It is indeed possible to argue that if only politicians were better then the world would be a better place. Even, that if only politicians enacted the right policies then it would be so. As opposed to all those private economic actors who are only in it for themselves. You know, capitalists and profits while the world burns and all that.
At which point we meet that first and most basic of all the lessons of economics. Incentives matter.
What incentives do politicians have to be better? To enact those correct policies which would make the world a better place? Specifically, here, to take those actions which have long term benefits but short term costs?
As Ms. Thunberg is finding out, not many:
She said MEPs had asked for her support in September when the EU was deciding its target for emissions cuts by 2030. “When it’s about something that is in 10 years’ time, they are more than happy to vote for it because that doesn’t really impact them. But when it’s something that actually has an effect, right here right now, they don’t want to touch it. It really shows the hypocrisy.”
No, it shows the incentives. If we have, we voters, costs imposed upon us now then we’ll vote against the politicians who impose them. So, politicians who desire to still be cashing those public paycheques in the medium term will not impose costs upon us now.
It’s not hypocrisy, it’s incentives.
This then feeds through into the problem with trying to use politics to deal with long term problems. As the incentives aren’t there then politics won’t provide the solution. Which really is a problem for those attempting to use the political process to impose costs on us now for the benefit of people off into the medium term future. We humans don’t work that way therefore nor do democratic politicians.
Of course, that then means that one potential solution to climate change and other such long term environmental problems is to ditch the democracy part. But then the environazis are well ahead of us on that. In fact, I’ve a book on my desk – a review copy – calling for climate Leninism. Somewhat deluded in the belief that war communism, the episode used to illustrate the idea, actually worked but there’s absolutely no doubt about the relish with which such form governance is proposed.