Scott Sumner has a post on, among other things, the six most important public policy issues. I completely agree with Sumner on this list, and look at as a guide to winning the future. His six issues are:
1. The huge rise in occupational licensing.
2. The huge rise in people incarcerated in the war on drugs, and also the scandalous reluctance of doctors to prescribe adequate pain medication (also due to the war on drugs.)
3. The need for more legal immigration.
4. The need to replace taxes on capital with progressive consumption taxes.
5. Local zoning rules that prevent dense development.
6. Tax exemptions for mortgage interest and health insurance.
In terms of importance for our future, the list is sort of lacking in intellectual property, copyright, technology, and education, but I don’t know that those problems lend themselves to bullet points quite so easily. The only real disagreement I have with Sumner is his explanation for why these policies don’t get reported on, which is that there isn’t enough disagreement along ideological lines:
Most idealistic intellectuals agree with me on all of these issues. They are not issues that divide the left and the right. It’s also true that most real world politicians agree on these issues. However their views are exactly the opposite of the views of intellectuals. Hence there is no “policy debate” in either the political or intellectual arenas, and hence no “fight” for the media to report. They become invisible issues.
The missing piece of this puzzle is that the intellectual agreement on these issues isn’t just the opposite of real world politician’s, but the opposite of the rest of the real world. At the average dinner table in this country, anyone advocating what Sumner might call the intellectual consensus on any of these issues would face a lot of disagreement, and would frequently be greeted by surprise that a reasonable person would ever dream of advocating for, say, for more immigration or less occupational licensing. The problem is that you can pretty much go right down this list and point out the biases from The Myth of the Rational Voter that will tilt public opinion towards bad policies. The median voter is as important of an obstacle on these issue as interest group influence on politicians, and unfortunately the median voter’s belief’s are a much more intractable problem.