Looking for the Leverage Points

Politics is a long slog. So is this extended meditation on political strategy. Let’s see if we can extract any useful action items out of this extended analysis. First, quick recap of the story so far:

  • Most political actions are intermediate; they do not yield any changes in law or regulations. By themselves they have no value.
  • Setting a value on intermediate milestones is very difficult.
  • You need to change some minds to change a policy – or you can go all in to implement policies where the minds have already been [mostly] changed.
  • Radicals, reactionaries, and creative political types need allies. Either that, or they need to take over a small country or state, or live on a floating island.
  • Government is being pushed ever upwards to the central level. This makes creative politics very difficult.
  • Those who love liberty and family need to play defense, and wins some soon.

You might notice a problem: these bullet points conflict with one another!

Fortunately, there are shortcuts: single issue organizations, lobbying, and special interest politics.

It is much easier to build an effective coalition around a single issue than for a complete political platform. Organizations such as The Marijuana Policy Project, The Virginia Citizens Defense League, and the Institute for Justice have a far better track record than the Libertarian Party for actually affecting public policy.

Getting incumbent legislators out of office is extremely difficult. Threatening their office is an order order of magnitude easier. Incumbents cling to their seats by listening to active voters. Demonstrate that you have enough motivated voters in an incumbent’s district to swing the next election, and you get an incumbent who changes his mind.

If you want some Big Boy money to play with, get some special interests on your side. Special interest money saved us from HillaryCare. Alas, it is extremely difficult to get special interest money to lobby for that which is positively good. We do need some type of medical reform, and the insurance industry isn’t going to be for it! Special interest money is like the One Ring of Power – useful but very dangerous. So we need to be careful here.

So, what are the best options for single issue lobbying for those who love liberty and think that Mayberry and Lake Woebegone would be nice places to live?

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Rules for Reasonable Radicals

So, you have some fresh outside-the-box political ideas that you think are wonderful – and some of them are. Or maybe you want to restore some excellent ideas from the past that have fallen out of favor. How do you get your ideas implemented?

And how do you get them implemented before you are too old to enjoy the benefits?

Well, let us start with what not to do.

  • Do not expect to get far with “education” alone. Most people aren’t theorists, and most of those who are will take your theorizing as a challenge for debate. (When I say “aren’t theorists,” I am include many who have the brain power for serious philosophizing but just plain aren’t interested of using up brainpower on ideas with no plan for application.)
  • Do not rely overmuch on woo woo, flim flam and/or positive thinking. Yes, mind games can persuade and motivate, but they can also lead to delusions and dead ends. Appeal to Reasonableness – a mix of Reason, empathy, and common sense based on observation.
  • Do not wait for society to collapse and then come knee walking to you and your party for a solution. Bad systems can last for a very long time. Rome did not fall in a day. Britain has yet to recover from William the Conqueror. Russia has yet to recover from the Mongols.
  • Do not resort to violent revolution. The benefits of your ideas are uncertain. The death and destruction of civil war are a certainty. And most revolutions fail.
  • Do not point at the Man Behind the Curtain. Conspiracy theories are for losers – even when the conspiracies are real. Trying to get the public to pay attention to hidden power centers rarely pays off, and can make you look like a crank. Take positive action instead. If you are effective the, hidden powers will come out from behind the curtain to fight you.

So what should you do?

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The Value of Intermediate Milestones

This is the third article in a series on the Simple Formula for Success. See Part 1 and Part 2.

Politics is a long slog. Ditto for many other useful endeavors, from building a business, getting an education, to getting in shape. The next step often has no intrinsic value by itself.

And thus flame wars, cat pics, and casino gambling all compete successfully for our attentions over more useful projects.

In creative politics just what is the value of convert won, a petition drive finished, or an ad campaign launched? None of these milestones by themselves change the laws and regulations of the land at all.

Let’s try breaking the Simple Formula for Success into pieces, to apply it to a multi step project which does have intrinsic value when completed. To keep the algebra manageable, we’ll make a a two step project. (This is more general than it looks if we think of the first step being our next step, and the second being all the remaining steps lumped together.)

The estimated costs simply add together:

The probability of success is the product of the probabilities of success for the two steps.

Now suppose we have completed the first step. We now know the expected value of completing the second step:

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Woo Woo and Political Cults — the Simple Formula for Success Part 2

In Part 1 I presented a very simple strategic planning formula to compare possible courses of action. (Some might say simplistic formula, and they would be correct, but I’m trying to keep the math friendly.) I then applied the formula retroactively to my own political career as an illustration.

There is a major problem with this formula: it doesn’t really apply to the individual steps needed to carry out any meaningful political action.

Just what is the value of a clipboard of petition signatures? Or even ballot access? Of a congressional campaign that gets 3% of the vote? Or getting a candidate into a televised debates? Or even for winning a legislative office?


That is, there is no intrinsic value in these accomplishments by themselves. There is no payoff in politics until you positively affect a law or a regulation. (Unless you are corrupt…) But to get to the point of actually affecting how the government actions requires hundreds of steps, many of which are costly and uncertain.

Politics is a long slog.

This makes motivation difficult. Too much rational strategic planning can make the problem worse! The return on effort on the myriad small steps needed to achieve big goals can be vanishingly small until the endgame is reached. And the math needed to even attempt to calculate the value of the early stages is apt to frighten off your followers.

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The Simple Formula for Success

2020. A new year has arrived. A year with a zero on the end, so you know it’s important. Time to make some resolutions that count.

That means strategy. Political strategy, mainly, but the ideas herein can be used elsewhere. The insight I am about to reveal is simple, yet many activists fail to heed it. Indeed, some very famous political gurus have come up with elaborate mental constructs to prevent their followers from heeding what should be an obvious insight. Many a failure and quite a few outright disasters were the result.

Ignore those gurus! Heed the formula!

To plan, to strategize, is to determine which actions to take, and which not to take. You cannot do everything! The Simple Formula for Success is a rough rule for evaluating potential actions.

In English: Take the value, if successful, of an action, multiply by the probability of success, and then subtract the cost of action. The result is the net expected value of taking that action. If the net expected value is zero, DON’T DO IT!


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