Monday, 17 June 2013

On the "Crisis of Democracy"...

Electoral turnout is falling, and those that do bother to vote are increasingly not opting for one of the two main mass parties: Humans for the Conservatives and Labour for the Orcs. This means any Prime-minister (who is more or less guaranteed to be either David Cameron or Ed Miliband after 2015), is going to lack legitimacy. Some say the fact that the likes of Tony Blair or David Cameron, who became PM on a small plurality of the vote, discredits democracy. By this analysis, our system, because the House of Commons is not the result of an accurate tribal headcount, is illegitimate.

All this represents is the fact political argument in the west is no longer about whether everyone gets enough to eat. Everyone now does. Political argument, even in these times of "Austerity" is really about the distribution of plenty. We're now so far up Mazlow's hierarchy of needs that even Sun-readers who have a roof over their heads, and more than enough to eat, now expect their unconsidered views to be listened to.

The four stages of learning are:

  1. Unconscious incompetence: You don't know how little you know.
  2. Conscious incompetence: You now know how little you know
  3. Conscious competence: You can make the right calls with the right information, if you think about it.
  4. Unconscious competence: Like changing down a gear in a car after 20 years of driving, you can do it without thinking about it.
Level 0. is of course, where most people have existed in matters of political economy, feeling absolutely no need to find out anything, voting largely out of habit and gut feeling from an opinion of the candidates and parties gained almost by osmosis from the media. Because each vote changes so little, this ignorance is entirely rational. It profits people far more to become expert in whatever they do for a living, using leisure time for... well... leisure. Most political activists are also at level 0, seeing politics in terms of a sport, backing a team chosen in childhood without any significant analysis of why using confirmation bias to exclude any troubling data. Even so, more and more people are rising to level 1.

The political anger is due the fact that having found out a bit, some people have started expressing opinions, and now feel ignored. They have learned to find a profit & loss account and do some basic arithmetic and conclude that corporate tax is being "underpaid" without troubling themselves to understand why this might be. Some people hear some funny accents on the bus and conclude they're being "swamped" by immigrants. Yet these "problems" are ones of enormous complexity, utterly unsuited to the simplistic solutions being proposed by the man in the pub. But there are politicians prepared to ride the wave of this solipsistic anger, hence the rise of minor parties, especially between elections, when the electorate don't feel they're choosing something important like the Prime-minister.

People have found out a bit, and don't like what they see, because a little knowledge is a dangerous thing and people fear that which is only partially understood. Here be dragons.

I reckon I'm at level 2. All I understand is how little I know, and I am deeply sceptical of anyone who claims to have the solution to complex political problems. There are trade-offs, but no answers. Side-effects are unknown and unknowable.

The list of people at level 3. in matters of modern political economy is very, very small, consisting of Ben Bernanke, a couple of Nobel Laureates (but NOT Paul Krugman), a few central bankers, people at the top of a few businesses. Even these people might just be level 2. but with power. Everyone else who claims to have the answer, is lying.

No-one is sufficiently able to collect and process the data to successfully manage an economy at level 4.

The answer is, of course more direct democracy hoping a semi-engaged electorate can be bothered to turn out for local referenda; and trusting to the wisdom of crowds. The answer is also the 'electorate of one' allowing markets to give people power over their own lives and removing a lot of competences from political control, devolving them to the individual and family.

It's because of my scepticism that I favour market solutions, and resist political control. Not because I think it's an answer, but because I don't think there is one, so we should let everyone make up their own minds about their priorities as far as possible. The job we're asking politicians to do is impossible. So let's make it easier, by getting government to concentrate on its core functions (there is an argument to be had about what the core functions are). Let's take back the power (and money) from politicians as far as possible, and so make decisions at a level where mistakes aren't catastrophic.

Libertarianism, the only solution for people who have sufficient wisdom to know they're ignorant.



3 comments:

Anthem said...

Democracy isn't necessarily the problem, it is the things that we vote on.

I do believe that there are things we vote on which shouldn't be up for the vote (such as how much of a person's life is public property, to be shared around as the order of the day sees fit).

It has all gone so far now that we don't just all take it for granted that a portion of our life is not our own, we now argue over just how much is public property and on which projects that part should be spent).

Frankly, the situation is now so far gone that people are in despair with the whole thing. It will never reverse in our lifetime so the average Joe just tries to ignore the lot and get on with his life.

Phil.T.Tipp said...

@Anthem, I think you're misunderstanding - all of a 'person's' life is public property.

A 'person' is a legal fiction, a puppet of the state., complete with certificate of ownership and a number with which to be accounted by. This is the legal mirage.

However, the reality is that we are all 'people' and 'humans'. The state can assert no property rights over your mind, body or spirit. You are your very own master, born individual and free.

Aaaand relax.

Marcus said...

I couldn't agree with your concluding point more. There is no perfect economic system, or if there is we're along way from finding understanding it. So far better to let people choose there own priorities than be forced to be to fit into someone else's utopian vision.

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