Change is Hard. Especially for Humans.
Good news: if my psychic weather forecast is correct, Obama has officially entered the collapse phase of his presidency, from which there can be no recovery. As we blognosticated back in January 2009,
"When I say that the Obamanauts are about to enter a world of pain, I mean that they will eventually know the dark side of the wave of fantasy upon which they are riding. Only in this case, it seems unusually dark, for it is the same darkness that currently attaches to President Bush. As much as he is hated, Obama is loved, and for reasons that are equally insane because they are a precise and predictable function of each other."
The collapse "occurs when the public begins to feel that the fantasy leader is helpless to prevent catastrophe," and "is seen as weak and vulnerable, which triggers a wave of near homicidal anxiety that aims to purify the group by ritual slaying of the divine king, identical to what took place in the most primitive tribes. So today [January 20, 2009] isn't just the coronation of the new king, but the ritual blood sacrifice of the old one. But he was scourged for so long, he was virtually dead anyway -- or only 'alive' with primitive projections."
Of course, Romney's ascension will be greeted by a wave of enthusiasm, but he will eventually have to be sacrificed as well. Unless humans suddenly grow up, but I think you need pretty extraordinary evidence to suggest such an extraordinary development. The evidential burden is not on us, because we're not the ones making the outlandish claim about the human propensity for ritual sacrifice.
Which, by the way, I was just reading about this weekend -- not about human sacrifice but about the nature of evidence -- in this outstanding book called Uncontrolled: The Surprising Payoff of Trial-and-Error for Business, Politics, and Society. If nothing else, it is an extremely useful review of what science is and isn't, and more to the point, how it is possible (or impossible, depending on the case) for anyone to know what causes stuff to happen.
As we ascend the cosmic hierarchy, science becomes increasingly helpless to discern causation (let alone generalize it via induction), because of the complexity of the system, i.e., the multitude of causes. After all, science is ultimately about what causes things to happen and how to make predictions, but predicting what will happen if I kick a rock is much easier to predict than what will happen if I kick the dog.
As we ascend the cosmic ladder, causation becomes increasingly "dense," from physics, to chemistry, to biology, to psychology, and on to social sciences such as economics.
Imagine the virtually infinite causal density of the economy, and you have arrived at Hayek's "knowledge problem" -- which is precisely what leftists do not and will not understand. But it is the reason why central planning always fails. It generally requires someone as economically ignorant as an Obama to be so grandiose about what he thinks he knows -- similar to how a child has no idea of how much he doesn't know, relative to how complex the world actually is.
The original point I wanted to make was that, because of the relative simplicity of causation at the physical level, it is easy to make improvements to, say, cars and telephones. But the higher we ascend the cosmic scale, the more difficult it becomes to "make things better" without simultaneously making them worse.
Manzi cites a striking example, that as many as 100,000 Americans a year die as a result of reactions to medications that were properly administered. Nothing analogous happens at the level of physics. For example, imagine if 100,000 coins per year came up 100% heads every time you flipped them. This would tell you that there are some hidden conditionals of which you are unaware -- some additional causes for which your model has failed to account.
What's interesting is how complex human beings are, and yet, how certain causal factors are nevertheless so robust and persistent (AKA "human nature"). For example, there really seems to be some sort of "law" that governs the course of a fantasy leader from idealization, to collapse, to ritual sacrifice, but it obviously isn't of the same order as the laws of physics.
However, these enduring "laws of humanness" are what make it so difficult to achieve progress via mere political change. In short, people are people, no matter how much you may wish to change them.
In this regard, it is critical to distinguish between politics and culture. Culture is something that arises spontaneously and organically, in order to deal with the universal problems of human existence. It is easy to look at another culture and see how "stupid" it is, but that doesn't mean we can simply remove the stupidity and expect something better to emerge. A culture is not analogous to physics, but is again characterized by causal density and what Manzi calls "holistic integration."
Thus, when we talk about a massive change to the system, whether it is wild deficit spending, or Obamacare, or the redefinition of marriage, the burden of proof should always be on those who advocate it, because "almost any reasonable-sounding program" will "fail most of the time."
For example, if there is such a thing as a "culture of poverty," this would explain why the criminally simplistic War on Poverty is such a quagmire. And if homosexual behavior is conditioned by culture -- which it obviously is -- we're about to see a lot more of it. Likewise, you can't just say "you have to pass the bill to know what's in it," because that's like saying "here, have some radiation, because you have to have the birth defect to know how great it's gonna be!"
Indeed, the reason why these policies fail is the same reason why the vast majority of genetic mutations result in harm to the organism. If Darwin is correct, every once in a great while a random mutation will confer benefit, but don't bet on it.
Likewise, based upon sheer chance, every once in a while a government program will actually benefit the intended recipient without side effects and unintended consequences. But don't bet on it.
And certainly don't bet four billion dollars a day, every day, for the rest of your life.