Most of this article by Johann Hari is so good I can forgive his twaddle about the minimum wage. He says:
If we wanted to take democracy seriously - if we wanted general elections to be more than a quadrennial plebiscite approving whatever the political class has already decided - what would we do differently? In an iPod age where we all expect to be able to access 10,000 songs in a second, it is bizarre that our political choices are restricted to two homogenous parties (or, at best, three). In every area of our lives we expect personalisation and nuance - but when it comes to politics, we are expected to be blunt and bovine.
Very true and very important - I've said something similar myself.
But I disagree on two points. First, he gives the impression – no doubt inadvertently - that alienation from party politics is confined to real people on housing estates. It isn’t. I’m an ex-Oxford PPE-ist living in Hampstead having had
careers jobs in the City and meeja. And I’m as alienated as they are.
Second, he displays a lack of imagination when he says:
Only a multi-party proportional electoral system can make politics compatible with complex consumer preferences, giving us a political menu that stretches from the Greens to the BNP.
No. For one thing, this range of opinions isn’t wide enough. No party represents an economically literate left libertarianism, for example.
Also, any party politics retains one of the most unpleasant features of our current system – that it asks us to trust politicians. It therefore fails to promote Spinoza’s ideal:
What makes for excellence in the state is not that it should be governed by good men, but that it should be so constituted that it does not matter whether it be governed by good men or bad. (cited by Roger Scruton in The West and the Rest.)
Above all, there’s no “only” about this. There are other ways of making politics “compatible with complex consumer preferences.” We could and should unbundle policy-making as far as possible and use demand-revealing referenda. To get an idea of the vast range of possible public choice mechanisms, try this superb book by Dennis Mueller. The alternatives to our current system, Johann, are more plentiful than we can imagine.