FT.com / Comment / Opinion – Societies under the magnifying glass

Margaret Mead, the anthropologist, once said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” It is a truism of modern politics that one person who feels strongly about something has far greater influence on what happens than the 10 people who mildly disagree.

In Microtrends, Mark Penn, one of the US’s foremost political consultants and architect of Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid, takes this axiom to imaginative new levels. Sometimes compared to Karl Rove, George W. Bush’s “boy genius”, whose brilliant microtargeting made all the difference in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections, Penn comes from a more esoteric background.

Whereas Rove’s resumé is about winning elections for Republicans (again and again, until recently), Penn has offered his services to multinational corporations and foreign political parties, not all of them ideological bedfellows. Alongside Tony Blair, whose letter of thanks is proudly framed on Penn’s office wall, he has worked for Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia – hardly the Italian counterpart of Penn’s Democratic party.

Thus Penn is as much a business consultant as he is a political junkie – a symbiosis that helps explain why so much of his book is so original.