Can Big Data make government cheaper?

Can Big Data make government cheaper?

Summary: The movie "Moneyball" celebrated a "Big Data" approach to maximizing returns from investments. Can Big Data do the same for government?


For an institution that takes some 35% of our total gross domestic product, government gets little scrutiny to determine what programs are effective. This problem spans multiple sectors of the economy.

In a recent essay, two former budget officials ask why the government can't play Moneyball with our tax dollars. It's a good question when we consider the size of and impact of government.

Health care. The government spends about half the healthcare dollars. Congress has made it a point to derail the most efficient use of government dollars. But with the advent of electronic health records - more than half of new records are electronic - we will soon be able to monitor and compare treatments for thousands of different ailments, at a much lower cost than limited double-blind studies.

Social welfare. One purpose of the US Constitution - "promote the general welfare" - is reflected in the spending of hundreds of billions of dollars every year for programs ranging from prenatal care to food stamps to the National Institutes of Health. But which of these programs actually works? We don't know - but we could if we collected and analyzed data.

Defense. President Eisenhower - a former general - warned America against the military-industrial complex that now costs over $700 billion each year. But Congressman routinely fight Pentagon efforts to spend more wisely, while the generals often support pet projects of little use.

Can we handle the truth?
Of course data is only useful if we act on it. On some issues - climate change, abortion, education, drug policy and more - it seems many people have made up their minds and don't care what the data says.

But that may be changing. Today's young people - hammered by the Great Recession, the loss of middle class jobs and gridlock in Washington - may take a more pragmatic approach. Stress - like the Great Depression and WWII - seems to focus Americans on solutions rather than ideology.

And right now we could use more solutions and fewer slogans.

The Storage Bits take
The reality based community is a minority in Washington DC and in state capitals. Our legislators happily get up and spout whatever nonsense their campaign contributors require - God won't let climate change happen! - and do so with a straight face.

But keeping government a data free zone is a recipe for disaster. Thanks to big data we cannot only spy on every American but we could also be ensuring that our government programs are more cost-effective.

It is up to citizens to insist that their Congressmen look at data and explain exactly how their plans will produce better outcomes. Most citizens won't, but those who do can help move America forward.

Comments welcome, of course.  If government wasn't important, why did the Founding Fathers lay down their lives, fortunes and sacred honor to found one?

Topics: Storage, Big Data, Government

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  • The NSA is using Big Data already

    But it is not being used to make the gov't cheaper.
  • Why did the founding fathers create a government? Such naivete.

    The founding fathers created a government, and a very limited one, and not the one which Mr Harris above thinks they did, and not the one that Mr Harris believes we should have.

    What Mr Harris talks about is about big government, and a very intrusive one. The founding fathers created a government that had limited powers, and most powers going to the states. What has happened, especially in the last 100 years or so, is that, the federal government has usurped a lot of what powers the states were given, and now we're looking at a federal government which is unmanageable, and intrusive, and seeks to control all aspects of our lives and of businesses.

    BTW, Mr Harris, global warming "science", which is what you're alluding to with "climate change", is still JUNK science. Dedicating any funding and time and effort by the government to that kind of fraud, is pure insanity.

    BTW, Mr Harris, have you noticed how the federal government is now $17 trillion dollars in debt, and continues racking up more than $1 trillion in debt every year? At what point do you believe that, government will have taken on more than they can handle? As of a few years ago, the government hasn't been able to pay its debts, and the best they can do is to borrow more to try to keep spending more, while racking up even more debt. Wake up and smell the truth.

    That big data phrase you used, was just to spew your liberal viewpoints and you offered no solutions, but you did offer to have the government create more problems.
    • Can you handle the truth?

      Your comment is a case in point. With the sequester and the end of some of the Bush tax cuts the deficit this year will be well below $1T. The world's capital market professional happily loan the US money at 0% real interest - so I guess they aren't as worried - but what do free markets know?

      Historically liberalism has been about free trade, limited and efficient government, and personal liberty. Big Data is a tool that can help us get there - or it can enslave us. Conservatives are the ones who want to invade our bedrooms and doctors offices while injecting religion into public schools and rejecting science - and no, climate science is not "junk." I don't like the nanny-state West Coast - there's a reason I live in Arizona - but on the whole I'm a technocrat who wants to be left alone by ideologues of any stripe.

      R Harris
      • Liberalism being aboout limited and efficient government? What planet are

        you from?

        Liberalism is the complete opposite of efficient and limited.

        When it comes to personal liberty, your are again, living in a fantasy world, because, liberalism as being practiced by democrats, is the complete opposite of liberty, especially, when most of them espouse big government, which is the opposite of free. Big government tends to always take away our freedoms, and Obama and a lot of other democrat "leaders" are constantly talking about taking away some of our freedoms, such as the freedom of speech, and our second amendment. Lately, the 4th amendment to the constitution is being violated, and so are a few others. IN fact, Obama himself has stated that the constitution and our bill of rights, need to be repealed so that we can start over. So, buddy, you are way off base when it comes to the "current" meaning of liberalism. Liberalism used to have a good meaning, but the word has been bastardized by the democrats.

        Then, the sequester will have no effect at all on the our of control spending by the administration and congress, which means that, yearly, we'll still have over a $trillion dollars in deficit spending. Then, when the U.S. has to spend a huge amount of the tax revenue it receives from taxpayers towards spending to pay down the loans and debts, then, it's pure nonsense that anybody is lending Uncle Sam any money at 0% interest.

        Why the heck are you even allowed to write such nonsense?!?
      • BTW, the "sequester" was opposed by Obama and all democrats,

        and it was republicans who forced it to happen. So, there again you are wrong about what party is opposed to saving money, and which wants to spend the country into death.