There's a common implicit theme in two of my recent posts which I should make explicit. It's that conventional party politics, and discussion thereof, systematically excludes some important questions. The Overton window - the narrow range of subjects which are deemed fit for discussion - is surrounded by an Overton wall, which blocks lots of important questions.
I posed one such unasked question here: why should the public's preferences shape policy, when those preferences are ill-informed or downright malevolent? The answer is not that, in a democracy, public opinion must rule. There are huge areas of social life where democracy is withheld - namely in companies - even though workers' opinions on how to organize their workplaces are probably better-informed than their opinions on, say, immigration. But the question: "when should democracy exist and when shouldn't it?" is off the party-political agenda.
So too is the question I posed here: could it be that there are tighter limits upon the ability of governments to redistribute incomes or raise growth than politicians - especially social democratic ones - pretend.
Other questions are also under-emphasized, for example:
- Are secular stagnation and/or technical change a threat to people's living standards and if so what can be done? (Yes, Osborne at least showed awareness of the debate about stagnation, but his flat denial of its likelihood was both unconvincing and ignorant of the fact that policy should address not just central case scenarios but also risks, especially if these are low probability but high-cost ones).
- How should fiscal policy be set if - as I argue on p12 of this pdf - economic forecasting is impossible?
- Whilst politicians had an opinion on whether Pfizer should have taken over Astrazeneca, none seemed to pose the more fundamental question: are shareholder-owned companies with (perhaps) short-term horizons really a good way of organizing research with payoffs in the far-distant future?
Now, you might object that I'm guilty here of standard commentator's narcissism: "everyone is wrong because they are ignoring my hobby-horse". I don't think so. These issues are increasingly being discussed in the economic mainstream; when Charlie Bean says Bank rate might stabilize at 3%, he's hinting at the possibility of prolonged stagnation. And they surely direct address the important issue of people's living standards.
What's more, because they are not asked, we are left with an absurd politics which seem to think that jobs and incomes are threatened only by immigration rather than by technical change, globalization or capitalists' power, and which gives us a cult of leadership which thinks that a party's fortunes can be tranformed by changes of leadership.
It's often said that people are estranged from a political elite which is dominated by Oxford PPEists. What this misses is that some of us who are Oxford PPEists also find party politics irrelevant and alienating.