Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Why you should be wary of billionaire politicians

Super rich politicians are not a common feature of the Australian political landscape.  In fact when you talk about this phenomenon most Australians would refer you to the US where this is much more common.  However with the way that preferences are flowing in the 2013 election, it looks like Clive Palmer's Palmer United Party ('PUP') will pick up at least one seat in the lower house and  one seat in the upper house.

Why don't I like the idea of the super-rich being elected into government positions?

There are several reasons that having someone who is super rich in a position of power makes me uncomfortable.  Although there are no doubt exceptions to this the following common traits of the self made super rich make them unsuited to high political office in my opinion.

  1. Their primary motivator has been self interest
    • Self interest is what drives the capitalist model and all to often the best players in this model are those who are best able to advance their own self interest above the interests of others. 
    • Elected officials are their to work for the people they represent.  Although it is possible, I am finding it hard to imagine a situation where a person who has worked for their own interests their entire lives, votes against these interests because it is better for their constituents
  2. They are not used to being accountable
    • When you have reached the levels that many of these super rich have reached, you are not used to be accountable to anyone, least of all a fickle public whose views you need to listen to if you are going to be an effective politician
  3. I question their motives
    • I could have been completely off the mark with my first point and self interest could have been replaced by a sense of civic duty
    • If these billionaires cannot evidence this civic duty through their actions in a prior life (for example through charitable works, through involvement in local communities etc) it makes me wonder why (other than power, ego and self interest) would they want to stand for elected office?
Some are attracted to the fact that they are more likely to be 'independent' of party platforms

One of the main arguments in favour of electing such people to government is that they are not tied to the idea or the paycheck that comes with being a politician.  They have a life outside of politics and so are able to be more independent and to buck against what the major parties want.

However this gets back to the idea of who are they accountable to?  The fact that they are not tied to being a politician is both an upside and a downside. The upside is that they are not tied to towing the party line, which is especially good when the political party is trying to appeal to the lowest common denominator and making bad policy.  The downside is actually exactly the same...they are not tied to the views of the people...they vote in a way which promotes what they believe and their own self interest.

The recent Australian election should see an interesting change in the political landscape

Although the recent election saw more unexpected changes than most would have expected, I think the most fascinating aspect has been the showing of Clive Palmer's party.  The fact that his party may well have a significant say in what does and does not get through the Senate should demonstrate what his true intentions are.

Independents and minor political parties tend to be very influential when there is significant discontent with the options offered by the major parties.  There influence also tends to be rather short lived although they can have a large impact on policies in that time.  It will be interesting to see what this development of money and politics does for Australian democracy.

As a quick end note - you may have picked up, by the tone of this piece, that I was surprised that Clive Palmer's party made as strong a showing as it did...hopefully this clip will more than explain why.

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