In a very rare moment of my life lately, I had the opportunity to do some personal reading. I ran across two very interesting articles related to two totally different policies. One centers on environmental and fiscal policy, with the discussion of using ocean water to address the water shortages in California. The other focuses on social policy and fiscal policy around the use of food stamps.
For the discussion on investing more than one billion dollars to construct a plant to convert ocean water to drinking water in San Diego, the urgencies have obviously created this window of opportunity for such a large public investment. Beyond the environmental concerns, critics have cited previous examples of taking this measure to deal with water shortages, only to abandon the project once rainfall returns to normal – sunk cost. The article on food stamps is something totally different. The hardships caused by the economic downturn in 2008 loosened the rules on eligibility. The current promising economic future has influenced some states, like Maine, to tighten these restrictions, in order to reduce public cost, and in some ways influence behavior to seek opportunities in the job market.
I present no opinion on either policy. The point of this post is to highlight the correlation between public circumstance and policy feasibility. The extremes of public circumstances can transform what was a good and responsible policy to an instrument inadequate to serve society. In our current environment – physical, social, political – these extremities can arise or disappear in very little time. The process of reacting them leaves little room to design policies to account for possibilities in the future. Citizen engagement, technology, and other resources are possibly our best option for ensuring that policies and government remain responsive and accountable in such a fluid and volatile landscape.
I thought this may be useful in some way to researchers and students of public policy.