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Tyler Cowen

What Is the Purpose of Public Policy?

It’s not necessarily to bring about change. Debates and choices are also important in educating the public.

Good policy and good messaging.

Good policy and good messaging.

Photographer: NASA/Hulton Archive

The purpose of any policy is not only to effect change but also to educate the public. This educational function is important yet rarely discussed explicitly, perhaps for fear of looking like a propagandist. So be it: I wholeheartedly embrace the notion of policy as a way of educating voters.

How does this work? Consider the moon landing of 1969. It had some concrete benefits, such as preventing the Soviets from militarizing space. But just as important was the message it communicated to the American public: Think big, it said; science can lead to grand and amazing achievements. The educational aspect of the policy greatly increased its value.