What would you say to Obama?

If you got to shake Barack Obama’s hand on Inauguration day, and therefore to inflict one sound-bite on him, what would it be?

An acquaintance writes:

Through a complicated chain of circumstance, I may (small but nonzero probability), Zelig-like, get to shake Obama’s hand Tues; if so I figure I can hold it long enough to ask one question.

I’m kicking around what that ought to be. (Other than “don’t f*** up)

My response:

Two questions here:

1. Do you want to provide general encouragement, or policy advice?

2. If policy advice, what should its content be?

I’d be inclined to go with #1, and say something like, “L’audace! Toujours l’audace!” The last thing the poor guy needs right now is more people telling him what to do.

But if you go with #2, I’d make it a relatively obscure issue, or a somewhat off-beat thought. “Give us universal health care!” is good advice, I think, and “Hold out until victory in Iraq” bad advice. But in each case he’s heard it before, and your comment adds something less than epsilon to his deliberations.

On the other hand, if you told him “Mark Kleiman knows how to have half as much crime and half as many prisoners,” that might be surprising enough to pique his interest. I use that example because it’s the one I know, not because it’s the one you’d want to use. But the idea is to pick an issue, an outcome, and an expert, and give him the sound-bite promise of the outcome the expert’s pet policy claims to be able to deliver, along with the expert’s name.

Or pick a policy rather than an expert: “On to Mars!” or “Let’s build a broadband connection to every household” or “Why can’t we make video games that teach algebra or American history?” or “Set up a unit at NIH to develop new vaccines and antibiotics” or “The only thing that really gets countries out of deep poverty is female literacy.”

Anyway, it’s an interesting exercise.

Your thoughts?

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