The picture in this post is an infographic built by Pedro Cruz. The circles represent portuguese companies. The bigger the circle, the more politicians where involved in managing it. You can find it here:

He called it “An ecosystem of Corporate Politicians“, I call it an X-Ray of a broken political system.

The dataset includes data from 1975 to 2013. Which shows that this is not just a problem to be fixed, it’s a whole tradition of mixed interests and loyalties. I, for one, have long ago lost all faith in the political parties available. Whenever there is an election, I get myself out of the house to stand in line, show my ID card and push a blank vote down the ballot box. It’s my way of saying that I care, but that none of the options available make any sense to me.

Now, seeing the way major companies are organised around the political system, I can’t help but feel a bit more of dismay and, this is new, a lot more anger towards the political class.

Three players and no communication

Just keep this in mind, our PM is a social-democrat faced with a country taking financial hits from all sides, he is therefore forced to resolve all these issues of alliances between companies and opposing parties to get anything done. While he does that, we get news from him saying that things are looking up with no clear signal that they in fact are. Taxes are still high, starting a profitable company sounds like pulling off a miracle and some families are at the brink of poverty.

On the other side of things, the Socialist Party is a joke. Their communication strategy is to wait for any action by the social democrats and to counter it with an ideological speech. There is no clear plan, no actionable ideas, just shouts and soundbites against the prime minister.

The communist parties do pretty much the same, trying to rally up the middle and lower class towards demands of better quality of life and most of the time undermining any scarce effort for a joining of hands towards a solution.

As for the President, well, there is nothing I can say about him because I haven’t seen any action on his part. Ever. So he’s the non-playing character of this system.

In this scenario I don’t trust any of the remaining members of our government to be virtuous and make the right decision if they have to choose between the people or their own companies (and well-being).

Hacking it to fix it

Have you ever worked with an old computer? Or even an old software at your job that everybody hates and that stopped being efficient a million years ago?

I am going to take a leap here and say that if you answered any of those questions affirmatively that computer or software was soon replaced with a newer model. Sadly we can’t just throw our politicians out of a window like we did in the past. Also, I don’t expect to see this government passing laws that enforce political independence from private companies.

The solution I see is to raise the bar on political scrutiny. In a balanced social system, this scrutiny would come from journalist and media companies. In this status quo journalists have little resources and whether they want to or not, their publications are in some way tied to some of the major portuguese companies.

In Portugal, Political Scrutiny, good or bad, needs to come from hackers and geeks. People eager to learn and eager to build things that help others. And there are already some good examples out there about what can be done.

One of them is a site where people can view what political promises were made by their mayor.

To help fix this system, we could take that idea one step further and list relevant political actions and laws passed, with names of those involved and the private companies they work with. The goal would be to bring just a bit more transparency to politics. Of course it wouldn’t work forever, but it would at least serve as a deterrent.

What’s the use ?

Probably nothing. This idea will by no means result in a complete fix for the broken system. The only good fix would be a full reboot but we simply can’t afford it. We have however entered a time when we must take matters into our own hands.

  • Patch it wherever possible,
  • Build new tools to empower citizens,
  • Make it more transparent,
  • Throw away ideology in favour of practical and effective projects.

We have sat on our hands and the political class had their opportunity to show results. It’s about time we take action.