Someone wrote and asked me why I thought that politicians and bureaucrats don’t seem to learn from past mistakes. When controversies arise, why don’t officials seem to improve, responsively, over time?
Why do they seem to have learned almost nothing?
Well, many do learn and improve, but those who don’t are conspicuous.
I’ll suggest a few reasons that keep officials from learning from their mistakes.
1. They think they were right all long. They simply deny that they made any mistakes.
2. They don’t care about broad public opinion. Only the views of a few, like-minded insiders matter to them.
3. They’re not interested in policy, so they don’t understand the idea of policy mistakes. It’s personality and visibility that matters to them, and it’s enough to be seen and included in a small circle of supposed luminaries.
4. They see change and revision as weakness.
5. They have not been taught to think about more than one side of an issue. They reason and contend poorly not for lack of natural ability, but for lack of experience doing so. Habituated to a small, cosseted circle only increases their difficulty of anticipating other points of view, making counter-arguments, etc.
(In small-towns, politicians expect – and receive – a compliant press.)
What’s so odd isn’t anything about these several points — most people would understand them intuitively. What’s odd is that a meaningful number of officials somehow fail to improve, despite improvement being so sensible and readily achievable.
Members of declining factions can still see the need for others to change, in other failing organizations.
They rarely see this need in themselves, however, until it’s too late to make any meaningful adjustments.
They resort to grousing about how terrible things are among those in the next generation, and the smug but false contention that conditions were better when they still held genuine sway.