The Editors' Blog

Moneyball and government

Contra Costa Times

On the Politico web site this morning is a column worth reading by John Bridgeland and Peter Orszag. Bridgeland was director of the White House Domestic Policy Council under President George W. Bush, and Orszag was OMB director under President Obama.

They suggest looking to the strategic vision of Billy Beane, general manager of the Oakland Athletics, as a way to evaluate government programs.

Beane famously uses data to evaluate baseball players. He had to find undervalued talent because he didn’t have the money to bid against rich teams like the New York Yankees. This brought the Athletics success and has allowed them to compete at a high level. The Athletics were one of baseball’s best teams this season, and had one of the smallest payrolls. The A’s have a payroll that is around 30 percent of the amount spent by the Yankees. The A’s made it to the post-season. The Yankees didn’t.

Beane’s approach was chronicled in the book “Moneyball” by Michael Lewis and then he was played by Brad Pitt in the movie.

The writers, Bridgeland and Orszag, argue that government spending should be evaluated along the same lines. Find out what works and shift funding to those programs. Find out what doesn’t work, and stop doing it. Make decisions based on data and statistics, rather than guesswork and politics.