General

Politics: the art of compromise

“In a world of complete concord—or overwhelming oppression—politics could not thrive, because disagreement would be either absent or obliterated.
“We need to live politically because there is no general agreement about how the good things in life should be shared out; about who should have authority over whom, and how it is decided. … politics is war without bloodshed: a means of resolving conflict without recourse to violence.
“The only common agreement, in a politically open society, is an agreement to tolerate difference, so politics is the art (or perhaps the science—views differ) of compromise.”—Ben Dupré.
Politics is essentially the eternal debate about authority and distribution of resources. For the most part the conversation has been divided along the lines of the left-right political spectrum of “progressive” versus “conservative” view points and philosophies—with political institutions finding themselves somewhere between the two extremes.
The right-winged school of conservative thought would argue that the role of government should be restricted.
They advocate for less government regulations, while promoting the principles of individual responsibility and a preference for the private sector to provide most services. Those leaning towards right-wing ideals also traditionally demand fewer taxes and support curtailed non-defence-related government spending, among other things.
Those on the left, who support a more “liberal” or “progressive” world view, traditionally believe in bigger government and more regulations.
They often carry the ‘big government’ view point, because they believe its the state’s role to support those who cannot support themselves.
Naturally, the ‘left wingers’—with the high amount of public services they provide—believe in higher taxes (especially on the wealthy) as a way to finance those services given to the less fortunate—the poor, the sick, elderly, the unemployed, etcetera.
Over the years, these fundamental ideals have blended in unique ways along the political continuum and have created multiple hybrids such as centrists, center-right, and even centre-left political, social and economical persuasions—each with their individual merits and short comings.
What is there to compromise?
However in Belize, (and maybe it’s too idealistic to expect more), where are these debates? What divides the main political parties? Or are they both centrist elements that swing either left or right depending of what is deemed expedient?
For example, the incumbent United Democratic Party (UDP) government promotes its Pro-Poor policies that clearly have left-leaning (socialist) tendencies; however, this was not always the expressed position of this party.
In the same way the People’s United Party (PUP) have turned to the right with certain decisions, while at other times it has expressed a left-winged approach.
As we take the standard five-year journey to the polls, what are the policies or economic issues that are debated between our political aspirants? If there is no real difference beyond the usual who’s-more-corrupt talk, then how can we achieve the compromise that Dupré talked about?
Most importantly—and beyond the strongholds of partisanship—where do you the voter stand?
What are your views and which of these parties speak to the heart of your ideals as to what you want for your country? Do you lean to the right and prefer smaller governments and less interventionism, or do you find yourself leaning left and in favour of more regulations and a heavier input from government—which inevitably includes higher taxes?
As things stand in Belize, the discussions are often concentrated on the rhetorical issues: transparency and accountability; the promise of jobs; the need to improve the cost of living; and the usual personality politics and mud slinging, which often spawn the ridiculous and comical election-season advertisements that detract us from the real matters.
The gimmicks are often quite humorous and equally laughable. Most significantly, they are insufficient, because every government is expected to be transparent and accountable, to keep the unemployment rate as low as possible, and to lower the cost of living.
Therefore, the discussion must mature to the realms of the “how”. How, Dear Government, will you help to achieve these honourable goals?
For example, in order to increase the number of available jobs should we explore the benefits of and support a tax-heavy government structure that operates under the tenets of welfarism? Or do we agree with a system that limits taxes in the expectation that it would motivate business owners–who are left with more in their pockets–to create more jobs?
Regarding the degree of government control, do we agree with those on the left that the government should regulate more, or do you side with those on the right that say the less regulations possible the better?
Speaking of less regulations, when will registering a business in Belize take less than 44 days, and come on par with countries that allow entrepreneurs to start their businesses in nine days or less?
How about the debate on what we should spend the public’s money on? Traditionally, those on the conservative side favour less social-welfare spending (they believe that individuals ought to take responsibility for themselves) and say that the state should be responsible for those pure public goods and services like national security.
The more “liberal minded” would say the opposite. How do you think your taxes should be spent? Interestingly, we voted in the last election without even having a budget. What was there to debate?
The power of policy: it shouldn’t be ignored
There are inherent advantages and disadvantages at any point along the great philosophical divide. It’s not always simply a matter of choosing one or the other: it’s a matter of finding the right blend or compromise, as Dupré described it, because policy matters.
For instance, the incumbent government’s BOOST program—which leans on liberal shoulders—has received accolades from the World Bank, which said the program could serve as the regional archetype. That’s great. But with all the other debt that the country has, would the conservative mind agree with all the other pro-poor initiatives of this administration?
In 2008, the world suffered a serious economic body blow, when the United States’ real estate market crashed, and essentially took billions of dollars of people’s pensions, savings, investments, and jobs down with them.
It led to the global economic downturn that, not just the US, but many places around the world are still recovering from.
But the ripple effect began when the government, especially under President Bush, chose to further deregulate a highly volatile securities (derivatives) industry.
The right-winged leadership gave the investment banks free reign to gamble with peoples’ money in unprecedented ways, and when the housing bubble finally burst, the investment banks that were allowed to over-leverage started going bankrupt and fundamentally engendered a credit freeze that brought the economy to its knees.
In Belize, we have our superbond—the fruits of excessive deficit financing.
Deficit financing, as I’ve said before, isn’t inherently evil; however, the money should be properly invested otherwise when it’s time to pay the piper you run the risk of defaulting on your obligation.
This is all the more reason why Belizeans should keep close tabs on the progress of entities such as the Public Accounts Committee, which finally had its kick-off meeting this Monday.
Time to up the ante, folks
The world economic crisis and our “superbond” situation, in principle, serve as excellent examples of the reach that policy decisions carry on the health of an economy.
While our next general election is years away, we ought to start to change the script enough to see more genuine policy debates in both the pre- and post-election era in our politics.
In the pre-election season, we should demand that the national conversation and debate be on real economic considerations.
The mud-slinging politics is humorous and entertaining, but it barely is enough to take us forward. At which point does the customary bickering answer the real questions of growing the economy? What does it solve? For instance, name the last minister of government that was sent to prison in Belize for corruption.
That answer should immediately tell you that after more than 30 years of independence, our transparency and accountability structures are still inefficient to say the least.
In the last House Meeting, Dr. Marco Tulio Mendez raised concerns over the malpractice reports at Northern Regional Hospital, and even a matter as serious as that was allowed to digress into the silly and unproductive back and forth that should be out of place in the “Honourable” House.
We should expect discord and arguments between our elected officials, but these debates should be on the merits and disadvantages of real policy issues and ideals. Anything less than that would stifle the true nature of politics: “the art of compromise.”

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