Incentive Systems & Politics: Part 2

Summary of Part 1:

  • The goal of government should be the physical, emotional, and spiritual betterment of Man.
  • Democracy selects for the government people want, not the government they need.
  • Parasites find niches between the electorate and the politicians, distorting even the best incentive system.

Now on with the show:

Section 3: Finances and Fundraising

Limiting the amount politicians are allowed to spend on campaigning would remove the distraction of having to be a continuous fundraiser; and would meant that politicians wouldn’t have to balance serving the people, and serving the people who can fuel their campaigns.

They begin with a false dichotomy: isolating fundraising as distinct from campaigning.  I argue that they are one and the same.

On a tactical level they’re segregated: within the election strategy, fundraising will be a delineated subset of man hours, but the campaign as a whole is all about accumulating social capital – money, after all, is just one form of influence.

For example, the choices of A) spending your time posting funny tweets, or B) raising funds at an overpriced luncheon, are not different in kind; both are simply an attempt to raise as much influence as possible.

That said, a sympathetic take on the video would suggest that they already know this; their argument is that finances create a perverse distortion, distinct from other forms of influence-building.  Also, for sake of argument, let’s posit that we can design an incentive system where overt fundraising isn’t replaced with covert fundraising – that we can actually get money out of the equation entirely.

This is where we run into the is-ought problem.  Extra Credits is talking about what American Politics ought to be – rather than examining what it actually is.  To channel Dr Robin Hanson for a moment:

Xisn'tY

The X is Politicians Campaigning; the Y is Informing the Public… only it’s not 1910, anymore.  Ever since Edward Bernays created a practical application for the theories of his uncle, Sigmund Freud, the correct term for Information Dissemination is Propaganda – though, since World War 2, we’ve relabelled it as Marketing: modern test audiences are turned off of the original branding.

[Note: I highly recommend Adam Curtis’ documentary The Century of Self for a full exploration of this topic, but it’s four hours long, so pour yourself a whiskey.]

The important thing to realize about Marketing is that it short-cuts the rational, that it taps directly into the sub-conscious mind.  You don’t buy a sports drink because you have an electrolytic imbalance – you buy it because you identify with the athletes who advertise it.  Men don’t buy a Mazda 3 because it’s practical – they buy it because they’re a milque-toast who wants to feel cool.  Women don’t buy $500 purses because of the high-quality workmanship – they buy them because they’re stupid trying to be special.

plants

Marketing and Propaganda appeal to the inner, child-like, narcissistic core of humanity: it reduces us down to the object-level to be acted upon by our environment.  You are no longer a person, you are the sum-total of the brands which you purchase.  Just as the spectators live vicariously through the athletes, or through the action-movie hero, the Marketed Man lives without catharsis, existing only as the brands they wear.

And politicians are just another sort of brand.

Thus we arrive at Yohami’s observation that “Politicians are Narcissistic Supply for the Voters.”

  • A Narcissist is a ball of self-hatred and shame, who manufactures a false-self fuelled by other peoples’ belief.
  • A Consumer is a cathartic wasteland, wrapped up in branded goods, cheap gimmicks, and vicarious thrills.
  • A Voter is a nihilistic abyss, papered-over with cheap slogans and plastic ideology.

As Marshall McLuhan said, “The Medium is the Message.” When the medium is marketing, the message is a foregone conclusion.  Whether it’s Bush’s “Mission Accomplished!” or Obama’s “Hope and Change!” it’s equally irrelevant.  It has no more connection with reality than the phallic reference of the Mr Big candy bar.

Political Campaigning isn’t about leading the country.  It’s about entertaining the degenerate masses.

Section 4: Retirement Packages

Many folks in congress don’t personally benefit the most from being the best congressperson they can be, but rather, in what they can do after they’re done.  Right now, leaving congress, and becoming a lobbyist, is far more lucrative than simply being in congress.  It doesn’t incetivize our congresspeople to focus solely on the job at hand, and govern as well as they possibly can; but rather, to be continuously thinking of their future.

Once again, I’d like to go one level deeper: my disagreement isn’t with their analysis of the problem per se, but with the firmament upon which the problem arises.

Is the firmament truly firm?  In other words, is the American experiment of a Democratic Republic truly the end of history?

As they point out later in the video, “If a game is broken – patch it!” and “Any incentive system can be broken by Man.” Both of these are wonderful sentiments.  Throwing out the present system and world-building a Utopia is fun, but ultimately juvenile; taking a system which has gone off-course and slugging away to fix it is a hallmark of maturity.

But it also behooves us to ask the question: all of these patches and work-arounds… is there a simpler set-up which could accomplish the same goal?

I’ll explore this more fully towards the end of the series, but for now I want to focus on one particularly irony: our modern disgust with the concept of a landed aristocracy.

The material abundance in our industrialized world would have boggled the minds of our ancestors; even as the gap between the rich and the poor grows, the difference in quality of life is narrowing.  Bill Gates’ smart phone is no better than your own, and the gap between “Kobe Steak vs Cheeseburger” is insignificant compared to the medieval dichotomy of “Salted meat for some, gruel for most.”

A Rolls-Royce would be nice, but even my junkmobile has a heater that works all winter.

A medieval peasant would have had far more cause than any of us to be jealous of the 1%, and yet it’s in our era of plenty that We The People take umbrage at any sort of wealth.

I find this extremely odd.  This disgust is fairly new, and seems to be growing as the decades go by; it utterly blinds us to alternatives.  To put it in computer terms, why are we trying to patch these problems, when we have Legacy Drivers?  Why do we hate them so much?

A landed aristocracy would:

  • Lock down the Congress geographically, making them dependent upon the long-term health of their Country.
  • Avoid the indirect bribery of “Lobbyist retirement fund” by guaranteeing an income.
  • Isolate them from the shortsightedness and narcissism of the electorate.

And yet most people find find this distasteful on a visceral level.

Here we are trying to fix this system, despite a huge blind-spot for the benefits of that system.  Is that system really so bad?  And if so, why?  What aspect of that system is so troublesome, which isn’t also a problem with our current build?

I suspect that most people can’t answer that question.  They just know that a landed aristocracy is bad, even though we have, effectively, the exact same thing today: a 1% who’ll never stop being a 1%.

The video game Fallout: Tactics was widely criticized for having both Turn Based Strategy, and a Real Time With Pause as options: the RTwP, rather than being built from the ground-up as it should have been, was nothing but a series of patches on top of the Turn Based substrate.  It worked – sorta – but not as well as previous RTwP games had.

Could the problem with the American System be similar?

Carry on to the conclusion in Part 3.

 

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Davis M.J. Aurini

Trained as a Historian at McMaster University, and as an Infantry soldier in the Canadian Forces, I'm a Scholar, Author, Film Maker, and a God fearing Catholic, who loves women for their illogical nature.

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11 Responses

  1. YOHAMI says:

    “Political Campaigning isn’t about leading the country. It’s about entertaining the degenerate masses.”

    Great stuff.

  2. Kristophr says:

    The last word in the title of that McLuhan book is “Massage”, not “Message”.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Medium_Is_the_Massage

    People keep getting this wrong ….

  3. Aurini says:

    @Kristophr
    The book came after the quote, and Massage was a spin-off of the original quote: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_medium_is_the_message

    “The title is a play on McLuhan’s oft-quoted saying “The medium is the message”. The book was initiated by Quentin Fiore.[1] McLuhan adopted the term “massage” to denote the effect each medium has on the human sensorium, taking inventory of the “effects” of numerous media in terms of how they “massage” the sensorium.”

    @Yohami
    Though a short piece, your article sparked a line of dominoes in my head.

  4. Kristophr says:

    Ah, Thanks.

    So McLuhan was playing even more head games here. Figures.

  5. Sean says:

    Our sterling education system down here may have left me hazy on the details, but weren’t the original Congressmen basically from a landed class; not a aristocracy based on blood, but on a gentry based on resources and profit?

    I’m having some trouble envisioning what Congress-as-aristocracy would look like; would they meet with the people in their districts, get their districts’ opinion on matters, and then vote in Congress as the embodiment of their constituents’ consensus? Envisioning alternate political systems is always fun.

  6. Dave says:

    19th-Century English Parliament looks like a nice system. The House of Lords represented the landed aristocracy, while the House of Commons represented the urban gentry. The poor had no vote; people who can’t manage their own affairs shouldn’t be given power over the lives of others.

    Another option is the Prussian franchise (1848-1918), where each district elected three representatives chosen by the male citizens who paid the top, middle, and bottom thirds of that district’s tax revenue. Even voting as a bloc, the poor could never control more than one third of the state’s Lower House.

    In any case, choose a system that’s already been tested and proven to work in a highly urbanized industrial nation. And don’t let single women vote!

  7. Heresolong says:

    Davis,

    I haven’t watched their videos yet, just reading your commentary so I may be taking things completely out of context, but I feel like you left out an important point in Section 3, that if money is limited, this just shifts influence to whoever controls the medium. If I as a candidate can’t spend money to get my message out, I am at the mercy of those who control the media, who can then promote or ignore my message and my campaign as they see fit, with no restrictions on how much they can spend to do so, so long as it is the guise of “news”.

  8. Aurini says:

    I didn’t take that angle for rhetorical reasons, but it’s a great point; SOMETHING is going to be the currency, and at least money is traceable.

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