There are a lot of smart policy people who understand and are able debate issues at a high level of sophistication. They have spent years getting an education in fields like economics, science, law, education, health, foreign policy, international relations and many other areas of expertise in order to create a career and a difference.
I have a confession to make: I am not one of these people.
Sure, I can get the gist of a policy debate, I can read a graph filled with statistical information, I can differentiate the ideas behind certain policies and I can even use software like SPSS for certain purposes (provided you give me a couple of hours) but for the most part if you asked me to tell you the timeline for the National Broadband Network rollout or exact numbers and details from the last budget or details of a policy like the Murray Darling Basin plan, I will struggle very badly.
What I do know a thing or two about is marketing.
One of the situations that always gets under my skin is when I see intelligent, educated people getting upset when their field gets misrepresented for political purposes. Usually there’s an accompanying rant directed at the uneducated and the unskilled.
My Dad is a recently retired Teacher. When the education reforms of the current government began to be implemented such as NAPLAN testing and the MySchool website, he was furious at the way Teachers were being misrepresented in the interests of political gain. Whenever I brought up the fact that Labor government’s always look after education, he’d get very angry and tell me I had no idea what I was talking about. He’d constantly tell me the story of how he asked a very basic question on the government’s education policy to the local federal Labor MP when she visited the school he taught at and she had no idea how to respond. I have been lead to believe this isn’t an isolated incident and many Teachers feel the exact same way.
There is a live debate in the economics community (as far as I know) in regards to raising the GST and reforming the tax system in order to make it more sustainable and fix revenue problems likely to appear in future budgets. Yet economists constantly rage at the political system and political leaders for not having the courage to take on the task without considering or taking into account the obstacles and electoral dangers for the politicians.
The Mining Tax is another example. Ken Henry, a brilliant man, designed an excellent policy to make sure Australia got advantage out of the mining boom but underestimated the political environment which gutted a lot of the impact of the policy and he’s left in a state of despondency, questioning whether the big reforms he’s spent his life pursuing in order to make a positive difference are still possible in this day and age.
Scientists, who for the most part don’t subscribe to ideological positions, are now beginning to see their fields misrepresented and their reputations twisted into mouthpieces for the so called intelligent left.
In federal politics, you’ll see many on the Labor side complain that the Coalition doesn’t have any policies or participate in any civil debate (I addressed what they do after getting that point off their chest in a previous post). It’s one of those inconsistencies that emotionally triggers many progressives. Labor advocating for rational policies while the Coalition playing with the politics of smear and apparently getting away with it.
Kim Beazley Senior summed it up perfectly when he said “The public expect the others (The Coalition) to not be up to much. They expect us (Labor) to be better …”
“We have better numbers and statistics than the Howard government on the economy, yet we don’t get rewarded electorally for them while the Coalition get away with no policies and telling lies on taxes and interest rates! It’s not fair! … Bloody Press Gallery who report events as they see them and don’t copy and paste our press releases!!!”
Interest rates and the issue of the budget surplus are classic examples of many so called political experts not getting it. There’s a common view that low interest rates and a budget in surplus will equate to a positive political outcome for the current federal government when in fact both are exacerbating uncertainty and insecurity in the public. Ipsos Mackay director and social researcher Rebecca Huntley sums it up perfectly in this article in BRW magazine.
It’s very easy to get upset by all of this if you’re one of these smart, educated people.
The fact is most people don’t make judgements rationally. They justify their identity, what they value and their emotional judgements through an internally rational process.
This is the reason it’s important to learn about subjects like marketing, psychology and persuasion. So people like Ken Henry or David Gonski or anyone else who comes up with what are considered to be sensible and rational policy proposals are able to cut through the political noise and get their policies implemented for the benefit of the public. These subjects are far more complex than most people are aware of and what looks simple has a lot going on beneath the surface.
I understand what many of these people who understand policy are going through when they see their fields getting misrepresented in the political process. i get very frustrated when I see people making superficial comments about what good marketing, public relations, advertising is without having a clue of what’s really going on. It’s just the way these things go!
“But people should accept what I say because I’m right! Here’s a list of facts that back me up!” It doesn’t matter how right you are if you can’t persuade people and they don’t listen to you at an emotional level.
It’s possible to get good things done. But when people’s attitudes towards the way normal people behave are ones of disdain and ridicule it shuts off people’s ability to listen and they feel there’s no choice but to go with what’s easy.