That basic economics is a necessary, though not sufficient, input into public policy discussions should not be controversial to readers of The Austrian Economists. But despite the great progress that has been made in economic communication in the last 25 years, the daily news reveals the persistence of an ignorance of economics that raises doubts about our impressions of success. Worse yet is when we look at the actual behavior of policy makers (as opposed to their rhetoric), e.g., Bush's spending record.
Take the mundane example of traffic in the DC area. The Washington Post on Monday December 12th ran a story (A1; A14) on plans to introduce toll roads in the DC area to reduce gridlock. The reporter Steven Ginsberg after describing the various plans and reproducing a map of the proposed toll roads states:
For the past 50 years, highways have grown out of the traditional governmental process. Communities cited needs, political leaders approved projects, and state transportation agencies drew up plans according to well-established guidelines. The money to pay for roads --- and later for maintaining them --- came from taxpayers largely through a levy on gas.
Privately backed roads will be conceived, designed, built and operated by companies according to their ability to make money, a criterion that may not reflect the most pressing traffic needs. (emphasis mine)
I believe Mr. Ginsberg would do well to read the work of my colleague Dan Klein on curb rights and urban transit and the literature on the private provision of roads more generally.
An improvement in the public understanding (including policy makers and news reporters) of basic economics would go a long way to fixing much that is impeding the wealth creating capacity of economies throughout the world. Richard Epstein's wonderful Free Markets Under Siege is highly recommended to all on this basic point.
For college students, I shamelessly believe the best antidote to economic ignorance is Paul Heyne, Peter Boettke, and David Prychitko's The Economic Way of Thinking, 11th Edition (Prentice Hall, 2005).