Ryan Streeter of the American Enterprise Institute explores a promising approach to public policy.

Everyday people are always less ideological than policymakers in Washington want them to be. States often meet them where they are. And while most Americans like the sound of free college, child care, and paid leave (who wouldn’t?), when asked which single issue concerns them most where they live, people worry more about the basics. For instance, in a new unpublished AEI national survey, the top issues among conservatives, liberals, and moderates alike are crime and high taxes, followed by economic concerns such as the need for good jobs and community problems such as drugs and homelessness. Environmental, immigration, and public health concerns—in the midst of a pandemic, no less—were low on the list.

When dealing with bread-and-butter issues at the state level, lawmakers in both parties over the past decade have been moving away from the “we can subsidize our way out of this” approach, which still dominates the left’s thinking in Washington (and has come to dominate the thinking of some on the right, too), to removing or rewriting rules that get in the way of people solving problems themselves. Eight years ago, the political scientist Steven Teles argued that the complexity, not the size, of government had become policymakers’ biggest challenge. For example, he highlighted the ways in which our complicated tax code, healthcare regulations, and overlapping K-12 education rules create problems are absent in earlier, more straightforward programs such as Social Security. Federal policymakers may not have taken that argument to heart, but state lawmakers have started to.

State policymakers are no less interested than members of Congress in having a lot of money to spend on policy problems, but they have increasingly focused on this different path, which we might refer to as “decluttering.” Instead of subsidizing important things like costly housing or low-paying jobs, the decluttering mindset seeks to diminish or remove the rules and requirements that drive up the cost of housing or prevent people from seeking higher-paying jobs in the first place.