Soon the election year lolly scramble will begin. Politicians of all stripes will throw out handfuls of the sweets they think people like the most – that will get them the most votes. Nothing wrong with that. No votes no power, after all.
But a good government needs good policies, not just charismatic popular politicians who give the sound bites people want to hear. To avoid Brexit/Trump style disasters, voters need to be a lot more savvy than the politicians that seek to represent them.
Most people want a just and fair society. To achieve this, voters will need to drill a bit deeper and look at issues from the perspective of not just themselves, but each and every group that makes up our country and even beyond. And think twice about voting in governments whose policies they might personally benefit from but will do nothing for others, especially those who through poverty, gender, race, disability, or sexual orientation are already disadvantaged.
Who will gain the most from tax cuts? Tax cuts for high and middle income earners give them more money, but reduce the amount of money the government has to spend on things like health and education.
Who would raising the minimum wage to a liveable wage and raising benefits to a liveable level benefit most? Women, children, the disabled, Maori and people from other ethnic minorities would benefit most. But there are wider benefits to eliminating poverty that impact on taxpayers, such as a decrease in use of health care facilities and reduction in crime rates.
Nobody wants to be the victim of crime. The knee-jerk reaction of politicians, based on what they perceive to be popular opinion, is to increase the numbers of police and introduce harsher penalties. But who will increasing the numbers of police benefit? It’s hard to say. More criminals may be caught, but only after they have already committed crimes. Likewise there is little evidence that harsher penalties reduce crime. Prisons are expensive to build and maintain, and are well known as places that turn part time criminals into career criminals. So the public is no better off. We could even be worse off if money is diverted from other essential services to spend on increased police numbers and prisons.
Political parties rely heavily on focus groups. Asking focus groups what they want is one thing; focus groups are good at identifying problems. Asking focus groups for the solution to complex social problems is another matter altogether. Focus groups give the most popular solution based on largely uninformed opinion. That is not the same thing as an effective solution.
Effective solutions can only be devised by those with significant experience in the field, either lived, or through work and study. Witness the amazement expressed recently by politicians and a lot of people with homes and decent incomes, when it was discovered that homelessness is fixed by finding the homeless homes, poverty by giving the poor money.
Knee-jerk populist reactions that make people feel that ‘something is being done’ often end up cutting off our noses to spite our face. At best, populist policies mean that nothing changes. At worst, they do serious damage to ourselves and our society.
Hopefully New Zealand voters can set an example to our friends in other parts of the world, look at the big picture and ask the hard questions of our politicians.