Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Why We Don’t Get Many Decent Politicians

Considering that in the shape of the shadow Labour cabinet they have only an economic laughing stock as opposition at the moment, it's odd to see the Conservatives in such a shambles, what with the EU party divisions, Iain Duncan Smith's resignation over the disability cuts, and the fact that the chancellor George Osborne is really little more than a crypto-socialist awaiting his chance to be at the helm of the party in the public relations role of Prime Minister. When the opposition is so weak, it speaks poorly of the Tories that they appear so weak as well. Perhaps they think they can afford to be complacent.

But I wonder if the problem runs deeper. When it comes to listening to many of our politicians, I'm afraid often the primary thing the public has to consider is whether their rhetoric is the result of incompetence or dishonesty. I have to confess, sometimes I genuinely don't know. Take the minimum wage, which as I've shown before repeatedly in numerous past Blog posts lacks so much pull that it couldn't even shift the skin off a rice pudding. The number of politicians who call for its endorsement and incremental increase is astounding. Whether it's on Newsnight, Question Time, The Big Questions or Free Speech, you'll find they are all at it. And not just the minimum wage - price freezes, artificial protection of British industry through subsidies or bailouts - all of these things over which the State has far less control than the public realises. 

It's hard for anyone to believe that Oxbridge educated people don't know the erroneousness of their claims, so I must assume that they are simply telling lies that they know will make them popular. But they are rarely outright lies, of course - more akin to manipulative language that speaks a half-truth but is in actual fact half-empty too, making it frequently beyond the scope of the political influence that is being claimed.

Because politicians have to win votes they have to tell the public what they want to hear. They must also make claims they cannot justify - that they will create jobs (with additional value, that is), reduce unemployment, oversee growth in the economy, etc, - which means promising to do things over which they know full well they have much less influence than the public imagines.

But assumedly not all politicians are duplicitous opportunists; there are no doubt some that mean well and have genuinely good intentions. Yet most of the ones that mean well also come out with this same absurd rhetoric too - it's pretty contagious in Westminster. This leads me to think that the ones that mean well have actually been taken in by the rhetoric of those around them and those that preceded them, and the ones that don't mean well are just simply good actors who have simply perfected the art of deceiving. Given the foregoing, I think politicians can be divided roughly into two groups.

GROUP 1: Those that know much of their rhetoric is nonsense but are good at deceiving enough people to get away with it.

GROUP 2: Those that really do mean well and have noble intentions but are actually unwise enough to believe some of the things they say.

Let's call group 1 the Snakes and group 2 the Puppies.

What we long for are politicians who are well meaning with good intentions, but also smart enough to be able to see through the rhetoric and say a few candid things, bringing some refreshing wisdom as they do so. But consider what being in such surroundings would do to such a person - they would see clearly enough to all-but lose faith in the political circus, and perhaps lose a little bit of faith in humanity too. Even if we had a few rare gems, they would be the exception - and they would be swamped by the majority of Snakes and Puppies that outnumbered them.

These rarities sound like they'd be a breath of fresh air - but, alas, the truth is, the political system, coupled with the toxic relationship of co-dependency the politicians and the electorate have with each other, is not a system that is set up for truthful and candid expositions. Most of the electorate just aren't ready to digest the fact that economies, labour, house-prices, wages, supply and demand are largely beyond the control of the government (save for a few light and necessary regulations) - which means they also aren't ready to accept that a lot of the government involvement is not going to be well-informed or successful.

EDIT TO ADD: I briefly alluded to the toxic co-dependency between politicians and the electorate that votes them in - I think it's another factor as to why we have so many misjudged politicians; we have so many misjudged members of the public that demand their wishes and views are represented by politicians. Moreover, economics is about the most misunderstood subject around, largely because, as Bastiat pre-empted in his great seen and unseen essay, most people only have (or allow themselves) enough intellectual wherewithal to focus on how things affect an easily identifiable group, rather than how to affects all groups. Consequently, then, the selection pressure for politicians to be economically astute is diminished by their knowledge of the electorate's lack of astuteness.  

* Photo courtesy of The Guardian