Monday, 16 April 2012

Not a bad lefty

Tim Worstall, who is not a bad scandium oligopolist, has had a go at me for a comment I wrote in response to another post of his, in which he described state funding of political parties, which I've previously advocated, as "idiocy". He objects particularly to this comparison:
can you imagine a large corporation allow staffing for its CEO’s office to be paid for by donations solicited from suppliers and clients?
about which he writes:
everything that gets paid for in a corporation gets paid for from donations by suppliers and clients. Because they’re all engaging in voluntary exchange? It’s only tax which, being involuntary, is not a donation.
Apparently he thinks that business profits should be thought of as donations.  Obviously I know how businesses do in fact fund their operating expenses, and obviously that's not what I meant by donations (though one commentator sympathetic to me does say that I expressed myself poorly).  But to dispel any doubt, my comparison was with a CEO funding his office by soliciting money directly from interested parties.  Now that we've cleared that up perhaps Tim would like to answer the question - would a large corporation allow it? 

The logic of Tim's position is that political parties should see themselves as businesses aiming to maximize their income from donations.  I'm sure the governing party could make a much better job of that than it does now if it focussed its political decision-making on pleasing donors rather than concerning itself with what might be in the best interests of the nation.  I suspect the effect would be only to increase Tim's contempt for the government.

There's certainly little support on Tim's site for state funding.  Everyone hates the idea of giving unworthy politicians - that's all of them - any more public money.  Some commentators seem to favour the status quo, though I suspect that if asked they'd be strongly in favour of abolishing the current opt-out system operated by the Trades Unions, as the Kelly report recommended.  Others would like to ban large donations and just leave the parties to operate with whatever money they can raise from party members. 

I have some sympathy with the idea that political parties should be run more frugally: I'd like them to spend money on policy research, but not on the expensive business of advertizing themselves.  But as a policy proposal, just cutting the parties off from much of their income is a complete non-starter.  It seems to have escaped the notice of these hard-headed right-wing realists that the people who get to decide this are - would you believe it - party politicians.  Because whenever we have an election we persist in voting for party politicans.   So any policy that amounts to bashing political parties is not going to become law.

However, not being a hard-headed right-wing realist, I think that most people who go into politics do so in the belief that they can make the world a better place.  A lot of that gets worn away by the compromises they have to make on the path to power.  But still, somewhere in their hearts they would like to work without having to please donors as well as voters.  There are two practical obstacles to a system of state funding, which would be at a lower level than the current funding from donors.  One is the need to find a compromise between right and left on the maximum size of donation allowed, and the restrictions on Trade Union donations, as each manoeuvres for advantage.  The other is that politicians want to please voters.  I think a compromise can be found if the public wants one: the key problem is public support.

Let's help politicians govern well.  Fair funding is better than corrupt decision-making.

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