Friday, February 20, 2009

Sam Adams and Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

Mark Larabee's story in The Oregonian on Wednesday about Sam Adams's effectiveness post-scandal brings up a point about self-fulfilling prophecies. There is an echo chamber feeling in many local government types and business people and saying essentially 'I worry about his effectiveness because lots of people are worried about his effectiveness."

This is clearly a self-fulfilling prophecy: because I worry about his effectiveness I will be less responsive to him and in so doing, I make him less effective. So I confirm my own perception.

Though this is a self-fulfilling prophecy, the impacts are real - no less so when the situation is a crisis of confidence in the nation's banks than in the Mayor of Portland, Oregon. In the end Adams is less effective. But it also means that if people would simply move on, the mayor could be completely effective tomorrow. And, yes, I am leaving out citizens and voters who at this juncture are less important than the bureaucrats we have elected.

What is best for Portland? I think clearly moving on and making the Mayor effective is the first best solution at this point - regardless of what you think about his past behavior


Kevin Spence said...

I worry about the long term effects if "people would simply move on" to civil society. Disregarding some of his dubious hiring decisions, the comments made by Adams when the story initially broke prior to mayoral election where obviously designed as a deception for personal gain and to harm a political rival. That is pretty much the definition of fraud.

I am willing to cede a certain amount of my personal autonomy to the government because I believe it is in my best interest to do so. It becomes harder to give up some measure of my freedoms (much less tax dollars) when it seems that the elected officials are there for personal gain and not for the betterment of their constituents.

So why you may believe that it is the "first best solution" to the situation, I believe looking the other way only has short term benefits and works to delegitimatize government and raises folks cynicism of politicians. If it becomes a choice between having an effective Sam Adams and an effective and legitimate government, I will chose the government over whatever near term benefits there may be by having an effective Sam Adams.

Patrick Emerson said...

This is a good point - I am thinking of a static model and the truth is dynamic. By giving Adams a pass we may be sending a signal that future behavior of this sort will be tolerated.

In this case is the benefits of an expedient immediate solution worth the long term costs?