I’ve just read that Simon Jenkins – or his headline writer, at any rate – wants an iconoclast to be the next governor of the Bank of England. So I thought about that, and about something else, and all things considered, weighing up the pros and the cons of the matter, it’s most definitely in the best interests of everyone concerned, that, if the person running the Bank of England should be an iconoclast, then the person running the country right now, and in perpetuity while we’re at it, really ought to be a psychopath.
You think I’m joking? Well, I’m not (No, I am, a bit, but run with it). This idea might be controversial, but it’s a good one. This is the problem it would address: Prime ministers are there to make decisions, but too often they do not. Too often they are scared off by the visceral opposition of the vocal minority. You might say this is how democracy works, but not when minorities are mobilised against majorities, and partisan argument is favoured over rational argument.
One example of this might be the government’s failure to reverse Gordon Brown’s 50p income tax hike. Admittedly, the Coalition brought it down to 45p, but they really should have taken it back to the original 40p rate. It might, though, have been judicious, after explaining why the former PM was mendacious and vandalous in introducing the higher rate in the first place, just as he realised the public were going to kick him out at the election, to have then said something like this: ‘We understand that to tax the highest income earners at punitive rates, in some vengeful effort to make it look as though we are on the side of the least well off, is idiotic and counter-productive. But we do believe that an extra one or two pence on the higher rate is manageable in the short term. The most wealthy already pay more than their fair share of income tax, but they have broad shoulders.’
They could have said something like that, but they didn’t. They could have said that piling taxes on the economy at a time of recession is not the best of ideas, and that to do so is to address the wrong problem with the wrong solution, but they didn’t.
Yet the specifics of each decision are not what is important here. If a majority truly believe that the solution to outrageous deficit at a time of recession is more tax, so be it. The primary problem remains the same: that of prime ministers and governments not making the decisions they think right and in the best interests of the country. If government is unwilling to make the decisions they genuinely believe in our best interests, then why do we have them and why do we pay good money to keep the machinery going?
So, why do they do this? They do it for a number of reasons, no doubt, but the prime reason is, and I know I’m being charitable here, the prime reason is their humanity. Or should I say their human-ness? Like most normal people, politicians will follow the path of least resistance, they will compromise on their beliefs to save themselves, and they will allow their feelings and their empathy to get the better of them. This, we don’t need. We need them to make a decision based on reason and logic, and on a comprehensive analysis of the situation followed by policy proposals best designed to extricate us from the mess in which we currently find ourselves. We then need them to implement those decisions without fluffing it because they have the human frailties everyone else possesses.
And that’s where the psychopath comes in. Psychopaths do not suffer this weakness; their emotions are shallow and they will not be deflected from their purpose by worrying too much that others might think them nasty. There might be some downsides, of course, like superficiality, egocentricity and impulsiveness, but some might argue we have plenty of that already. And, to some, this person might also sound a little like a dictator, but he (or she) is not. We would still elect them and by extension not elect them if it turns out we don’t like what they do. And if we are worried they might start pogroms and suchlike, we should remember that many psychopaths are not violent.
The thrust of Simon Jenkins’ article was not really about bringing in an iconoclast, but about bringing in Adair Turner because he seems to advocate most closely what Jenkins would like done in the economy. This is to be expected, and is what most political commentators do, but he did have something interesting to say. Speaking of Britain’s economic managers, he says, ‘They desperately need someone with the guts for new ideas.’
Well, I’m sure this is the case. But there are lots of ideas already out there, and plenty of people to advocate them. What we really need is political leadership from someone not only with the guts to have ideas, but with the strength of character to see them implemented, right or wrong. And for that we need someone who is just a little bit psychopathic.