Election Shamans

John William Waterhouse: The Magic Circle // Public domain

Do you also feel that communication is somehow getting faster and easier for us before national election? Status updates, clickbait headlines, short TikTok videos, and Instagram photo captions. If you cannot condense information into three words, do not even bother saying anything.

Perhaps my age and nostalgia are prompting this, although it might have always been this way, just via analog methods. But what I observe, even without nostalgia, is the decline of electoral agendas. For example, the Smer party program in 2012 was almost 16,000 words. Now, it is not even 2,500. The Oľano party program had over 7,000 words, yet 50 days before the election, there is none in sight. The SNS party program, previously 3,500 words, remains absent. Even newcomers Hlas lack a discernible program.

Of course, this is not universal. Some parties have gone to great lengths to produce a program. But it does not really matter. The program will not win them the election. The campaign is a set of billboard catchphrases. Politicians employ slogans to harness the spirit of the times, the proverbial “Zeitgeist.” And that are the current prices; food prices, energy prices, mortgage prices…

Billboards promise cheaper food (some even in state supermarkets!), cheaper energy, and cheaper mortgages. Some of them just like that, some of them have concrete measures behind them. However, they consist solely of a politician simply threatening, ordering and banning particular stores, banks or power plants – from a position of power granted by a respectable electorate.

Yet, dictating prices is akin to controlling the weather. Politicians are modern shamans who try to convince us that shaking their rattles and dancing wildly will summon rain and lower prices. Their achievement is not to prove it (because they cannot), but to convince us that they can.

The problem for us voters is that, like the weather, the economy is an extremely complex environment. For example, if we impose maximum prices on supermarkets, it will set off a chain of events that will ripple through the economy. Supplier-customer relations, the composition of supply, the rate of investment will change. The average citizen will not notice any of this. They will only notice that something is wrong when the shops introduce a rationing system for certain goods, or when these goods disappear from the shelves altogether. And sometimes even then, most people do not connect cause and effect. Otherwise, the example of Hungary would have taught us a lesson long ago.

Lower prices are just an illusion. The regulated price tag does shine, but we “pay” differently – with less choice, lower economic growth and wages, a worsening business environment, and higher government debt.

Originally published in Slovak in Hospodárske noviny, 14/08/2023

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