Thursday, April 3, 2008

On political feasability

I have received several comments by email (I wish they would be posted as comments online, you can comment anonymously) that some of my proposal may make sense but are politically not feasible. I think these comments miss the point.

Several of my proposals may indeed be politically difficult: increase gas taxes, impose a congestion charge, scrap agricultural subsidies, and lastly drop deductibility of mortgage interest. But they all make sense (well, at least I think so), and in most cases, once voters understand what is at stake, and what are the consequences, they would go for it. The problem is not the voters, it is the politicians.

Politicians are supposed to represent the preferences of the people who elected them. They are also elected to figure out the law and its consequences. In other terms, voters outsource the hard thinking to politicians that share their preferences. The politicians should thus do their job, and not go the populist way and oversimplify.

Call me an idealist. But if we just give up because something is good but not politically feasible, we cannot improve welfare. Economists have to go out of their way and explain to politicians what policies are good, given preferences.


T-Bone said...

This is why I'm excited to see what happens in an Obama presidency. He makes a point to not take any position based on party lines. And his positions are not compromises. They're simply pragmatic, as in whatever works best. So what he says can pull a lot of weight. He's not easily dismissed "just because he's a Democrat".

He's mentioned before how he wants to inform the public of the debates. I expect he'd have something going like a 21st century version of FDR's fireside chats. Hopefully he can lay out the pros and cons of his positions, rather than doing what I typically see... Laying out just the pros and letting the opposition lay out the cons, both legitimate and not.

I think it's pretty unambitious to think that genuine good ideas can't be put into place simply because the benefits are slightly complex to explain. Heck, they seem to have very little trouble getting obviously bad policy passed.

Economic Logician said...

That would be interesting indeed. He is often clear that he want to present pro and con, but is also often careful not to give a position on things he is not sure about. I find this good as well.

That being said, and seeing some academics trying to get elected, they find it very difficult to play politician. Instead of saying what the public wants to hear, they say what should be done, sometimes even rebutting their hosts. They should do this only once elected...

T-Bone said...

I think you're exactly right. I think that's what Obama is doing. He's only able to openly reveal and campaign on the more publicly popular positions. It's simply political necessity. For popular proposals, he lays them out specifically. For less popular proposals, he is more vague, just stating his goals. Though you can often deduce what he'd propose.

Other than that, he only can promote his philosophies through his messages and slogans. Those messages convey that he's pragmatic, and that he needs an informed, involved, open-minded, and supportive public in order to make the case for complex solutions.