In two-part series for The Washington Post Monkey Cage blog, Henry Farrell interviews Steve Ballmer, former CEO of Microsoft and creator of USAFacts. The interview touches on issues surrounding making public data more accessible and useful, and the challenge of mobilizing facts to inform public debate.
From the discussion:
"HF – You talked in a previous interview about how numbers can end arguments. Yet here, we’re talking about how numbers can start them. How do you strike that balance?
SB – There is a road that numbers finish and a road that numbers start. If you want to know how many people receive their health care through employer-sponsored plans, numbers finish the discussion. If you want to have a discussion about deductibility of employee health insurance, etc., then I would say that numbers start the policy discussion. Hopefully, people grounded in the same numbers and same facts start the policy discussion, and if someone wants to say what the number is, then there is an answer to that question. So numbers answer some questions and help people support an informed debate about what to do next."
"HF — You’ve said in the past that while you have pretty open views on politics, you do think that government budgets ought to balance like a business. Will better data and a more balance-sheet-focused approach help push toward this?
SB — Let me separate the chicken from the egg. The number one thing I advocate for is the data. I am a pro-facts partisan. I will push for more accurate, better reconciled, more timely and consistently kept data. That agenda supersedes all others, because there is no integrity if that’s not there. Below that, I have many opinions as most people do on many things. But there are two things I am explicitly partisan on. Number one, I think that every kid born in America ought to have a shot at the American Dream. Many kids don’t, and my wife, Connie, and I will advocate for those things. We’ll use the same data, and be very careful about keeping the data accurate and not in any way influencing it from our perspective."