It's a common complaint. We've all made it at one time or another. But are politicians really the hapless, out-of-touch blunderers we often like to take them for? With Trump pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement, the wealth gap widening, public services failing, and other problems threatening to overwhelm us, it's easy to blame them for not taking action. But do we fully appreciate the position they're in? Do we understand the difficult dilemmas they face?
What we're apt to ignore or may not see, is that the actions we'd like to see them take - drastically reducing emissions, increasing taxes on the rich and the corporations, or increasing public spending - would end up harming the economy because they would force corporations and investors to go elsewhere, so losing thousands of jobs. In the old days before globalization, this wouldn't have been so, but with capital, corporations and the rich as mobile as they are today, and with governments being dependent on global money markets, the 'right' action to take can quickly turn out to be counter-productive, risky, or simply wrong. Truth is, economic globalization - the free-movement of capital and corporations to wherever profits are highest - puts governments into a straightjacket they cannot escape; a vicious circle that all politicians are subject to which I've elsewhere referred to as Destructive Global Competition (DGC).
In this highly conflicted and complex environment shouldn't we afford our politicians a little more credit? Were we in their shoes, would we really do any better? Happily, there's a growing group of forward-thinking politicians who recognise this dilemma. Prior to the 2017 UK general election, over 650 of them signed the Simultaneous Policy (Simpol) Pledge to implement a range of global problem-solving measures simultaneously alongside other governments. Of those 650, 64 were elected as MPs. Among them are representatives from across all the parties, and count the likes of Vince Cable (LibDem), Caroline Lucas (Green), John McDonald (Labour), Jeremy Lefroy (Conservative), Marion Fellows (SNP) among them.
So what is it they have in common? They all agree on two things. First, that in order to solve global problems, we need all or sufficient nations to implement solutions together, simultaneously. Because, if all nations act together, everyone wins and the vicious circle of DGC is eliminated: no nation need fear a competitive disadvantage. Second, that the world's nations need to consider a multi-issue approach. Restricting international negotiations to just a single issue like emissions reductions means there is no scope for trade-offs. There's no way for the big losers on that issue, such as the U.S.A., to be compensated via a different issue. Were the world instead to negotiate two or more issues together, what a nation might lose on one issue, it could gain on the other. That way, the chances of substantive cooperation are vastly increased. But stick with the current single-issue approach and we are designing failure into the process.
Simultaneously implemented multi-issue agreements might sound ambitious, even utopian. Before you pass judgement, consider that the reason the world is failing to make adequate headway on climate change, corporate tax avoidance and a whole host of other transnational issues is precisely because no nation can take the initiative for fear it will harm its economic competitiveness. Former Prime Minister Tony Blair already pointed this out years ago but no one seemed to be listening. In 2005 he said, "The blunt truth about the politics of climate change is that no country will want to sacrifice its economy in order to meet this challenge." More than 10 years on, with emissions as high as ever and with Donald Trump having pulled the U.S.A. out of the Paris Climate Accord precisely because of competitiveness concerns, how much more evidence do we need?
It takes considerable courage to turn your eyes towards the immensity of the DGC problem and see it for what it is, and some real tenacity to do something about it. The 64 Simpol-supporting UK MPs, as well as a growing number of pledged MPs in other countries, seem to have done both. But they're not alone. Citizens who support Simpol are blazing the trail too. By joining the campaign and using their votes in the completely new and effective way that Simpol provides, they're encouraging politicians to sign the Pledge. They're showing all of us that if only we stop blaming our politicians and start taking responsibility for solving the DGC dilemma ourselves, there are enlightened, in-touch politicians out there only too willing to join us.