Larry Summers says something important and overlooked here: "it is much easier to design policy than to implement it."
This is surely true. It's a cliche of ministerial memoirs that a man arrives in Whitehall with high hopes only to find that reform is harder to achieve that he hoped. Take for example universal credit. Most of us would agree that it is a good idea in principle to simplify benefits and reduce withdrawal rates (let's leave aside the level of the benefit). However, the implementation of the scheme has proved trickier than the basic idea. A similar thing might be true of free schools and I suspect that in foreign policy - in peacetime and war - implementation is everything and top-level policy design relatively trivial.
However, media reporting of politics underweights this. Political reporting, and especially comment, dwells upon either soap opera or policy initiatives. Of course, there is much reporting of implementation but this is mostly after-the-fact descriptions of individual failure rather than analyses of the structures which produce that failure - which corroborates the old jibe that a journalists is someone who watches the battle from the mountaintop and then rides down and bayonets the wounded.
This is to be regretted because there are strong reasons to suspect that the policy implementation process is sub-optimal.
One is that politics is dominated by what I've called cargo-cult management. There's a fetish of "leadership" and "boldness" which encourages a neglect of the unglamorous gruntwork of proper management: tracking progress, achieving small partial targets and overcoming problems. This neglect will be magnified by cognitive biases such as overconfidence and groupthink.
Perhaps the most grievous problem, though, is a lack of information. "Make sure you get real-time, high-quality data" says the Cabinet Office Implementation Unit. Giles Wilkes' experience suggests this advice has, well, not been implemented:
Much of the time, Whitehall throngs with officials struggling just to find out what is going on. The sound of dysfunction is not the cacophony of argument, but the silence of suppressed documents and unreturned phone calls.
There are many reasons why this is the case. Some are exacerbated by politicians' own stupidity and arrogance; if they think bad news challenges their egotistical self-perceptions they'll be loath to hear it and underlings will censor themselves, and if whistleblowers are threatened with disciplinary action they'll keep quiet. Other problems, though, lie in the very nature of hierarchy. It easily produces silo mentalities and a lack of trust which impedes the information flow necessary for proper policy implementation. It also yields perverse incentives: it's much more pleasant to give your superiors good news than bad - so guess what they'll hear?
In saying all this I'm merely echoing something Kenneth Boulding wrote back in 1966 (pdf):
Organizational structure affects the flow of information, hence affects the information input into the decision-maker, hence affects his image of the future and his decisions, even perhaps his value function. There is a great deal of evidence that almost all organizational structures tend to produce false images in the decision-maker, and that the larger and more authoritarian the organization the better the chance that its top decision-makers will be operating in purely imaginary worlds.
The questions he posed back then have not satisfactorily been solved. It is not just the England football team that has failed to progress since 1966.