Do what you’re good at

My morning blog-reading threw up Well, no Mr. Chakrabortty, no wherein Timmy is characteristically blunt about the failings of politicians. You don’t have to agree, this is only the lead-in to my own view. The problem with Timmy’s analysis is that no, most politicians aren’t idiots, they are quite clever. Or at least some of them. But they do stuff up a lot of things very badly.

So I’ll put up my own view, which is more Darwinistic: you should do what you’re good at, and free competition will select those who get it right. In an idealised free market this happens for businesses: those that succeed, errm, succeed; and those that fail, fail. In a bad market, biznizmen can capture the regulation to their own advantage. But in a sense, that is the same Darwinism in action: if you’re astute, and wish to prosper, you have to recognise what in that environment will make you prosper. If the framework is wrong, the “right” behaviour won’t help. Setting the correct framework is the politicians job. If they get it wrong (e.g. by preferring cap-n-trade over a carbon tax) then the market will inevitably respond, “wrongly”.

And so to politicians. What pressures act to select on them? I argue that the ones you would want – competence, ability to manage their brief, making valid decisions – are there, but weak. Far stronger are ability to win elections, fighting up the party hierarchy, looking good, etc. Which is why I agree that the state should do as little as possible, and concentrate on what it should do: making the framework right. One large part of which (MPs expenses, the current phone hacking stuff) is preventing corruption.

Comments

  1. #1 Nicolas Nierenberg
    2011/07/26

    When I was in school I read a book “An Economic Theory of Democracy” for one of my political science courses. It was very influential on my views of politics. It was a long time ago, but what I recall was that it focused on this idea that the fundamental purpose of a politician, and a political party was to win. You could predict a tremendous amount of observed behavior by starting with that premise. I continue to believe that is the best predictor of political actions.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/An_Economic_Theory_of_Democracy

    [It must be good - second hand prices are in the £20 region -W]

  2. #2 Hank Roberts
    2011/07/26

    Blackmail?

    http://www.judiciaryreport.com/report_rupert_murdoch_blackmailed_the_british_prime_minister.htm

    [Lots of sexy Russians, thanks. Didn't see a good source for the main claim, though. The Grauniad link says the very idea that a serving chancellor's phone was hacked by journalists is shocking and I agree - it really is shocking that a British PM would be so careless with his security -W]

    Cassandra:

    http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/2007/01/blackmail-reminders-misc-links-and.html
    http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/2007/01/timely-warning-to-all-new-democratic.html

  3. #3 Hank Roberts
    2011/08/01

    uh, oh …
    http://www.bitsofscience.org/mass-extinction-methane-clathrates-triassic-2300/

    “… volcanic CO2, the Utrecht scientists say, must have led to no more than an initial warming. Once the warming penetrated to the ocean floors it disturbed the clathrates.

    Their measurements, published in Friday’s edition of Science,
    http://www.sciencemag.org/content/333/6041/430
    indicate at least 12,000 gigatonnes of C13-depleted carbon entered terrestrial biology, indicating the release of a minimum of around 16,000 gigatonnes methane “within only 10,000-20,000 years.”…”

    From “Bits Of Science media platform on Bitsofscience.org, a daily source of news on science, technology and the environment, brought to you by a small but committed international group of researchers and science writers.”

    (new-to-me science blog site with original writing, been around more than a year, worth looking into I think)

  4. #4 Hank Roberts
    2011/08/04

    re that judiciaryreport story,

    (Aside, where did you see sexy Russians? I must have some setting wrong on my browser ….)

    Well, I dug a bit into the ‘sources’ links at the bottom of the page and ended up at this — speculation, I suppose.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/12/world/europe/12yard.html?pagewanted=all

    That doesn’t reference the much earlier story but yielded enough likely search terms to lead me to this:

    http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/2010/09/11/mps-blocked-tabloid-inquiry-to-protect-their-privacy-claim-91466-27245604/

    Perhaps you know what he means there at the end:

    “We decided not to, I think to some extent, because of what I was told at the time by a senior Conservative member of the committee, who I know was in direct contact with News International execs, that if we went for her, called her back, subpoenaed her, they would go for us – which meant effectively that they would delve into our personal lives in order to punish them.

    “I think that’s part of the reason we didn’t do it… in retrospect I think that’s regrettable. It’s important now that the new inquiry stands firm where we didn’t. Politicians aren’t above the law, but neither are journalists, including Rupert Murdoch’s bovver boys with Biros.”

    [Now that Murdoch / Wade / NotW are down, people are lining up to kick them. I wouldn't trust it though -W]

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