Bayesian campaigning

Michael at suggests that Howard Dean should simply adopt Wesley Clark’s tax plan, and say so frankly:

After all, it’s traditional for a nominee to pick up parts of rivals’ programs for the general election. Why wait? Say that this just demonstrates what a great guy Clark is, and that it also demonstrates that you approach public policy like a doctor or scientist. When someone comes up with a better treatment for a sick patient (Bush’s economy) you don’t hold on to the old method just because you are used to it. You read the medical journals, you keep up with developments, you rely on peer review, you use the latest and greatest techniques.

I’d like to think this would work. One of the worst things about campaigning in the modern mode is that it forces candidates to pretend to be infallible, rather than competing to demonstrate an intelligent flexibility. Surely we would be better off as a country if our leaders were frankly Bayesian, constantly updating their beliefs in the presence of new facts and ideas.

But the truly scientific attitude, which cares passionately about being right now and not at all about having been right yesterday, may be sufficiently uncommon among journalists and voters to make flexibility, like humor, a losing proposition politically.

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: