Solving Big Problems by Breaking Them Into Smaller Ones

As Gallup reports, Americans worry most about economic issues:


That’s puzzling because the United States did best, compared to other developed countries, in recovering from the crisis:


David Wessel from Brookings suggests why this achievement isn’t encouraging and “economy in general” is still a concern. Now, look at developing countries:

PEW Research
PEW Research

These problems are more specific, partly because PEW’s questions are closed and Gallup’s are open-ended. Crime, health care, pollution, for example, appear in both polls. But it’s less evident that they’re important problems in the United States, too. The number of homicides is comparable to that of developing countries. K-12 education doesn’t catch up developed countries in international rankings. Or the results of the War on Poverty:


(The poor actually do slightly better because the measure excludes social transfers. Still, transfers are supposed to be a temporary relief when families fall below the poverty level. Instead, social mobility is low and the poverty is persistent among many specific families.)

Dissatisfaction with government and economy is a big, unsolvable complaint. But breaking big dissatisfaction into smaller problems helps recognize crimes, education, and poverty, which the government can solve. What does it takes? Usually, smarter, not necessarily expensive, policies. And it’s not like no one knows how to do better in this complex world (thousands of academic papers offer very feasible changes for better), but it seems too few want it after all got confused by big hopeless problems.

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