Are Facts and Logic Enough?

A colleague in another field bemoaned her career’s uphill battle, trying to persuade with facts and logic when so many people base preferences on faith and ideology.  In regulation, we're lucky.  Since regulation is about performance, there's not much room for faith and ideology.  Potholes get filled, transmission lines strung, and cell towers built because of facts and logic.

That doesn't mean that lobbyists in regulation never try other techniques.  (See my essay "Is Learning to Regulate Like Learning to Cook?” analogizing pre-fabricated food made of ingredients we are hard-wired to like, to advocacy arguments that appeal to our emotional hard-wiring.)   We've all heard about "chilling effects," financial "integrity," and "too cheap to meter."  Regulation can survive these linguistic invasions, provided cross-examiners let the air out of these rhetorical balloons.

Nor does it mean that logic-based persuasion lacks emotion.  Think about the speeches of Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  Their words moved a nation. But each speech had a rock solid core of logic:  indisputable, unavoidable, and for some, terribly inconvenient.  There was metaphor; but it only levitated, never distorted, because it was crafted with such exactitude.  (Consider:  Lincoln' s "new birth of freedom" in the Gettysburg; King's "bad check which has come back marked 'insufficient funds'"; FDR's First Inaugural Address, pressing the Depression-plagued populace to become a "trained and loyal army" in a "war against the emergency," as if "we were in fact invaded by a foreign foe").

It's not clear that regulation needs, or could ever achieve, such Olympian eloquence.  We deal with smaller matters.  But these three giants showed that real rhetoric is honest persuasion; honest because it uses language conservatively, because it fits phrases to facts.

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