Effective Policy vs Efficient Politics

I spend a lot of my time in countries where the word for politics is the same as the one for policy. Usually you can tell pretty easily from the context, and there is at least some overlap.

More troubling, at least for an ex-scientist, is that in many of these same countries, there’s no distinction between “effective” and “efficient” – two words with vastly different meanings in English. They both get translated/interpreted as some version of “efficacious”.

A lot of the time, in the work I do, it doesn’t much matter. We’re almost always talking about efficacy/effectiveness (there’s no important distinction in governance). But the conflation of the two terms in (many) Slavic languages tells you something about the language and the culture. When you can’t tell the difference between whether something works with minimum waste, and whether it works at all, that’s a serious problem.

Of course, I exaggerate. Scientists and engineers can tell the difference in any language. But a lot of laypersons can’t, even in languages with separate words. And not having a word at all doesn’t help. Maybe it’s the work I do, but it does seem to me that these countries are a whole lot better at the politics than they are at the policy. So maybe there’s a connection.

PS – don’t get me started on the words that English lacks. Happily, we steal from so many other languages, that we suffer less from this than others do. Now, if we could just people to use the words right…

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