Grossly Deficient Politics: why we must create heaven

A genuine and unshakeable commitment to improving the lot of their constituents. Compassion for the underprivileged. Informed and interested in the developments in healthcare. Capable of making, and justifying, difficult ethical, financial, social and developmental decisions.

Voters who consider the needs of others, not just themselves, when they go to the polling booth. Voters who take the time to look at the policy proposals of different representatives, and more importantly, are willing to hold their personal representatives to account. Voters with a keen outlook for their future.

National success measured in a diverse way. International scrutiny not merely of GDP – an indicator which reflects well only on economies built to game the algorithm – but on individual welfare, on maintaining the environment they survive in, on transparency and innovation and adding real value to the way we live.

It sounds like a vision of heaven. What do we have now? Politicians being summoned to inquiries for shady dealings with the empires of press barons. Huge income inequalities, widening even as the economy contracts. International negotiations limply flailing away from any useful agreement to protect natural resources and environments the entire human population of Earth rely upon. We’re well on the road to hell. And not the fist-in-the-air AC/DC hell.

I went to Science Question Time on Monday evening, and the issue was “Growth”, or more precisely, the relationship between science and growth. I was impressed at the quality of the speakers, but was struck by what seemed to be bubbling below the surface of many of the comments. There was a deep dissatisfaction with the structure of business, government and finance. The ‘rules of the game’ suit those in suits, and even though science has typically played its hand pretty well, the problems it seeks to investigate and solve are being amplified by the very money needed to study them (check out the Storify of the event here – lots of good points).

There were two passages of discussion that really hit me. One made the point that the government – not private industry – should be the basis of support for the crazy ones.

The second key point was that science can deliver good information and outcomes, but not necessarily growth in the way it’s currently economically worshiped defined. What is needed, instead, is for our communities to speak out on the problems we need solved, with a strong voice. Then we need to shape how we value enterprise, business and science against those goals. We need new metrics, and those metrics cannot be based on the sheer quantity of monetary transactions.

Science is one of the best tools we have to discover more about our world and lay the groundwork for innovation. But it rolls along, one vehicle in a motorcade led by politicians lacking vision and integrity, towards checkpoints laid down by vested interests. Science Question Time firmed one thing in my mind: science is only as good as its context, and the current context is one I can’t accept. I want it to be better. You should too, because it can be. If we make it.

Here’s a simple question: if you could replace economic growth/GDP as a measure of national success with a single indicator, what would it be? Education? Health? Military? Research output? Art? Happiness?

And then the question I want you to really think about, and take with you, and talk about: what would the world look like in 10 years if we implemented your indicator with the same vigor and zeal we currently pursue growth? How do we get to the kind of world you want to live in? We must ask ourselves these questions, and try to answer them. Heaven is waiting for us to shape it.

Categories: communication, Politics, Problems, Science, Thoughts | Tags: , , , , | 5 Comments

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5 thoughts on “Grossly Deficient Politics: why we must create heaven

  1. Jonny

    “Here’s a simple question: if you could replace economic growth/GDP as a measure of national success with a single indicator, what would it be? Education? Health? Military? Research output? Art? Happiness?”

    It’s very, very interesting that you don’t list “social equality/mobility”, which is almost certainly my answer, there. (Wrt Overton window, etc.)

    • Jonny, I intended that list not as a poll, but as a starting point for lots of possible areas. Notably I didn’t include environmental protection, which clearly shows it wasn’t exhaustive! Your answer is definitely a good one though. Can you imagine what a society would be like if it was true?

  2. PeterT

    an interesting topic that has caused many hours to be passed in willing discussion. i would propose the following as a baseline for the global population:

    1) the basic necessities of health has to come first- e.g. access to clean drinking water makes a massive difference to the health and lifestyles of people. there are probably some other basic health needs that would make a very big difference and are completely within our capacity. people that need to spend so much energy on the basic necessities of living can not be concerned with much else.

    2) education comes next and must include girls and women, which has lead to dramatic changes in family dynamics and society, including population growth, and there is a feedback between education and health i suspect.

    i’m not sure that i can adequately describe the next point, but it could be something like:

    3) economic independence: it is easier for me to say what this isn’t. it’s not colonialism, national or corporate, which much of the developing world still suffer from under the direction of the world bank and other programs. i like the approach taken by oxfam in supporting market scale projects to give families independence.

    once these things are in place i think that many of the other things on your list will follow, science, arts, as well as social mobility and equity. consideration for the environment will never be possible without these factors.

    4) measuring the progression and development of society must include things other than stark economic factors – all of the above certainly, the natural capital and services provided by the environment is a must. i actually think that economists have already worked out how to quantify many of these attributes of society, they just need to be implemented to replace the current measures, which requires political leadership and a public discussion. ross gittins often discusses this topic, for instance –

    it would be good to see the views of many other people on this.


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