Public interest should aspire beyond mediating conflicts between individual interests
After yesterday’s impromptu post and getting ahead of myself for tomorrow’s which is significant for radicalists and historians (presume @towncrier96, fellow NaBloPoMo participant, knows all about that), fallen behind today’s post (like I said yesterday, caribou poop messed my plans up!), so today’s article won’t go as far as I initially thought. I’m sure much of my material is dry enough already, but I hope you’ll be patient as I continue to lay the groundwork towards showing how and why my public interest model works.
Straight to the point, for such a well-cited concept that has such significance when it comes to decisions that could affect so many, public interest is not a well defined term. Wikipedia provided three definitions of public interest ( the categories are mine):
- Technical: according to the Random House Dictionary, is “1. the welfare or well-being of the general public; commonwealth. 2. appeal or relevance to the general populace: a news story of public interest.
- Economic: Economist Lok Sang Ho … defines the public interest as the “ex ante welfare of the representative individual.”
- Political: The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales argues that … each circumstance needs to be assessed based on criteria such as the relevant public, wants, and constraints. The key to assessing any public interest decision is transparency of the decision making process, including balancing competing interests.
- Add to this list a democratically inclined interpretation by which public interest is addressed when approval is given by the people affected, an approach sometimes termed social license.
The problem I have with all of these definitions that they all fail to aspire to consider the potential of a community. They all treat people as an accumulation of independent interests rather than pondering the creative and productive possibilities when thought of as a group that could learn from and inspire each other.
This is a major issue I especially have with macroeconomics as represented by Lok San Ho’s definition cited above. Microeconomics studies through the individual perspective, but though macroeconomics treat economies as a whole, it measures them as a summation of individuals rather than truly considering that a group is so much more than its singular parts.
At least the technical definition accounts for overall welfare and well being, but public interest should reach beyond just resolving conflicts between individual interests. Public interest should aspire to enhance, explore and/or contribute towards achieving and understanding our overall potential capability and well being as a people.
Through that ambition, perhaps we could all then begin to care more about how we are as a society just as much as we are as individuals.