"The 18th century German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe noted, “Daring ideas are like chessmen moved forward. They may be beaten, but they may start a winning game.” But when is a policy idea considered to be a success? While factors such as a favourable environment and novelty play an important role, structural change heavily depends on when it is brought about, that is, the timing of policy implementation is vital. The privatisation of British Telecom in 1984, former United States President Jimmy Carter’s price controls and high Federal Reserve interest rates aimed at curbing inflation, and Deng Xiaoping’s string of reforms in 1978 in China are all success stories courtesy their well-timed implementation.
A tool for gauging the timeliness of an idea is the Overton Window, attributed to the late think tank veteran, Joseph Overton. The Overton Window depicts the realm of policy ideas in public discourse and provides a scale to judge the tolerance/acceptability of these topics. Hence, as discussions and debates ensue, ideas move along the spectrum of the Window, ranging from “acceptable” and “popular” to “radical” and “unthinkable”. The Window allows for the possibility of ideas that were once “unthinkable” to become “popular” and vice-versa. Its up/down movement reflects the degree of government intervention, that is, the greater the intervention, the lesser the freedom resulting in downward movement and vice-versa."
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