Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Politics as the authoritative "prioritizing" of values

A Canadian (but not Canada) morally defines wartime penicillin
There is a broad academic consensus as to the best way to differentiate political bargaining from economic bargaining.

That consensus says that "prices" are used to come to an informal economic agreement as to the allocating of scarce resources between alternative uses.

But politics authoritatively allocates (rations/triages) scarce resources between alternative uses.

Politics does formally what economics does informally : it passes a laws that directs that the allocating will be done by fiat and force, if need be.

But this consensus explanation merely says how the two different forms of allocation will be done.

(Either by voluntary agreement as to how one chooses to spend one's own money, or by resources being allocated at the point of a government gun if need be.)

If does not say why the government has made its allocation decisions it has made.

(We already know that Economics has made its bargains based on the differing economic values the various differing players assign to various differing goods and services.)

So normally, the consensus view has to add that politics has made its decisions and bargains based on values.

This hardly settles much : I believe it needs to be said that the political values in question are ALL moral values - albeit often expressed in terms of economic values.

And it almost goes without saying that in the political bargaining process, various bodies of political players place differing weight on different moral values and that these bodies of political players have quite different political bargaining power.

Some are large in number but have little wealth, valuable skills or organizing cohesion.

Others are very small in number, but are very wealthy, articulate, skilled in influencing governments/public opinion, and are very united in their position vis vis certain valued vales.

Most bodies of political voters fall somewhere in the middle of these positions and in fact their political bargaining strength varies widely over time and over various issues.

In addition, all these bodies agree - albeit reluctantly - they they need the others, if society and the economy are going to keep on working : thus their bargaining positions are not absolute but will settle  - if need be - for half a loaf.

This is why I say the real hard bargaining in politics occurs over the priority we as collections of political bodies give to different moral values.

Politics is always and only about winning over 'Hearts and Minds'.

And in an earlier post, I suggested why such hard political bargaining gets more - not less - intense during times of Total War.

So, to recap that earlier blog post, some of us value very highly the giving of scarce penicillin to paratroopers with a case of the Clap, so they can go back 'on strength' in two days and possibly die in the next big battle, so our own son won't have to be 'called up' in their place.

Others of us feel that a severely wounded and infected soldier who has already fought bravely in battle is more worthy of the scarce penicillin than some paratrooper deliberately cheating on his wife without a condom in some Naples brothel, hoping thus to avoid dying in an upcoming battle by being in hospital for two months with the traditional VD treatment.

We value this severely wounded hero's contribution greatly and admit we had made a tacit bargain with him to say we stay-at-homes would give him the best possible medical care if he should be wounded while defending us stay-at-homes somewhere overseas.

So we feel we must honour that bargain, despite the fact that even if our severely wounded hero is cured of his infection and lives, he will be quickly released from the army and given a small pension for life (paid for by us staying safely at home), as he will remain too permanently injured to be a good soldier or even a good factory worker.

This in a nutshell and without a lick of exaggeration , was the moral values that the Allied world debated over in the summer of 1943 - at first, solely among the well-to-do fat old men running the war and then later - post Baby Patricia - among the entire Allied population.

As the moral value of wartime penicillin went, so went Modernity - and post Modernity

In the end, it was Henry Dawson, Robert Pulvertaft, Rudy Schullinger and Dante Colitti 's chivalrous values that were prioritized, not the modern values of Winston Churchill, Howard Florey, Alfred Richards and Lewis Weeds.

And in doing so, our world quietly slipped out of the Age of Modernity and into the post Modernity Age....

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