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politics


Before I start here,
I think it advisable to warn all readers that I am
militantly contemptuous of what passes for "policy debate" on both
left & right.


We can do far, far better than those bankrupt cliches...and, without playing the "ideology" game as commonly understood: let alone shorn of common-sense safeguards - as anarchists & libertarians are all-too-willing to do. The key to this endeavour is simple: always keep in mind that politics must remain "the art of the possible" - but, also remember that human history is long, diverse, and full of fascinating experiments in this area...and that good scholars have spent lifetimes tracking down the evidence re these.

So, we're not actually captive to the received "wisdom" of our time & place, in our understandings...unless we, thoughtlessly, succumb to the incessant mouthings of our media pundits.


A word on same might be in order at this point. Accompanying the rise of democracy itself was a countervailing argument - formalized by Plato - as to the incapacity of the commons to wisely govern. Revived (in a modified form) once universal suffrage reared its ugly head in recent times, it is now usually encountered via the "mass culture critique" peddled in different versions by the left and right.

This is the "ordinary people are brainwashed by the media, and only vote on self-interested grounds anyway" mantra, that the political class (including the media) use to justify their dumbing-down of debates, lies, and systematic cosying-up to anyone w/power...rather than the poor slobs that are "supposedly" the deciding factor in a democratic system.

Even if true - and Diana C. Mutz's groundbreaking research proves otherwise - the argument betrays a profoundly misleading "understanding" of democracy as a process...which, unfortunately, extends to the electors at large. As Mutz shows, they fully realize that their individual experience cannot simply be generalized, and thus rely on the media for this service...even when they radically distrust same - which is where shock-jocks & the like find their opening.

Inter alia...the simplest thing any leading opposition figure w/guts & sense could do is praise the "masses" for their civic spirit - but then, go on to explain how the democratic process itself was designed to aggregate/sift  personal experience, remind the audience that the media is owned by the rich & is not a trustworthy guide to broader issues, then:

Ask them to vote on personal experience...alone!  

To forget any/all bribes, spin, and the pontifications of the media...just go w/what they actually know. Are they (truly) better off now? Are they happy with the changes they see in their immediate society/environment? Are all their worries - genuinely - being properly addressed...or, merely fobbed-off w/excuses, or mis-managed in an incompetent fashion?

Because democracy (which Marx, incidentally, despised in any/all forms) will do the rest, at least for most policy areas.

There's also no "defense" against this tactic - should the voters adopt it - and, it's simple/clean & workable. Trouble is, it demands that you trust the electorate (as a whole)/democracy - and such trust is vanishingly rare in "our" political elites.


The lack of any widespread awareness of this aspect of democracy - or of the empirical work disproving the "mass culture critique" - is symptomatic of the narrowness of our political culture...and, of its almost total disconnect w/leading scholarship in a variety of areas, that suggest many feasible (and straightforward) ways out of our current malaise.

For example, ruled as we are by a narrow (and outdated) economic ideology - in which markets have to be "free" - there is little awareness outside scholarly circles that the cutting-edge economic work that has garnered all the prizes of late operates in much more rugged terrain, such as experimental economics, market design, the outcomes of imperfect information...and other approaches that actually test theory against experience. Even economic history is making a comeback, after decades in which it was rarely taught to undergrads. So, my hint to all reformist governments - try sacking your Treasury & Reserve Bank staff in toto...and, hiring younger economists that have bothered to learn from the real world & those theories that take it into account.

After all, that'd simply be "market discipline" at work, now...wouldn't it?

Similarly, there is now a wealth of comparative work on different electoral systems available - which strongly suggests that multi-member electorates produce much better political/social outcomes...particularly reducing ethnic/religious tensions, and forestalling the domination of major parties by self-reinforcing cliques. Unfortunately, the powers-that-be like such domination - so most voters never get to hear about such simple reform measures that could easily improve their lot.

Another one: more egalitarian wealth disributions - nice in themselves - also have positive side-effects in a myriad of areas that are generally ignored. Instead, we're "informed" that "we" can't afford the tight labour markets which would, naturally, produce such outcomes - and the metastasis of bureaucracy makes most (rightly) distrustful of tax & redistribute schemes...leaving a double-bind in which the rich simply get richer, and dissipate their gains in financial speculations, which mainly serve to undermine the "real" economy...

So, next time some "economic" bigot tries to tell you about labour markets, gently - or otherwise - inform them that Adam Smith, no less, considered they were inherently biased against employees...and remind those on the left that "welfare" & "collective bargaining" are the major policy issues dividing the poor and middle-class (particularly small business), thus delivering the political process to those who would keep them divided. Regulating labour markets to ensure full employment - sans collective bargaining and such things as termination payments, but w/a genuinely decent minimum wage - would provide everyone w/real job security, the option of voting w/their feet...and leverage for better pay and conditions across the board.

Reduced crime rates, better consumer confidence, a much smaller "welfare" budget/bureaucracy, less destabilizing business cycles - the positives multiply...and, are clearly attested-to in the historical record. We'll either learn do it sooner, or later - with much unnecessary fear, suffering and instability along the way...and, remember, a safety-net should be something to land on, not be trapped in...

We could also take a hint from the ancient Greeks - and try anti-bureaucratic approaches to regulating public affairs...instead of pontificating about them like neo-liberals do, whilst handing over effective control of things to private bureaucracies, in the shape of huge corporations. We could use the stockmarket to break those up - without stealing from anyone - into much less fearsome creatures that couldn't dominate their respective markets. Because, the word for what we've got now is "oligopoly" - and making excuses for same has intellectually crippled neo-classical economics almost as much as its disconnect from really-existing markets.

There are also the full possibilities of randomly-chosen deliberative assemblies to consider, as these could prove essential in correcting the biases generated by formally-representative systems. As well, we might also want to re-think federalism - based upon the fact that there is no real reason why the administration of different spheres of activity need to be based upon the same territorial divisions - except to centralize political power - which was what federalism was designed to undercut in the first place. Keeping bureaucracies small is the only way of controlling them, after all - so, maybe we ought to reconsider regional centralization as well?


There are a multitude of simple revenue-neutral (or revenue-positive) measures that governments can take to improve matters for all of us - the historical record is full of examples that can be fruitfully adapted to current conditions - but it would take willingness to bite the corporate hand that feeds...as well as imagination, and some wide reading/careful thought about feasible mechanisms, and possible political alignments between those currently divided by bogus ideologies...

That's why we'll have to do it ourselves - as citizens - and hope to haul some of the media & politicians on-board, eventually, when they finally wake up. Because policy is far too important to leave to the professionals.


But, after all...isn't that merely what true democracy entails?



John Henry Calvinist