Arguments about public policy are often expressive. People focus on what they see as the underlying values. They use simple cues. They favor initiatives that reflect the values that they embrace or even their conception of their identity. If the issue involves the environment, many people are automatically drawn to aggressive regulation, and many others are automatically opposed to it. When you think about regulation in general, you might ask: What side are you on? That question might incline you to enthusiastic support of, for example, greater controls on banks or polluters–or it might incline you to fierce opposition toward those who seek to strengthen the government’s hand.
In this light, it is tempting to think that the issues that divide people are fundamentally about values rather than facts. If so, it is no wonder that we have a hard time overcoming those divisions. If people’s deepest values are at stake, and if they really differ, then reaching agreement or finding productive solutions will be difficult or perhaps impossible. Skepticism about experts and expertise–about science and economics–is often founded, I suggest, on expressivism.
As an alternative to expressive approaches, I will explore and celebrate the cost-benefit revolution, which focuses on actual consequences–on what policies would achieve–and which places a premium on two things: science and economics.