Public policy does not care about evidence or liberty.
By Stephanie Holmes.
Technocracy is an automated system in which policies blindly follow the science. The problem is; science never says one thing. We exist in a hybrid system of evidence and values - if such evidence and values exclusively belong to the powerful.
If you are consulting on sugar policy, economists will say to continue selling it, while health experts push for price hikes.
In this case, influence tugs both ways, but the protection of our freedoms cannot get a grip on the rope. Minimum unit pricing in Scotland failed to meet its targets, but succeeded in forcing working-class people to dig deeper into their already stretched pockets. The policy does not punish alcoholics. It does not stop the rich from excessive consumption, but takes casual enjoyment away from the poor.
Even with every voice in the room, science will not be taken at face value. The "file-drawer problem" means we only see studies with statistical significance, leaving important information out of policy-making.
Internally, the situation is worse. Experts become partial advocates to establish symbiotic power between so-called "science" and policy. In-house scientists exacerbated the bovine spongiform encephalopathy crisis (BSE). The government favoured anti-panic buying, rather than sharing the real threat of the disease to its citizens, and many health experts in the case admitted to putting a political slant on their statements.
All evidence should be on the table. If it's not, we cease to exist in a free society. Science is manipulated to suit an agenda that, as we know, reflects what government wants - not what we need. Indeed, SAGE issued a suggestion for a circuit-breaker lockdown in October 2020, which was not followed for many weeks.
Here is the hope for all of us liberal-driven democrats: the public got the advice to stick. Opinion polls at the time found 68% of people agreed with the advice which would be incorporated into the government's, albeit vote-driven agenda. Although public opinion has power, the resulting policy was too little too late - as we all know too well.
Yet policy driven solely by evidence can compromise choice and financial stability. Health often takes priority over these fundamental subjects of liberty, this ranking comes out of the blue. Throughout the pandemic, the dynamic was warranted, but recently it has been creeping too far into regulatory policy. BOGOF campaigners are denying many families sweet treats they can only afford if in bulk deals.
They are getting healthier, though, aren't they? It is hard to tell. A similar levy in Denmark, better known as the "fat tax," led to a 7% reduction in fat consumption. Significant, but given the stability and compromise of freedoms, the country suffered a macro-net loss.
1,300 jobs were lost in the supply chain, while inflation rose to 4.7%. Here is the hope again: 70% of the public felt negatively towards the policy, so it was redacted 15 months after its enactment. Yet the public should be in the room from the get-go, as should trade unions and families who struggled to make ends meet upon its introduction. Transparency is not only an integral feature of civil progress, but also of social liberalism.
Should we wait until we see the impact of poorly consulted policies? No, public policy should be based on genuine evidence, personal and economic freedoms - not the whims of politicians.
Stephanie Holmes is the editor of the Bullet Blog and currently leads communications at the Social Liberal Forum. She studies a Bachelor of Science in Politics at the London School of Economics, where she is also President of the Liberal Democrats of LSESU.