Acton Institute Powerblog

Platitudes Make For Poor Policies

Share this article:
Join the Discussion:

Free weekly Acton Newsletter

keep-calm-and-insert-platitude-1A 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.

Read more . . .

Enjoy the article?

Click below to view our latest and most popular posts!

Read More

Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).

Comments