How does public policy go wrong? I’m sure the answer’s not complicated.
There are a few principal ways, with all else being derivations: (1) bad information, (2) bad ideas, or (3) bad motives.
So either knowledge is poor, theory is poor, or ethics are poor.
I’ve organized the possibilities this way in order of severity, from least to most troublesome. Unsound information is most easily corrected, unsound theory some more difficulty, and unsound ethics with the most difficulty (if susceptible of correction at all).
Of ethics, a community may face either intentional misdeeds (lies, theft), objective conflicts of interest (self-dealing), or the occasional character flaw (laziness, a sense of entitlement, needy self-promotion, excuse-making, bigotry). One might separate character flaws into a fourth category, but I’ve classed them as ethical problems because their presence in matters of public policy acts as a cheat against the public, of resources or opportunity.
What’s missing here is an excuse for bad policy that is, in fact, almost never true: lack of intelligence. It’s not an excuse because the overwhelming number of people in a community don’t lack for intellect. There’s no immutable characteristic within a community, in fact, that inhibits good policy.
That’s true and fortunate, of course, as it means that there really is no good (insuperable) excuse for bad policy.