Why Are You Wasting People’s Time?

Why are you wasting people’s time supporting electoral reform and reform of the House of Lords? That stuff’s all very well, but what about real problems like the economy and the health service?

Why are you wasting people’s time supporting safe sex education? That stuff’s all very well, but what about real problems like the people dying of AIDS?

Why are you wasting people’s time supporting anti-smoking campaigns? That stuff’s all very well, but what about real problems like the people dying of cancer?

Why are you wasting people’s time supporting clean water? That stuff’s all very well, but what about real problems like the people dying of typhoid?

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15 Responses to Why Are You Wasting People’s Time?

  1. Andrew Hickey says:

    Now is simply NOT THE TIME! We’ll get round to fixing the causes just as soon as the disease is eradicated for good…

  2. rankersbo says:

    It’s like the “Why are you persecuting decent, law-abiding citizens for breaking traffic laws when there are people being raped and murdered.” argument.

    Quite apart from your underlying point, the idea that the economy could be fixed by 650 people arguing about it constantly for all their working hours is a bit ludicrous.

  3. For the examples you give in favour of your argument there appears to be a direct causal relationship. I’m broadly in favour of house of lords reform but I really can’t see a link whatsoever with improving the economy or health service. However, it’s an easy hypothesis to test. Do nations with a fully elected upper chamber have a better economy or health service?
    If you’d care to put your money where your mouth is I’d be prepared to lay money there’s no statistical difference between the two.
    Obviously some terms of reference would have to nail down further what is being checked.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      I wouldn’t bet on “fully elected upper chamber”, but I *would* bet on (not actual money — I’m skint) “fully elected legislature (however many chambers), elected by preferential and/or proportional means”. My guess is preferentiality and proportionality matter a great deal, and probably preferentiality more than proportionality.

      There is a direct causal relationship between the means by which a government is selected and the make-up of that government. There is a direct causal relationship between the make-up of a government and the economy, health care etc, of the country it governs. Neither of these seem particularly controversial statements.

      • OK… leaving aside which is your exact preference for how the house is made up.. yes, the make up of the government depends on how it is selected and the economy and health system depend on that make up. What I want to know is why you believe the changes you suggest would result in a positive effect. When you say “what about real problems like” you make the suggestion that what you suggest will improve them not just stir them around in an unexpected way.

        The other things you mention have a direct improving effect which can be measured and shown.

        Can you make any case whatsoever that house of lords reform will improve the economy or the health service? Perhaps an example of some legislation you believe the house of lords would have passed (which they blocked) or blocked (which they passed) under your system which would have had such an effect. [Note, not an example of legislation they could have blocked or passed — but an example of leglisation they could have blocked or passed and would likely have made the decision in the direction you believe correct under the voting system you prefer.

        Now don’t get me wrong. I believe that such a reform is important. But I think the claim that it would help the economy or health service is incredibly far from the truth. It’s like arguing for democracy over dictatorship because it’s economically efficient. Perhaps it is, perhaps it is not — I wouldn’t want to be sure either way. It could well be that there are forms of dictatorship which are much more efficient. That doesn’t make you want dictatorship though.

        You’re arguing for something I believe in but by reasoning I really don’t believe. I find it strains credulity to think that voting reform would actually help economics or the health system. You might be able to claim that this will affect the economy and health system in a different way. It is very hard to make a case that this is a positive thing.

        • Andrew Hickey says:

          I *can* make such a case, but unfortunately not right now. I’m currently suffering from some fairly bad stress-related illnesses which get exacerbated when I try to make long political posts. I know that’s the world’s biggest cop-out, but it’s also true (see the top of the previous post). A very brief outline would be that our current system fails in two important respects — by not allowing much feedback from the populace it can’t, by Ashby’s Law, actually control the systems it’s trying to control with any efficiency, and by limiting the number of possible solutions that are admitted by favouring ‘centrist’ parties over ‘extremists’. There’s thus an inefficient search over a small solution space, rather than a more efficient search over a larger one.

          Handwave handwave handwave… I do plan on doing a large series of posts about this stuff, where I actually provide rigorous arguments, but probably not for several months.

          • Richard G. Clegg says:

            OK — that’s fair enough. From respect to said illness, I will back out of this argument, I hope you will forgive me having one final say (to which you are welcome to reply but I will not reply back). You have no evidence that increasing direct control of the economy by the populous would help it — indeed there is every reason to believe it would hinder it [lots of examples of people voting for disastrously low tax schemes which massively harm healthcare and legislation]. Ashby’s law does not apply here. You have no idea why the voters make the control inputs they have and the voters are almost certainly not making their decisions on informed economic grounds… but that is not why we have democracy or voting.

            Making the case for voting reform of any type on efficiency grounds is a really dangerous way to go because, as I said, I believe there are likely to be more efficient (in terms of economics and health care) non-democratic governmental forms. Economic efficiency is not what we should be looking for in designing a voting system — it would be nice if it were the case that a fair, equitable, proportional voting system also made a country more economically efficient — but wishing does not make it so.

            • Andrew Hickey says:

              I’m fairly convinced that properly representative democracy is the most efficient form of government, but that’s certainly not my only reason for supporting one. I’m just, here, arguing against the proposition that trying to bring in such a form of government is something that is being done *instead* of finding solutions to those problems.

        • Richard says:

          “The other things you mention have a direct improving effect which can be measured and shown.”

          In the way that “The Spirit Level” has measured and shown the correlation between a more equal society and better health and economic outcomes, you mean?

          You’re mocking Andrew analogies, because you think that the connection between dirty water and typhoid, or smoking and cancer or even unsafe sex and AIDS is self evident. Yet at the time these things were proposed as the root causes of those outcomes people widely doubted and mocked, much as you doubt and mock the idea that leaving a corrupt self-perpetuating gerontocracy in charge of the country might be a root cause of our long term economic woes and health inequalities.

          I think Andrew’s analogies are actually even more telling than at first glance.

          • Richard G. Clegg says:

            I realise the correlation between equality (in economic terms) and better health and economic outcomes. This is extremely well known.

            However, could you give me evidence that suggested reforms to voting will improve equality in economic terms.

            You are confusing some loose notion of voting equality with a well defined notion of economic equality.

            I am in favour of both of these things. However, I don’t see one leads to the other in any sense.

    • andrewducker says:

      My intuition – and I am fully prepared to be wrong here – is that our current electoral system provides bad incentives. The FPTP system tends towards a two-party system, and for both of those parties to do whatever it takes to persuade the voters that (a) the other party tortures kittens for fun and (b) they are the only ones who can stop them. The voters then being willing to vote for the Puppy-Kicking party on the grounds that at least kittens aren’t being immolated. Given a choice, both parties will tend to do whatever harms the other side rather than whatever is “right”. Otherwise they lose power, and thus can’t implement anything at all.

      A system which inspires positive voting means you have to give people a good reason to vote _for_ you, rather than _against_ “them”. This is more likely to cause virtuous* behaviour from politicians, because saying “The Kitten-Strangling Party is Worse!” merely persuades people to vote for the Ocelot-Nuzzling party, who aren’t as bad as either of you. It also means that if your party drifts too far in any one direction people can split and form new parties without so many of the negative effects that would currently happen – so if your party descends into outright puppy-genocide, those who think that this is a bit much can split and form the Tough-Puppy-Love party, capturing more of that vote if that’s what The People want.

      *Virtue is, of course, in the eye of the voter. Badly educated/unpleasant voters are the bane of any system.

      • I think you are probably correct in your intuition there Andrew. However, it may be that the extreme parties are actually more effective in terms of economy or health care.
        So if we were saying “reforms for voting will be more likely to get the government the people actually want” I’d be saying “Yes, I completely agree.” I think linking this to economic efficiency or any other measure is incorrect. I would estimate I’m in the top decile of the population for keeping myself informed about economics (have copy of Keynes’ General Theory by bed, read the economics news in detail, read pop science economics books, use economic theory in my work, have attended research level presentations by economists…) but in the end I don’t know with any certainty which UK party will best improve the economy. I *believe* it is currently Labour but I admit that is more prejudice and tribalism than science.

  4. plok says:

    Bit late to the discussion here, but…in my country we have a government whose ideological goals have led it to politicize a lot of research, record-keeping, regulatory and inspection regimes, pretty much in the name of leaving it free to do what it would like to do if the facts weren’t against it. So, I feel it’s pretty easy to point to that and say “that’s gonna lead to some serious inefficiencies” and also “yep, electoral reform would definitely restrain this”. One of FPTP’s more charming attributes, if you ask me, is that it does allow for stunning rebukes to governments who’ve exceeded their mandates…hmm, well a hung Parliament is a minor version of just such a rebuke, I think?…but it’s still a cruder system than it might be and so it can fail the public interest, rebuke-wise…as it has on this occasion.

    Not a causal link like Vitamin D and rickets, exactly…but maybe like Vitamin D and broken bones?

    • plok says:

      I mean if you’ve got a government that gets rid of science so it doesn’t even have to ignore anymore, then FPTP starts looking pretty darn unattractive, stunning rebuke potential or not!

    • plok says:

      But anyway I think if you’re saying electoral reform is likely to be better at getting people the government they want, then you can’t just leave it there: the government people want is the one that’s got policies they like better, that’s the whole basis for how parties compete for votes, so I think you’ve got to link it to measures of some kind. If my government with its FPTP and its unelected upper chamber was doing jim-dandy with issues like healthcare (for example) I wouldn’t have a reason to think electoral reform might help them do better…but it isn’t about what worldwide statistics show, it’s about whether or not they are performing well in that area, and they’re not, and in the current system they have no reason to change their policies and plenty of reasons not to, so…

      I think it’s very reasonable to expect that electoral reform would change that. Maybe not in every country, or in every system, but in my country and my system, at this particular time, we can’t get the government we want because no government has a reason to do the things we want. The voting equality wouldn’t equate to economic equality if we were getting it, but since we’re not, then it does…because what else possibly could? So for me it isn’t a matter of what would be “best”, it’s a matter of whether the current system is working. And if it isn’t, then how are we not to imagine reform would improve it?

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