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Johanna Martinsson's picture

A reader's response to the blog post, If Force and Incentives Fail...Then What?:

'Asked if he believed in clubs for women, comedian W.C. Fields replied, 'only if all other methods of persuasion fail.'

Governments can and do use brute force, but if governments want the active support of coalitions of stakeholders, rarely can they rely on top-down commmunication alone.

Metternich said 'you can do everything with a bayonet except sit on it,' meaning force has its limits. Consensus is built by dialogue, ensuring that every stakeholder gets some benefit, or at least enough stakeholders. Yes, that means persuasion to show people how they stand to benefit from change. But also it often requires adjusting our offers to suit their demands.

I recently attended a seminar by a Western government, asking NGO types how to reduce islamist violence and moderates' support for radicalism. immediately the NGOs said we needed to change the substance of Western policies re Palestine, etc. the hosts said that was out of the question. Unarticulated, they wanted an incantation, or magic spell, to communicate muslims into obedience. Lots of luck. Modern media permits the world to see things it does not like, which are issues of substance. Sometimes any amount of mere persuasion will fail. As David Ogilvy liked to say, 'nothing kills a bad product like good advertising.'

As Sina wisely tells us, effective change has a political basis and not in party politics per se. It requires, yes, persuasion to show people a different and possible reality, then dialogue/negotiation to build buy-in, consensus, coalitions and sustainability. Sometimes it needs persuasion alone, sometimes deal-making. If we go in looking for an incantation, we are likely to emerge disappointed.'

S. Masty