While I agree, I get less frustrated when I think of this as a common, effective, sometimes insidious strategy I'll label "activism by mislabelling".

To me, thinking about it as an optimal strategy makes it less infuriating, more interesting. Like a poisonous bug in a jar.
My view: One thing activists can do to achieve their aims is to try make a pivotal decision-maker (a leader, the median voter, etc) deeply uncomfortable in their current position. The idea is to push them in your policy direction. This is basically the main job of an activist.
A classic way is to try to tie the decision-maker's position to a different concept that everyone agrees is horrible and bad.

There are many examples.
If I want the US government to react more strongly to state repression by a foreign government, I call it "genocide", even if the actions don't amount to the destruction of a people.
If I want violence or a riot (say, on Capitol Hill) by a small number of people to be taken more seriously, I label it a coup or an insurrection.
If I want people to be more anti-racist, I label somewhat biased and complacent institutions something associated with far more purposive and hateful systems, like white supremacy
If I want to delegitimize criticism of my country's foreign policy, then I label any criticism as motivated by a hatred for the country's main identity group rather than policy differences -- racism, neocolonialism, anti-semitism, communism, socialism, etc.
Part of the effectiveness is to also label any protest against this clever manipulation of language as itself repression, anti-semitic, racist, supremacist, etc. Or to say "well you might think you're not ___ for criticizing but you are not aware that you're ___."
This puts the median decision-maker on the defensive, pushes them to talk about the issue on your terms, talk about what they are against rather than what they're for, and so on. It's kind of brilliant, and often works well.
I still don't know what to do when I see the poisonous bug in the wild.
Up to now this has been an idle thought in my head. Curious if others see if differently. Possibly there is a small industry of sociology or political science out there on this exact subject.

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More from @cblatts

14 Apr
Completely agree that democracy should be a more consistent priority of US foreign policy. This is a good report. But I worry that too many US policy makers will define it more narrowly than our founders did, focusing on national elections and not enough on the local/regional.
A huge number of countries centralize power in a Presidency. If their elections are free and fair, then they effectively get to choose a dictator every four years. My view: This is not the path to stability and freedoms and a successful society.
Few people talk about big successful experiments in local democracy—Kenya’s fiscal decentralization, China’s village elections, etc—as examples things that are at least as important as difficulty fixing elections.
Read 10 tweets
12 Apr
I’ve no experience in the US economy, but I am super intrigued by @MarcelaEscobari‘s use of data-driven product space models to identify empirically which thriving industries are related to declining ones, and how workers actually move across sectors brookings.edu/product/workfo…
A few reflections on job retraining programs:
- There’s a big question in my whether this is the right policy solution
- But we mustn’t forget that most programs fail not because it was the wrong policy, but because of poor implementation
I’m open to retraining programs in the US because it might be the beat policy in an economy where firms own all the capital and need skilled workers. And the state is fairly high capacity.
Read 7 tweets
31 Mar
I realized that I need to more formally teach some of my project staff how to manage upwards. Today I told one that "You have to treat any busy manager like an ADHD toddler who needs clear and constant instructions and reminders. Especially professors."
Upward management is an under-sung, under-taught skill. I spent a couple of years in consulting before I became an academic. One of the benefits is that I worked for professional managers who knew how to organize work and teams and projects, and how to train staff to be better.
So much management work in academia, social services, and other organizations is ad hoc, and never formally taught.

My message to Jr people: learning how to upward manage busy people is a crucial skill. Even conscientious managers are overwhelmed with emails & messages & tasks.
Read 9 tweets
3 Mar
Good thread. But my own view is that without a big shift in demand for economics faculty, we should not be expanding PhD programs. Rather, we should have MA programs that are not 1-year cash cows for econ programs who then neglect their MA students. Policy schools get this right.
The weirdest part about econ Twitter these last weeks is the number of people suggesting that departments admit more students without explaining who will pay for them or where they will get jobs afterwards. I don’t want our PhD funding to be a subsidy to Citibank.
A word on policy schools. It’s easy to screw this up as well. A lot of them teach most classes with adjuncts too (although these are good practitioners who care). But it’s possible to take 8 classes of “view from the trenches” and never get technical skills.
Read 6 tweets
2 Mar
Severine's last book, Peaceland, is still something I thrust into the hands of my MA students and aid colleagues. Check out her new book, Frontlines of Peace. Here is a glowing NYT review.
At first I started skeptical of her main claim--that the world does too much peace building from the treetops rather than the grassroots. I still emphasize the center a lot more than Severine, but her argument made me realize how most of my career I'd spent emulating her advice.
My strategy for the last 15y has been to look in fragile places for mostly-ignored, somewhat wacky locals with bold ideas. That's how I came to study cash transfers in post-conflict zones, alternative dispute resolution to reduce village conflicts, or cognitive behavior therapy.
Read 6 tweets
25 Feb
The pandemic changed a lot of teaching for the worse, but I wanted to tweet how it spurred me to try to change the way we teach international policy and development @HarrisPolicy.

In short, we took the opportunity to try to get policymakers all over the world to teach classes.
One of the classes I'm most excited about is led by the staff of @BusaraCenter, a behavioral laboratory in Nairobi. A range of East African researchers, faculty, and Busara VP @MSchomerus are leading a class on behavioral research and economics. Students will run real studies!
What I liked the most is the theme Busara proposed -- representational and diversity issues in development, and what it means to be running research when there's such a power differential. So a quant class with meaningful anthropology, psychology, etc baked in. It's amazing.
Read 25 tweets

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