Giving up on political news


I’ve been trying to cut out politics news from my reading this week. That might seem strange, given my line of work, but I think the news stories of the past couple of days have underlined how empty most political news really is. The news stories about the government's justice U-turn focus on what a political mess it is for David Cameron. Likewise, the NHS stories of the last few weeks have given more time to discussing Andrew Lansley and the electoral damage to the Prime Minister than discussing the reforms themselves.

Journalists and government press men have a habit of focusing on the political sides of a news story, rather than policy. This is understandable – most people care more that their team wins than how it does – but it’s not very useful if you care more about how people's lives are affected by events than being able to wave your party's flag. Economics blogger Eli Dourado made the point on his blog recently, arguing that the importance of politics is overrated:

“Taking a commercial or economic perspective on history can show you how much politics has been oversold. [The IEA's Stephen] Davies shows that, for instance, the invention of mass production, the shipping container, the birth control pill, and the Internet have been arguably more important over the last century than any presidential election.”

If economic innovation makes so much more of an impact on people’s lives than politics, who cares who wins the next election? As Eli argues further on in that post, politicians can rarely act on their preferences. Even if we had an economically literate liberal in charge instead of David Cameron, his or her freedom action would be tightly constrained by public opinion and Parliament. (This point is truer in the US than the UK, which has a less strict separation of powers, but still pertinent.) A constrained executive is necessary in a free society, but it implies that politics might not as important as the energy many people devote to it.

Instead of political news, I’m spending more time reading about technology (sites like Wired, New Scientist and H+), development economics (Paul Romer’s charter cities, debates about what the South Sudanese government should do first) and the history of culture and commerce (PDF). Most of the day's political news is so irrelevant that, so far, I haven't missed it at all.