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View Full Version : Why do we allow unqualified people to run the country?


GuanoLad
12-30-2003, 07:05 PM
Democracy allows a country to be run by the people for the people. This is quite possibly a mistake.

We elect someone into office because they have a nice smile, are charismatic, and kiss babies. They can talk a lot of encouraging stuff about things most people only have a very tiny grasp of understanding. In the end it comes down to choosing the best of a bad bunch.

Then once they are in Office, they are assigned portfolios. So someone who has never had any formal education in the topic is suddenly put in charge of transport and roads, for example.

So they are then given assistants, and advisors, and have meetings with experts, and prognosticators, and experienced educated people in the subject of roads and transport and cars and fuel and stuff. This is good.

But these are the same advisors and experts that any other Politician would be given, no matter who had won the election. Even if they were the opposition. So the defining part of what makes them who they are, and makes them feel like they are contributing to this highly paid crappy job of Minister for Transportation (or whatever the US calls that kind of position), is to not just be a spokesperson, but to actually staret fiddling around and putting their personal stamp on the proposals somewhere.

Isn't this highly dangerous? Why should we allow this unqualified person to wield so much power? In the end, aren't the advisors and experts the ones who really should be in complete control of this important part of life?

sturmhauke
12-30-2003, 07:20 PM
In the US, elected officials generally pick their own staff. The more important staff selections are often subject to approval from other elected officials. Yeah, sometimes we get incompetent officials, but if we did things the way you suggest we would have much more corruption and it would be more entrenched.

Kizarvexius
12-30-2003, 07:22 PM
Setting aside the temptation to indulge in a lot of Douglas Adams quotations, the short answer is this: because it works.

Even though it has plenty of problems, democracy seems to be more effective than any other system in guaranteeing the common welfare and and the continuence of civil liberties.

Master Wang-Ka
12-30-2003, 07:29 PM
Monarchy is based on the idea that one man is smarter than a million men.

Democracy is based on the idea that a million men are smarter than one man.

Neither theory is correct. We go with what works.

Wealth and/or power are no indication of moral fiber or fitness to run a country. Wealth and power indicate only that one was able to accumulate wealth and power in some fashion, including inheriting it. When such persons are in power, all one can really do is hold them accountable for their actions, and LET THEM KNOW they're going to be held accountable for their actions.

...and if you don't do this, you're in deep doodoo.

(apologies to the estate of Robert Heinlein, for the pillagement of some of his cooler quotes)

John Mace
12-30-2003, 07:32 PM
From the OP:
But these are the same advisors and experts that any other Politician would be given, no matter who had won the election. Even if they were the opposition.
Your thesis is based on this key assumption, which is flatly wrong.

GuanoLad
12-30-2003, 07:46 PM
Originally posted by John Mace
Your thesis is based on this key assumption, which is flatly wrong. Okay. I'm willing to accept this if I knew more about how they choose their advisors. Anyone got any info on that?

John Mace
12-30-2003, 07:58 PM
Originally posted by GuanoLad
Okay. I'm willing to accept this if I knew more about how they choose their advisors. Anyone got any info on that?
Assuming you mean what happens in the US, the president elect selects his cabinet (rarely, if ever, containing members from the opposition party) who then in turn select their subordinates, etc, etc, etc. The entire civil service organization is not overturned, of course. The lower you are in the pecking order, the more likely you'll ride out an administration change. But it's the higher-ups who set policy, not the grunts.

GuanoLad
12-30-2003, 08:03 PM
I knew all that. I know how a Cabinet is structured. I'm talking about the advisors - the experts who aren't politically motivated, but are merely knowledgable and experienced in the field concerned. These are the people who will quite likely be the same individuals called upon by whoever the Minister may be, whichever Party they are in.

Unless... I suppose the advisors may be carefully chosen due to their political stance. But I am not privy to that kind of thing, so I'm not sure if that's the case or not.

FaerieBeth
12-30-2003, 09:31 PM
Originally posted by GuanoLad
I'm talking about the advisors - the experts who aren't politically motivated, but are merely knowledgable and experienced in the field concerned.

Here's your mistake. These wonderful 'neutral' experts simply don't exist.

China Guy
12-30-2003, 10:34 PM
You prefer a strong arm dictator? I mean, Bush certainly has his drawbacks but I'd take him over any number of thugs ruling for life.

GuanoLad
12-30-2003, 11:20 PM
I don't believe we only have the two options: unqualified boob, or evil murderous dictator. There are grades in between.

I was just wondering why we don't elect (democratically, probably) qualified people, instead of folks who are not educated in the areas they need to be to handle such important parts of our lives.

pervert
12-30-2003, 11:43 PM
One of the reasons, GuanoLad is that most people don't care about elections at all. We don't elect qualified people* is that most voters don't care very much about doing so. They either don't care about the election at all, or they only care about a particular issue or set of issues to the exclusion of other concerns. So, election campaigns tend to be about garnering excitement not about choosing good governors.

At some level, this is a good thing. We have established traditions of government which are not subject to the whims of those in office. At least to the extent that most people simply go about their lives and don't have to concern themselves with who is in office.

*I think that many elected officials are qualified and most do a credible job. But I agree that some are not. We certainly don't ask them to take tests to determine their knowledge of various subjects. Does anyone remember that senetorial race in Minnesota, I think, where one TV channel asked all of the candidates a series of questions live. Things like recent news, world events, and government processes. Things a Senator should have at least a passing knowledge of. The Lindon Le Rousse candidate beat the Republican and Democratic candidates. It was embarassing enough, that it never happened again.

don't ask
12-31-2003, 12:21 AM
I understand what GuanoLad means about Australian politics. Take the new leader of the opposition, Mark Latham. His history is pretty common amongst Australian politicians. He went to university, got a degree, worked for Gough Whitlam as a researcher, worked for Bob Carr as a researcher, became the Labor mayor of Liverpool, became a Labor politician. That's it - all he has done is work for his party and sucked up to the right people. Many politicians have no claim to any special skills, they are merely popular with the right people in the party. If you spend enough years in either major party, keep your nose clean and make a few crucial friends you will be given a seat to stand for that assures you a seat in parliament As PJ O'Rourke says "Politics is the business of getting power and privilege without possessing merit."

All the advisors on staff for politicians are in fact party flacks. Sometimes a politician will appoint an academic type that has an interest in a particular field. Bob Carr has on staff a team of media advisers rather than political advisers - appearance being easier to fake than substance. Nominally the heads of Public Service departments are neutral - willing to serve any government - but politicians routinely interfere for political ends. Presently Canberra public servants are sruggling to deal with the sneaky ways of the Howard government. It would be interesting to see what press releases went out on Christmas Eve.

5cents
12-31-2003, 12:23 AM
Originally posted by GuanoLad
I was just wondering why we don't elect (democratically, probably) qualified people, instead of folks who are not educated in the areas they need to be to handle such important parts of our lives.

That is done in the US. Before I moved to the US, I had heard that judges, prosecutors and sheriffs were elected. Seemed a bit strange to me, but hey, no problem, vive la difference. But when I actually got tot he point I could vote here, I was stunned. There are elections for county engineer (I'll widen the highway! I'll fix the bridges!), treasurer (I'm not a crook!), auditor (I'll make sure the treasurer isn't a crook), recorder (I can type!), and even coroner (I see dead people!). There's probably a few things I have forgotten. In Ohio we also vote on school taxes (if this fails we'll fire half the teachers!).

So how do you know who to vote for? It seems the answer is "you don't". The vast majority of people I talk to know absolutely nothing about the folks running for any of the low-order positions. The vote the party line, or a name that sounds good, or the first one on the list, or whatever.

Also, typically the majority of eligible voters do not vote. Voter participation is absurdly low for elections that don't have a "big ticket" race. If all you are voting on is school board members and dog catcher, you're lucky to get 10% voter turnout. If its the biggest ticket, i.e. a presidential election, you'll get about 50% turnout (or 60% if something important is happening, like WW2 or the Vietnam war).

So the long winded answer is that the jobs one or two levels below policy positions are elected, but voters by and large don't really know or care much about it.

sturmhauke
12-31-2003, 03:04 AM
Here's a question for you, GuanoLad: if the people at large don't decide who's qualified for office, who does? The existing government? The major parties? Big corporations? You could argue that politicians won't get far without this sort of backing, but if the people at large don't have ultimate control over who is elected to office, the people cannot be certain that they are being governed justly, and those in power are more certain to remain in power.

GuanoLad
12-31-2003, 03:23 AM
Originally posted by sturmhauke
Here's a question for you, GuanoLad: if the people at large don't decide who's qualified for office, who does? The existing government? The major parties? Big corporations? I'm not saying we should not elect people anymore, or that elections should no longer be democratic. I don't know why some people are jumping to this conclusion.

I'm saying the candidates are not qualified to be in charge of these portfolios. They are just happy smiley people on the outside, and ciorrupt greedy selfish people on the inside. They work their way up the political ladder by shmoozing and lying and forcing their way in, then they get into positions of power... but have no qualifications to actually run things.

Okay, I admit I haven't thought this through, but maybe it can be somehow imposed that only people qualified can be in charge of portfolios. For example, a politician who Majored in Marketing and was Manager of a chain of stores might be suitable for the Commerce portfolio. Or a Dentistry Major could be more qualified to be in charge of the Health portfolio.

Or something like that. Maybe.

RickJay
12-31-2003, 11:30 AM
Originally posted by GuanoLad
I'm not saying we should not elect people anymore, or that elections should no longer be democratic. I don't know why some people are jumping to this conclusion.

I'm saying the candidates are not qualified to be in charge of these portfolios.
One thing that you should bear in mind is that it's not a minister's job to be involved in the details of her ministry's work. The Minister of Transportation does not design highway overpasses; the Minister of Agriculture isn't out conducting tests on pesticides.

A minister's job is to very broadly oversee the ministry in terms of applying general government policy - a job for which the minister is quite obviously qualified, since as a member of the government the minister is himself one of the sources of that policy. Having worked with some government ministers I can tell you that their duties are very broad indeed and basically amount to four things:

1. Representing the ministry to the public and private interests.
2. Communicating between the government/cabinet and the senior ministry advisors.
3. General policy decisions.
4. General budgetary decisions.

That's about it. Since 3 and 4 are basically set by the government's policies - themselves worked on by experts and set in accordance with the party's platform - you really cannot argue that most ministers are unqualified for this job. In fact, they're the MOST qualified people to do 1 and 2, and any amount of managerial experience constitutes qualification for 3 and 4. (In some more specific portfolios the minister often does have relevant experience, such as attorney-general.)

The higher up you are in an organization the less you need to know in terms of specifics and the more you need to know in terms of policy, management and diplomacy. I really don't understand how a dentist is qualified in any way to be Minister of Heath. The Minister of Health doesn't need to know ANYTHING about dentistry except that it involves teeth and that it's part of his ministry, and most dentists would not have the public relations and personnel management skills to be a senior government minister.

zimaane
12-31-2003, 12:20 PM
At the national level in the U.S. there are two levels of government advisor: political appointees and civil service employees. The President chooses the political appointees from among his party (and occasionally the opposition party - Bill Clinton's Sec of Defense was a Republican). Political appointees fill the top decision making jobs - Cabinet secretaries, assistant Cabinet secretaries, heads of major agencies. At a certain level however, the president cannot choose who does what job. Those jobs are the ones held by civil servants, who are employees of the government, and are held by the same people regardless of who is in power. This system isolates the day-to-day workings of the government from political pressures.

Duckster
12-31-2003, 12:30 PM
Originally posted by zimaane
At a certain level however, the president cannot choose who does what job. Those jobs are the ones held by civil servants, who are employees of the government, and are held by the same people regardless of who is in power. This system isolates the day-to-day workings of the government from political pressures.

Except, of course, the current president is working to change that, too. While he may not get political appointees all the way down the ladder, he is certainly trying to remove federal employees and replace them with contract workers -- supervised and employed by political appointees.

plnnr
12-31-2003, 12:43 PM
Because the most qualified people tend to avoid holding political office like the plague, in my experience (20 years in Federal, state, and local government). They may advise, they may lobby, they may participate through other channels, but they avoid the public politicking at all costs.

pervert
12-31-2003, 01:09 PM
GuanoLad I have a suggestion. The next election you are involved in try and put together a short list of questions to ask each candidate. Then contact the candidates by email or snail mail and aske them to answer the questions. Be sure to mention that you are going to ask the other candidates the same questions and that you will be telling people about the answers. Then of course, you have to ask the other candidates and tell as many people as you can about the results. Its not something you have to spend days of time doing.

Now, certainly, if they answer at all, they will simply fob the questions off to a staff member. Probably a lower level staff member. But if many of us start doing this, candidates will start posting FAQs. They may even begin to take such questionaires more seriously. If we start with local candidates first, we may even be able to start a trend.

hlanelee
12-31-2003, 02:04 PM
plnnr is right and if I may add IMHO people that are qualified for a public office usually have a better job. I would much rather be CEO of Ford Motor Company, for instance, than President of the United States.

GuanoLad
12-31-2003, 07:14 PM
RickJay, thanks for the explanation from your own experience. That makes a lot of sense, and pretty much answers my question.

Except I have seen Politicians talk about their portfolios as spokepeople, and it often seems to me that they don't really understand it, and they can't answer questions on the fly very thoroughly, because their true interests don't lay with that portfolio, they are - as you have now explained - just a face.

I think for that reason alone, people qualified in the field would put on a better front, and inspire more confidence in us that they were doing a good job. A Dentist would at least understand Health, and what its priorities should be, better than an Accountant would (Except for its accounting-related priorities, I suppose).

And plnnr, I think you've probably hit the nail on the head about the real truth to it.

pothead
12-31-2003, 10:34 PM
The people who "run" this country are all in administrative positions and they have the skills needed to fulfill their duty. At some point you need someone to tell all those peons what to do. Sure you have experts (biased or not) who lay down the facts, but the administration has to determine a stance based on the facts.

Plus, it takes a lot to become an "expert" and people usually devote their lives to any one field. To be knowledgable about everything is impossible but most Presidents do have some idea of whats going on. Many Presidents have been lawyers, economists, historians, etc. and that trains them for their position. Being able to deal with foreign heads of state, Congress, the media, and the public is far harder than it looks on paper, and quite frankly takes a lot of skill. Top level officials tend to leave the gritty details to their advisers while they deal with public appearance.

Lower down in the heirarchy, you don't really need to know much. What smaller officials do is much more procedural than anything else. Just direct your local group of grunts to do what your higher ups command. Its not likely that you'd be setting policy but rather executing orders given to you.

plnnr is correct for the majority of cases but there have been exceptions. Below is a short list off the top of my head where people have left or paused succesful careers in favor of an office.

Ronald Reagan - actor turned governor of California then President
Woodrow Wilson - noted historian turned President
Arnold Schwarzenegger - actor turned governor of California
Jesse Ventura - wrestler turned governor of Minnesota
Mike Bloomberg - billionaire CEO turned mayor of New York City


Looking at my short list, its interesting to note that they were either formally or informally very educated socially in terms of dealing with people- a crucial skill for an elected government official.

RickJay
01-01-2004, 01:14 AM
Originally posted by pothead
Looking at my short list, its interesting to note that they were either formally or informally very educated socially in terms of dealing with people- a crucial skill for an elected government official.
That's true of virtually ALL successful politicians. Politicians who're successful are almost invariably extremely talanted at dealing with people. That's their job. I cannot begin to list the number of people I've known who met a political leader who they were politically opposed to who came away amazed at how charming the politician was. I've read more than a few people who reported on the Bush-Gore race who wrote that they couldn't believe how different Bush and Gore were in person - remarkably charming.

George Bush 2.0 was governor of Texas; Bill Clinton was governor of Arkansas; George Bush 1.0 was vice president and held other very high government posts, such as CIA director; Ronald Reagan was governor of California and at one point had been President of SAG; Jimmy Carter was governor of California; Richard Nixon served in Congress for many years. Presidents, to use that office as an example, aren't just people who suddenly decide to become President, they're people who are really, really good at dealing with other people.

RickJay
01-01-2004, 01:21 AM
Of course, Carter was governor of Georgia.