When governments set out to address a public problem, whether that’s acid rain, homelessness or student loan debt, they have a number of choices to make in terms of a “policy instrument.” For example, homelessness could have as a policy instrument of everything from doing nothing to providing people with funds for shelter, to helping them make rent and financing the building of homes for them. Political scientists tend to classify such options in terms of the level of state involvement in the private sphere of people’s lives. Thus, funding some public service announcements about the dangers of alcohol abuse is significantly less intrusive than requiring those with addictions to participate in mandatory rehabilitation programs.
Jazz musician John Coltrane takes the cheery Sound of Music song, My Favorite Things, from the 1958 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, in a very different direction. From the 1961 album of his, of the same name, the saxophone player made it quite abrasive, even middle eastern in its impressions, and more of a vamp on a few chords.
The lyrics in the song are about the things Maria loves, but John Coltrane, without words, possesses, even destroys such items.
It’s the same song, but so different, much as governments can be frustrated at the panoply of choices available to solve public problems. One can imagine that Julie Andrews, with her precise singing from the film version, would have a very different conception of the policy maker’s toolkit than the master improviser, “Trane.” One can parade their cute child charges before Nazis to sing, or put suicide bomb vests under their dirndls?