In reality, however, I feel that instead of choosing from a set of options, a lot of public policy seems to be looking at options one at a time, instead of choosing the best one from a set. Suppose the economy is doing badly, and we would need either to get that back on the track, or cut costs from government. An exchange might go like this.
- Parliament: So maybe we can raise taxes?
- Right wing: NO!
- Parliament: So cut benefits to lower costs?
- Left wing: NO!
- Parliament: Reduce work legislation to increase efficiency?
- Unions: NO!
…and so on. Instead of going “OK, we have to do something, and we have options A, B, C and D”, politics employs a method I call piecewise running into a wall: evaluating one option at a time, with each being rejected by some advocacy group.
Since there is an advocacy group for almost anything, presenting options in this piecewise fashion means they will all get rejected. Following the rule “don’t do anything someone might object to” is not good policy-making: it just ensures nothing at all will be done. What is needed is a comparison of options, and then deciding which of them is the best one.
But one thing seems clear: openness and direct communication about our options would be good for democracy. Lobbying is small in Finland, but likely to increase in the future. The more opaque the process of option generation, the more power is given to the lobbies. If politics would be more transparent, it would be harder for lobbies to slant the option set badly. But not knowing the option set, or pretending there are no other options – that’s no good. Not for us, not for the nation, not for anyone.