I think most lefties would agree that the market is bad at hard problems. It is focused on short term gain — quarterly profits — with little motivation to consider the long term. It concentrates power and wealth towards a few at the top, with little motivation to consider the good of the many. It can be very inefficient, competing where it should cooperate, and monopolising where it should compete. Most lefties recognise these deficiencies, and turn to government to try and address them by shaping the behaviour of the market.
The trouble is that democracy is bad at hard problems too. As currently practised it is focused on short term gain — re-election — with little motivation to consider the long term. It is too easily dominated by a few at the top, who can use their power, wealth and media access to shape public opinion and purchase political influence. It can be very inefficient, chopping and changing direction every electoral cycle or two, driven by personality and populism instead of facts and pragmatism. I think that most lefties recognise these deficiencies too, but have very little idea where to turn to address them.
A couple of current events have specifically prompted this post. Firstly on the world stage, is the failure of government, on an international scale, to address the oncoming bullet of climate change. Collectively, our governments are so dumb that we seem to be unable to agree to take the action necessary to preserve the environment that gives us life. It’s pretty much the ultimate in stupidity. And secondly here in NZ, the failure of government to address the inexorable landslide of population demographics. We need to take action now so that we will be able to support a much larger proportion of the elderly in our population over the next few decades. But it simply isn’t happening.
On our ageing issue, to be fair, Labour made a good start, with the Cullen Fund and Kiwisaver. Real forward thinking, albeit not yet on a large enough scale. But then we get one of democracy’s flip flops, and a National government who have been utterly hopeless. They cut payments to the Cullen Fund (thus costing us millions) and cut back on Kiwisaver too. And now they are paralysed by Key’s desperate short term populism. The Retirement Commission is pushing for the government to gradually raise the pension age to 67, but Key’s hands are tied by his very public pre-election promise to resign from office rather than change the entitlements or age of eligibility. The Nats are stuck, so the country is stuck, rabbit in the headlights, while the size of the problem continues to grow.
So back to the big question — what is a leftie to do? How should democracy be fixed? How do we improve it so that governments can think long term and make decisions based on evidence rather than ideology? I tried to set down my initial ideas but they turned in to such an embarrassing muddle that I deleted the lot (I’m no political scientist, and no great scholar of political thought). So over to you folks. I put it to you that democracy as currently practised in most countries is broken. How do we fix it?