Print Story I have to push the pram a lot
By TheophileEscargot (Fri Apr 27, 2007 at 11:36:02 PM EST) Reading, Theatre, economics, democracy (all tags)
Reading: "Fingersmith". Theatre: "Spamalot". Web.

Politcs MultiPoll! Discounting democracy, society should be ruled by...?

What I'm Reading
Finished Fingersmith by Sarah Waters, after reading her "Night Watch" recently. Can see why her fans were so pissed off by "Night Watch": that was a pretty realistic and depressing novel, whereas this is a melodramatic Victorian romp.

Works very well: keeps the suspense going by switching narrators, cleverly plotted though falling apart a bit at the end, manages to go beyond the usual recycled Mayhewisms to produce an entertainingly gothic underworlds.

As with Night Watch, there's a scene where a character complains about the modest cost of something very important: not sure if she's aiming a little dig at an ex or something.

Overall, worth reading if you can stomach a bit of sentimentality.

Saw "Spamalot" at the Palace Theatre. Fairly enjoyable. Seems a bit clunky in the way it tried to please the two different audiences of musical fans and Monty Python fans. The musical stuff is surprisingly big-budget: twenty people on stage plus an orchestra, slick production values with skilful singing and dancing, lots of costume changes, vastly elaborate moving set. Just seemed to be a strange contrast with the low-fi recycled "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" sketches, which made a virtue out of their lack of budget with things like the coconut gag.

Once again, not really enough into musicals to really appreciate the singing, dancing and the satire of it. Things like "This is the song that goes like this" presumably work a lot better if you've sat through a few of the songs that go like that.

Overall though, pretty funny in places and with plenty of eye-candy. If you find yourself being dragged to a musical, you could do worse than make it this one.

No more girlie stuff in the pipeline. Next up is the new Alastair Reynolds skiffy: "Prefect", set in the "Revelation Space" universe, then it's probably "Globalization and its Discontents" by Joseph Stiglitz.

More economics and politics stuff. This Bryan Caplan essay The myth of the rational voter goes through some of the problems of democracy. There's a book version out soon.

It's interesting in the specifics, though overall it's just covering the experts-versus-collective-wisdom debate that goes right back to Plato's critique of democracy.

I think the main problem with it is that he takes a very naive view of democracy as simply a means of expressing the policy wishes of the populace. As I see it, the whole reason that we have a representative democracy rather than a direct/plebiscite democracy is that that didn't work, for the reasons that Plato described.

With a representative democracy, you don't have to vote for the policies you think will give you the desired outcome. You can look at the records of individual politicians and parties, and vote for the ones who have been successful in giving you the outcomes you want. In the example he gives of immigration, most people may falsely believe that immigration is bad for the economy; but they can end up gritting their teeth and grudgingly voting for a party/individual that's relatively pro-immigration, because he/it has the better economic record.

What the disconnects he gives might do is explain the paradox that while the Great Moderation has given us an unprecedented period of economic growth and stability, people seem more than ever convinced that their governments are incompetent. The parties are more centrist and have more similar economic policies that before, because they're all choosing policies that work. Hence, we have economic stability. However, most people are convinced that these policies are economically disastrous: hence we have a lower opinion of the politicians.

The problem with this voting-for-outcomes is that it may not be possible to identify the effects of good or bad government. The effects of a policy can lag greatly behind it, or economies may prosper or fail due to effects that have nothing to do with it: business cycles or the global economy.

So, maybe the much-maligned habit of people to stick with a party loyalty isn't so irrational after all. People don't have the specialist knowledge to evaluate every policy and weigh them all up. Maybe by studying the parties' actual performance over decades, and switching maybe once or twice a lifetime, they're actually shrewdly calculating their votes in the best way they can.

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I have to push the pram a lot | 7 comments (7 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback
WIPO by DullTrev (4.00 / 2) #1 Sat Apr 28, 2007 at 12:44:04 AM EST



I don't think many people doubt Labour's by jump the ladder (3.00 / 3) #2 Sat Apr 28, 2007 at 01:02:13 AM EST
Economic record but little things like Iraq and botched NHS reform do make me doubt about their record in other areas.

Immigration may be economically beneficial overall but to the losers like the low paid, low skilled native population it's not good. Also certain cultures don't seem to integrate that well into the mainstream of British life.

Still got a fair amount of faith in representative democracy. It's not perfect but seems to give reasonable outcomes despite the crap that goes with it.

Representation by Scrymarch (3.00 / 2) #3 Sat Apr 28, 2007 at 01:31:50 AM EST
I think it's right to emphasise the representational, rather than naively direct, nature of successful democracies. In fact people like Edmund Burke emphasised it a few centuries ago. Though folk politics (mercantilism etc) is important to think about ignoring the governance structures that moderate it in practice is kind of a straw man.

As for incompetence. I think in part it's because sweeping ideology-driven changes can easily hide their disastrous nature to those who believe in them, under the variations of "can't make an ommelette without breaking eggs". It only becomes really obvious ten or twenty years into your nationalisation programme that you've actually made burnt curdled custard instead of an ommelette.

I'm also not sure about the current crop of politicians when it comes to structures of government, rather than a well-run economy. In the anglosphere we have had a series of fairly successful economic reformers administrators who have also been centralisers and fairly slapdash on the constitutional front.

Now I know it's my pet topic, and I don't want to try to get a Golden Age thing going here. The reforms of Thatcher / Reagan / Hawke / Longie etc were only possible on that scale because they also took power to the centre away from other branches of government without the market focus they had. Both then and in the post-reform era though, the politicians at the top seem to have not a lot of investment in the current layout of government, but I'm not sure why. Perhaps it's because the leadership feel they have a more direct mandate from voters rather than having to work with parliament, so they never learn; or that they don't believe in the worth of those elements of the civic religion any more; or that the committee structures of previous years don't relate well to their experience before parliament, or what.

Blair I guess is a counterpoint in that he pushed through Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish devolution, but it's not like he has a particularly inspiring vision for the House of Lords, or the European constitution. Supreme Court was a good idea, but he didn't really know how to go about it; he just sort of announced it in a cabinet reshuffle.

I guess what I'm getting at is that even though we have a fairly high proportion of professional politicians at the moment, maybe when it comes to running a department or passing a law, they really are a bit pants at it.

The Political Science Department of the University of Woolloomooloo

Party loyalty can be irrational no matter what by lm (4.00 / 1) #4 Sat Apr 28, 2007 at 06:02:18 AM EST
In the US there are plenty of examples of political parties who give lip service to a given ideology but consistently fail to deliver results in line with that ideology. Consequently, party allegiance can be irrational based on results.

To me there is a single cardinal political problem: most people aren't rational.

This plays it out in many ways, but two have the greatest effect. Politicians seldom look at empirical results when pushing this or that platform so most legislation ends up being a mess of various policies with little to no correspondence to the aims of the politicians who enacted the legislation. Voters seldom look at long term track records when voting for this or that politician so most elected officials end up being a mess of assorted politicians with little to no correspondence to the ideals of those who voted them into office.

I don't know if there is a solution to this.

There is no more degenerate kind of state than that in which the richest are supposed to be the best.
Cicero, The Republic

Are you reading Steven Erikson as well? by Imperial Mince (4.00 / 1) #5 Sun Apr 29, 2007 at 11:24:31 PM EST
Or have you given up on fantasy? Because Reaper's gale is out in 7 days and Night of Knives it out a month after that in mass market.
This space reserved for whining like a little bitch and being sanctimonious.

Haven't read any of his books by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #6 Mon Apr 30, 2007 at 08:12:19 AM EST
Don't read that much fantasy, just a few things.
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
[ Parent ]

Probably a wise choice by Imperial Mince (4.00 / 1) #7 Mon Apr 30, 2007 at 09:59:12 PM EST
I'm thinking of having a rule that if they can't write their story in one book then it's probably not worth reading.
This space reserved for whining like a little bitch and being sanctimonious.
[ Parent ]

I have to push the pram a lot | 7 comments (7 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback