Politician's syllogism

David A. Wheeler

The politician's syllogism goes like this:

I strongly reject this logical fallacy in all its forms, from both the left and from the right. I understand the desire to quickly "do something" - but often these knee-jerk decisions make things worse. There's some ancient wisdom for leaders that still needs repeating today:

Now it's true that over-analyzing can itself be a problem. This even has a name: "analysis paralysis". As General George S. Patton put it, "A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week." But notice it has to be a good plan - a bad plan should not be executed at all.

It's also true that people can disagree on whether or not a benefit is worth the cost. But that's a much better kind of debate, because that helps people enunciate their values. It's certainly better than being surprised by the unintended consequences of a bad idea.

I beg leaders of all kinds: before doing something, think ahead to estimate the costs and likely results, and make sure that the costs are likely to be worth the benefits. This estimation is hard, so get wise guidance from multiple counselors to help you think ahead - no one person can think of everything. Of course, you need to actually execute a plan to get anything done. But please, check first that the action will be worth the cost.


Feel free to see my home page at https://www.dwheeler.com. You may also want to look at my paper Why OSS/FS? Look at the Numbers! and my book on how to develop secure programs.

(C) Copyright 2017 David A. Wheeler. Released under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike version 3.0 or later (CC-BY-SA-3.0+).