10 June 2009

Studying ordinary people

Graham Watson, one of the leading lights of the Liberal EU Parliamentary Group responded to the most recent [EU] election results by saying he couldn’t understand why the turnout was so low, and therefore ‘we need to study why people don’t go out and vote’. Sadly, Watson’s lack of understanding of the realities of political life in the EU is not just an act; he is genuinely so out touch with public sentiment that he simply doesn’t get it. Leading EU politicians frequently look upon their electorates as exotic and incomprehensible species whose habits and sensibilities must be ‘studied’. How EU bureaucrats are destroying public life, Frank Furedi, 10 June
It was perhaps inevitable that politicians, as with other professions, would evolve into something like a separate caste from the rest of us. As with airline pilots, we actually want our highly polichymakers to specialise and know exactly what they are doing. The problem is that, unlike airline pilots, our politicians' goals have become quite distinct from, and often in conflict with, those of ordinary people - the public they are supposed to represent. Is 'studying' these people the best way of re-aligning policymakers' goals and visions with those of society?

A better alternative might be to rethink the entire policymaking process. Instead of expressing policy goals in vague terms, or as the product of arcane, stultifying debate about legalisms, funding, or institutional structures, we could instead define policy goals in terms of outcomes that are meaningful to the non-politicians amongst us. Take, for instance, climate change. The psychological connection between cuts in emissions of greenhouse gases and climate stability is a tenuous one, even if the physical relationship turns out to be direct and significant. Legislating for cuts in greenhouse gases is already proving divisive, and threatens our entire climate stabilising project. Much better, in my view, for policymakers to target climate stability itself; a goal with which all of us can identify. Let investors in Climate Stability Bonds work out how best to achieve this goal; responding as only motivated private sector agents can to our rapidly growing knowledge about the causes and effects of climate change.

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