My class this term, for my MBA, is business analytics. My fellow students and I are learning about the importance of using data to make decisions. After all, knowledge is power.
While it’s impossible to have all the information all the time, it’s still reasonable to assume that we can make better decisions when we seek to make them based on the best information and data we have available at the time.
That’s the essence of progress. When we know better, we (presumably) do better.
For example, there’s plenty of data out there suggesting carbon dioxide levels are on the rise, and that the impacts could result in rising costs and poorer health. Additionally, particulates in the atmosphere are on the rise. We know what types of pollution cause these issues. While the use of coal and oil were the best options during the previous two centuries to fuel our growth, we now have alternatives.
As humans, our innovation is allowing us to harness wind, sun and geothermal forces. We’ve even made tremendous progress in the use of the atom for energy. While one of these alternatives isn’t the answer to all our energy and pollution issues, we’ve made great strides — and could potentially make even greater strides if we’re willing to put our resources into better development of these technologies.
We know that certain sources of energy are more expensive and more dangerous to extract than others, not to mention dirtier. We’ve learned these things, and we have alternatives to them. While it’s impractical to suggest an immediate and wholesale switch, it’s also illogical to insist that we fight against our own current technology and innovations in favor of last-century techniques.
Data also suggests viable ways to achieve desirable social outcomes. Most of us agree that a reduction in abortion is desirable. The good news is that we have data on effective ways to reduce abortion — comprehensive sex education and access to safe and affordable contraception. In Colorado, these measures resulted in a 50 percent reduction in abortions and teen births. Not only that, but the state avoided almost $70 million in public assistance costs. Other states with similar programs have also seen dramatic reductions in teen pregnancy and in abortions.
And what about state financial planning? Here in Idaho, our lawmakers have to make decisions about spending before they even know how much money will be in the coffers. The fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30, and the legislature makes decisions about the budget sometime between January and March (sometimes April) before we even know how much money we’ll have.
One of the big stories for this year’s legislative session was the fact that the true impact of last year’s fiscal decisions wasn’t known when lawmakers were setting the upcoming budget. We can’t effectively budget when we don’t have the right information at the right time. Some changes to the budget process — or when legislators meet — might make sense in order to provide more information before making decisions.
That should be the essence of making policy. Turning to data, facts and information, rather than relying on ideology.