Ganahl: Legislative Reform — A ‘Little Dab’ll Do Ya”

September 15, 2023

by Dennis Ganahl, Ph.D.

Advertisers understand incrementalism better than anyone. They leverage a brand’s growth with the understanding that change comes in increments sometimes imperceptibly. Who was the genius copywriter who created the directions on a shampoo bottle, “wash, rinse and repeat”? I’m guessing sales doubled.

In the 1950s, Brylcreem created the slogan, “A little dab’ll do ya.” Copywriters knew if they could entice a man to use a dab of their hair dressing every day, he’d soon use the whole tube and have to buy another.

The economist Charles E. Lindblom may have been using Brylcreem when he developed the theory of incrementalism to explain the process of policy-making. Lindblom didn’t believe a group of smart, rational people would sit down, discuss the challenge in a rational way, and then enact a value-maximizing decision. Rather, Lindblom figured that a group of political actors would sit down, get tired of thinking, and simply build on past policies whether they were effective or not, focusing on incremental change rather than large wholesale change. 

So, how can grass-root citizens, who aren’t paid government actors, use incremental change for their own purposes?

To mix metaphors and a bad joke, how do you eat elephantine issues like pro-life, high taxes, underperforming school districts, deficit government spending and judicial overreach? Punchline: One bite at a time.

Liberals are effective incrementalists. They break down long-time social values and traditions incrementally. Think Christmas, or bygone Nativity scenes at city hall and schools, or election laws, or the many permutations of war, or welfare state policies or men competing in women’s sports. What we’ve experienced has been an unrelenting incremental attack on Christian-family and other religious values to install an anti-value-based government focused on dominance, and increasingly, revenge.

These changes happened almost imperceptibly, we didn’t pay much attention. Who had time to worry the first year that the Nativity scene wasn’t set up at city hall?  We had our shopping to do.

We are lulled to sleep by small incremental changes that aren’t worth the fight at the time. Now, we’re looking at a mountain of incremental changes supporting an administrative state that are daunting.

How can family-value conservatives fight back? The same way. A little dab’ll do ya. Many of us want to lose weight. When we look in the mirror, we grab a handful of fat, and imagine ourselves 20 pounds lighter. We don’t see ourselves a couple of pounds lighter. What’s a couple of pounds? Pass the mashed potatoes please. That’s exactly the point. We lose weight by not taking a bite, one non-bite at a time.

Lindblom showed us that legislators don’t have an appetite for wholesale change. We must work them incrementally, one little bill at a time. Recently, we had success getting my state’s legislators to approve a bill giving seniors income tax and property tax relief that will total $500 million plus each year when it’s fully implemented. It wasn’t a massive overhaul of the tax system, it was a small one. But in the process, we built and activated statewide network of thousands of seniors through our website. Next year, we’re going back for a few more bites of the tax pie (we’re looking for relief from sales tax on staple groceries and a depreciation table on personal property taxes).

A little dab’ll do ya.

Dennis Ganahl, Ph.D, who will deliver the presentation on micro-elections at the Dec. 9 seminar of the Indiana Policy Review, has been involved in political campaigns for 52 years. He recently released his political satire novel titled, “Don’t Shoot. We come in peace.” He is the founder and Managing Director of MO Tax Relief Now.


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