Wednesday, October 16, 2013

POLITICS: The real reason why most people just don't care.

Andrew D Atkin:

The real world of politics belongs in the public arena - not behind closed doors.

In principle, it's strange how we see only casual interest in politics from the wider public. Our government/s spend about half our money, dictate our children's development, send us to war, spies on us, makes policy for financial bubbles and cartels, regulates workplace conduct, breeds the underclass, controls much of our wage and unemployment rates, and retirement incomes, and basically has a finger deep in the pie of nearly every major aspect of our lives. Indeed, modern government is more like a God than a mere keeper of the peace. Hence politics, you would think, should be a really hot topic.

So what's wrong? Why the lack of focused interest?

Well, I remember one event from when I was a union delegate associated with the aviation industry. We had a Skype meeting where we debated amongst each other whether or not to push for a contract that unifies two separate parts of our operation. The meeting was civil and polite, but rather intense as I firmly opposed what the EPMU wanted to do.

So what? My point is, if I recorded that meeting and uploaded it to YouTube, with that particular meeting's genuine discussion-style debate, I probably would have had all the members I represented watching it keenly. That's because it was relevant to them of course, but also because it was REAL. It was not a manicured PR-display whereby myself and others all hold hands together (after talking behind closed doors) pretending to have a unified opinion, with carefully sculptured speeches, but instead it was (would have been) a display of the real discussion behind the policy position, including the real motives and personalities driving it. THAT is politics.

And that is my contention. People do in fact care about politics - we just don't give it to them. What we give them is bullshit. And instinctively they know it, and react accordingly. Generally they don't waste their time with our sterilised rubbish, of which does not leave them critically the wiser. And fair enough?

Imagine, if you will, if we could see the National and Labour party insider-meetings where they talk freely, without pretence, debating and discussing amongst each other so as to formulate their policy. Imagine the interest that would develop if people could see what they naturally want to see - and, I would argue, what they should be seeing, which is the real thinking and the real people behind the policy-development of which basically controls our lives.

If only we could see in like a fly on the wall, we would then get an idea for who our representatives really are. And indeed, the enhanced public engagement from this kind of reality-TV show would wise us up (a lot) to the dynamics behind the issues. It would be educational on many levels.

Okay, it's still going to be hard to get genuine interest in politics from the public at large, when their vote is a somewhat brutally diluted one in a million, so there's a lot to be said for decentralising governmental power for if you want to achieve a true democracy (like Switzerland). But there's nonetheless a good argument for demanding that our political parties video-record their internal debates, for any voyeuristic citizen to see.

You can hear the agonising opposition to my idea already. How terrifying to be exposed so explicitly! But incumbent politicians can't really complain because their competitors would have to do the same. And if the bully, the bigot, the impotent, or sycophantic fool can't survive the light of day, then good riddance to bad rubbish. Indeed, this is a core advantage of this kind of transparency - it enforces respectable conduct in policy development.

And maybe we don't need legalities to enforce my ideal? Maybe we just need one courageous political party to do it anyway, and likewise create a standard that the others might have to match?

It's our government. They are our representatives. The real world of politics does not belong behind closed doors. It belongs in public view - and to the greatest degree possible. We now have the tools to expose it, so why not embrace them? It could redefine/restructure politics into something that, I believe, it always should have been.


  1. I must include this excellent insight by a commentator. It spells out explicitly the economics of voting with respect to the individual, and the inherent democratic weakness of large government:

    ….When people make decisions for themselves, such as what car to buy or what state to live in, they invest far more energy to educate themselves than when they (for example) vote for President. They do so not because they believe buying a car is more important than choosing a President, but because they have far more influence in such instances of "foot voting" as opposed to ballot box voting. In other words, the marginal utility of educating oneself about what choices to make with one's life is infinitely greater than the marginal utility of educating oneself about whom to vote for, and therefore one makes a more educated decision.

    From this point, Somin moves on to conclude that a Federal system (in which the central government is relatively weaker than the local government) is a rational response to political ignorance: It allows greater diversity in local environments, and hence frees up individuals to vote with their feet by, for example, moving to a locale whose laws and officials are more congenial. In contrast, a strong central government tends to create more homogeneity, and reduce the power of foot voting. Since foot voting is infinitely much more informed than ballot box voting, the effect of such homogeneity is to amplify the power of the most ill-informed of our decisions (ballot box voting), and to give political ignorance full expression…

    1. Nothing is more effective than giving people the power to vote with their feet, to hold useless governments to account. A good example is Houston, Texas, which now has something like 7x the growth rate of California, as Texas provides affordable housing because they regulate land supply properly. Californian politicians can bleed on about the way people would be better off living in forced high-density developments all they want, but the fact remains people are abandoning their ideological utopia in their droves, and the most important thing is that they *can* do so. Alas, in highly centralised New Zealand this foot-voting power for the individual is minimal.

      By far the most effective regulator we know of, for both private and public operations, is competition. Being able to boycott a useless enterprise is absolutely critical.