Head, Heart, and Policy Analysis
December 13, 2001
The relationship of the head and heart when doing policy analysis:
1. Consider the pros and cons of all policy tools. Use whatever tools will best solve the problem at hand. If for ideological reasons (or sheer cockiness), you know what to do ahead of time, you are not doing analysis, and will not be as wise as you should be.
2. One's heart can lead to a question or consideration of an issue, but rational analysis is the first step in figuring out how to solve the problem. An example of a normatively-generated question or issue: What should we do about the next Rwanda-like genocide? But what is the answer? The only thing upon which we can base a reasoned answer is to study similar historical cases and derive lessons about the causes of genocides and other wars and about the success of various measures to prevent genocides and other wars. We must figure out what array of tools we have at our disposal, then see what lessons we can learn from how well they have worked in the past. These sorts of questions and analyses are (or at least should be) the tasks of the social sciences.
Following dispassionate analysis, moral concerns often weigh heavily. If it would cost 20-50 U.S. soldier's lives (who would have to kill 2000 Rwandans) to stop the genocide and save 200,000-500,000, is this worth it? Note that any number for lives saved is pure speculation ahead of the fact. How about 500-2,500 soldier's lives, killing 5000, and saving 50,000-100,000? These are complex issues, and can only be decided in one's heart. Even worse, the president may not receive one of these estimates, but perhaps both, one from the CIA, the other from the Pentagon. These options will have to be weighed in an urgent and politically charged atmosphere with lawmakers on Capitol Hill, lobbyists, pundits, scholars, and citizens all over the map.
3. In developing policy prescriptions, think as if you are president. This discourages hand-waving at problems, vague proposals, and helps impose some practicality on proposals. Presidents confront difficult moral and practical tradeoffs and risks, made worse by the considerable uncertainty about the costs and benefits of each possible action. Becoming aware of these tradeoffs and uncertainties will teach you that many policy decisions are difficult bets.
We did not know what exactly would happen when we began to use force in Afghanistan, in the Gulf War, or elsewhere. Nor would we know exactly what would happen if we did not. Welcome to the presidency. Roll the tape back to September 11, or the invasion of Kuwait. It's your call.