Saturday, September 13, 2014

Larry Summers on US crude exports and disagreements in public policy

In a brilliant speech at the Brookings Institute Larry Summers makes out a very well-reasoned and cogent case for why the US should lift the four-decade long ban on crude oil exports. The speech itself is a great example of persuasive argumentation. But in particular, I found this philosophical conclusion profoundly insightful and relevant to many other areas of public policy (and other) debates,
With respect to most areas of public policy... I don't have any difficulty understanding why somebody might disagree with me and how they would understand the world which would cause them to disagree with me. I have certain views on financial regulation. I have no difficulty understanding why somebody else would have a view that was different from mine. They have a different understanding of how the world works or they have a different set of values. This issue (restrictions on export of crude oil from US) is quite extraordinary in my experience because I don't understand what are the values that you could have that I don't have that would cause you to want to maintain the restriction nor do I understand what your theory of how the world works is that would cause you to have a different view.
I have one more thing to add to this nugget of wisdom. In either case - different understanding of the world (mechanism conflict) or different set of values (values conflict) - convincing the other side is a massive challenge, though in case of the latter, I am inclined to believe that even getting their attention, leave along convincing them, may be beyond the powers of human reasoning. In such (latter) cases, the best approach may be to create the conditions (or let it emerge) for the other side to themselves realize, if at all, the deficiencies in their value system.

Therefore, I believe that the first step in public policy debates should be to clearly distinguish whether it is a mechanism or values conflict. This alone could go a long way towards creating the conditions for a dialogue that is sensitive to all shades of opinions. 

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