What’s On Offer at RBC

I really liked Mark’s post about how people who think all policy analysis is just rhetoric are suspicious of, or even angry at, anyone who points out a fact that is inconsistent with their ideology.

It leads me to re-post the bulk of my earlier explication of what RBC does and does not do:

One of the things I have observed is that many political/public policy blogs are comfort food for a pool of regular readers. If you create a site called “immigrantsaredestroyingourcountry.com” or “legalizecocainenow.com” or “Allrepublicansareevilmonsters.com” you will over time accrue a readership, potentially a large one. Your role as a blogger is to repeat, in a thousand different ways, the message captured in your blog title. Your amen corner will then comment enthusiastically, over and over, in post after post that you are oh so right about what you think.

If such a blog strays from its message, the tell will be readers commenting “Hey, this blog is supposed to be advocating X and this post of yours seems to indicate that Y may be true”. And then, the ultimate insult from a comfort food seeker “This is the kind of post I would expect to see on blog Y”. The accusation isn’t that the blogger is wrong, but that the blogger is a traitor to the cause.

Whether providing political comfort food is right or wrong, it’s human nature to seek it out at least some of the time and that’s not going to change. But I thought it was worth saying that it is a feature and not a bug of RBC that if you read us for long you will encounter viewpoints and analyses with which you disagree (perhaps quite strongly).

When Mark Kleiman asked me to start blogging here, he knew there were things we didn’t agree about. And he didn’t say “You must support position Y, political party A, candidate Q” or anything else of that sort. He just asked me, as he asked a diverse range of people over the years, if I wanted to blog here and I said yes. Quincy Adams (ahem), Jonathan Zasloff, Amy Zegart, Robert Frank, Kelly Kleiman, Matthew Kahn, Steve Teles, James Wimberley, Lesley Rosenthal, Michael O’Hare, Bob Jesse, Andy Sabl and Harold Pollack have different knowledge bases and different points of view, which I consider all to the good.

I can tell from our comments that most RBC readers understand that there is no loyalty oath required to be a blogger here, nor an understanding that the posters must agree with each other. There is a shared commitment to evidence over opinion, as well as to civil debate, but that’s different than being monolithic on substance.

Very occasionally I get a comment along the lines of “This blog is supposed to advocate Y and you aren’t doing your part”. This makes it worth repeating that this isn’t a comfort food blog; that’s not our comparative advantage. Does this cost us readers? I am sure it does, but that doesn’t bother me and I assume it doesn’t trouble Mark either. The readers we keep are smart and intellectually curious, and those are the kind of people I want to spend my time around.

Do I wish that more people were interested in data, dialogue and potentially having their opinions proved wrong than are interested in comfort food? Broadly speaking, yes. But I hope this blog comforts those who have a taste for something other than comfort food.


  1. says

    Comfort food is an interesting concept.
    Along that line…

    No doubt all have seen the videos of that fellow — James Yeager –who is getting his 15 minutes of fame and shame right now.
    In one video he tells his followers, troops, or whatever they should “stretch” and “get fit” in preparation.
    Please note that if Big Damn Government encouraged everyone to “stretch” and “get fit” it would be horrid porridge from a nanny state that is eroding the constitution.
    But coming from a bald white guy with guns, muscles, and tattoos? It’s delicious pabulum to be supped with a spoon with one hand, whilst cleaning your gun with the other.

    What a curious species is humanity: That comfort food of the same taste and caloric content depends so much on who is holding the spoon up for us…

  2. Brett says

    I follow your blog specifically because it avoids falling into what call “comfort food” (the usual form of which is Outrage of the Day posting).

  3. Ed Whitney says

    All you pointy-headed professors have vocabularies of big words that you toss around: big words like “sometimes” and “maybe.”

    Sometimes a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun:

    Maybe legalization of pot will have a downside.

    These two words mix poorly with comfort food.

  4. Freeman says

    Drugs and guns are complex public policy analysis topics rife with strongly-held beliefs, conflicting data inputs, and uncertain analytical outputs. Contentious disputes are likely, and as I noted at Mark’s post sometimes even factually-focused information only ends up increasing the contentiousness, and even more-so among those with higher political knowledge, which describes much of the readership here.

    Given that, I think the RBC does an exceptionally nice job steering the conversations such that only light moderation is occasionally needed to keep things interesting, challenging, and reasonably civil.