If you aren’t mad, you should be. If you aren’t furious, you’re not paying attention.
The Luskin School relies on three first principles in our teaching and research.
First, policy should rest on evidence and evaluation of efficacy. We are best served by social decisions in which science and analysis are brought to bear on human problems.
Second, a central tenet in the shaping of those policies must be human and community well-being. Think of this as a Hippocratic oath for public affairs. Do no harm, and try to do good. Historically, our disciplines have not always lived up to that prescription, but I think this is a fair characterization of the guiding beliefs at work in the School and in our respective fields today.
Finally, in times of crisis, government can and must be at the center of shaping our path out of harm’s way. Yes, government will rely on the support and cooperation of philanthropy and civil society. And, yes, a robust social fabric of interconnected communities and rich deposits of social capital will serve any society in its defense, recovery and restoration. But in the last analysis, the allocation of values and the ability to command resources, cooperation and coordinated response to societal peril, where large numbers of lives are at stake, rests with government.
We are witnessing a moment where, to some degree or another, the events in American society and the actions of our leadership fail to reflect any of those three guiding principles. While some levels of government and specific agencies are engaged in heroic efforts to tamp down the coronavirus and ameliorate its consequences, others are asleep at the wheel, absent from the effort, or are — and it is difficult to fathom this —making matters worse.
Considerations of politics and profit are far too often displacing considerations of human suffering and mortality. Personal responsibility for collective well-being appears to be failing. The near-term prognosis is poor. And the success of other nations in addressing the pandemic and its effects make it plain that our misfortune in the United States simply does not have to be so.
In the midst of this incredible pandemic, the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery reminded us that before the first case of COVID-19, this society already had tremendous challenges in living up to the promise of our rhetoric, and the emotional outpouring of anger and demands for action that were unleashed, at long last, hold the potential for meaningful change, if only we can seize the moment.
We have just completed a school year like no other, and, as I write this, we are busily preparing for yet another, largely displaced from Westwood and our bucolic campus, reliant on electronics and medical masks to interact, and working overtime to continue the delivery of our six degree programs and our important research. But even in this unusual time, the School and its faculty, staff and students continue our important work.
As I write, Luskin faculty are working on reducing harm among Los Angeles’ most vulnerable, helping renters struggling to stay housed, providing mental health support to frontline L.A. County workers, examining the challenges of transportation in times of transmissible illness, thinking through the financial impacts on survival for small municipal utilities, examining the despair of citizens of some of Los Angeles’ poorest communities, and working overtime to reform policing practices that lead so often to injustice and violence against minority communities. Our work and our adherence to the first principles of evidence-based social policy, ethical practices to enhance human dignity, and of an efficient and effective government remain in place.
It is in the most difficult times that we come to know what people are made of. I am proud of this School, and you should be too.