Dec 11

The Pluralist Paradox

Deep down inside of me, there is a swing voter waiting to get out.

A true British I-don’t-really-know-what-I-think voter, someone who could go both ways. Hell, I could go three or four ways.

I know, dear imaginary reader, you are thinking, “but how can someone so … so – political – how can you not be true and loyal to a single party?”

Don’t get me wrong. The swinger inside of me is not the typical British non-thinker. Not the common man on the street who waits until there is a critical mass of others to think on their behalf so they can chime in at the last minute and back the winning party. Not the fickle man on the street who just loves to complain about whichever party is in power and backs the opposition because, “there’s no possible way we could have four more years of the same old [insert current governing party here]”.

No, my swinging tendencies come from much, much deeper within me. My struggle is thus:

On the one hand, surely our socio-economic outlook looks far prettiest when people are allowed to do what they want whilst not harming others; a liberal, pluralist society? What is wrong for you might not be wrong for me, and therefore we should agree not to legislate for what you consider to be wrong, because it would be unfair for me. Instead we should just hang out / do business with people who have similar views to our own.

Of course we should have high taxes and good quality public services. This isn’t a matter of politics, it’s a matter of economies of scale: pooling resources allows us to reduce overheads. (I’m talking theoretically, of course.)

But on the other hand – and please excuse my Newtonian worldview (blame my Christian parents) – given that humanity, if left unchecked, tends towards selfish and greedy behaviour, perhaps after all it doesn’t look that fabulous when people are allowed to do what they want.

Here I cite the global financial crisis as being caused by unfettered or poorly-regulated capitalism.

Or what about society and the family? It is horribly non-liberal to interfere with matters of the family: married couple tax breaks between man and woman, making it legally difficult and expensive to get a divorce, reducing benefits to single mothers and punishing walk-away fathers who don’t take responsibility.

Whilst the above may offend our sense of social liberalism, let us hypothesise what their long-term effect on society might be, and therefore the effect on our economy and, eventually, our wealth as a nation of individuals. In economic terms, those societies defined by people pulling together (be this around the traditional unit of the family, or otherwise) are the ones that generate wealth for their futures. Those societies that are fragmented and socially disorganised are the ones that get poorer.

Given humanity tends towards greed and ultimately destruction (we agree on this, do we not?), and given in my example of the family above this would mean men will love women then walk away from them unless there is a compelling financial reason not to, perhaps a liberal society with fewer rules is a less successful, inferior one?

I used the construct of family to make my point, but this could equally apply to other constructs.

And this is the crux of my indecision. Conservative rule is too socially prescriptive. Labour rule causes too much fragmentation of society to allow for growth or progress. Liberal Democrat rule… well, our party just gets laughed-out or shouted-at most of the time.

What is my problem with political loyalty? Why do I mistrust staunch Labour party members, staunch Conservative party members, or staunch Any party members?

Is it that my world view espoused above is essentially flawed? Is it that I’m merely a liberal mind trying to get out of a conservative body? Or is it because my politics derive too directly from the existential questions in my head? Or is this a common Paradox of Pluralism?

Jan 09

To what extent must society shape capitalism?

Another post from a self-proclaimed economy non-expert.

This post is one big question mark, just so you’re aware!

I am sure that most of us, even the most right wing, would agree that capitalism is most effective – from a utilitarian point of view – when tempered to an extent by social forces. These may be ethics, the metaphorical workers’ rights of the marketplace; regulation, the health-and-safety handbook; economic progress, the constitution and philosophical goals of capitalism; trading law, the global rules of operation; process, the top-level efficiency of the capitalist system; communication and diplomacy, the oil in the machinery; the list could go on.

In fact if that list were to go on, it would become less and less directly related to capitalism, and the metaphors would become more and more broad. This is because capitalism itself eventually gives way to the aspects of society that surround it. For example, business ethics are informed by the aspects of global/local society that feed it, namely politics, environment, art, national and regional development, media, and so on. I hope to have explained this point as a construct rather than a view, as it exists whatever one’s views on the autonomy of capitalism within a state are. Whether you believe capitalism should be capitalism and completely uninformed by society, I am attempting to at least define the interdependence that could, does, should, or should not exist.

Which leads me to the point of writing this. As a layman I’m totally ignorant as to the schools of thought that define these boundaries. If anyone reading this knows of some studies on the interdependence between capitalism and society, I’d really appreciate a reading list. Or maybe even just a quick summary, or some keywords or authors I can search. Specifically the questions I have are as follows.

Most ‘moderates’, as I would consider them, believe that a marketplace should have a good degree of independence, but that there should be some healthy acknowledgement of the surrounding world. National politics usually define regulations, international consortia define trade law, but my question is to what extent should free market ethics be defined by society? A business should be able to use its powers to create a market and generate demand where there isn’t any, but the equal and opposite is that a business should also be able to use its power to close down a market, reduce demand, force down wages, etc. The obvious questions of business ethics arise from this example of irregularity. More importantly than “to what extent should free market ethics be defined by society”, is “who theoretically makes that decision” (this is rhetorical because it’s the powerful who end up making it), and “what system of rationale governs who makes the decision”?

I guess there are inevitably no answers to the above questions, but I am interested if there’s any research in these more esoteric areas.

Nov 08

Reflections on the UK political system after Obama elected

As a Brit there are two Western political systems of democracy that affect me: the UK style and the US style.

Up until now I’ve had a natural preference for the UK flavour of party politics as opposed to presidential; my reasoning that party politics allows leadership by consensus not character, and lends itself to the long-term development and continuity of political ideals. A party governs a country, and the leader of the party serves the party, rather than the party serving the leader. The consequent of consensus government is the requirement to stick to a party line; the word ‘Maverick’ doesn’t sell back in the UK. I have always believed that party politics is more progressive than presidential for these reasons.

Our two major political parties have worked themselves into an ideological deadlock. When New Labour moved into the centre, I was most pleased; finally there was a party I could potentially bring myself to vote for who were in with a chance. But how does an opposition party defeat a governing party that has led from the centre? How does it gain political capital over a party that has positioned itself to appeal to all?

Here’s how: they take the centre ground too, and pick pick pick away at the governing party. They pick to show they are better at running the centre ground, even if they aren’t. They pick away incessantly to the point where the real issues affecting the electorate are ignored, instead of fulfilling their duty to balance power and challenge the governing party. They pick and pick and pick until the political bubble so obscures their view of reality that the whole concept of party politics is ruined.

Does anybody remember when David Cameron was elected leader of the opposition party?

He called for an end to “Punch and Judy politics”.

“People in this country are crying out for a Conservative Party that is decent, reasonable, sensible, common sense and in it for the long term…”

Any human being to have witnessed PMQs in the House of Commons on a Wednesday afternoon knows that, three years on, that hasn’t happened.

(Click here for a very good, topical example. It depresses me beyond reason.)

Anyone who thinks our country isn’t run by a terrible bunch of rowdy smugsters clearly hasn’t seen our politics in action. Whilst it’s true to say we Brits don’t go in for the emotional, patriotic style of government, their jeers and sneers are enough to put any sane human with a soul off politics.

Cameron promised to “switch on a whole new generation”. He preceded by appointing three Old Etonians to his shadow cabinet. And fifteen on the front bench. I don’t think I’d like my 21st Century Britain to be run by a bunch of chaps who all went to the same school, thanks.

No wonder this country doesn’t vote.

Once this deadlock is achieved, how can it be broken? The greatest aspect of party politics, that replaceable individuals conform to the will of the continuous group, is also its flaw.

US politics, however, can reinvent itself.

Why should this be necessary? I can see two reasons.

1. When a President with centrist political leanings, or non-partisanship, governs a country, he can do so effectively or ineffectively – however the electorate decide who is to govern at the beginning of each term. If the electorate still want a politically central government, but they are unhappy with the effectiveness of the current leader, this problem can be solved by the election of another. A party, however, elects its own leader.

2. Every new era requires a new politic. A new politic allows a country’s government to live up to the needs of its electorate without the need for revolution. When the governing party moves to the centre, they are inadvertently setting the political agenda for the opposition party, however by definition, to appeal to the majority of the electorate, the opposition must take-on the centrist politics of the governing power. The core values of the two parties become increasingly similar (or at least, they purport to be similar). The only way forward is then political point-scoring, a form of political battle that is at its heart completely out of touch with the electorate.

Whilst I am not against the domestic policies of ex Prime Minister Tony Blair, or against his style of leadership, it does seem that his leadership has indirectly diluted the core values of both political parties – and because of the sedative effect of party politics, there seems to be no way out of the deadlock.

Witnessing the US Presidential election in all its technicolour excitement brings the above point home – but even more depressing were the UK leaders’ childish responses, each wanting to align themselves with President-elect Obama to bolster his own political position.

The personal upshot? I shall vote for the Liberal Democrats, as I can’t bring myself to vote for either main parties now – but I do so regretfully; they are the party who will never gain power in this country. I regret that our politics cannot morph such that one of the major parties can become politically libertarian, fiscally conservative, socially liberal, and with a firm but peace-loving foreign policy. I would happily vote for any Labour or Conservative party with such values.

Either that, or I’ll move to the land of the free.