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Quora Answer : What is the greatest single failing of western political thought in the 21st century?

Jun 11, 2014

A belief that government has no power / authority.

Western politicians are now convinced that

a) they can't "lead", but must merely follow the whims of the electorate

b) they are incompetent to make strategic decisions. Only the market (and its representatives from private corporations) has wisdom about what is good for people.

The result is politicians that do nothing but REACT to an agenda set by the media and by corporate lobbyists. They've already ruled out the idea that their term in office might actually "add value" to the country they are nominally in charge of, and so fully live down to their own abysmal expectations of themselves.

Update : This answer was written in 2014, and was, I believe, a good analysis of the state of affairs at the time. Obviously in 2018, with the rise of what Mark Blythe calls Global Trumpism, there has been a populist backlash against this sense of government as powerless and unable to set an agenda. The "populist" politicians we're seeing rise to power now, are claiming that they have the power to make things better. It seems pretty obvious to me that their popularity is exactly due to this claim, and that people had got fed up with governments that seemed to have abdicated responsibility for solving their problems. That doesn't mean that these new populists are right that they have that capacity or that what they want to do is good, but they are a correction to this previous problem.

Quora Answer : Should alternative energy companies get government subsidies? Why won't they?

Nov 10, 2018


Governments should be in business of giving strategic guidance to society. One reason that things are so fucked up at the moment is precisely that politicians and governments stopped thinking that their job was to provide a direction for society, and were persuaded that they should just "let people do what they want, as expressed by their choices in the market"

This ignores that fact that the market isn't a neutral reflection of "what people want" but has its own dynamics and canalization. The market's own structure constraints people's choices and steers society in a particular direction, however idealistically "hands off" the government claims to be.

Governments have a job to set a strategic direction for the countries they are responsible for. And one of their jobs right now is to figure out how to cope with both climate change AND the fact that fossil fuels are a limited resource we are burning through very quickly.

It's not enough to say "ah, Fracking means we have another 20 years". No, a prime-minister or president should worry about their country 20, 50 and 100 years in the future. A true leader would recognise the problems and be concerned for the future.

So, sure, governments have to push for sustainable energy, both as a matter of national security and long term welfare.

That means governments should fund research. They should support technological innovation. They should "bet on technologies" even if that means they sometimes chose the wrong one.

It's the height of hypocrisy to celebrate capitalist risk taking and learning from failure. And to then insist that governments mustn't try anything unless they can miraculously always be right.

If you deny governments access to the same tools that allow private interests to succeed, then you'll end up with governments with no infrastructure to learn or improve.

Government SHOULD support alternative energy projects because they have a strategic duty to bring the countries they manage to long term energy sustainability. And they should have the same leeway to make mistakes that we give to private corporations. Otherwise they'll be blind.

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