22 November 2007

Political Entrepreneurs

You may find it interesting to listen to my friend Henry Farrell on bloggingheads.tv discussing the "celebri-tization" of politics (among other things) with Dan Drezner. The conversation is prompted in part by Drezner's recent essay in the con/neo-con leaning National Interest ~ "Foreign Policy Goes Glam." I have weighed in on related matters here and here and here in the past and tend to agree with Henry on this issue. My sense is that Bono, Angelina Jolie, et. al. bring panache to the privatization of policy issues, nothing more. And if we find the underlying privatization dubious the panache is not redeeming. I do not think famine, epidemic, war & peace, etc. properly are matters of philanthropy. In my view Al Gore and his campaign and Bill Gates and his foundation and Erik Prince and his Blackwater mercenaries [1 2 3 4 5 6 7] all are privatizing and moralizing politics, both domestic and international, in highly dubious ways.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Power is, and always has been, sexy. Thus it is understandable that many people want power, or to at least a chance to rub elbows with the powerful.

22 November, 2007 16:05  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I gather you are exaggerating to prove a point. I aggree with you that important public problems should be not be disregarded by the public, or that philantropy should bail the rest of us out. Still, it is unwarranted to say that it is 'nothing more' than bringing panache to privatization.

Bono et. al. have a lot of money. They like paying taxes, but not so much as to remain taxpayers of Ireland for instance (as far as I know). But they do like spending considerable shares of their money themselves on 'do-good- projects across the world. Helping out, in particular in developing countries is not an easy task. Many national aid agencies do good jobs, but because they spend public monies they must expend a lot of effort to demonstrate how they spent that money. The publicity surrounding these megastars - and their projects - may be a cheaper way to do this. Also, with many private actors, there are more actors to experiment with different forms of giving aid, different partners and so on. Public agencies can of course also experiment, and they frequently do, but I think that to a great extent they mimic eachother. You could try to compare yearly reports or strategy papers from various national aid agencies. They are VERY similar.

I have no preference for either 'public' or 'private' enterprises. I am just bringing out some necessary and unavoidable relative 'downsides' to the public agencies in comparison to some 'upsides' of private actors such as Bono.

Of course, Bono et.al. MUST rely on a relatively large organization with a bureaucracy and so on. I do NOT assume that there is more slack in government than in the private sector.

I am saying that political oversight (from national politicians) is expensive because they have to have relatively short-term evaluations for instance. Bono might be freer to set the time frame within which his organization should evaluate projects, and the terms to use.

In my book, then, Bono is a person who (very humanly) wants to both do good and look good.

That Prince fellow is more concerned, so it seems to me, with doing well for himself.

25 November, 2007 08:38  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...


I am not making a joke. We "like" Bono et. al. and dislike Prince. But I see scant difference between them.

Prince is motiated by his religious conictions and what he takes to be patroitism. I may consider those iews nutty (maybe dangerous), but I think his commitments are sincerely held. He is different from Bono only to the extent that he is making a direct profit from providing "security." Bono makes indirect profit from the PR he receives drumming up "aid."

I think we might agree that there are different ways to implement policy (priate, public, mixed campaigns). But the basic policy ddecisions are not best seen as charity in my iew. they are political deicsions and out to be made democratically (or at least by democratically accountable agents).

25 November, 2007 13:24  

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