Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Political Will: We Need to Do Better

I have argued before why/how much I hate the phrase political will.  It came up again in student presentations about various security threats.  So, I have more to spew about it.

When we say we need political will or we lack political will do something, what we are really saying is: "there are political impediments and I do not have the time or the imagination to figure out how I can make my preferred policy stance politically attractive."

And that is the real trick.  Sure, we need to figure out what works better, but we also need to figure out how the policy that works better is attractive enough for politicians to support.  So, when figuring out the policy implications of one's research, perhaps one thing to keep in mind is whether the policy stance is politically attractive, politically unattractive or perhaps can be molded into something that is politically possible.

Which means figuring out what politicians need/want--how does the policy stance either help the politician's chances of gaining/staying in office or at least avoiding doing harm to such chances.  This is NOT easy, which is why folks will just say we need more political will/resolve and then wave hands or shrug shoulders.

This is particularly difficult in international relations because the domestic political rewards for success are rare, but the penalties for failure can be steep (see the abundant work on what happens to those who start and then lose wars).

Another key problem is that many policies require short term costs and promise benefits only in the long term.  Advocating such stuff is always going to run into a "political will shortage" as the incentives for politicians will be lacking.  See climate change.  Or don't see it as it is politically easier to ignore than to develop policies to prevent/address.  Indeed, prevention is almost always a problem for many policy problems since the incentives are hard to develop.  If the predicted calamity does not happen because of the steps taken, it is hard to claim credit--non-events are not media friendly.  See Y2K, for example.

Anyhow, I pose no solutions, but just advocate that we think about the political attractiveness of our proposed policy solutions and perhaps ponder how to make them easier to market.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Whenever the words 'political will' are uttered I always think of this: