Thursday 15 September 2011

Speak up

Matt Yglesias recommends that people who want to see progressive policy changes should (a) badger their elected representatives about it and (b) relentlessly tell their friends and family about how progressive policies would improve their lives, even if it basically involves annoying them.
If you are in a car with me and we’re in a rush hour traffic jam, you are damn well going to listen to me talk about congestion pricing. This generally doesn’t work in Washington for national politics, but whatever it is you do I’m sure you interact with lots of “apolitical” or moderately conservative people who remark now and again about things in their life to which politics is relevant. Point this out to them. Tell them who the bad guys are. Recommend some good blogs. Your friend Bob probably thinks he doesn’t care about monetary policy, but does care about the state of the labor market. Explain it to him ... These two things are, I think, the most underrated props of conservative dominance in the United States. Conservatives write and call congress at a much higher rate than progressives, and more-or-less ordinary people hear conservative political messages from preachers and business executives all the time.

That last bit is spot on. If progressives believe that many people's lives would be improved by more redistribution, better public services or (say) widespread congestion pricing, it's odd that many of them are fairly coy about saying so outright and often prefer to keep the discussion in the realm of policy wonkishness.

Perhaps it is because conservative-friendly ideas come pre-legitimised by religion, wealth or power (not to mention a supportive media), while progressive policies often (but not always) involve considerations of the common good trumping immediate self-interest. Maybe that's a harder sell, but that's just all the more reason to put the effort into selling it.

I agree with Matt that road pricing / congestion is a case in point. The example of London shows that it would lead to improvements in quality of life and free up space to provide for buses, pedestrians and cyclists. The benefits would also overwhelmingly flow from the better off to the less well off. Yet hardly anyone seems willing to publicly advocate it. I guess they may be scarred by the experience of the lost Manchester referendum, but then that's a reason to be out there organising support and building coalitions so that the next time around there is a stronger strategy with a stronger chance of winning. In other words, don't be shy about your convictions, because you can be damn sure the other side won't be.

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