In the political news of the last few weeks – the minister’s husband’s porn, the dirty tricks website, the home-video address to the nation – we have the stereotypical last days of a failing government.
What causes this syndrome? It could be an effect of desperation on the part of the government; knowing the odds are against them anyway, they try long shots to get any chance of winning. Most or all of the long shots backfire, but they don’t have that much to loose.
Another possibility is the media attitude. The media is often accused of bias, but I have always felt they are more biased towards what seems like a good story than to any political position. Part of what makes a good story is a familiar overriding narrative – history may be one damned thing after another, but there’s no satisfaction in reporting that. The tragedy of a dying government is a good strong theme you can fit events into, so events that fit the theme are more likely to be reported.
I don’t think either of these is the real reason, plausible as they are. The real glue that keeps government – particularly the party-political part of government – together is loyalty founded on the expectation of future favours. A government without a realistic chance of still being in power in twelve months just doesn’t have any leverage to keep people in line. The result is petty treason: leaks, frauds, and personal vendettas overwhelm the overall direction.
This applies also to the press. As has been evidenced again by the McBride saga, the lobby journalists are very much insiders in the system. They are as keen to qualify for future favours as any backbench M.P. And, like the backbenchers, when there is no expectation of future favours (or punishments), they find themselves free to report what a year previously they would have covered up or at least spun in a less damaging way.
My reason for bringing this up is that it is impossible to understand our system of government, with its millions of employees, contractors and valueless activity, without understanding that patronage is the gravity that shapes it. Almost every political question, whatever the theories and ideals that seem to impinge on it, is eventually decided on the basis of who gets the loot – either in economic value or in more influence, meaning more opportunity to channel loot to others and thereby control them.
To quote one of my favourite lines of Mencius Moldbug’s:
If seventeen officials need to provide signoff for you to repaint the fence in your front yard, this is not because George W. Bush, El Maximo Jefe, was so concerned about the toxicity of red paint that he wants to make seventeen-times-sure that no wandering fruit flies are spattered with the nefarious chemical. It is because a lot of people have succeeded in making work for themselves, and that work has been spread wide and well.