Wednesday, 28 September 2011

A poxy old game

Isn't politics a poxy old game? I'm not much moved by political arguments, personalities and trends. I tend to find them a tad unrewarding, although quite a few bloggers know how to liven up the debates with some trenchant analysis and deliciously acidic invective. I like my invective on the vinegary side, so I enjoy the more cynical and unaligned political blogs, but I still find myself left with few concrete political views apart from a deep, dark cynicism. As for the mainstream media, there is far too much dross and gossip to wade through.

I have an excessively simple take on politics based on the pervasive nature of complexity, one of my pet themes. From this angle, social and economic trends are usually too complex to predict.

Whatever its proponents claim for policy A doesn't necessarily cause output B, and even if it does, it may not do so next time. Those who are guided by political principles, whether of the left, right or centre, are usually wasting their time. Not always, but usually. That's why ridicule is such a useful and fun political tool - most political ambitions are so ridiculous that a good laugh is the only rational response. So how do I assess the politics game as a mildly interested spectator with a belly-full of cynicism?

1. Simplicity.

Simplification is good. If a new policy simplifies some aspect of social or political life, then it is a good policy. The simplification has to be unambiguous and permanent, such as simplifying the tax system. Forget caveats or complications, simplifying is good.

2. Transparency.

Transparency is good and related to but even more powerful than simplification. Transparency is the big one in my view. If a new policy makes some aspect of social or political life more transparent, then it is a good policy. The power of transparency is the main reason why blogging is politically healthy and the BBC is not.

3. Democracy.

We're told that democracy is supposed to set the balance of power between government and citizens. It isn't perfect, but it sounds like a good idea. We should give it a trial run in the UK.

That's it for me, everything else is left to social trends, to people pursuing their own interests under the law. I haven't mentioned equality, welfare, pensions, crime, immigration or any of that dull, complex stuff because it is - well it's complex. It has to sort itself out. Interfere and you risk another dollop of complexity or lots of dense fog instead of pristine transparency, the two cardinal sins in my book.

Example? With the best available economic advice (ha ha!), we have apparently wandered into a foreseeable economic mess. Is the economy too complex for politicians, economists or both? Modern Monetary Theory seems to have at least some of the answers to my inexpert view, so why is basic economic competence so elusive?

Example? One in my own field - science. Science generally has become far more political, less transparent and more complex over the past few decades, much of it due to statistics, computer models and policy-based funding. A loss of transparency and increase in complexity has corrupted the scientific project - my guess is corrupted it beyond repair. Where's the evidence? Climate science.

Example? Tax - people in the UK do not know how much tax they pay or why they pay it. Maybe they should.

Example? State-controlled education - parents in the UK don't know how well their kids are being educated. Maybe they should.

Example? The EU adds complexity and drastically reduces the transparency of UK policy-making. Merely on that basis it is an intrinsically bad idea. Nobody seems to know what the EU does or what it is for - not even King Herman I.

Example? Health advice from the state adds complexity to our lives to no clear purpose. We do not know how we will eventually die, whether it will be quick, slow, dignified or pathetic. A healthier life now does not necessarily lead to an outcome we would have opted for given the choice. It may well be that an individual smoker should continue to smoke and an individual drinker should continue to drink. On the whole the state doesn't know how to give worthwhile blanket advice apart from moderate exercise and calorie intake.

Example? Covert political lobbying - no need to say more. It goes on and on.


rogerh said...

So depressing I had to go and lie down until the red mist had gone way.

A K Haart said...

rogerh - Red Mist? Is that a type of wine?