End-of-year stock-taking and list-making are all around. I pay too much attention to political events and these tend to be uninspiring. On top of that, the end of the year is not a great vantage point. Several years hence, we may find that the leaders we had in 2011 and their political ploys weren't so awful. Perhaps.
In my view, America's three greatest policy errors are (1) letting teachers' unions and their allies continue to be influential; we inflict the worst schools and teachers on the poorest kids; (2) our drug laws criminalize behaviors that have their worst ancillary effects when driven underground; we get crowded prisons, an overwrought criminal justice system and we make people in other countries (mainly to our south) pay an unconscienable price; (3) our immigration laws make no economic sense, here or abroad; a more open policy would be win-win.
In 2011, #1 and #2 entered popular discourse way beyond the standard outlets and venues. Waiting for 'Superman' (actually 2010, but DVD in 2011) went a long way to popularizing the case for reform of the public schools. Ken Burns' PBS series Prohibition went some of the way towards doing the same for drug policy. Each of these went where policy wonks and policy wonkish stuff does not go. I am guessing that movement towards more elightened policy discussions on these two fronts began with these releases in 2011.
Now if we could only get some enlightened group fund a similarly creative visual re immigration policy. We have enough in the way of studies and "white papers". There has to be something for the people who watch the Presidential debates and who get their news via the late night comedy shows.
Re Topic #3, read this. (H/T Marginal Revolution)