Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Democracy or Fallacy?

It only occurred to me the other day that one of the greatest hurdles in solving the world's problems is that we don't live in a democracy.  Not even close.  Most people would probably agree that it takes a balanced cross-section of skills to make a society run smooth.  The right mix of, say, doctors, scientists, engineers, carpenters, teachers, artists, and so on.  It's impossible to say what the exact ratio should be, but what we can say is that in a democracy each should get an equal say in what's best for the country.  Now, it's true we all get an equal right to vote.  But in a developed and (relatively) stable country like the UK a vote doesn't count for much as the alternatives are so similar.  We only have three main parties and two of them are in power!  So every couple of years or so the doctors and the scientists, etc., each get to vote in some fairly meaningless election, whereas every day it is only politicians that get to vote in the important legislation-making decisions.  Now, if doctors know about medicine and carpenters are skillful with wood, what are the skills that set politicians apart?  There are a lot of negative answers to this one, but keeping positive, politicians are good at making arguments.  Essentially, they are good at having opinions, and making the case for those opinions.

Ah, I hear you argue, but politicians may come from any background.  This is true, but in no one's imagination is the make-up of any political body representative of the population at large.  Take the US congress.  Of its 535 members, 222 of them are ... wait for it ... lawyers.  Ten of them are scientists.  The latter group are trained to ascertain facts.  The former group are trained in the selective use of facts to win arguments.  With whom would it be best to entrust our most important decisions?

Finally, to illustrate this point most sharply, I want to re-tell a story I read about the UK Chancellor, George Osborne.  He is currently grappling with the biggest economic challenge of our era, maybe ever; a problem which no one understands.  It's comforting to note then that Osborne has no formal training in economics.  But there is one thing he is outstanding at, illustrated nicely by this tale.  At the age of 17 George was due to take part in a debate about nuclear disarmament, and he was arguing the case for maintaining a nuclear deterrent.  A tall order in itself, but as he rose to speak he was called away to play in a rugby match. Leaving his notes behind, some guy in the audience stood and read them for him.  He won unanimously.  He won, without even being there, by the strength of his arguments only.  Just as a footnote, Osborne didn't even know he wanted to be a politician, he just fell into a role of researcher at the Conservative Office and then a speech writer (of course) for William Hague.

So, the country (world) is being run be a bunch of individuals who are very good at getting their point across, sometimes despite the facts.  But then, of course, it is just as ludicrous to consider that we have a referendum on every state decision.  Maybe if we've got a point to make we all need to get together an stand outside a church ... no, hold on, don't think that's such a good idea either.