[FoRK] Consistency and Policy (not a flame)

jbone at place.org jbone at place.org
Thu Feb 26 11:03:13 PST 2004

So a few thoughts on consistency and policy --- with an eye toward 
what's wrong with our metapolicy.

Greg is constantly critiquing my critiques of various Bush policies.  
He seems to draw the conclusion that there mere fact that I find 
something noteworthy either betrays a lack of knowledge of the 
historical context on my part *or* some kind of willful, partisan 
inconsistency on my part.  Neither, I think, is true --- and on some 
sober reflection (and a choice to regard Greg's critiques as serious 
and worthy of consideration rather than trivial ad hominem) it occurs 
to me that there's an interesting point to be had.

Greg - as with much of the political mainstream - seems to place a high 
value on historical consistency in the continuation of any given 
policy.  While that's good as far as it goes, I think it ignores a real 
problem in the way we make and maintain policy --- and this leads to 

First:  policies are partitioned in an odd way.  Generally, they are 
not situational --- they are vertical, they are "stovepiped."  
(Consider policy re: e.g. Egypt.  Or Israel.)  These stovepipes are 
maintained in such a way as to remain historically consistent --- 
largely despite any changing circumstances or context.  This premium on 
historical consistency sacrifices contemporary, concurrent consistency: 
  we treat similar situations differently depending on long, perhaps 
currently irrelevant historical context.

Problems with this:  (1)  it leads to "unfair" contemporary actions in 
the strictest literal sense.  This was the point of my quip re: Haiti, 
Mexico.  This type of disparity is the root, I believe, both of the 
growing anti-Americanism we see today as well as the increasingly 
volatile global political situation (as other countries employ the same 
kind of metapolicy.)  (2)  It means that the situation at any point in 
time is HIGHLY path dependent.  (3)  As a function of (2), it leads to 
suboptimal game-theoretic performance at the geopolitical level;  
strict tit-for-tat would be better.

Interestingly, we're not internally consistent at the metapolicy level, 
either.  We're (wisely, I believe) playing tit-for-tat with Libya 
today.  Would that we employed that wisdom more widely.

Net-net, Greg:  my position on a lot of these things is neither 
historically ignorant nor generically inconsistent.  It's just that I 
apparently have a different take than you on the relative importance of 
concurrent consistency vs. historical consistency of policies.  To your 
credit, though, Greg, your criticism of my POV on many of these things 
as reflecting an "attention deficit" is spot on --- and that deficit is 
INTENTIONAL.  As with game theory, this is a *strength* rather than a 
weakness.  Transactions, not baggage.  Tit-for-tat.  Lugging around all 
that "state" doesn't lead to any better decisions or outcomes --- 
rather, usually the reverse.


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