The Sunderland Echo has a useful phrase - a "culture of mistakes". In fact, such a culture extends far beyond the Mackems. In a world of complexity, bounded rationality and limited knowledge, mistakes are inevitable and ubiquitous. The question, therefore, is not merely how to avoid them but rather: which ones should we make?
This question arises in countless contexts. Football teams must choose between playing from the back and so risking the mistake of giving the ball away in a dangerous area against playing it long and so making the more common but less costly mistake of conceding possession in less dangerous areas. Central bankers must compare the mistake of raising unemployment against the mistake of letting inflation rise; the notion of a central bank loss function is central (pdf) in macroeconomics. Social workers must compare the mistake of breaking up families unncessarily against the mistake of exposing children to danger. Medical diagnosticians must compare the mistake of false positives (seeing a disease where none in fact exists) against that of false negatives (failing to diagnose a disease where it does exist). And so on.
There is, however, one profession that seems to be an exception here - politics. Although mistakes are as common in politics as elsewhere, politicians rarely ask voters: which errors would you rather we made?
And yet this question is central to many policy areas. For example, in civil liberties we must weigh the mistake of risking an avoidable terrorist attack against that of curtailing freedom unnecessarily. Taxation policy must weigh the mistake of possibly permitting excessive inequality against that of perhaps reducing incentives to innovate. Benefit reform must weigh the mistakes of giving some claimants too much and others too little against the administrative errors that are inevitable when you try to change a massive and complex system. And so on.
AFAIK, though, no minister has said: "There will be mistakes in this policy. It's just that it's better to make the mistakes associated with this than the errors associated with other courses of action."
You might reply that this is because if they did so, they would be slaughtered by the media. Maybe so. But this merely confirms what I've said before - that the problem with our politics lies not (just) with our politicians but in our broader political culture which is too immature to recognise that the real world is more complex than human abilities can handle.