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Saturday, 16 June 2007

Sakism

Sakism: the thinking advanced by certain politicians that just because others are doing it, we should also do the same thing. Other people's actions are the best reasons for your own actions.

We find the recent manifestation of this thought process in the recent discussion of
political funding . Sakwiba Sikota believes:

"There was need for the government to fund political parties as a way of strengthening democratic governance in the country....There is consensus in the country and outside that there is need to support political parties to make them relevant and effective. This is happening all over the continent. I recently attended a meeting in Ghana where it was resolved to have state politicalfunding”.

No Zambia does not need political funding, and neither should we ask our poor mothers and daughters to pay taxes just so that some politician in Lusaka could be given a platform to advance further “Sakisms”. Here the clarifying power of economics is most useful. For the economist the question is not what others are doing, but rather whether there is a strong economic rationale for doing it. Is there something that the “political funding" market is unable to do that possibly requires a visible hand of Government? And crucially can Government intervention in itself bring society to a higher welfare function? In other words can Government “fund” parties in such way that "moral hazard” issues and other things are avoided?

It strikes that if a political party is well organised and has a clear vision there’s no reason why it should not get funding from interest groups. If a party is not getting funding it is mainly because the party lacks a coherent set of ideas and a believable platform. Of course I am assuming that there’s indeed “fair play” between parties in the nation that whoever has good ideas will get elected (to the benefit of those that bankrolled him).

However if that is not the case, and “level playing” distortions exist they must come from the belief by political funders that the “incumbent” party cannot be unseated, and therefore it is pointless to fund any other party. Those beliefs are not ideological but possibly driven by observations of the constitutional framework that may give the incumbent greater hope of being retained compared to the opposition. But this is not really a failure in the funding market, it is simply an institutional problem that would be resolved if you had a more robust constitution that guaranteed “fair play”. Funding would therefore be the wrong remedy – the correct economic approach, and dare I say, cheaper solution is to provide a robust constitution that guarantees fair play.

22 comments:

  1. I think it wouild be democratic if all parties had the same amount of money to campaign - if private and business contributions over a certain amount were made illegal at the same time. It would reduce the influence of the corporations, at least in the USA.

    There is a lot of interest in 'electoral finance reform'.

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  2. Politicians only talk about election reform. If they already won the system must be working, right?

    The campaign finance reforms in the US haven't done anything to slow the influence of corporations. There are too many loop holes. The only thing that you can do is to hopefully limit outright bribery.

    Another difference between the US and Zambia is that the US doesn't have to worry about outside influences. If the oil prices drop that helps the incumbents but other than that, it's difficult for foreigners to influence the election.

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  3. The point made by error27 really is at the crux of the issue. One of the real menaces in elections is bribery because it distorts people's intended choices and corrupts the officials. These things cannot be eliminated by pumping more money into the system through political funding or by ensuring everyone has the same money, if indeed that is possible. Bribery and corruption can only be eliminated by putting in place measures that address "fair play" e.g. making the ECZ more powerful, empowering them with better tools to tackle bribery is better than trying to control a financial variable that is difficult to control.

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  4. I just think it is fair that all sides are heard, so the people have a real choice. Right now, national politics never about policy, which is why politicians can get away with presenting the Zambian people the same neoliberal message, whether it is MMD, UPND, ULP, or even PF.

    The people have a right to get a choice, which is why it is important that all parties are heard equally.

    Here is an idea - national panel debates, like Question Time (the tv programme) or like they have in the US, where the candidates must justify their attempts to reach the highest office in the land.

    On radio and television. That would also help level the playing field.

    And I'm not suggesting giving the parties money, and not doing anything about other contributions, which would have to be illegal.

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  5. … pathetic it is for one to consider government funding at grass root for political clout and empowerment. Even advanced democracies stay away from such activities instead they strengthen institutional frameworks that encourage private funding … Cho, Sakisms should be denigrated and stopped in this case.

    In the United States for instance, government funding comes in only after a potential presidential candidate has been identified and each such leading candidate from a major party receives twenty million dollars from the treasury. In Zambia the new electoral bill has a provision for two hundred thousand dollars for presidential front runners, if my memory serves me right and this will be effective for the 2011bid …

    Front runners for 08 presidential bid in the Democratic Party (Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama) have said they intend to raise enough money so not to seek government funding should they emerge as nominees for their party. Similar sentiments seem to come from their Republican Party counterparts (former Mayor Rudy Giuliani – NY and former Governor Mitt Romney – MA).

    The McCain/Feingold bill (US) was created to minimize even private funding based on the notion that private sectors involvement can have very serious lobbying consequences on elections. The general belief is that parties and campaigner can sway financial resources their way if they have good platforms, policies and programs they are skirmishing for … thanks a trillion

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  6. "[T]he question is not what others are doing, but rather whether there is a strong economic rationale for doing it. Is there something that the “political funding" market is unable to do that possibly requires a visible hand of Government? And crucially can Government intervention in itself bring society to a higher welfare function? In other words can Government “fund” parties in such way that "moral hazard” issues and other things are avoided?" -Cho

    It's not the money that matters as much as what is being bought with it. For campaigns, raising money is mainly about buying media. Of course the more media they buy, the more expensive it becomes. If the government must have its hand in the business, then let it exercise itself in the provisioning and/or equalizing of media access to candidates via public media.

    For example, if each registered party (or candidate) were to receive the exact same amount of prime radio and television time, wouldn't they spend less time outraising to outspending each other, and more time worrying about what they were actually going to say?

    Newspapers (over a certain minimum circulation) could be required to print an extra section at certain points in the election cycle, with equal space dedicated to each contestant, such that every voter with access to any newspaper has the same campaign document from all participants. The same document could also be distributed to voters via the postal system, provided sufficient facilities were available to print it efficiently. Such measures carry the added benefit of discouraging pandering by campaigns, making it harder to say one thing to one group of voters and another to the next.

    Parties could be allowed to buy certain types of advertising only after they had paid back the cost of the "free" media (their own and perhaps some of everyone else's too). This would be one alternative to the disclosure, contribution capping, and enforcement regulations on the traditional "political funding" market.

    If we can avoid the competition over the most expensive types of media (like prime time radio and television), then honest politicians (if there are such) will be under less pressure to accept campaign donations in exchange for political favors just to reach voters.

    Yakism: the thinking advanced by me that because others are doing it, we should probably try something else. Other people's actions are, more often than not, the best examples to avoid in choosing your own actions. As far as I know, nobody has gotten this whole "nation" thing quite right yet. ;)

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  7. "For campaigns, raising money is mainly about buying media" - Yakima

    In Zambia it is about buying people!

    I agree that access to the media is critical and helps sort of ensure some level playing field. But we have to remember that in a remote part of Zambia such a concept is meaningless. National debates as suggested by MrK are useful for urbanites but may not mean much for the people in rural areas who are the majority - local radio stations are scarce.

    What matters in the villages is whether you can distribute enough bags of mealie meal to feed the constituents.

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  8. In the US, people are now speculating that Michael Bloomberg is going to run for president. Obama is still trying to get $100 million together so he can run.

    Bloomberg has an estimated personal fortune/business interests of $14 billion. He doesn't have a party (rumour is that he wants to run as an independent).

    This is why I am for electoral finance reform.

    If it goes hand in hand with a ban on private contributions to political parties or candidates, so all parties have the same amount of money highlight their message ,I am all for state financing of election campaigns.

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  9. "What matters in the villages is whether you can distribute enough bags of mealie meal to feed the constituents." -Cho

    Point well taken. I can hardly find fault with a hungry voter who chooses the combination of vague promises and maize over vague promises alone. If no party is allowed to distribute food to constituents, then the incumbent party gains an effective monopoly over food politics (unless we also want to prohibit food distribution by government as well). I don't like this solution because of how badly the people need the food (evidenced by the fact that food aid is enough to establish voter loyalty).

    I would prefer allowing parties equal rights to give away food purchased through the government directly to voters, until such time as the voters are well fed enough not to be so easily swayed. Political competition to reduce hunger with campaign funds actually sounds like a good way to evaluate the effectiveness of each party apparatus in the run up to election.

    "If it goes hand in hand with a ban on private contributions to political parties or candidates, so all parties have the same amount of money highlight their message, I am all for state financing of election campaigns. -MrK

    If the money is to come out of government coffers, then perhaps the parties could each administer the delivery of an equal share of food programme budget funds for the same period of time. The advantage of continuing to allow private donations is that then you can buy more food than the government was budgeted for.

    I would quite like to see politicians and their financial backers striving to reduce poverty better than one another in order to prove their qualifications. I can see it now, the Zambian Development Games, where political parties compete for the adoration of fans by delivering services directly to needy voters. Events would include Housing Hurdles, Long Bridge Jump, Road Tar Marathon, and the always crowd pleasing Mealie Meal Relay. Other traditional events like Verbal Gymnastics and Synchronized Spinning are excluded due to the thriving professional leagues.

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  10. "I would prefer allowing parties equal rights to give away food purchased through the government directly to voters, until such time as the voters are well fed enough not to be so easily swayed. Political competition to reduce hunger with campaign funds actually sounds like a good way to evaluate the effectiveness of each party apparatus in the run up to election." - Yakima


    hahaha!!

    I have no argument against your logic here. Difficult to refute!

    Well I suppose I should try.

    I guess one can argue that these activities reduces our people to be beggars and at the mercy of those acting like aid workers for a week or so. It infact sends the wrong signals to people, that they will be fed once the chap takes over. Although that is less of problem now, since people have come to expect that MPs never deliver. They have lost trust in the political process.

    Crucially food based corruption would be a short term fix for hunger, while a credible political process would be a good long term solution.

    So overall perhaps am happy for people not to get food through this process because the benefits (tempory satiation every five years) are less than the costs (poor MPs) in the long term.

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  11. "Crucially food based corruption would be a short term fix for hunger, while a credible political process would be a good long term solution." -Cho

    Quite right! Of course that makes the burden of your position that much heavier, in that while you must discover a certain political process which will be both credible and productive over the long term, all I must do is select which form of short term corruption is least distasteful. ;)

    I wholeheartedly agree that these voters are being constrained to sell their votes far too cheaply, perhaps in large part due to a lack of competition creating a "buyer's market". I concede that a voter who has become accustomed to consider elections as an arrangement with a political party for, "tempory satiation every five years", is being disrespected to a degree to which no citizen of a modern democracy should ever be.

    I will contend, for the sake of argument, that a voter who has been given food by one party can be expected to draw very different conclusions as to the value of his/her vote than a voter who has been given food by multiple parties. This simple, tangible communication that their vote is something of value to be contended over may have the potential to awaken far more democratic thinking in poor rural households than restrictions which limit their contact with parties to barely accessed media campaigns, however credible and egalitarian.

    Additionally, an almost universal form of political patronage is to reward members of one's campaign staff with government jobs after election. It is not implausible to suggest therefore, that an increase in the importance of delivering tangible poverty reduction to the competitive success of campaigns would result in an increase in the number and quality of government officials with development backgrounds and competency.

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  12. "This simple, tangible communication that their vote is something of value to be contended over may have the potential to awaken far more democratic thinking in poor rural households than restrictions which limit their contact with parties to barely accessed media campaigns, however credible and egalitarian."

    Yes, and to some extent it has done that. People have truly been suprised since the advent of multi-party democracy that candidates come with trucks of mealie meal:)

    But we must remember that creating a level playing field in this area(assuming each candidate can afford to distribute food) would just lead to other form of corruptions as corrupt candidates seek to out do each other.

    Now we could argue that corruption is only bad if some candidates do it more than others, if everyone did it then perhaps its not a problem. But obviously from an economic stand point the issue is that corruption misallocates resources that could go towards more productive use. Its unnecessary transaction cost just to get elected. For that reason, even if everyone was corrupt in equal measure there was a sort of corrupt level playing field, we would still argue that is second best to a world without corruption.

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  13. Cho,

    Part of the difficulty with the definition of the use of campaign funds for food aid as corruption is that it implies that somehow feeding the poor and hungry is a corrupt or corrupting act in itself. It is important therefore to examine at what point an act of charity becomes a tool of corruption when immersed in the soup of electoral politics. I suspect that the line is somewhere near where gratitude becomes obligation.

    If obligation can be removed from campaign food aid (which given secret ballots should be mostly a matter of education for individuals), then parties must rely on the gratitude of voters. In that case the main difference between "development games" and any other campaign stunt is the side effect of transferring a small amount of wealth to needy families. Voters are under no obligation to give campaign stunts more weight than policy proposals or past performance, but they might anyway.

    All over Africa there are about as many formulae for campaign financing as there are countries, as the chart in this paper illustrates:
    http://www.whofundswho.org/pubs/conf/fambom.pdf
    Most of them seem to focus on limiting the size of campaign finance and/or subsidizing campaigns with public finance, with mixed results. Employing Yakism, I figure that if one of them gets it really right then we will hear about it, so assume they are all mostly wrong and try to come up with a novel approach.

    Assuming that regulation manages to wring an accurate disclosure of campaign contributions and expenditures out of party offices, certainly I do concede that a credible process which does not reward corruption would be preferable. However development games do not necessarily have to be either corrupt or wastefully frivilous. Food aid would probably be among my least favorite events, having always preferred watching marathons over sprints.

    For example, if nine months before election day, parties were each assigned a section of urban slum, and given six months to showcase their strategy for provision of water and sewerage, including the financial disclosures, then media and voters would have three months in which to compare the results. Money which would otherwise go to paid media advertisements or bribes would be spent on the pilot project, which will generate its own free media coverage as part of the overall campaign competition.

    If each week starting with 12 weeks before the election, all the parties unveil their six month pilot projects for housing, water, electrification and transport to the public along with an accurate accounting, then parties who pave half as much rural roadway for twice as much money are going to look quite foolish. At the least some useful stuff gets built (reports from the agriculture ministry that maize forecasts have had to be lowered due to washouts of rural bridges in turn causing loss of crops in the field seem a good excuse for holding a Bridge Long Jump competition), and there is always the possibility that someone will take the challenge seriously and come up with a truly useful idea.

    I think political campaigns are a bit like festivals, people will always spend money on them no matter what their financial woes may be. The Amish ("Pennsylvania Dutch") people have a festival in which they build someone a barn. For some reason the equation of one festival to one barn seems to result in every farm having barns.

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  14. Yakima,

    I accept that a benevolent act becomes corrupt when people are obligated to alter their view based on your act.

    The issue for me is that the very act of giving conveys some information about the candidates that may be more important to the poor, therefore distorts choice. For example if the poor cared more about food shortages in the area, they may feel that the candidate who gave them more food pre-election is better qualified to handle the issue. In reality that may not be the case.

    I am unsure whether education actually helps (may be we need to be more specific on what "education" entails). What would probably be more effective is enhancing their ability to “punish” the candidates in the long term. But that again will depend on whether voters really believe their votes matter. If they think the system is corrupt anyway and that their vote is irrelevant to the decision of candidates signals from food will have a short term horizon – e.g. they’ll more or less go with the candidate who gives them more food.

    I agree that “development games do not necessarily have to be either corrupt or wastefully frivolous”. And the example you give probably shows that there are potential ways in which signaling could be improved through this process. [Your example by way is similar to the Apprentice in a different way :) ]

    However, there’s a limit to their usefulness and the extent to which ‘development games’ can really convey information about the candidates. You need to structure the “games” in a way that provides meaningful information about the role they would assume if elected. MPs in Zambia have limited levers to deliver anything in practice.

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  15. "[Your example by way is similar to the Apprentice in a different way :) ]" -Cho

    Haha! Funny you should say that, as the development games concept reminded me of a BBC "reality show" called "Castaway". Two small islands are seeded with a starting population of five persons each and the tools with which to survive and improve their condition. Each week an additional person is introduced to the environment, and spends three days on each island (alternating which island is visited first with each new castaway) before selecting on the seventh day one of the two islands on which to settle. The island with the most inhabitants after several months wins a cash prize divided amongst them. :)

    "However, there’s a limit to their usefulness and the extent to which ‘development games’ can really convey information about the candidates. You need to structure the “games” in a way that provides meaningful information about the role they would assume if elected. MPs in Zambia have limited levers to deliver anything in practice." -Cho

    Absolutely correct! DGs are much more tactical than strategic in nature, and cannot deliver the level of credible accountability you are seeking. Very much a "band-aid" solution to a gaping wound of a problem, just for use in the meantime while we hunt up a needle and suture and a plan to use them that won't result in the sort of Frankenstein's monster that some campaign finance reformers have unleashed on unsuspecting villagers. DGs won't solve the problem, but they might help raise the patient's spirits so that they don't lose hope, or the focus on the belief that the problem does in fact have solutions.

    DGs are also better as media competitions between party-sized entities, both to scale up the size (and therefore real applicability) of pilot projects, and to showcase and contrast aspects of the national development plans of each party. Individual MP candidates would have to embrace or hide from their own party's DG performance on particular issues accordingly (eg. "Can we expect the same dedication to road building demonstrated by your party's recent record-setting time in the Road Tar Marathon?", or "Why should we believe your road plan when your party only completed 30 km of the 42 km distance?"). The party which wins control over government would naturally be expected to deliver more of their promises than ones relegated to minority status.

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  16. Indeed!

    The main argument against corruption is that it raises the transaction costs and misallocates resources.

    While our DG does involve some additional transaction costs it does not really misallocate resources because something is being delivered to the people, albeit in a "second best" way - in ideal world there would be opportunities from scale economies and so forth.

    But crucially DGs seem to help improve information, although this will vary depending on the task at hand! [Certainly for Presidential candidates it would work far better than pointless national debates ]

    I think am slowly get there :)

    22 June 2007 15:00

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  17. Cho,

    We'll have you over here in the lower left hand box with Manena, Error27 and Ghandi soon enough at this rate! ;)

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  18. Worryingly so it seems!

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  19. On a more serious note, the success or failure of any attempt to regulate political finance seems to hinge on the effectiveness of transparent disclosure rules. It is hard to limit something which can't be accurately measured. Do we know of any noteworthy examples (successful or not) of people attempting to bend or break such rules?

    If we can understand how people are beating the various systems out there, and close those loopholes in designing our own, then we can at least force the politicians to be creatively corrupt.

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  20. A good question, requiring further digging.

    My general view is that "monitoring" is not a major issue in our rural areas. People by and large know who is who and who is giving people bribes. [The read across to the self policing nature of micro finance schemes in rural areas helps here - they illustrate why informal contracts work because people know each other very well in remote places].

    What is missing is simply more resources to the ECZ to police effectively. We need an independent ECZ from the top, not appointed by the President. Someone who stands aside from the President, gets their budget directly fromm Parliament and is properly resourced.

    Also they should have powers to bring forward prosecutions and investigate things without relying on the Police and so forth. They should infact have powers to bring charges against the Police if they found the police to be colluding with the powers that be.

    Thats the kind of framework I was thinking of.

    Incidentally this where I see the current Mungomba Draft Constitution as useful. See section 112 onwards.

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  21. Although pure Sakism by itself is not good, I would say that there is much more good than bad if it is properly selected and applied. The reason is that many processes and systems have been developed and tested over many years. For example, the practice of commercial law has developed over centuries in many developed countries through experience and through handling many different contingencies. Similarly there is much expertise in the developing and testing of medicines, safety procedures, etc. So rather than reinventing the wheel, adoption of these systems coupled with an understanding of the rationale behind their processes is a fast track to development.

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  22. Kafue,

    Nothing better than resurrecting an old thread!

    Indeed there's use in learning from others. International benchmarking is very important. But the question is one of policy sequencing. At what stage does international benchmarking enter in the policy development. I think it enters not in the "policy rationale" stage but in the policy check and implementation stages. In short what other countries do helps us think about what can work, ONCE we have defined the PROBLEM. This is what Saki missed and many others continue to mis

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