One thing that struck me during the most recent election was the sheer amount of rubbish discussed by the political parties.
No part of the political spectrum was immune from making policy claims that don’t cut the mustard.
However, the political parties’ claims about the benefits of these policies was the only information the public had when deciding who to vote for! In a robust democracy this type of information issue needs a solution – a solution I intend to discuss here.
A prime example of this attitude was the Greens’ ‘jobs plan’. When they discussed the policies they had in mind, they attributed ‘aspirational’ job numbers to them – supposedly 100,000 jobs would magically be created by the Green party introducing new regulation and talking with business people about the environment.
These figures had no economic justification. The building work that was being suggested was timed to coincide with the rebuilding of Christchurch – which is the exact period of time when no builders would be available, and so no ‘jobs’ could be created.
Furthermore, the idea of investing in green technology comes with a cost – higher tax rates to subsidise these businesses will ‘destroy jobs’ in other industries – this is a cost that needs to be discussed.
There are two issues with a party announcing ridiculous figures. On one hand, people may actually believe the figures – thereby buying into the rhetoric on jobs, and voting for a policy that is actually no good for them or their community. On the other hand, a person may see through this ruse – in this case they are likely to show scepticism about ALL political policy announcements. This implies that there is no incentive for political parties to do their homework, or create a truly transparent policy platform.
In essence, this structure for the political process makes the process less democratic – and leads to us all feeling a sense of buyers' regret following an election.
Given that the political process incentivises poorly researched aspirational claims, can anything be done to improve matters? Well, yes.
The main problem here is that the public doesn’t know what claims to trust. As a result any intervention in the political process should be to improve the information available to the public.
We can do this by setting aside funds for an independent body to cost, and analyse, the policy platforms of parties at the start of the election cycle. By doing so, political parties have control when setting what their platform will be, but the job of costing it and measuring its impact will be undertaken by an objective body.
The public would have a clear idea of the trade-offs that occur if the party they vote for gets into power. By casting a vote for that party an individual is saying that they believe the benefits of that set of policies exceed the costs – and once the election is done with, the majority will end up with a set of policies that are at least close to what they thought they were voting for.