Public viewing of this Seminar has expired.

Sign In or Become a Member

Filmed on Friday February 13, 02004

James Dewar

Long-term Policy Analysis

See our blog for updates on tickets and other media; tickets will go on sale one month before the Seminar.

Long-term policy analysis

Dewar is head of RAND’s Pardee Center on very long-term policy—35 to 200 years

For over half a century the RAND Corporation has influenced national policy and invented major intellectual tools. Packet switching (Paul Baran) came from RAND; so did scenario planning (Herman Kahn); so does the current understanding of “net warfare” (John Arquilla). For all of its power, RAND’s thinkers are seldom heard in public.

Three years ago RAND set out to engage serious long-term thinking. A RAND alum funded the Pardee Center for Longer Range Global Policy and the Future Human Condition, with the charge “to improve our ability to think about the longer-range future–from 35 to as far as 200 years ahead.” Selected to run the new center was 22-year-RAND-veteran James Dewar.

Jim Dewar from RAND laid out a persuasive case for long-term thinking and planning at the Seminar last Thursday.

Examples of successful long-term planning include:

  • The US Constitution
  • Panama Canal
  • Transcontinental railroad in the US
  • Marshall Plan
  • Bismarck’s unification of Germany
  • George Kennan’s policy of “containment” of the USSR
  • US Social Security plan—cemented in place with a card for every citizen, by clever Roosevelt
  • FCC wisely helping the US phone system connect to computers
  • Leighton Read noted that all these examples emerged from traumatic conditions.

As for an example of “getting it right about getting it wrong,” Dewar cited Keynes’s 1919 book, The Economic Consequences of the Peace, about how taking revenge on the defeated Germans would lead to another war. It did. The next time, the Allies took Keynes’s advice, and that was the Marshall Plan.

Historian David Lowenthal, a guest at the seminar, observed that no publisher would take Keynes’s book, so he published it himself, and made $2 million on it.

Unpacking the idea of Long-Term Policy Analysis (LPTA), Dewar stated that “long-term” means “characterized by deep uncertainty”—typically including uncertainty at the systemic level (structure), uncertainty about likelihood of which way events might go, uncertainty about the migration of values, and uncertainty about what are proper goals.

Leighton Read suggested we should build a detailed taxonomy of the various kinds of uncertainties about the future.

Dewar observed that one of the greatest difficulties of doing long-term policy analysis is GETTING THE ATTENTION of policy makers. Peter Schwartz recalled that at Royal Dutch/Shell he had extensive profiles on all the managing directors of Shell—his direct customers for scenario planning—so he could tailor the work to their interests.

Both Dewar and David Lowenthal noted that policy makers find it much easier to take on known, existing problems that to work on emerging problems that are not defined yet. They’re great at “pound of cure,” terrible at “ounce of prevention.” That’s what long-term policy analysis has to fix.

Dewar showed slides of a technique his center at RAND is developing to run models using thousands of scenarios, but what he was showing seemed incomprehensible, so the seminar group challenged it strongly. This was tremendously helpful for the lecture the following evening, where Dewar made the same slides very compelling by spelling out a case—involving the tradeoffs of various forms of taxing polluters against joint gains in economic growth AND “decoupling” that growth from environmental harm.

More Seminars


SALT Summaries Book

$2.99 Also available as a paperback book

Condensed ideas about long-term thinking summarized by Stewart Brand
(with Kevin Kelly, Alexander Rose and Paul Saffo) and a foreword by Brian Eno.

Seminar Sponsors

David and Abby Rumsey • Kim Polese • The Kaphan Foundation • Garrett Gruener • Scorpio Rising Fund • Peter Baumann • Brian Eno • Greg Stikeleather • Cameo Wood • Ping Fu • Peter Schwartz • Lawrence Wilkinson • Ken and Maddy Dychtwald • Future Ventures • Ken and Jackie Broad • AtoB • WHH Foundation • Stewart Brand and Ryan Phelan • Jackson Square Partners Foundation • The Long Now Members

We would also like to recognize George Cowan (01920 - 02012) for being the first to sponsor this series.

This is the legacy site. Return to the new site.