Policy Does Not Matter

I do not believe in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance.

– Thomas Carlyle

There is a major gap between realistic, clear thinking on policy and the sorts of policy we read about in political party propaganda. Pandering to special interest groups and avoiding crimethink is the order of the day.

The tl;dr (too long; didn’t read) culture encourages scatter-brained tweets on inane and ultimately irrelevant social issues. The pathetic leadership woes detract from an opportunity to make an impact on how New Zealand recovers from the creeping, glacial recession.

The blogs and the opinion pages of our marginal newspapers don’t help. Not only are most journalists incapable of thinking clearly, their sub-editors hijack arguments with titles that are subtle attempts to influence people’s thinking.

Policy does not matter because no matter how clear and concise the policy is when formulated, the implementation will be markedly different. Weakness injected through backroom deals and compromise means the policy should have been left on the drawing board.

It is one of the features of the MMP system. I don’t have a problem with weak government, but we don’t currently have a weak government, we have an incapacitated government that must bend over backwards to protect its slim majority.

This weekend the Labour Party is having a conference. The bland David Shearer will present another platitude-filled speech. The important-sounding policy council will debate different policy options. Grass roots involvement in policy formation? What a joke.

Debate! The problem with debating policy is that we prefer flowery language and sound bite worthy proposals over well-reasoned, data driven, empirical reality. If a policy proposal would improve the lot of a special interest group then that is preferable to improving the lot of all New Zealanders.

We are easily misled by cost-benefit studies that claim costs of billions of dollars if we don’t do something. The irony is that in doing something to combat make-believe numbers, we cause unforeseen consequences that can be even more problematic than the initial problem we supposedly had to do something about.

The New Zealand government has made a lot of poor policy choices over the past 20 years. But don’t forget that all of these governments were voted in. In the cult of democracy, that means that the people have spoken. We have cast our lot at the foot of universal suffrage and we have to live with that.

The people don’t want policy, they don’t want debate and they don’t want responsibility. The central theme of our time is a rejection of responsibility and embrace of fear and irrationality.

The laughable policy proposal’s being debated by Labour over the weekend are a sideshow. The political reality for Labour in 2012 is that the Greens and NZ First will water down any of its policies anyway.

The one area of debate I thought had merit was a crackdown on dirty dairying. Making producers pay the actual cost of their production is good economic policy. For too long, farmers have been a protected class in New Zealand. They’re not special – agriculture is just 7.6% of the economy.

But with the way the screwed up political system in New Zealand works, the ultimate result of that will be a “Poo For Pay” scheme where for each kg of cow poo that flows into our waterways, farmers will get $1,000 in wage credits.

Policy does not matter. No matter what documents are typed and flowery speeches delivered, nothing will change. We have cast our lot at the foot of universal suffrage, and we all have to live with the unintended consequences of that.

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