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Questions to Evaluate Public Policy Ideas
How can public officials—or private citizens—apply these principles to proposed laws, regulations, or other actions? The first step, of course, is to understand the principles and resolve to live by them. But in the rush through the agenda of a committee or board meeting or a legislative session, it can be difficult to evaluate each proposal.
To help you with that, we suggest the following questions. Some of the questions will not be applicable to every proposal, but these questions should at least be considered before acting on an idea. This is not an all-inclusive list, but it will help jog your memory about the principles described in this primer.
• When you consider an existing or proposed government program, resist the tendency to ask, "What is the most efficient way this can operate?" as your first question. Instead, ask, "Is this something government should be doing at all?"
• Does government have the legitimate authority to do it? If so, what is the proper level of government to do it (local, regional, state, national)?
• Does this program or law protect inalienable rights, or does it create new rights (or extend rights that were previously created by government)? Does it infringe on anyone else’s inalienable rights?
• Will it lead to more freedom, or less? Will it restore freedom that has been lost due to previous government action?
• Will it result in people taking more responsibility for themselves, or less?
• Will it foster or reinforce a “government is our savior” mentality, or will it lessen it?
• Will it protect the free exchange of goods and services among willing participants, or will it burden that process with taxes or regulations?
• Will it help some people but create long-term circumstances that actually harm others?
• Even if it is a good idea, will it have the cumulative effect of being the “straw that broke the camel’s back” after being added to existing laws?
• Is it something that could more appropriately or effectively be handled by private institutions, such as the family, the church, the community, private charity, or private enterprise? In other words, is there a suitable alternative?
• Is someone in the private sector already doing this? If so, would this proposal discourage that private activity from continuing or create a government activity that competes with the private sector?
• Will it protect the integrity of the marriage-based, two-parent, family or
• Will it take from one person and give to another who has not earned it? Will it require taxpayers to pay for it, thereby depriving them of the right to use their money as they see fit? Why do you believe this is a better use of their money than they would choose if they could spend it or give it away? What basis do you have for believing that?
• When it grows in scope and cost—and it almost assuredly will—will that be a good thing?
• What will happen in the long run if you don’t enact this idea? Will people suffer or will they merely be inconvenienced (or will they actually benefit)?
• Does it honor the separation of powers among the three branches of government?
• Has it been tried before? Does it have a long enough track record to prove its worth?
• As much as you can reasonably anticipate, what are the possible negative long-term effects? (This question should always be thoughtfully explored, because negative effects are usually underestimated and positive effects overestimated.)