The political economy of the reform of political parties
Political parties play a key role in solving collective action and social choice problems, as explained by John Aldrich in "Why Parties?" in its two editions. Parties have been necessary to reduce transaction costs in politics, although their role has changed with technology and with the evolution of social conflicts. In Europe these days there is a call for democratic regeneration, which is urgent in the case of social democratic parties to fight the populist and extreme right movements that emerge from the democratic malaise that has accelerated with the financial crisis. Parties seem today the vehicle for professional politicians that appear detached from ordinary citizens. An agenda for reform should look at the human capital strategies of political parties and at their governance. But reforms need to be realistic. In the world of 24 hour news, politics needs to have a professional component. In democratic societies, political activity is always going to be a labour intensive task. Primary elections have been seen by some as a panacea, but they fit with difficulties in political systems that are not presidential, and since machine politics has an advantage in these mainly internal elections, they do not make life easy for political entrants. Social democratic parties could explore ways of organizing people that connect with the idea of recovering the attachment of these parties with working and ordinary people. For example, the main task of the grass roots could be to help economic activities with a social dimension, such as cooperatives and other business where the workers have a high degree of control. The grass roots could have as priority to get involved in this sort of activities, as workers or consumers, and promote their expansion, together with the support of social assistance work. All these will not be easy, as more and more citizens have a consumption relationship with politics, with experiences in one individual party that are shorter and shorter in time. But a close look at how parties organize and select their personnel will be a key ingredient of fighting democratic malaise.