Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Deadlines and Wars of Attrition

Over at PV@Glance, Andrew Kydd argues against the Ryan's critique of the administration's Afghanistan policy.  Among other things, he raises concerns about the claim that announcing a deadline will encourage the enemy to keep fighting.  So far as I know, Kydd is right that we don't have any existing models that speak to this, but I think he's mistaken (as he acknowledges that he might be) when he speculates that this result could not emerge from the simple sort of model that the Ryan critique appears to be based on.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Formal Theory and Policy Relevance

Suppose you are a policymaker and you are facing strong pressure from your core supports to enact policy \(p\).  However, there are those who are concerned that \(p\) will bring about an outcome even worse than the status quo, and regardless of the outcome it produces, the policy will be costly to implement.  While your supporters find the status quo deeply objectionable, polling tells you that the average citizen considers it acceptable.  What should you do?

Fortunately, assembled before you are three academics who study the relevant policy domain.  They are all employed by prestigious universities and have long, distinguished careers.

When you ask expert 1 whether \(p\) is worth enacting, s/he responds "Xh ssh oah."  You ask him to clarify, but s/he only responds with slight variations on the same sounds.  To your ears, it is pure gobbledygook.

When you ask expert 2 whether \(p\) is worth enacting s/he responds, "Absolutely.  In fact, it is imperative that you do so.  Just ask the people of [some country that historically adopted policy \(p\)].  I therefore urge you to show leadership on this issue."

When you ask expert 3 whether \(p\) is worth enacting, s/he responds, "I honestly don't know.  There appears to be some evidence that \(p\) brings about the desired outcome, but there's also some evidence that this relationship is being driven by [some third factor].  One thing I can say for sure is that the only arguments that have been put forth in favor of \(p\) so far are logically inconsistent."

Whose advice should you follow?