A recent satirical heading in The New Yorker “Earth endangered by new strain of fact resistant humans” reminded me of my oft stated contention that the problem with democracy is that we give everyone the vote. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that only people who think like me, who support the same candidates I support, or the same party, should be allowed to vote. Democracy is all about not just tolerating but embracing a diversity of ideas.
But what I am suggesting is that the complete lack of evidence-based decisionmaking in the democratic process means that it truly is broken, that there is indeed a strain – I prefer to call it a herd – of fact-resistant voters, who simply shortcut the decision making process by picking the candidate who shouts the loudest, has the most familiar name or just looks like a really good man. (No accident that the stats show the tallest candidate often wins – that’s what leadership looks like to the herd). It is these – the ignorant, the uninformed, the can’t be bothered – who are responsible for our broken democracy.
My frustration is magnified today as the voting papers go out for our local body elections. A postal vote in itself belying the importance of this decision in Auckland, a city which is home to fully one third of our country’s population, with its infrastructure groaning under the load of rampant growth, and its ratepayers under serious financial stress as property prices and rental levels skyrocket.
Faced with a certainty that we will elect a new leader – for that is what the mayor is, a leader who ‘rules’ by influence rather than decree – we must choose between a career politician (retired from a lifetime career as a Member of Parliament) and a range of business people and others, none with anywhere near the public profile of the man from the Beehive (what we call our parliament buildings), Phil Goff.
Researching the candidates, one stands out for me. A business leader, who resigned her job as CEO of one of New Zealand’s biggest and fastest growing companies, a company which Forbes named last year as the world’s most innovative growth company, a company with an enterprise value of over $2billion. Vic Crone left her no-doubt high paying corporate gig to fight the good fight, based on her plan for making Auckland great, talking the fiscal-responsibility talk. Having seen the economic impact of having a successful businessman running the country, I’m personally attracted the opportunity to elect a successful businesswoman to lead our biggest city.
To my frustration, the election debates that I have had have mostly been completely free of any critical assessment of the candidates’ respective abilities to get the job done, nor even clarity on what that job actually is. Phil’s credentials for Mayor are all about who he has been – an Aucklander born and bred, a long time MP, a political party leader (who was never actually elected to run the country). Those are facts. But when asked what he has achieved, what evidence there is of a direct influence on outcomes, his supporters simply say that he is a good man. I cannot argue with any of that. How does one debate what one man has been and is, with what one woman has done, managed, led and achieved?
Personally, I prefer to put the fate of my city in the hands of someone who has actually run a major enterprise, with real money and real accountability to shareholders. I’m voting Vic because she understands that you can’t spend what you don’t earn, that the ability to tax the ratepayer does not present a bottomless pit of funding for pet projects, and that to spend where it is needed, the money needs to be saved elsewhere. Victoria Crone has done the sums, herself.
As I see it, Auckland’s biggest problem, and its biggest opportunity, is growth. The growth is happening. Who better to lead up through it than the woman who until very recently was the leader of the world’s most innovative growth company?
I’m not asking you to vote with me – I’m simply asking you to think, to read to consider the evidence – before you vote for whoever you believe, based on the evidence, will be best for Auckland. Don’t join the herd of fact-resistant humans whose motto may well be that telling statement, apparently going back to Plato “don’t confuse me with facts, my mind is made up”.