some chance that those gut feelings are informed by noble intentions, they may also be informed by conscious or unconscious biases, or the information that these decision-makers have been given by lobbyists.

Elevating good analysis is a way of draining the swamp. Ignoring good analysis is a way of propagating its stench.

Stuart Shapiro is professor and director of the Public Policy Program at the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University, and a member of the Scholars Strategy Network. Follow him on Twitter @shapiro_stuart


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