≡ Menu

Government Officials Are Not Prone to Admit Their Errors

In my most-recent column for AIER, I riff on the reality of government officials’ perverse incentives in the face of their own mistakes. A slice:

Ironically, the bigger the public policy error, the more reluctant politicians become to admit making a mistake and reversing course. If the Covid lockdowns had destroyed only a handful of jobs, inflicted only a tiny bit of inconvenience, and cost just a few million dollars in taxpayer funds, then admitting error by reversing course would be to admit to having been responsible for imposing on society only a small cost. Voters might well forgive such a minor faux pas.

But because the lockdowns caused enormous damage – physical, economic, and emotional – to admit error by reversing course would be to confess to having caused a calamity. And no politician wants to admit to having caused a calamity.

So largely because lockdowns and other public policy responses were so calamitous, the politicians and bureaucrats who supported these responses have no incentive to admit the error of their ways. And because reversing course would be such an admission, no reversals occur. Lockdowns and other restrictions might be allowed to die according to their preannounced dates, but not before. Further, when in the future there arise threats similar to the one that sparked the lockdowns, officials who supported the original lockdowns will feel strong pressure to support renewed lockdowns. If they don’t, they risk admitting to the public that their earlier decision – one that was extraordinarily costly – was a terrible mistake.

Next post:

Previous post: