Abstract painting of subject, generated by DALL-E 2

Back in harness

12 May 2010 - Bruno Prior

I should have explained sooner the latest sustained silence on this site. Frustrated by the dishonesty of all the main parties with regard to the economic challenges that we face, we formed a new political party (Freedom & Responsibility) to be frank about the problems and to propose some radical solutions. My father stood as its candidate in Maidenhead, against one of the leading Tory wets (Theresa May), and I acted as his agent, and the Nominating Officer and Policy Director for the party. Consequently, all my efforts went into that rather than this site for a while.

It was a fascinating learning experience. For instance, we learnt how much the spending limits make it difficult for independents and minor parties to make any impact on an election, to the great benefit (unintentional, of course) of the main parties who designed the system. They have very generous spending limits or their national campaigns, from which all of their candidates benefit, whilst most of the spending by independents is classified as "local" and therefore subject to such tight constraints that one must choose (for instance) between having many billboards on display around the constituency, and much advertising in the local papers.

It probably didn't make that much difference, though, because the other conclusion from polling day, even before the results came in, is that voting is seen by most of those who bother to vote more as a social activity and/or a duty that must be discharged without an excess of effort, than as a careful consideration of alternative sets of policies, characteristics and experiences, and selection thereby of the most suitable representative for the constituency. People do not want "a la carte", they want a fixed menu with maybe a couple of choices for the main course. Any more is confusing and requires more effort to consider than most people would prefer to invest. As the term suggests, quite rightly they choose "rational ignorance", voting on the strength of tribal loyalty, the candidate's baby-kissing ability, the leader's TV manner, or the directions of their favoured media commentators.

They may claim to want honesty, but they actually vote for the dishonesty of the major party that most closely matches the delusion they would like to believe. They may claim to want change, but they actually vote for minor variations on the middle ground.

Perhaps because we actually had a broad and reasoned set of policies, rather than simply relying on hostility to existing MPs, we did pick up more votes (270) than the average independent candidate in the area (typically around 150). A big thank you to all those who bothered to consider all the options. But my strongest conclusion from the experience is simply a reinforcement of the belief that politics is a lousy way to run anything. We should limit the scope of things about which choices are made democratically (or by other political mechanism) to those things (e.g. defence and law & order) for which we cannot rely on voluntary individual action. We should not seek to expand the range of things that are decided democratically, as many people seem to think is desirable. To describe a decision as somehow "democratic" should not be taken as somehow lending it legitimacy.

But it is an interesting question how we get from here to a world where, to determine outcomes and provision, we rely less on the political programme that obtains the acquiescence of the largest minority, and more on the accumulation of individual preferences in voluntary exchange. Public choice incentives on all those who fetishise "democratic legitimacy" and the rational ignorance of most of the population are powerful weapons in the interventionists' arsenal.


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