Decisions about trade-offs are always political

One issue I find that does not get discussed enough in policy making or political circles is that of “time”.

We live in an increasing sped up and interconnected world. Technology has created a 24/7 news cycle that did not exist not too long ago. There is no reprieve and where there is a vacuum, attempts by other actors are made to fill it.

At the same time, there is an expectation of increasingly better decisions with more involvement and genuine consultation. People expect to have a greater voice, have greater access to information and processes yet they also want action quickly and immediately.

We have a consumerised culture where people expect things now, on demand, but we also expect those decisions to be made without error. It is not realistic.

Ensuring the quality of information and decision-making through the use of deliberation, proper processes, fact-checking and analysis all takes time. You cannot always have a speedy and an error free result. There is often a trade-off that has to be made.

The former Labor Government’s stimulus program is a good example. I don’t think it should be a surprise that it had some problems and wastage. The speed at which it had to be delivered meant it was inevitable. It was a trade-off to meet its goal of averting a recession because “time” was of the utmost importance.

How we reconcile these competing demands of needing time and public demands remains a challenge. There are limits to how much a decision can be sped up while ensuring it is a thorough and sound decision when humans are involved. Decisions have to be made about how much speed versus how much quality. The real challenge is how we determine the trade-off.

These questions about trade-offs aren’t just limited to “time” vs “quality”. They are equally applicable to “efficiency” vs “equity” or “freedom” vs “security”.

There is no scientific rule about what is the appropriate extent to trade one thing off. It is ultimately a political decision. We cannot pretend it is not a political choice, nor should we. I only wish more of us had the courage to admit that trade-offs are inevitable in decision-making and decisions ultimately political.


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