22 April 2015

What really matters?

What really matters to voters? You might think, as I, naively, used to, that it's outcomes. But our politics and our policymaking process are almost entirely concerned with spending, institutional structures, legalisms, outputs or activities, all of which have very little bearing on outcomes that are meaningful to ordinary citizens. Come election time candidates and their handlers routinely emphasise almost everything except outcomes when canvassing for votes: the personality, gender, ethnic origin or social class of the would-be politician, or how they perform on television. I have proposed Social Policy Bonds as a way of subordinating all our politics and all our politicking to broad, meaningful outcomes, which would be more amenable to public participation and therefore help bridge the widening gap between politicians and the people they are supposed to represent. A mistake?

 Recent US research shows that:
[M]any average voters with strong party commitments -- both Democrats and Republicans -- care more about their parties simply winning the election than they do either ideology or issues. Unlike previous research, the study found that loyalty to the party itself was the source of partisan rivalry and incivility, instead of a fundamental disagreement over issues. Study: Most partisans treat politics like sports rivalries, instead of focusing on issues, University of Kansas, 15 April
Maybe then the Social Policy Bond concept, which focuses primarily on outcomes, is too idealistic? I think not. I believe that we, the voters, think of politics as a game only because our governing elites have made the policymaking process so arcane, long-winded and boring that only large institutions — public- and private-sector — can afford to pay people to understand and manipulate it. Naturally then, for our entertainment, we focus on whether our team, Democrat or Republican, Labour or Conservative, left or right will win their game, but the real game is government and big business versus the electorate. That match is too one-sided to generate much excitement.

1 comment:

Mike Linksvayer said...

Reminds me of / further evidence for Robin Hanson's dictum "politics isn't about policy" (rather about signalling affiliation and status, if I recall correctly).

One partial solution is to get people to affiliate with/commit part of their identity to the ability to self-doubt and go with the data and give status to people who seem to do so. Of course this mostly means people with such commitments will just rationalize whatever affiliation/status seeking they would do anyway as following the data, but maybe sometimes it will be a nudge in the right direction, like science.