Friday, August 12, 2011

Governments and the collateral damage from instant responses

Over on Skepticslawyers, the group has run a guest post by Lorenzo, Postmodern Conservatism – guest post by Lorenzo. These are issues that have concerned me too, although I disagree with aspects of Lorenzo's analysis.

I am not going to critique the post now, nor reference my own past thinking. It is a well written post, and deserves to be read in its own right independent of anything I might say. I commend it to you.

I haven't commented on the recent UK, really English, riots because I have had nothing useful to say. The sense of outrage in the UK is palpable, as is the desire to punish.  This story from the Sydney Morning Herald probably gives an accurate feel. 

It is not easy for Governments to respond sensibly when public opinion is aroused. This story, also from the Sydney Morning Herald, provides an interesting picture of the immediate processing pressures placed upon the Australian Government system by the partially orchestrated response to the ABC Four Corners' TV program on live cattle exports to Indonesia.

The problem for Governments is that the pressure cooker atmosphere generally leads to bad responses. It really is a case of act in haste, repent at leisure. 

In the live cattle export case, the imposition of a sudden freeze imposed significant damage on an industry and to all those directly and indirectly connected with it.  To many of those on one side of the argument, the response to this would simply be tough, so what, they deserved it. That's fine, but many of the individuals affected did not deserve it, while the cost to the Australian Government of its sudden decision has now reached $A100 million and  still counting. It has also complicated relations with Indonesia.

The English riots are more dramatic. However, what we can be reasonably sure of is that in its desire to respond, to meet popular demand for punishment, the UK Government will end by imposing injustice on some. As in the live cattle case, the response is likely to be tough, so what, we must protect society.

I don't want to go into the role of the mob in English history, beyond noting that many Australian families owe their current location to that past fear. All I am saying is that we need to be aware of the damage that can be created by instant responses to popular demands or perceived threats.


Legal Eagle said...

I don't want to go into the role of the mob in English history, beyond noting that many Australian families owe their current location to that past fear.

Me! And I'm sure some of my convict forebears would have been among the looters - I boast pickpockets and thieves in the mix. But upon their remove to Australia (by transportation), they became honest citizens (married, settled down, had kids, ran their own businesses etc). Which makes me think - how many of the people in that English society are still trapped? If we took them out of there to a new country, could they reform?

Jim Belshaw said...

I always knew that you were a bad egg, LE! You are right, of course, and it's worth musing on.