An individual is generally a pretty competent judge of his or her interests. We are pretty efficient at judging what’s best for friends and family too. And in certain cases, distributed decision-making is better than individuals, because a market price for example is the distilled wisdom of everyone’s knowledge. But democratic decision making is not like this. The questions asked are usually binary, but about issues that aren’t binary. Neither of the propositions makes any sense. Scotland’s independence referendum, or the referendum UKIP and Tory loons wanted so, so badly on the EU, but about which they are getting cold feet because they know they’ll lose.
Many Tories, and libertarians, like Douglas Carswell are attracted direct democracy, attracted by the idea of the wisdom of crowds. But they don’t take into account the extent to which the processes of such direct democracy tend to be in practice controlled by party machines, for whom politics is a profession, the art of the possible.
the route campaigns have taken over the years is 1) persuade a major party to discuss, then adopt a proposal 2) consider exactly what legislation would be necessary to get a proposal into law 3) find time in the legislative programme not taken up by rubber stamping minutiae, to get it through both houses of parliament. Because the demands are vague, everyone “passionately caring” about a given issue will have their own patchwork of loyalties and only sometimes will even complete acceptance of a group’s demands induce satisfaction.
The route now is to take up the anti-establishment cudgels, and demand politicians do 1, 2 and 3, immediately. There’s little engagement with the process which enables ideas to become legislation. This is the motive behind the rise of anti-establishment parties – and UKIP and the SNP use similar tactics. First play on people’s sense of entitlement. We live in a market economy in which everyone expects their demands to be met, and do not consider what is possible. This creates a sense of grievance. This is then exploited by expert demagogues who direct it at some ‘other’. UKIP have the EU, the SNP have cleverly turned the vicious anti-English hatred which burns in the hearts of many Scots into ‘anti-Westminster’ sentiment.
Having persuaded the people an amorphous THEY is doing every bad thing to YOU, the Farage/Salmond present a simple solution, independence from THEM will enable YOU to realise your dreams. The people are persuaded, by this simple manipulation to equate THEM with everything bad, and the achievement of getting rid of THEM will create nirvarna. It’s a simple, attractive message, but ultimately guarantees dissapointment. No-one’s thinking about steps 2 & 3 and is unwilling to do the work. This school of demagoguery is also practiced by Labour: the rich, the bankers, the fat cats who’re profiteering at your expense. The Tories are guilty of holding benefits recipients to account for the deficit.
The problem is one of unreasonable expectations of an electorate which wants a government which does everything, but is unwilling to pay the necessary taxes. Just as the electorate expects democracy to work like a consumer business, they expect government services to do so. And here, the kind of solutions which are applicable through politics are not as efficient as those of the market. But with a single-funder, the market is unlikely to arise organically for healthcare services, so politicians still have a role in sorting out how the market should operate. Successfully in the example of utilities (fancy arguing I’m wrong, don’t bother, I’ll delete your comment) less so in the example of rail. But there is no doubt market solutions work better than state dirigisme, because of the wisdom of crowds.
Unlike market solutions, political solutions are manipulated by political parties into two competing sub-optimal camps, from which people must choose a mix of things they like and things they don’t. This is not a subtle decision-making and resource allocating process, and given the toxic iconoclasm pervading politics at the moment, it’s a recipe for disaster.
The solution isn’t more veto points, more layers of government all coming up with sub-optimal solutions to problems that may or may not be best out of government control. The solution is to devolve more power to individuals, whose decision-making process is not political. Decisions should be moved to the appropriate level of government. Usually this will mean moving it down.
Ultimately government should be made up of people to whom we outsource the management of dreary tasks like road-building, waste collection and dropping bombs on uncooperative foreigners. Because people aren’t by and large traffic-engineers, waste logisticians or in the military, we are not qualified to comment, but we can offer oversight, voting out people whose judgement on these issues we trust no more. It’s possible the Police and crime commissioners may become such a single-issue go-to for public concern. And in a representative democracy, they will have to learn to say ‘no’ to the electorate from time to time. Political processes cannot please all the people, all the time.
Ultimately the logic of devolution if it has any merit, ends up with individualism. And the best way for individuals to be able to balance the competing demands of modern life is for Government to get out of the way of his or her preferences through the action of markets. Government’s role is to regulate and oversee those markets. It’s difficult to see to what practical problem “leave the EU” or “Break up the UK” is a solution. But these are presented as solutions to people who don’t understand what’s wrong or how to fix it, and who frankly, have more important things to worry about, so we elect people to oversee the experts we hire to do the dirty work.
Constitutional change is political masturbation. It’s enjoyable for political wonks to talk about. But the people the demagogues have enthused, UKIPpers and YES voters will feel let down when the thing they desire doesn’t deliver their promised land. And a new bunch of political obsessives will find another issue to make political decision-making more opaque and less efficient when the solution is devolution of power to existing structures: local democracy and individual decision making through markets. The institutions of the UK work pretty well, and the unwritten constitution is remarkably flexible. There are structures which are best dealt with supranationally, nationally, regionally, locally and individually. Generally, decisions should be delegated down so ‘devo-max’ seems appropriate, but there’s little need for big changes, just Government that’s a bit smaller, more local, and less expensive.
Politicians lie: governing parties lie by obfuscation because they can’t reveal their impotence in the face of democratic checks and balances. But parties which invite to point blame on “them”. Well we saw where that could lead 70 years ago.
If I was Scots (which I am, half, but no vote…) I’d still rather be part of a nation capable of putting a top-flight aircraft carrier or two to sea. And little England will find much less influence outside the EU than in. We cant escape the trade rules. I may be a libertarian in wanting people, not politicians to have power. That’s not in UKIP or the SNPs offer. I am also a conservative. I see no reason to make radical changes to solve problems that barely exist.