The Queensland government has a debt problem and it’s asking for your help to solve it, or at least that is the pitch for Strong Choices, a website which gives you some say in the process by allowing you to decide how to repay debt using actual figures.
It’s an interesting experiment in participatory democracy which I suspect will never again be attempted in this format.
I’m interested in feedback, as I’m certainly not opposed to this type of exercise in principal. I just have problems with the practice.
The premise is that you can adjust government expenditure, income and assets and see what effect each of them has on the state debt.
This is confusing for a number of reasons.
- We vote for Liberal governments because they promise to be low tax, so why does this site put tax increases on the agenda?
- There are just too many choices. In practice many of these would be ruled out by government right from the beginning. That they are left in the website process makes completing
- The site is meant to help the government sell its plans to privatise assets, but the way it is set up I think it highly unlikely it will lead many people to conclude asset sales are necessary.
- There are different economic consequences for different actions that need to be modelled. For example, if I take away assistance to first home buyers it may have a flow-on effect on stamp duty income, not to mention state taxes paid by people in the housing industry.
Worst, at the end of the process there is no guarantee that the government will pay any attention to what you have submitted.
I suspect very few will complete the survey, and those that do will be like me – curious, and not to be taken seriously.
There is room for computer simulations to educate people about the choices that governments have to make, but if that is what you want to do you call in a computer gaming company to design a game, rather than a pollster. And you don’t make any promises about paying attention to the game results.