September 29, 2022

Using metrics to measure the effectiveness of government and political candidates

Los Alamos

I feel a certain frustration these days when I observe the workings of the federal, state and municipal governments.

Given the complexity of each entity, it is sometimes difficult to determine the effectiveness of each level of government as well as the effectiveness of new and/or incumbent political candidates. Therefore, what is needed is a method to measure this effectiveness.

Until the 1930s, big business was a dominant force in America. The American government was also becoming increasingly dominant (for example, the Great American White Fleet sailed around the world between 1907 and 1909).

When Herbert Hoover was elected, he organized a team of experts to make America work better. Unfortunately, World War I (WWI) created an international financial nightmare that culminated in the long-lasting Great Depression. Hoover’s well-meaning efforts came to nothing. The business world was powerless in the face of the crisis. Then the government gradually became the dominant force in America – especially during and after World War II.

Lately, when I walk into a voting booth, I’m faced with choosing the lesser of two or more ‘evils’. Credit should be given to the League of Women Voters who provide information on political candidates. In addition, the New Mexico Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission provides meaningful and accurate information about the performance of New Mexico judges and judges to the public for its use regarding judicial retention.

In contrast, modern businesses are valued by a multitude of methods:

1) company annual reports, 2) information in the Wall Street Journal;

2) The Oracle Institute – What are business metrics? 35 metrics companies should track;

3) a more recent metric – environmental, social, governance or ESG; and

4) Wall Street Voodoo Methods (i.e. secret, proprietary, and gimmicky techniques guaranteed to help you get rich in 24 seconds in bear or bull markets). The information is used to “help” investors and speculators buy stocks, bonds and other financial instruments.

When it comes to the actions of federal, state, and municipal governments or political candidates, the parameters are somewhat lacking. Who is going to read thousands of pages of the Federal Register (like a textbook with no table, table of contents or index)? Who is going to review all the activities of the New Mexico State Legislature or the Los Alamos County Council? Who will discover and understand the life story, education, value system, financial/political acumen and goals of a political candidate? Is the choice made using a one-sentence choice about what a candidate thinks (e.g., “Every American should get a stimulus check every year from cradle to grave.”) Sounds like a pie in heaven for me. Perhaps a choice is made on the basis of a family photo of the candidate. This type of information appears in the form of disposable glossy flyers shortly before an election. Or maybe a candidate’s last name has fewer letters and is easier to remember (eg, John Doe).

One can read a newspaper or gather information on the Internet about the government or a political candidate. Or maybe someone can listen and believe what a political pundit says (eg, scaring the elderly to death with a report about the potential loss of their life savings). A person can vote along party lines – this can set up a competent or incompetent person. It is possible to watch the debates and determine if a candidate has charisma and/or is entertaining. However, what does this have to do with efficiency and the ability to spend taxpayers’ money wisely?

Consider the ESG metric for companies and ask yourself what kind of metric might apply to a level of government or a political candidate.

As an example, consider the social part of “S” in ESG:

  1. The equality of chances;
  2. Freedom of association;
  3. Health and security;
  4. Human rights;
  5. Consumer and product liability; and
  6. Child labor.

If you don’t demand some kind of long, detailed list of metrics to measure the effectiveness of government actions or the effectiveness of political candidates before you vote, I hope you enjoy riding back down the highway at 70mph.