Monday, January 11, 2010

The inevitability of gradualism?

Today's Wall Street Journal has a fascinating article describing the experience of food companies that have been trying to reduce the sodium in processed foods such as soups. Unfortunately I cannot post a link, because the article is only available to WSJ on-line subscribers. Readers who have such a subscription probably already get the printed WSJ anyhow.

The main point is that soup makers, for example, have discovered that when they label their cans "low sodium" it turns off customers. Realizing that Americans are eating far too much salt, they therefore have turned to reducing the sodium in their regular soups so gradually that people don't notice the change, and not calling people's attention to this fact.

This reminds me of the approach of the Fabian Society in England, which was named after the Roman general Quintus Fabius Maximus. The successful general believed in delaying tactics and in "the inevitability of gradualism." Although the Fabians were socialists, they wouldn't have anything to do with the revolutionary Communists, but instead opted to approach socialism through a series of gradual reforms enacted democratically. They were the intellectual nucleus of the British Labor Party in the late 1800s, which later replaced the Liberal Party as the chief alternative to the Conservative Party.

As the soup makers indicate, sometimes going slow will get you there faster than trying to go faster than possible. People seeking to reform the American medical system might do well to think about this idea.

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