A principle of wide application

Hume on not fighting on the wrong ground.

From Hume’s essay “Of the Coalition of Parties“:

There is not a more effectual method of betraying a cause, than to lay the stress of the argument on a wrong place, and by disputing an untenable post, enure the adversaries to success and victory.

I have a particular application in mind, but let me propose this as an open thread. What’s your favorite example?

Footnote “enure” = “accustom”

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

11 thoughts on “A principle of wide application”

  1. Wikipedia: “Hruska is best remembered in American political history for a 1970 speech he made to the Senate urging them to confirm the nomination of G. Harrold Carswell to the Supreme Court. Responding to criticism that Carswell had been a mediocre judge, Hruska claimed that:
    “Even if he were mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren’t they, and a little chance? We can’t have all Brandeises, Frankfurters and Cardozos.”[1]”

  2. What did Brandeis, Frankfurter, and Cardozo have in common?
    Think the distinguished Senator from Nebraska wasn’t doing a bit of dog-whistlin’ there?

    1. No, it’s not obvious. Sensible people don’t think that way. But after 5 minutes on Wikipedia I figured it out.

  3. Well, The Tea Party (actually, The current Republican Party,) recalling the Bushian Doctrine, “We create our own Reality,” would point to the Supreme Court as the example of why their current bogeyman, teaching “Critical thinking skills” in school, is anathema to a happy, successful society.

  4. Perhaps, by placing the stress of the economic policy argument on the current account deficits, the deficit hawks have delayed the return of the economy to full employment, thereby prolonging the depression and delaying the level of economic activity that can reduce and pay down the deficits they deplore. They make it likely that they will lose to adversaries who rightly place the stress on government action which, though increasing current account deficits, increases the very aggregate demand which ends depressions and pays down debts.

    1. I think you may have that one backwards, but only because you’re taking the “deficit hawks” at face value. By reducing economic activity and making it more difficult for the deficit to be paid down, they are extending the time during which deficit hawkery will be a viable political strategy. If you look at most of the “deficit hawk” positions — tax cuts for the rich, repealing obamacare, rescinding economies in medicare and medicaid, increasing defense spending and so on, they’re actually designed to increase the deficit.

  5. Don’t have a good instance for you, but this reminds me of one of those eponymous “laws” floating around (stated much better when I first read it): if one’s one’s strategy leads away from one’s stated goal then the stated goal may not be the intended goal.

  6. I’m going with everything Democrats (aside from a few recently elected Senators) emphasized and eventually accepted as “filibuster reform” instead of the actual issue which was the 60 vote requirement for cloture.

  7. All good examples. I go with some simpler examples of recent memory in which likely Republican Senate victors were defeated in their own primary, to be replaced by unelectables. The best (worst) of these is Christine O’Donnell of Delaware.

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