Both the government and the public should be far more sceptical about policies which are purported to be ‘evidence-based’, argues new research released today by the Institute of Economic Affairs.
In Quack Policy – Abusing Science in the Cause of Paternalism, Jamie Whyte exposes how politicians promote regulations and taxes under the justification of scientific evidence, yet the experts promoting these policies often make basic errors and have little or no grasp of economics.
Using four policy areas as case studies - minimum alcohol pricing, passive smoking, global warming and happiness – ‘evidence-based’ policymaking is shown to be based on poor science. It also provides a mechanism for academic elites to impose their own values on society as a whole, showing contempt for the wishes of the public.
The flaws of ‘evidence-based’ policymaking:
- A disregard for substitution effects.
Evidence-based policy often fails to account for changes in people’s behaviour following a new regulation or ban. For example, a minimum price of alcohol and concurrent rise in prices would push consumers to buy drinks in the black market. The social and economic effects could be worse than the problems the policy was intended to address.
- Calculating the external costs of harmful activities.
External costs cannot be calculated with any degree of certainty. In the case of carbon emissions, for example, it is necessary to know not only the subjective preferences of people globally, but also to assume the preferences of people living decades in the future.
- Scientists’ self-interest.
Scientists are interested parties. They stand to improve their reputations and finances if governments follow their policy advice, and often are inclined to overstate the credibility of their ideas.