This morning I participated in the first meeting of a new working group on federal subsidies, with a bunch of other budget policy experts. The purpose of the working group is to help in the development of a new, comprehensive, online database that will catalog federal “subsidies.” Putting aside the really thorny issue of how does one define a “subsidy” (I’ll look up the dictionary definition later), this morning the group was to discuss how such a database could be constructed to attract, and be useful to, not only a policy-analyst audience, but also the general public–i.e., ordinary people, and hopefully millions of them.
I said the subsidies database and website should be both “sexy” and “smart”.
The “sexy” part requires that it get specific on what particular companies get how many dollars in subsidies, in order to get the attention of (and perhaps spark the “outrage” in) the general public. Maybe the site could even feature a “subsidy of the day” as the headline to grab the big and broad audience. This is the quality that would appeal to the “investigative reporter” in all of us. (Bloggers would love this aspect of the subsidies website.)
The “smart” part requires that the subsidies database be comprehensive (including subsidies on both the tax and spending sides of the budget) and organized/categorized according to the purpose and policy goals of the subsidies–e.g., to increase access to higher education, to promote a cleaner environment, to reduce infant mortality, to encourage development of new technologies, etc. Such smartness is the quality that would appeal to the “good, informed public citizen” in all of us. (Ultimately, this is how the public could move from being informed to being influencial regarding how the government spends their tax dollars, as well as how analysts will be able to do the cost-benefit calculus that could lead to the formulation of more efficient policy.)
So “smart” and “sexy” is what I think the online federal subsidies database has to be, in order to have mass appeal and make a difference.
Come to think of it, that’s sort of the idea I had in creating EconomistMom.com.
But no, if I really combined those qualities here, this would be “EconomistBabe“, wouldn’t it?
Now, don’t make me have to edit/censure your comments!