Sunday, 2 July 2017

Why We Need A Broad Political Spectrum

Wendy Cockcroft centrist - cartoon for On t'internet
The trouble with see-saw politics is that it encourages ever-increasing extremism to the point where views considered common sense thirty years ago are dismissed as radical socialism today. We need to break out of that. I've got a few ideas.

Our societies are meshed in a global economy that benefits some of us but squeezes out others. As a result we're seeing a lot of resentment from the disillusioned that is being stoked by activists for their own personal gain. To break the cycle of outrage followed by mass protests I propose we end see-saw politics, promote evidence-based policy, and build bridges where we can. Let's take a closer look at these solutions.

End see-saw politics

If we got out of see-saw politics we would have a greater range of solutions to implement but when divide-and-conquer works so well, why change a winning formula?

If we're going to effect change we're going to have to break out of the see-saw mindset that entrenches and consolidates the status quo. The only way to do this is to encourage political discourse to include a broad political spectrum — and to agree on definitions for political positions. I've created a spreadsheet in which I've delineated the spectrum as I understand it, where "Communism" = "State owns the means of production and abolition of private property" and the "Alt-right" = "Laissez-faire/crony capitalism, mostly private property." If we can't or won't define political positions properly, confusion results.

That tweet made me laugh: if Republicanism/conservatism is all about personal freedom and free markets the Right leapt off the cliff a long time ago and are currently flapping madly, singing "I believe I can fly" as they plummet groundwards. You see, the origin of their freedoms is in liberalism. Look it up. We've already got the British press Red Scaring their readers, using the word "Socialist" as a boogeyman. This attempt to polarise political discourse using tax and services as a shibboleth has failed because people are wise to it, though they are no better informed. They need to be.

Evidence-based policy

I started following PolitiKey tonight because the account holder actually thinks. Take a look at this thread:

Tory politicians are starting to wake up to the idea that blind adherence to ideology is bad for business.

She's getting stick for it but this is encouraging; political discourse needs to shift leftwards so we can get our middle ground back. Even Brexit is being affected by this new mood of "Sit back and actually think about it" that's spreading through the politisphere.

One of the reasons why I've been slamming Brexit so hard is the utter ignorance of the Brexit supporters of EU and even UK law. I just can't trust them to get us out without wrecking the economy. If we're going to do anything, then, that would affect the country, then surely to goodness we should think very carefully before making a move.

Social programs ought to work as intended

One of the many reasons why healthcare provision is so hotly contested in America is because it is so needlessly expensive. The Right just sees the cost and goes, "Nope!" instead of looking at why it costs so much (I suspect it's because they want to limit healthcare to those who "deserve" it), while the liberal/progressives want "single payer" right now without being bothered to work out how they would pay for it. If they're going to be economically realistic they're going to have to look at why it costs so much in the first place and deal with that. It's where I'd start. Then I'd look at funding models, etc. California's recent efforts drove over a cliff because they didn't take their budget structure into account due to governmental dysfunction. Basically they're too busy fighting with each other to come up with a sensible plan. All social programs should be properly funded and should deliver sufficient value to make them worthwhile. Evidence-based policy is key to this.

Build bridges where we can

If we're going to get any bridges built we're going to have to learn about what's on the other side. I read about an actor from New Zealand who was checking out his ancestral roots. His heritage is a mix of northern European and native tribes. Result: he moves between both worlds but in his efforts to understand his Irish heritage he has discovered that we have a discomfiting habit of attacking — and sometimes killing each other over religion. This would make a flippin' interesting documentary since he actually met the agitators on both sides of the divide in an effort to understand why they couldn't get along. His perspective is naturally that of the outsider, he's not emotionally involved, but that's the point; by distancing ourselves emotionally from our positions and dispassionately examining the other side(s) we can learn about them properly, unblinkered by our own prejudices.

Libertarians have their uses

Former Republican speechwriter (now decidedly progressive) Bruce Bartlett excoriated ex-mayor Steve Bach of Colorado Springs instead of carefully examining his tenure as reporter Caleb Hannan did in an article for Politico. To cut a long story short, Bach jumped on waste and made good investments, but blinded by his Libertarian fervour he also wasted money to save money by cutting power to one out of every three streetlights (result: widespread copper theft. Savings: $1.25 million.  Cost of fixing lights with stolen cable: $5 million). His natural selfishness and blithe self-assurance kept him from working effectively with the council and by the end of his term he had pretty much alienated the people he worked with — and potential investors. Basically, Bach did best when cutting waste and increasing competition and worst when neglecting the business of actual governance. Libertarians are terrible stewards (by design), is what I'm saying, but we do need them because they can help with cutting waste and ensuring personal freedoms.

Outsourcing has limited value

When our Glorious Leaders decided to abandon stewardship of the welfare state, and began farming it off to private enterprise under the umbrella of the Big Society, the hope was that local and national charities would take over and be more efficient at allocating resources to meet needs. It didn't succeed and although the government has ostensibly ditched it you can see how, in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster, it hasn't quite let it go; people are still reliant on charity and the state is doing sod all to help. While outsourcing non-essential services can be beneficial essential services need to be kept in the hands of an accountable body, particularly where vulnerable people are concerned, as cost-cutting measures can seriously reduce the quality of service provided. I wouldn't get rid of outsourcing altogether but I would be careful about how and when I used it.


Being willing to listen without prejudice to those whose views we oppose has value; there may be a nugget of gold among the dross and besides, there's usually a reason for why they believe as they do. While I'm wary of people with cultish tendencies to repeat the same old crap I've heard before I realise now that I need to keep the lines of communication open. We all do. We need diversity in politics because it is the only way to be able to come up with solutions that work for everyone.

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