A league of their own
Votes make power. A president and legislator are born through votes. It is the voters that can set a boat on sail or tip it over. But election life is short. Once elected, a politician becomes like any other. They fight forever with one another and against each other. When another election arrives, they suddenly join forces to keep or steal away power.
The more unproductive a political structure, the more skeptical the people become. The school of public choice theory studied the traditional problems of political science and behavior through the use of economic tools. Why do politics disappoint us? Why do the wrong kind of people become elected?
What was concluded from the empirical study was what’s called “rational ignorance.” To make the best choice, voters must study and compare the candidates and their campaign platforms. But before launching into the study, one should ask what they would gain from spending time to learn before going to the voting poll, and if it is worth all the trouble. Humans are rational beings that pursue self-interests. A single vote, especially in general elections with bigger probability, would make little difference for the individual. You might as well spend the time doing something else. So grows indifference and apathy toward elections and politics.
Politicians seek self-interests as much as businessmen and merchants. Public interest is set aside. The political world feeds on corrupt and shadowy ties with the private sector. Skepticism deepens every time a corruption scandal is reported.
The theorists of public choice advise the application of market principles to solve political problems. In the market, a baker makes bread for his own interest but also can serve public interest. But when politicians pursue their own interests, they waste tax money and cause damage to society. The “invisible hand” therefore should be at work in the political world as much as in the market. Some extremists suggest a trade in voting power. People can benefit from selling their voting rights while others can buy them to get their desired candidates elected.
Although persuasive, the method, of course, is unrealistic. The theorists also know a trade in voting power is out of the question. They just wish to make their point very clear. The real solution is to get voters to become more involved and sincere in their choice of candidates. In this way, society as well as the individual voter can benefit.
The race is on for the 20th general election. In the upcoming election, the liberal opposition camp is at a disadvantage on demographic grounds. The imbalance in voter demographics has deepened. According to the statistical office, eligible voters in their 30s decreased by 480,000 and those in their 40s by 130,000 from four years ago. The number in their 20s remains more or the less same. Meanwhile, those in their 50s total 8.22 million, or 800,000 more than four years ago. The 60s also increased by 930,000 and 70s and above by 660,000. According to voting propensity, people above middle age prefer candidates from the conservative or ruling party. Opposition candidates would be battling in a playing field with the odds against them.
The opposition cannot win unless it fields superior players and policies. But the opposition comes up with the same team members and strategy every four years. One sizzling day in August 2011, Elizabeth Warren, then a professor at Harvard Law School specializing in bankruptcy law, had been attending a meeting in a town in Massachusetts. She was the architect behind the establishment of the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau following the Wall Street meltdown. She was lecturing on how and why the middle class runs into bankruptcy.
When she finished talking, an unemployed woman in her 50s ran up to her and pleaded that she run for office to work on behalf of the rights of poorer people like her. Warren decided to run in the September 2011 election to fight for the woman in trouble. Despite various odds, she won and is now one of the most active in the Democratic Party.
The Korean economy is headed right into a structural slowdown. Few have the energy or will to plead to politicians to fight on their behalf. Instead, voters want to plead not to see many of them. Public choice experts would advise Korean voters that they would be better off without politics. A party without a visionary reform outline will be shunned in an election. Democracy will die if political apathy becomes viral.
JoongAng Ilbo, March 9, Page 28
*The author is head of the international business news team at the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Jong-yoon