Tales of the Sausage Factory: Live at Cool Conference

What a blogging cliche! I am posting from the excellent Bellhead v. Nethead conference at Cardozo Law School, put together by my friend Susan Crawford (which explains why I am on a panel with such luminaries as Eli Noam).

But what is this conference and what makes it cool? And why are such things the life blood of public policy? My humble opinions below . . .

One of my personal axioms of public policy is a paraphrase of Clausewitz — public policy is made by human beings. Following the implications of that statement, you need to meet, educate, flatter, whatever human beings that influence public policy. Too many people think that public policy is a drive-by campaign funded by industry lobbyists or advocates. Ha. That would take a heck of a lot less time than actual public policy.

Public policy is, in fact, the biggest fantasy role playing game in the entire world. You interact with other players who have their own goals and resources trying to accomplish your own goals. your success hinges in no small part in the accretion of personal contacts and familiarity with the players and the environment.

Enter the public policy conference as one critical component in the mix. Especially if you get to leave the Washingt\on D.C. bubble and see people outside D.C. The policy conferences serve multiple purposes, especially if you are a participant rather than just attending (but even attending is useful).

[For me, the virtue of attending a conference in NYC is that there are lots of kosher places to eat. And since this is at Cardoz Law School — the law school of Yeshiva University — everything here is kosher as well. But since last month’s conference in Champaign Urbana had me eating three-day old humus out of my suitcase, I can’t count this as a generic benefit.]

First, you get to meet people. I actually hate this part, but it is necessary. I am by nature a shy guy and loath pressing the flesh with strangers. But “policy is made by human beings.” People showing up at these conferences fall into several catagories: academics doing the thought work (many people think of academics as ineffectual intellectual wanking. In point of fact, it has a significant impact on shaping the public policy debate by creating a concepts for discussion and challenging or supporting various positions. Agency staffers, who get educated about this stuff and in turn shape policy based on a blend of these ideas and political directives. Advocates, from both industry and public interest, who want to push their agendas and develop a broader intellectual basis in support of their perspective.

So you get interesting people puting interesting ideas out there. And then there are the halway conversations. Much work gets done in the social discussions that go on at these things. Some of it is pure pragmatic dealmaking.

Finally, there is the personal “strut your stuff” incentive. I confess, I enjoyed telling a Belhead that we needed regulation of the physical layer because the packet faerie doesn’t stop by my house to bring me packets for free.

Anyway, gotta run to lunch. Cool stuff on substance later.

Stay tuned . . .

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