Politics in the US has a lawyer problem. Specifically, most politicians are lawyers. Not only that, but they’re not the kind of lawyers who go into law to protect either society at large (prosecutors) or the rights of defendants – they’re the kind of lawyers who go into law because they want to see their names in lights and print.
So maybe the issue is more egotistical lawyers. But the fact remains politics attracts far, far too many lawyers.
Instead of more lawyers, politics needs more engineers. And scientists. But I’m going to focus on the engineers for a moment.
Engineering exists to use knowledge and science to solve practical problems, and politics is full of very practical problems. Not only that, but most engineers get excited about solving challenging problems. I know that I certainly do.
Here’s the process that the engineers I know use to solve a design problem.
- Identify the problem.
- Determine what disciplines need to be involved in solving the problem and find experts in those disciplines to help.
- Divide up the problem into smaller bits and design solutions to those bits.
- Put the bits together, see how they mesh, and if they don’t mesh then either a) redesign them to mesh better or b) design something new to specifically mesh those pieces together.
- Once you’ve got something that looks good, invite independent experts in to review and critique your solution. Take notes and action items on what they find, and then fix those things without breaking the overall solution
- Build a prototype.
- Test the prototype, taking care to look for areas of improvement.
- When (not if) you find problems with the prototype, make individual changes until the source of the problem is identified. Then fix the problem in a way that doesn’t make new problems.
- Test until the solution is good enough, then stop. Engineers generally love to tinker, so this is often the hardest thing for an engineer to do.
- Deploy the solution widely and then let it sit for a while as the users get used to it.
- Keep track of what happens with the solution and learn from everything you hear about it.
- Iterate the design and release periodic updates and improvements based on what you’ve learned.
- And when there’s finally something that can’t be handled within the design, then that’s the next problem to hand off to an engineer.
There’s no reason to think that this basic approach wouldn’t work with policy too. Imagine for a moment if gun control was treated this way, or health care, or police brutality, or systemic racism. We’d never have a perfect solution, but we’d be doing one hell of a lot better than we are right now. If nothing else we’d at least have a coherent process to solve our nation’s problems, rather than what passes for policymaking today.
Politics needs more engineers, and fewer egotistical lawyers.