A platitude is a flat, dull, or trite remark, especially one uttered as if it were fresh or profound. Politicians love platitudes, which is why we have laws with names like the Clean Air Act, the Pure Food Act, the Fair Sentencing Act, and the Anti-Puppy Kicking Act (okay, I made up that last one). Since no one is for dirty air, impure food, unfair sentencing, puppy-kicking, who could possibly oppose such legislation?
But the devil, as they say, is in the details. Which is why, as Donald J. Boudreau says, “Platitudes are a poor basis for policy.”
A good way to test if someone is speaking in platitudes is to ask yourself if you can imagine a normal human adult believing the opposite.
Suppose someone informs you that he favors policies that promote human happiness. Can you imagine, say, your neighbor responding, “I disagree. I favor policies that promote human misery”? Probably not.
If you cannot imagine any normal person disagreeing with some proclamation, then that proclamation is a platitude. It tells you nothing of substance.
Consider today’s fashionable calls for “sustainability.” The academy, media, cyberspace are full of people proclaiming support for policies that promote economic and environmental “sustainability.” So whenever you hear such proclamations, ask if you can envision a sane adult sincerely disagreeing.
You’ll discover, of course, that you can’t imagine anyone seriously supporting “unsustainability.” Therefore, you should conclude that mere expressions of support for “sustainability” are empty. And they can be downright harmful if they mislead people into supporting counterproductive government policies.