Long-sightedness in politics

How do we know long- or short-sightedness when we see it? Clearly there is the risk of polemical use, but there are some objective markers one could point to. One lies in discourse: the willingness to identify long-term objectives and build policy programmes that, rhetorically at least, are committed to their pursuit. Party manifestos are one kind of text that can be studied, often cited as evidence of unambitious or backward-looking views in the present (Zielonka, 2023). Investments are another possible indicator: the willingness to devote resources to projects that take time to mature (e.g. the building of infrastructure), or to hold back resources for future use (e.g. by creating a sovereign wealth fund), or to introduce regulations likely to produce short-term costs and long-term benefits (e.g. carbon taxing) (Boston, 2017; Smith, 2021, p. 3). Having regard for the future often means the willingness to make sacrifices in the short term.

Another indicator of long-sightedness widely invoked is consistency. Often this rests on the assumption that a certain line of policy is optimal (see e.g. the attachment of central bankers to an inflation target of 2–3 per cent), and that responsible policymaking involves minimising deviation from it. Commitment in adversity would be another way to conceive this: the willingness to stick to an agenda when progress seems in doubt or opinion turns against it. 3 Finally, as an additional marker of long-sightedness, one may refer to the sustainability of methods. This describes an actor’s willingness to pursue policies in a way that does not weaken the institutions and authority on which future deliberation and policymaking will need to rely. Transparency, capacity and clear procedure are amongst the values that may be embraced to this end (Thompson, 2010).

Jonathan White (2024). Technocratic myopia: On the pitfalls of depoliticising the future

February 13, 2024