Thursday, December 05, 2013

What matters: the means or the end?

By coincidence, in a discussion with my Politics & Media students and reading Shopping for Votes the idea of what matters in politics came up. Susan Delacourt argues that people shop and vote for ideas citing an advertising executive who argued no-one goes out to by a half-inch drill bit they want a half-inch hole. Perhaps more accurately they want is what the half-inch hole provides, a bracket for a shelf on which to put family pictures, trophies, books etc. What this suggests is that parties and candidates offer, and voters select, an outcome but care little about the means. 

But is that really true? People may want crime reduced but would they support capital measures like, for example, chopping off the hand of a thief? Sure the ultimate capital punishment may be supported for certain crimes but most people would stop short in other cases. What about in other cases?

Most people want a strong economy, with stable economic growth and all that brings. But what about the means? Who wins and who loses within the restructured economy may not be to everyone's liking, not even the majority's liking. Not everyone may support the myriad enterprises that will be running public services at a profit. Political outcomes are often presented as a product but the means to that end are often played down. Yet the real choice in politics is more likely to be around means rather than ends. It is hard to imagine any party serious about government not offering economic restructuring, it is how that separates them. Does this also separate voters? Does the end always justify the means, more importantly is the means supported to achieve the end, or are voters just happy that they do not have to make the decision themselves? 

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