Friday, 20 April 2012

Are governments anti-social?

For some time I’ve been toying with the idea that politics doesn’t work because there is a crucial test we don't apply. There are missing tests in political theory just as there are in psychology, but in politics we don't seem to acknowledge it.

I’ll use the word social for now, as it’s a familiar word without an alarming amount of baggage. Oddly enough, the term anti-social is more familiar, so let's just say for current purposes that social is the opposite of anti-social. Any political activity may be social or anti-social.

To my mind, the crucial aspect of any political theory or activity is whether or not it is self-correcting once launched on an unsuspecting public. Maybe this gives us two equivalences.

Anti-social = not self-correcting.
Social = self-correcting.

There is an obvious connection here with wasteful and less wasteful activity. We correct wasteful activity unless we happen to be government-funded, when we wait for it to be corrected.

We all know how governments fund wasteful, anti-social activities, that is to say activities where there is no correction mechanism, something that kicks in automatically when things go wrong. Obviously we can soon lose ourselves in a sea of words here, but that’s surely the point isn’t it? We do lose ourselves in a sea of political words – frequently.

In other words, we need a political metric or test of some kind, some way of understanding why so much political activity is essentially anti-social. We need to understand that self-correcting mechanisms such as the free market are essentially social, not so much because of what they deliver, but because they are self-correcting. 

 Government activity tends not to be self-correcting and so is essentially and inevitably anti-social.

Wind turbines are a good example of an anti-social government activity. They don’t generate power efficiently and there is no automatic mechanism to correct the problem. In a free market they would never have been used at all, or if they had, their disutility would soon finish them off.

In general, environmental politics tends to be anti-social. Policies are invented and enacted where there is  quite obviously no element of self-correction. Pesticides are banned, they disappear from the market and the environment and new pesticides come on the market to replace them. But until new regulations come in, we test for the old pesticides in the environment and ignore the new ones - often for years. Why? Government, or more often EU regulations. Anti-social regulations.

I’m not that this way of viewing politics is particularly insightful, but as with many aspects of complex issues, we tend to forget the basics. It's really no more than a reminder - productive activity is self-correcting activity. So that rules out the UK government, the EU and the UN, doesn't it?


Demetrius said...

Politics is about words. But as soone as a word becomes political it is debased and loses its meaning or meanings. If the words become fixed in the political ideaologies then the politics lose their meaning and purpose.

Demetrius said...

Oops, sorry for the typo's, cork extraction is imminent.

A K Haart said...

Demetrius - "But as soone as a word becomes political it is debased and loses its meaning or meanings."

That's a good point - It makes things really difficult when trying to find another angle on politics. I'm not satisfied with this angle, but you have to keep trying.

Cork already extracted here!

Robin Smith said...

Its a fair point. I tend to ask if something is moral or immoral.

And government certainly fully support immoral activity. (private property in land) And make moral activity illegal too. (tax avoidance)

The net effect of government must be positive though because the power to produce wealth and land values have always risen over the long term, except following the declines of each civilisation.

But it could be so much much better.

BTW unless things change fairly radically this civilisation will decline and fall just like all the others for the same reasons.

So in that case government IS anti social.

A K Haart said...

Robin - "But it could be so much much better."

I agree. I know we derive enormous benefits from government, but as you say, decline is inevitable without a radical change.

Anonymous said...

The British were ever a swashbuckling lot and building an empire and pinching everyone's assets suited our nature v. well.

Our ruling class was brought up on this model - a wheeze, a scheme are the favoured business models. All over now, empire - gone and its equivalent - global finance greatly weakened. Ruling class no longer fit for purpose but desperately hanging on to privileges.

Anti-Social - certainly, and much worse than that.

A K Haart said...

Roger - "Ruling class no longer fit for purpose" is a good slogan.