The Rough Guide to Voting on Policies

8th September 2014

Finding the “signal” in the “noise” is close to impossible in an election campaign… and the effort can soon become boringly tedious. Here is the rough guide.

For any policy ask:

  1. Is this actually a problem? Or is it a “nice to have” for some self interested group who would like a better ride at everyone else's expense.
  2. Could a government, any government, actually solve it? Governments move motions (lots of them), pass resolutions and pontificate but their abilities to achieve are limited.
  3. What would the cost be – the full cost after paying for enforcement and all the knock on costs no one is mentioning – if they actually know them.
  4. Who exactly is going to pay those costs? Is it the people who will benefit or is it “us”, the tax payers all governments hope will not add up the bill of all those motions.
  5. Finally – a first rule of economics – pay attention to what politicians actually do – never what they say, or what they say they will do. Only behaviour counts.

Hints – to help you along try these tips as well:

  • never assume the “goodies” wouldn’t go for self interest. Be very careful of “goodies” in health, education and welfare. These “goodies” are just as self interested as the rest of us – and they are typically smarter at speaking, writing, persuading and being moralistic.
  • you don’t have to enjoy policies for them to be good for you. I don’t like not getting subsidies for economists and not having guaranteed markets and all the competition that drives down what I can charge and mechanics being picky about my WOF… but I know there are long term benefits for everyone here.
  • be very, very careful of policies which “won’t cost much when spread over all the tax payers” or which involve “only a a couple of cents more on the tax rate”. These marginal costs are what kill us. It is not inability to pay the first $10.00 of your mortgage which hurts… its the last $1.00 you can’t pay that bankrupts you. Same with the country’s budget.

None of this will guarantee a good outcome… which brings the final rule “there is no free lunch”. There is always a cost even if you can’t see it.

The old poker player’s adage applies – if you can’t figure out who the fool in the room is after 40 minutes – it’s you.

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