Thursday, November 1, 2007

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Newsweek 2: Rise of the hipster statesman

My monthly column in Newsweek International is up, and I really hope it's better than the movie name from which I've drawn this post title.

It's about the phenomenon of the hipster statesman -- i.e., ex-politicians trying to make a difference in the world, not by getting back into government, but through other means of policy entrepreneurship.

I'm not optimistic:

There are two very powerful constraints on ability of the hipster statesmen to get anything done. First, the policy-entrepreneur approach cannot work on all policy problems. To update Truman's aphorism for the 21st century, when you are a statesman, you can choose your issues; when you are a politician, the issues choose you. Real politicians do not always respond to the pleas of statesmen, because they are busy avoiding the fate of becoming a statesman. Wealth, popularity and glamour might be enticing, but as Henry Kissinger once observed, power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.

Second, calling attention to a problem is not the same thing as solving it. The assumption underlying the hipster statesmen is that once people become aware of a problem, there will be a groundswell of support for direct action—what Gore labeled "an opportunity to lift global consciousness to a higher level" after winning the Nobel. This is not how politics usually works, particularly in the international realm. Any solution to a problem like global warming, for example, involves significant costs—and the distribution of those costs is a contentious issue. Even if more people become aware of a policy problem, it is far from guaranteed that a consensus or compromise will emerge about the best way to solve it.

Go check it out. The arguments are similar to those made in my "Foreign Policy Goes Glam" essay in The National Interest.

posted by Dan on 11.01.07 at 05:00 PM


You had the audacity to write that Saint Al may not actually be very effective changing global policies? Blasphemer!

Here's the first comment from a Newsweek member about Dan's artile:"I find it amazing that the writer of this article does not see the full value of Gore bringing attention to such a tremendously important issue. And yes, Gore may not be able to pass the legislation needed to handle global warming, but he certainly has many ideas about the action needed to be taken. And he understands Washington just about as well as anyone. I don't know why we need writers such as this guy doing their best to try and stifle what should be a bi-partisan issue. It's an important one, and I do believe this Drezner character must have an agenda of his own. Do something positive Daniel instead of beating up those who work for the better change. At least go change a lightbul or something."

So there. If you question whether or not St. Al might be effective bringing about his agenda, you obviously are trying to stifle the issue to further your own nefarious agenda.

Really, Prof. Drezner, just go change a lightbulb. I hope Newsweek is paying you very well, because that comment typifies the Newsweek reader of the 21st Century.

posted by: Useless Sam Grant on 11.01.07 at 05:00 PM [permalink]

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