Beyond policy in politics – the forth ‘suasional’ arm of government

I’m writing an op ed which argues that there’s more to politics than policy. Well that’s not news particularly in this age of ‘values based’ politics. But I want to develop an argument I began in this this essay in these terms.

We are taught that there are three arms of government the executive, the legislature and the judiciary but it is useful to remember a fourth. As the events of the last few decades have shown, politicians are persuaders. And as society becomes more complex ‘soft power’ the power of mores and expectations grows in relative importance over the ‘hard power’ of black letter law. Persuasion grows progressively more powerful relative to the other, more coercive arms of government. Indeed, the potential of ‘designed defaults’ in superannuation is an illustration of the phenomenon of soft power itself.

This provides an Opposition with opportunities to offset some of the natural advantages of incumbency that its political opponent enjoys. Whatever else might be said about him, Mark Latham mobilised the suasional arm of government from the Opposition benches of the Parliament to secure much needed reform of Parliamentary superannuation. His actions carried a double dividend. One dividend for his community in the form of better, fairer policies and another political dividend for himself and his party.

In an interview in around March 2006 Rudd spoke of the importance of the politician as social entrepreneur and cited his own discovery of this role as he became the go-between in saving a local abattoirs.

There is a great opportunity for any member of parliament at any level of government throughout the country to become a community entrepreneur. What do I mean by that? Work within market structures or normal local community structures to achieve social outcomes that benefit the community. . . I think we’ve got on our side of politics, a dual responsibility to work locally as an entrepreneur to achieve community outcomes using the resources available and then to work separately and simultaneously at a policy level to try and achieve outcomes through a change of government and overall national policy.

As I argued in the earlier essay, in the area of default super there’s a great opportunity for the Opposition to work as a social entrepreneur in advance of any implementation of government policy or suasional campaign. In the op ed I’m writing I would also like to suggest a role in improving information in markets – like the labour market. As the current draft reads

I’ve also argued that, while debate how much to liberalise our labour law, we might pay some attention to a huge labour market failure namely the ignorance we have from outside about the quality of work life within different firms that we might contemplate applying to work within. Imagine how inefficient the market for houses or cars would be if you knew almost nothing about how they performed until you bought them. That’s how the labour market is.

Right now most large firms circulate questionnaires to their employees, seeking information on a range of factors governing work satisfaction. The best managed employers have an interest in standardising this information to make it comparable across firms and publishing the results. Why? To attract the best employees. And if the Opposition could get a few firms to take the plunge, how much more might be done in office? A good question for Labor to pose in an election.

I wanted to ask for other suggestions. In what other ways and areas might the Opposition use its bully pulpit to effect worthwhile social change?

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Gummo Trotsky
Gummo Trotsky
17 years ago

Why “bully pulpit”?

Mark Bahnisch
17 years ago

It’s an expression Teddy Roosevelt coined for the persuasional power of the Presidency.

Gummo Trotsky
Gummo Trotsky
17 years ago

Ah – and there I was thinking it meant something like a talk-back radio spot or a Hun column.

David Rubie
David Rubie
17 years ago

I’m not sure about the employee survey stuff. Most of them seem designed to find out where the employers next legal suit might be coming from, not as an independently comparable measure against other companies.

Latham seemed to cut through more because he didn’t stay on one topic for any length of time that the liberals could pin him on (like a faster version of the Howard philosophy of government). The parliamentary super thing seemed like a fluke.

17 years ago


The only worthwhile mission statement for any party to promote is to promise to get out the way when in government seeing that in most cases they casue more problems then they cure.

Case in point…. media laws.

I suggest anyone go take a read of the media laws and make a quick summary by listing them on a bit of paper. You will then clearly see that most of the regulations are either useless, anti- competitive or downright contradictory. Some are even there for rent seeking big league “welfare queens” like Kerry Packer. One minister once said that we needed to protect the investment made made these compnies. For Christ sake, why not simply protect the Fish&chip shop’s investment as well as PBL’s.

We don’t need a “political entrepreneur” seeing that sort of thing only leads to grief as rent seekers move and make all sorts of representations that will invariably turn into rorts. Demands are unlimited.

I am very doubtful about Rudd’s representation about those abbatoirs and his effectiveness. Maybe it was the worst possible decision in the long or maybe there was uncalled for tactics that forced the company to remain in the town.
Or maybe, his succuss can simply be put away as a statistical win…. a long shot.

Andrew Norton
17 years ago

Nick – I’m not sure how you measure persuasional power, but it would have to have grown mighty fast to maintain a ‘relative’ position with black letter law, which continues to be produced at an amazing rate.


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