Joy Ann Reid and the tyranny of technical expertise


Oh, well. As Churchill didn’t quite say, “An occasional meal of one’s own words is part of a healthy, balanced diet.”

Continue reading “Joy Ann Reid and the tyranny of technical expertise”

Cato Institute’s Report on Portuguese Drug Policy: Reasons for Skepticism

Mark informs me that this Thursday he will be “with Glenn Greenwald on bloggingheads tv on drugs”. I have told him this is a bad idea and it would make more sense to take the drugs afterwards, but still, he’s his own man so there it is. Let me contribute something in advance nonetheless. Many policy people have asked me what I think of the Cato Institute’s report on Portugal “proving that drug legalization works”, which Greenwald authored. Below is the guts of the memo I have written for such decision makers, which expresses my doubts about the report’s standing as a serious piece of drug policy analysis. If you like your drug policy simple and ideological, save yourself some time and skip straight to the comments section to denounce me. But if you want to know how analysts and decision makers try to sort through drug policy in all its complexity, you may find the following of interest. Extra credit reading is this concrete example for how you can torture the statistics of Portuguese drug policy until they give you the answer you want.

This memo is to follow up on your request for some analysis of the Cato Institute’s report on Portuguese drug policy. To summarize my view briefly, I think some aspects of current Portuguese drug policy are useful, that all of it warrants even-handed evaluation and that the Cato Report does summarize a selection of the important facts about the policy’s impact. I do however have some reservations about how the report has been interpreted as well as how it was written. Continue reading “Cato Institute’s Report on Portuguese Drug Policy: Reasons for Skepticism”

David Brooks vs. Daniel Knowles and Glenn Greenwald on British Politics

David Brooks probably didn’t expect the reaction he got when he asserted that British political culture was currently superior to the stateside version which he covers in Washington. Daniel Knowles of the Daily Telegraph slapped Brooks down hard, both for suspect historical analysis (e.g., forgetting the impact of The Great War) and for lionizing the intertwined public school background of the political leadership class.

Brooks particularly ticked Knowles off by saying: “Britain is also blessed with a functioning political culture. It is dominated by people who live in London and who have often known each other since prep school. This makes it gossipy and often incestuous.” Glenn Greenwald also was infuriated by this passage and twists the sword with relish accusing Brooks of being an anti-democratic elitist who wants all decisions made by a small club of insiders of which he is a part.

Yet, speaking as someone who does extensive policy advising in Westminster and in Washington, Brooks’ basic point is correct: British politics is simply working better, for several reasons. First (as Brooks noted), the fundamental ideological differences between the parties are smaller than in the U.S. No one for example believes that a massive tax cut will solve Britain’s public debt challenges. Rather, the argument is about how much spending must go down and how much taxes must go up.

Second, perhaps because British people project their need for celebrities onto the royals, British politics isn’t as celebritized as ours: A lisping, adenoidal bloke with a hairdo that would warrant a refund at Supercuts can still lead one of the major parties and substantive people who don’t come across smoothly on camera can still be elected. This expands the pool of political talent beyond those with made-for-TV faces and smooth but shallow interpersonal styles.

Third, the public school thing isn’t all bad. As I said from the day the government was formed, I had hoped David Davies would get a post because he is the one prominent Tory who grew up in poverty and would add a perspective the Etonians don’t have. Insular wealth and privilege can produce blind spots, and that part of the old school tie bit can be problematic. But on the other hand, the fact that so many of the leadership class “knew each other at school” means, well, they actually know each other as people in a way that members of Congress no longer do, and that makes it harder for them to demonize each other publicly or even in their own imagination.