Sunday, February 24, 2008


So Pigeon was kind enough to lend me the book

Microtrends - The small forces behind today's big changes by Mark J. Penn and E. Kinney Zalesne (2007)
Mark Penn is - according to the back cover and preface - one of the most respected and sought-after analysts in the world, and has been an advisor to former President Bill Clinton, Former Prime Minister Tony Blair, and also advises Senator Hilary Clinton. Right off the bat, the author is caught in a lie, in that he is a pollster, not an analyst. Also, it is mind-numbingly obvious that this book is a blatant rip-off of "Freakonomics", without the scholarly rigor. Next to "Freakonomics", this book is a mere collection of trivia. This feeling is strongly reinforced by the fact that unlike the aforementioned "Freakonomics", every fact and trend which is revealed leaves me unimpressed - this is freakin' obvious from the very definition of the problem. Any and all "analysis" performed by the authors is superfluous, and I can't imagine that anyone would be under the impression that this work contains any rigor and in-depth analysis at all. Moreover, it is easy to discern attempts to pull the wool over the readers' eyes whenever the data presented contradict policies associated with former clients. Perhaps the most aggravating case is when Penn dismisses the claim that the sudden drop in crime during the 90's was caused by Roe vs. Wade, as derived in "Freakonomics". Rather, Penn states that the PHENOMENAL drop in crime rates was due to "innovative and more effective police strategies implemented by the Clinton administration". What the hell? THAT was the full weight of his counterargument, versus the full treatment from the authors of "Freakonomics". Also; the fact that the majority of graphs are presented as default Excel plots with the grey background and everything makes it really hard to buy Penn as a "World-Class analyst".

To me, the book also highlights what I perceive to be the biggest problem with successful politicians. Throughout the book, Penn draws from plenty of examples where he in his role as a pollster has located subgroups of the populations (above that magic 1% limit), figured out what they're interested in, and subsequently has advised his candidates to emphasize what these groups are into in order to get their votes. Such crap! This is the politician as tabula rasa, with no opinions of his or her own, who relies on advisers to find large enough segments of the populations to tailor a political strategy and philosophy around. I simply can't respect that. To me, a politician who starts out with an agenda, sticks to his or her views and looks for votes based on that is someone I can respect, whether or not I agree with the politics. Turncoats, however.........

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