Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Politics - dirty business or science

The topic of politics never ceases to be current but around the British general elections it's getting even more attention than usual. Debates come and go, some people try to evaluate policies, others have firm voting decisions based on questionable foundation but most don't give a fuck. Until recently I was part of that group as well. However, as I see no point in being in a majority (there are enough people there already, right) I got interested in politics. The matter turned out to be interesting and quite complicated.

As we all know, democracy is not perfect but it's superior to all other systems we've tried by any reasonable comparison. And by reasonable I mean one that is based more on quality of life rather than military conquests. Despite their flaws, democratic societies never had to erect fences to keep their people in ;-)
And believe me, I have thought a lot about what kind of system would be better and I don't even know why I'm doing it as a lot of people much smarter than me have pondered about this problem for quite some time. Neither them nor I have come up with any solutions and we can only hope that one day we'll have a superior form of government, some system of power distribution that in hindsight will seem to be a simple and obvious solution and yet, much like inventing the wheel, it will take us ages to actually figure it out.

But I'm not suggesting we should just accept our imprefect system and wait for the next one to be invented - democracy in the way it's being applied currently is far less perfect that what it might be. One obvious problem with democracy is that government's need to be popular to get elected and stay in power. And I'm not even talking of the ridiculous amounts of money and energy that are spent on election campaigns - that's the inherent cost of maintaining a democractic system. Even governments that have the popular support to rise to power can't afford to establish policies that are efficient but unpopular. Unfortunately the masses don't understand macroeconomics and plenty of other issues so well so they often support policies that are actually not good for them in the long term. I'll give my humble support for democracy by being vocal about such unpopular opinions that could end up on politicians' agendas should they receive some more attention, but more on this later.

There are lots of examples how policies that make sense never get passed because they are unpopular, I'll just remind you about a few of them and maybe write in more detail about others in a later post. A classic example is the debate regarding Marijuana prohibition - it has been proven beyond any reasonable doubt that Cannabis is less harmful than alcohol, still most governments prefer to leave a multi-billion market (e.g. £3.5 bln a year in the UK - http://www.ukcia.org/culture/users.php) in the hands of the mafia, only to be re-invested into killings, teenage prostitutes and other much less tolerable activities.

Another example that might not be so classic but is a good one nevertheless, is the case with trade unions. This one gets me really agitated! For fuck's sake, people, trade unions were cool decades ago! They made sense during the industrial revolution, and in the communist states as well - but so did everything that takes even a miniscule amount of power away from the party. Nowadays, trade unions serve the sole purpose of generating ridiculous shitstorms when, for instance, big companies don't do well and need to lay off the least productive 10% of their staff. But no, the trade union won't let this happen! They threaten with strikes that might make the company go bust (or get bailed out) even sooner just so that same 10% of incompetent workers and outright lazy fuckers can get their salaries (on a minimum wage set by the union!) until their employer agonizes into bankruptcy.
And there is another important thing that the unions do - gain power. Little by littly they develop more and better tools to hold the employers hostage, until the whole thing scales way out of proportion, as in the case with British Airways cabin crew, represented by the Unite union, that happens to have 111 of it's members as Labour MPs! And while this travesty takes place no one seems to be seriously bothered, and people still percieve the worker unions as the good guys and the companies that pay their salaries as evil.

By contemplating these two examples we get to the next big issue in politics - the difference between the left and right. The first example deals with a leftist policies - liberal political formations, at least in theory, should be more likely to support legalization, while the latter one represents more of a rightist case. This leads us to the fundamental changes differences that the left and right are supposed to have - the left support personal freedom (i.e. gay rights, relaxed immigration laws, etc) but restrict financial freedom (licenses, import/export quotas) and the right are vice versa.

This is just in theory, however. In modern day politics the difference between left and right in terms of fundamental policies is kind of blurred, and sometimes even non existent. In the UK the mainstream parties' economic policies tend to gravitate around some form of neoliberalism. Tony Blair himself wrapped it up nicely - he declared that "we're all Thacherites now", even though he was a labour PM and Thatcher is a conservative pillar. When you take a look at the planned spending cuts ahead of the British general elections you can see a similar picture - Labour pledged to keep government spending more or less the same, Tories wanted to cut £20bln but finally settled on £6bln in the Lib-Tory coalition. Sounds a lot? Well, in fact it's less than a percent of the £2.674 trillion UK GDP, this could hardly count for a significant shift in policies. It's like subtracting £467.84 from the money I've earned in my whole life.

So why are we witnessing this trend of narrowing the gap between left and right? I can think of two possible reasons. For sure there is an optimal set of policies that ensure best outcome given the current circumstances, and maybe the scientific basis of political decision making is advanced enough so they can actually define this set reasonably well. Or maybe they just figured out what sells well to the voters. In any way it's a combination of both.

Even more bizarre is the case in Bulgaria - in 2008 the Socialist prime minister Sergey Stanishev introduced the 10% proportional tax - the lowest flat tax rate in the world! But how come, this is not "fair". I mean the socialist, take-from-the-rich-give-to-the-poor fair, not the everyone-gets-what-he-deserves fair - the meaning that comes much more naturally to me. It's funny how leftist campaigns abuse that word, it can imagine how appealing labour and lib dem pledges would be to this particular kind of old people in post communist countries that still support the regime, had they bothered to learn English.

Maybe it seems that I'm supporting some right-wing political organization, so maybe it's about time to present my political views. I am convinced that there is an approach to politics that combines the best of both worlds, or at least gets rid of the worst. If we combine the economic liberty of the right (accepted as the right way to go even by some leftist leaders) and the personal liberty of the left (accepted as the right way to go by everyone in his right mind) then we may actually end up with a decent system. This is call libertarianism and I'll write tons about it in the future (not too much to get you bored with it - just enough so I convince you that it actually makes sense).

I'm pretty sure that most people don't have a clear picture of what exactly libertarianism entails, and I guess that common gut associations label libertarianism as either radical or idealistic, such brands to exist. But the strain of libertarian society that I'm nurturing in my mind is rather pragmatic - it's about establishing policies backed by serious research, no matter the public opinion. I have delved into various fields as deep as I can, and if one could ever abstract from election campaigns and media shitstorms, and so far it appears that the liberal policies, in both personal and economic aspects, are actually the ones that make sense. Of course this claim needs the quotations and numbers to be credible and I definitely need to write a bit about it.

As a conclusion, I'd like to present my guru Ross Kelley - the guy who opened my eyes about libertarianism, a geek rockstar and a party member himself. This guy is formidable - he's written tons of amazing essays on all topics you can imagine (and some more that you've never thought of), e.g. religion, history, feminism, Einstein's relativity, philosophy, politics. And the best of all -his writing style is witty,eloquent and easy going, won't scare you away with technobabble but ultimately will takes you to the hardcore concepts. Most of his work is published on a website run by him - The proceedings of the Friesian school, http://friesian.com/
The website is not well organized, most of the time you can find what you need by clicking around but I suspect some of the gems can only be found through links within other articles on the site. This guy is so mind-bogglingly intelligent and well-informed and still he hasn't been elected. Still it's not so bad in the states - I don't think that either Bulgaria or the UK have a credible libertarian party. Maybe establishing one is my altruistic reason for existence but still it would be easier if someone else does it for me - when this day comes I'll switch my mind to a newer voting algorithm - "vote for the one you like most" instead of "vote for the one you dislike the least".