Let the scum rise

Paul Staines has been celebrated as one of the most influential men in Britain for his blog under the pseudonym Guido Fawkes.It is quite an interesting read for anyone who gets a kick from learning about the seamier underbelly of British politics, which means I personally have not read much by Paul Staines.
I did, however, come across an interesting article he penned back in 2009 on why scum rises to the top in politics.
There have been many postulations on why the dirtiest and most inept people make it to the top in politics.
One claim is that politicians generally tend to be fairly bright people who have no inclination to slog it out in everyday life and see politics as an easier way to amass wealth and accrue power.
Gore Vidal, the deceased American essayist, was even more cynical, using his acerbic pen to excoriate this much-maligned breed of seemingly under-evolved humans who we call politicians.
His take was: “‘Politics’ is made up of two words, ‘poli,’ which is Greek for ‘many,’ and ‘tics,’ which are blood-sucking insects.”
Every single person knows how best to run the country and they wonder why the politicians are taking us down the quickest route to hell and yet managing a state is supposed to be so easy.
Naturally we will ask why all these brilliant minds are not themselves running for office so that they can better manage our countries.
Paul Staines, writing as Guido Fawkes puts it thus: “Tyler Cowen and Arnold Kling correctly point out that professional politicians are likely to be individuals who place a high value on power and prestige…
“(Matthew) Yglesias notes that the same politicians who routinely sacrifice the public interest to preserve their positions wouldn't think of committing murder. That, however, is at least partially because in the US and other liberal democracies committing murder usually destroys a politician's career rather than bolster it.
“In countries where killing people often does advance your political career, (think any of numerous Third World states where political leaders can get ahead by killing or repressing political opponents), the political class is indeed filled with murderers.
“One might still ask why the power-seekers tend to predominate over those who place a higher value on the public good. The key explanation is selection effects.
“A politician willing to do anything to take and hold on to power will have a crucial edge over an opponent who imperils his chances of getting elected in order to advance the public interest. The former type is likely to prevail over the latter far more often than not.
“This is especially true in a political environment where most voters are often ignorant and irrational about government and public policy. Candidates have strong incentives to pander to this ignorance and exploit it in order to win elections.
“Those unwilling to exploit public ignorance because they place the public interest above political success are likely to be at a serious disadvantage relative to their less scrupulous opponents.
“Thus, politicians who value power above other objectives are more likely to get into office and stay there.
“As economist Frank Knight wrote back in the 1930s, ‘(t)he probability of the people in power being individuals who would dislike the possession and exercise of power is on a level with the probability that an extremely tender-hearted person would get the job of whipping master in a slave plantation’.”
In a nutshell, to excel in politics one must be prepared to sacrifice the public good. That means the pursuit and attainment of power becomes an end in itself.
What we therefore get is, to quote Martin Gross in “A Call for Revolution”, is “a world in which politics has replaced philosophy”.
Do we ever pause for a moment and wonder what we vote for when we rush in excitement to polling stations? Are we going for form or substance in our politicians?
As a loose rule, people get the kind of leadership they deserve. And in Africa, we are getting just what we deserve as we have placed the attainment of power above the philosophy of never-ending revolution in pursuit of a society that we can truly be proud of.
There should be no complaints when our governments pawn off natural resources for lousy trinkets because that is exactly what we are voting for.
There should be no anger over politicians feathering their own nests because we are the ones who allow them to do as much.
The choice, really, is ours. We make our own thorny beds and we must lie in them while politicians luxuriate in the soft places that we prepare for them.
Until we know what kind of leadership we want and we actively promote a brand of politics that places the African citizen at the centre of the development process, we have absolutely no right to say nasty things about the clever politicians who take us for a ride.

June 2013
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