Wonks, activists, and voters

The subjunctive mood and complex statistics have something in common: they’re essential to understanding the world, and no potent political argument uses either one.

Andy’s right, of course: no sentence in the subjunctive mood is politically potent. The same is true of any quantitative analysis using a statistic more complicated than an average or a percentage change.

And that’s why “policy wonk” is a term of abuse among political journalists (including bloggers) and political consultants. We’re committed to acknowledging the complexity of the world, while most activists and most voters have a strong preference for simplicity.

George Bernard Shaw was right (unless it was Bentham who said it): democracy won’t really be a workable form of government until the average person resents a fallacy as much as he does an insult. In the meantime, it will retain the rank Churchill assigned it: the worst possible form of government, except for its alternatives.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com