28 March 2006

Policy priorities

Much wailing and gnashing of teeth here in New Zealand in reaction to our team's apparently less than stellar performance at the Melbourne Commonwealth Games. Like everything else these days it becomes a matter of government policy. Or rather, like all the other stories that the media decide to run with - which are not at all the same as those things that matter to the public. Now I'm not saying here that the media are engaged in some vast conspiracy to manipulate the public. I am saying that when it comes to making public policy it would be better to ignore the short-term priorities of the media.

Many of the crises facing New Zealand and the world are too slow-moving for tv or the newspapers. Climate change, social collapse, and the piling up of armaments, for instance. When these three challenges alone are so enormous and potentially catastrophic, there seems (to me) something wrong with a government - any government - that spends its time and our resources reacting to frivolous media stories. Don't get me wrong: frivolity and sports are fun; but I do question whether the attention they get from policymakers truly reflects public concern. Perhaps if the public had a chance to participate actively in government policymaking, we'd see some sensible policies for dealing with urgent problems. Instead, the media's obsession with sport and government's pandering to this obsession are symptomatic of the remoteness of governments who have no real objective aside from continuing in power.

Under a Social Policy Bond regime, only broad social and environmental goals that are meaningful to natural persons (as distinct from government agencies and corporate bodies) would be targeted. Ordinary people would be drawn into the policy formation process, because we understand outcomes. (The media realises this and brings up issues - like medal tallies at international games - that are vivid and visual, but very often trivial.) What we don't and don't want to understand are arcane decisions about funding for myriad government agencies, the restructurings that seem de rigeur for every government deparment every couple of years or so, and the Mickey Mouse micro-targets devised by bureaucrats that do nothing for real people. With such ploys, government has widened the gap between itself and the people it's supposed to represent.
Two hundred years ago, when the United States was a modest commercial republic, the president could take a walk down Pennsylvania Avenue—by himself—and talk to anyone who approached him. If he wasn’t on a walk outdoors, he was most likely at home, and you could speak to him by knocking on the door of the White House and presenting yourself. ...

Today? The president moves about like Caesar Augustus, with a vast, graded court of civil and military aides, doctors, secretaries, valets, hairdressers, makeup artists, bodyguards, drivers, baggage handlers, cooks, food tasters, Praetorian guards, snipers, centurions, bulletproof limos, a portable hospital, and an armored rostrum. And that’s when he travels in the U.S. Source

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