Please lie to me: Why we're responsible for the mess that is modern politics

When I was 19 I started selling cars. 

Half my job was selling the car people were interested in. And the other half was buying the trade-in from the customer.

I learned that there were two different strategies salespeople used when people had trade ins. 

1. One strategy was 'alway ask what the customer wants' for their vehicle. 

Here's how the conversation would go:

Customer: "I like this new Pajero. How much will you give me for my Datsun 120Y?"

Salesperson: "How much do you want for it?"

Customer: "As much as I can get. What's it worth?"

Salesperson: "What do you think it's worth?"

Customer: "Four grand."

Salesperson: "FOUR GRAND! It's not worth that!"

Customer: "Well you tell me what it's worth."

It's an awkward conversation. The salesperson's head is done in because the car is only worth $250, but what's the customer supposed to say. He's essentially setting them up to lie to him. 

2. The other strategy was to 'never ask how much the person wants', and just tell the customer what the car is worth. 

Here's how the conversation would go:

Customer: "I like this new Pajero. How much will you give me for my Datsun 120Y?"

Salesperson: "Give me the keys and I'll get it valued."

Customer: "Thanks."

Salesperson: "I got it looked at. I can give you $250."

Customer: "Can you make it $350?"

Salesperson: "How about I give you a set of floor mats for your new car instead? They normally cost $150."

Customer: "Deal."

I learned to adopt the second approach. It's far less painful as a salesperson. You're not asking customers to lie to you, and the clients appreciate you just being straight up. 

But most salespeople would essentially ask the clients to lie to them, then complain that their clients were lunatics who thought their bunky cars were worth a million dollars. 

I am of the strong opinion that we do the same thing with politicians. We ask them to lie to us, we vote for the one with the best story, then we complain that politicians never keep their promises. 

Fast forward a decade and a half and I find myself interviewing politicians with a bunch of other journos. Then one day it dawns on me. We're ASKING these guys to lie to us. The entire political-media game is built around this charade where the media asks "What are you going to do about blah blah blah?" And then we publish whatever they tell us, with no financial training to be able to tell if their numbers add up. And we NEVER ask the question "and what services will you cut to be able to fund that?" Truth is, when journos are interviewing politicians, they feel super important, so it's rare to find one that will actually say "You're full of shit mate. Your numbers don't add up..." because he or she wants to be able to interview them the next time. 

Then the public picks which answers they like the most, vote, and some folks in suits form government. The can NEVER achieve their election promises, because it turns out no one has a crystal ball to predict iron ore prices, thus they can't predict tax income, thus they can't predict how much they'll even have to spend. 

And then three or four years later we do the entire thing all over again as if any promise uttered by a politician in the lead up to an election is even worth writing down. 

But I don't think we can blame the politicians. Nor can we really blame the media. Blaming those two groups is such a useless trope and it gets us nowhere. We click on the articles with the politician's promises. We ask the pollies how they're going to solve the world's problems and bring us inner happiness. And that needs to stop. 

Since when did it become the politician's and tax payer's job to fix everything in the world? Why is it even the government's job to decide who gets to marry who? Why do people in Canberra decide what we're allowed to smoke? Why are taxpayers responsible for funding everything from stadiums to home buyer incentives? How did it get like this?

It got like this because the only factors we consider when deciding who to vote for is "Who's going to promise ME the most stuff!"

But ask the average person on the street what the philosophical differences are between Liberal, Labor, and the Nats, and they couldn't tell you. 

Heck, even I could hardly tell you. 

"Well it's simple, Labor are more progressive, to the left, and Liberals are right wing. And the Nats are the same as the Liberals except in the country," I hear you explain. 

Oh really? If that were the case, you'd expect the Liberal party to be fiscally conservative, aiming to have a smaller government that does less "stuff", and believe in allowing private individuals to set their own destiny. Yet most of their members WANT to interfere in everyone's private life, have a say in who they should marry, they blow money like they just won lotto, and they've left WA in more debt that I can reasonably comprehend. That's at the end of a MINING BOOM! I'm not saying Labor could have done any better. I'm just saying "what the hell does the Liberal party actually stand for other than 'we're not Labor'?"

And don't get me started on the Labor party. What do they stand for exactly? Unions? Gay marriage? Are unions even a thing in 2017? More and more people are working for themselves and it seems Labor does more to hush their association with the unions than boast about it. They held power in Canberra for two terms and didn't say boo about gay marriage. And as soon as the right wing party comes in to power, anyone who doesn't support gay marriage is a homophobe. Give me strength. Heck, even Kevin oh seven got elected originally under the pretence that he was "fiscally conservative", and pundits more or less agreed that people voted for him because he was bassically a younger version of John Howard. Kevin oh seven's "fiscal conservatism" went flying out the window the moment the world's economy collapsed, and every school in Australia ended up with an overpriced building they didn't really need, and plasma TV sales went through the roof as anyone with a kid got $900 checks almost on a monthly basis. 

But like I said, we can only blame ourselves. 

We keep asking these guys to tell us stories. Tell us about the amazing hospital you're going to build. Tell us about how you're going to magically solve the meth problem. Tell us how you're going to somehow lower taxes, increase social welfare, create jobs, increase wages, grow businesses, fix the roads, stimulate new technology, cure cancer, reduce suicide, increase our life expectancy, improve our bank balance, reduce inflation, increase farmers' profits, reduce our grocery bill, support charities, keep us safe from all harm, make us fitter, happier, more productive...

What choice do they have? Would you vote for the candidate who tells you the truth?

Imaginary candidate: "Listen. Here's the truth. No one has any idea how to fix the meth problem. We're going to try 10 different things, measure the results, and replicate what works. But we can't promise anything. It's a worldwide epidemic, and smarter people than us are failing at it. Also, we have no idea what the world economy will look like in 12 months, or 2 years, or 3 years... so we can't promise to build anything. Here's a list of our priorities, but we don't know how far down the list we'll be able to get. And I've got some bad news. You're actually pretty wealthy with your $300,000 household income. I know you like to think you're an Aussie Battler, but you're really not. You're actually going to have to pay MORE tax than you are now if you want that new stadium. It's called maths. And why is it my job to decide who marries who? The Australian Government didn't invent marriage, so I'm not sure why we manage it. Talk to your priest or something, I don't care what you do with your life. I can't promise exactly what will happen in the future, but I can tell you what my guiding philosophy is, what my values are, and how I make decisions."

Well actually, I would vote for that candidate.