In my recent Strike the Root article I discuss the true nature of the Nobel Peace Prize. Apart from an apparent error in the beginning of the article (Nobel dedicated most of his fortune to the Prize, not all of it), the article truthfully tells a story of the Prize based on simple economic analysis based on investigating “who benefits”. In a way, the analysis is based on Public Choice, since it necessarily, however indirectly, includes analyzing the Norwegian national parliament and how its interests (rather than those of Alfred Nobel) affect the appointing of members to the Peace Prize Committee.
The problem stressed in the article is general, even though it uses an explicit example: the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize awarded to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and former US Vice President Al Gore. The generality of the problem lies in the fact that politics tend to make things worse rather than guarantee an emphasis on the public good as opposed to private goods (if there is such a conflict at all). Actually, politics always act degenerating while most people tend to believe in political rather than private solutions. Why is this so?
One obvious reason is the common myth of democracy: that the people “rule themselves” and that public officials thus are public servants. There is however no reason to believe this is the case, and there are no empirical facts confirming that guardianship (with respect to individual citizens’ rights and interests) is what guides individual action in the political apparatus or the bureaucracy. It is however prevalent in the rhetoric, which seems to fool even some scientists that there is an unselfish dedication to what is right inherent in public bailieship.
It should be interesting to point out that the latter is a conscious mechanism or means in politics to cause the former. Guardianship rhetoric is often used by public officials in order to make the state appear as a guardian of the common interest, since that is clearly in the interest of the official. (This is however not considered a very interesting fact to analyze in political science.)
Back to the point. What does political action inherently bad as a means compared to any other possible means? It is not the fact that individual interests in the contemporary administration that makes politics itself a bad solution, even though such interests and actions [when not controlled] add costs to the solution. We know that government solutions are often or always more costly than any private enterprise, but that doesn’t necessarily mean all solutions are bad. And it also doesn’t sufficiently show or explain how this is so.
We need to accept the fact that politics is not essentially a construct to achieve certain societal ends, even though many theorists in history, as well as currently, desperately line up unfounded claims that this is in fact the case. Politics is not a means to structure a body so that it efficiently can create value. Politics is also not an arrangement to provide a basis for action or change in an organization. Rather, politics is a construct to satisfy a need for some to control, constrain, and command.
In political science speak, politics has the purpose and ability to concoct and superficially “create” a common interest from aggregating the interests of many.
As we know, it isn’t possible to measure interests or values and it also isn’t possible to satisfy two distinctly different interests through offering a “middle way” solution. In such a solution both interests are left essentially unsatisfied, rather than only one of them in a winner-takes-it-all game. (In a market solution, of course, no interest need be left unsatisfied, since the market can offer multiple solution to a problem. But this is not the topic of this post.)
The interests that always lose in a game of politics is the the interests of the public. The reason for this is that “the public” isn’t a whole and thus does not ever have one distinct interest in any issue. There are multiple interests, often as many as there are individuals, and they cannot be satisfied at once in the legal framework of a state.
One could argue the duty of public officials is to find the solution that is “best” according to a certain set of values arranged hierarchically. The best way of doing this would of course to simply enforce majority rule: satisfy the interests of the majority in every issue and thus maximize the number of satisfied interests in society.
The problem of this approach is of course the well-known problem of utilitarianism: what if interests are not equally valued by the individuals holding them? Utilitarianism cannot be subjected to a game of statistics since a person could feel very strongly about a certain issue whereas a lot people may have a slight disinterest in that very issue. Do you judge in favor of the single person at the “expense” of the others? Or do you add the “slight disinterest” of many people together and claim this is “more” than the “strong interest” of the individual? What ration needs to be satisfied in order to make this conclusion? And perhaps more importantly:
How do you measure interest?
The utilitarian solution is simply not a solution, which leaves us with the “middle way” solution. In a two-interest world the task should be fairly simply; just document the interests and offer a solution where parts of both interests are satisfy, and make sure advocates of both parties accept the solution as “better than status quo.”
But the simplicity of this solution is deceiving. Even if we assume that the interests can easily be documented and measured (which is a requirement here too!), the solution doesn’t apply to politics. Many great minds have mistakenly assumed the state takes on the role of objective negotiator between interests, and that the state’s [negotiator’s] job is simply to find a “best fit” solution. This is not the case.
In a real negotiation the parties generally agree on who is to negotiate for them. Also, the parties pay the negotiator(s) for his or her services – they might even pay him or her for successfully suggesting a solution acceptable to both parties. This is certainly not the case for the state: it doesn’t get paid for taking on certain conflicts of interest and it also doesn’t have an interest in being objective.
Also, the state shouldn’t be denoted “it”- it is not a person or a tight organization dedicated to achieving a certain goal. Rather, “it” consists of a number of people with interest in satisfying their own interests first, be it the power of their formal position or their personal wealth. Thus, adding the state in this case simply adds an interest to the equation – our two-interest game is suddenly, in the simplest possible case, a three-interest game after adding the state!
It should be much more difficult finding an acceptable solution to a three-interest conflict, especially if the third interest is added after the conflict already exists! Adding to this that the third interest gets veto power to any suggested solution, and that it effectively has the power to force all other interests to comply with the solution of its choice, makes it impossible to find a winner among the original conflicting parties.
And what about the incentives of payment? The state, again talking of it as “an it,” has the power to charge whatever it wants actually supplying whatever it wants. This is called taxation – there is no connection between payment and delivery.
This is a major reason why the state tends to make things worse rather than offer a solution to problems. A market solution would presumably offer a wide range of negotiation and arbitration services (in fact it already does) by companies and individuals that make profits through supplying non-biased solutions to conflicting interests. And it isn’t difficult to assume some of them may even choose to charge the parties only for accepted solutions.
The Norwegian parliament represents 169 individual sets of interests (not counting interests of parties, special interest groups, etc.) that will affect who will be appointed to the Nobel Peace Prize Committee, and the individuals in the committee will have further opportunities to satisfy their own interests when awarding the Prize.
As is asked in the article, Is there really no one in the world who has done a better job for peace during the last year? There should be many. But the right question to ask is: who can be awarded the Prize in order to maximize the satisfaction of the interests of the individuals in the committee and the Norwegian parliament? The choice to award the IPCC and Al Gore suddenly makes a lot more sense.