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Government Distrust

INITIATIVES

The OECD mentions two openness initiatives. The Open Government Partnership and the MENA-OECD Open Government Project. They are both OECD related and as such great to secure OECD apparatchiks' jobs. Let's take a brief look at both.

MENA-OECD

The four key areas are:

Open/Clean Governments: here they keep pushing the concepts we discussed above plus the addition of "innovation" (which we discussed in Distrust Governments - They Are Not Responsive) and anti-corruption (which we addressed in part in Bribery The Universal Equalizer). How is all this promoting openness is a mystery to us.

Efficient Machinery of Government: where they push budgetary frameworks and reforms (which we discussed in Distrust Governments - They Are Not Reliable) as well as administrative simplification. Now, considering that "administrative simplification" simply means the same bureaucracy but more efficient, we are all against it. We want bureaucracies to be less efficient, not more because in inefficiency there is freedom. If they cannot track what you are doing, you are free! How is all this promoting openness is a mystery to us.

Gender Equality: this is a strange one. What is the link between an open government and forced gender equality in public and private sectors is a complete and total mystery. Maybe the people from the OECD believes in the stereotype of hopelessly gossiping women and figure out that by having more women in government this will prevent any secrets from remaining secret for more than 30 seconds. Other than that, we don't have a clue why didn't they add full moon mandatory public meetings in bathing suits and salad-only luncheons with block leaders dressed as clowns as openness initiatives since they would have the same effect on openness as this gender equality thingy.

Territorial Development: it essentially means… we don't know what it means because it makes no sense whatsoever. For example they suggest "Reducing disparities between territories and citizens". And how exactly do you do this? We mean… territories are not citizens… that tiny defect may have escaped the OECD but it is still ridiculously nonsensical. In the same line of thought and in order to foster openness, we propose to reduce disparities between the OECD and boulders, with all due respect to boulders.

Open Government Partnership - principles

In their Open Government Guide website they define "open government" as transparent, participatory and accountable:

  • Transparency means the public understands the workings of their government
  • Participation means public can influence the workings of government by engaging with public policy processes and public service providers
  • Accountability means the public can hold the government to account for its policy and service delivery performance

Let's take a look at those ideals a little bit closer.

The idea that people somehow people do not understand the working of their governments is absolutely correct. The idea that people can understand the workings of their governments is ludicrous. All governments are nothing but a gigantic maze of bureaucratic processes and procedures. Even the most basic parliamentary rules require specialists to elucidate. And if at the very top rules are so complicated, what is there to be expected from lesser critical rules, such as the actual operation of ministries or departments or divisions or "service" providers? Bureaucracies grew in complexity because this favours bureaucrats. Complexity equals job security and as such it will never disappear. Trying to understand the complexity of governments is impossible and utterly pointless. Furthermore, let's assume for a second that magically people do so, and then what? What are people going to do with it? How exactly is knowing how the government operates going to increase the public trust if the decisions being taken still negatively impact all of us? The problem is not complexity but decision making. This requirement is useless.

Regarding influencing the workings of government, this is nothing more than either breaking the Social Contract (because those involved in influencing have higher influence than the rest of the voters - for example what's called "Special Interest Groups" or lobbying in US) or smoke and mirrors as we pointed out above. Another useless requirement.

And what about accountability? Isn't this good? Sort of. First off, we need to remember the core insoluble problem: by definition laws are one-size-fits-all and therefore they are not agreeable to everybody. Which means that by definition there will always be people who would want to "hold the government to account for its policy". How do they propose to deal with this "tiny" problem? Through a majority? And who defines a majority? The government. And who defines the process this majority should use? The government. And who defines the outcome of this majority process? The government. Do you see the pattern now? And even if they would to implement something logistically possible, binding and executable what about the minority? Don't they count? Well… no. In practical terms this has never worked and will never work. Logistically speaking is a nightmare. Take a look at the several countries were "recall" laws were instituted. Through these laws politicians can be kicked-out of their jobs. The only problem is, it takes so much effort and time to do so, that the actual number of recalled politicians in the entire world can be counted with the fingers of one hand. Yeah… we need more of those laws because they have proven so effective… yeah… Lastly we have the tiny issue of democratic failure. Governments policies are supposed to be produced by our representatives and as such these policies must represent the will of the people (as expressed by the majority). But if these policies are deemed inappropriate, this means that they were never the will of the majority. This simply means that the democratic process does not represent the will of the people. And if it does not, why bother? Why have dictators over our heads? What's the advantage? Well… none!

But then we have the "other" interpretation. Let's say that the issue are not policies or service provision but the performance of such processes. In other words, governments screwed up the implementation. Therefore, people should be able to held governments accountable for such implementation. Fine. But then who gets to define what is a "good" versus a "bad" implementation? Governments. Why? Because governments control the standards and governments control the metrics. In other words, politicians and bureaucrats will tell you which standard they will use to measure their "success", they will measure it and they will process the data. Would it surprise you to know that they will be "successful" every time? Of course not. Politicians are not in the business of failure, they are in the business of perceived success regardless of what reality may look like. Sure, there may be independent evaluations of their performance here and there that may highlight failures, but who can match the resources governments have to do the analysis? And why should we spend our money to monitor governments on top of paying them to do so? The truth is that for the vast majority of policies and service provision it is simply not possible to know with any degree of certainty if governments have delivered or not. It is not just the fact that they will manipulate the numbers, it is also the fact that as governments do not play by market rules (they are not for-profit), anything is subjective because governments can't count (for an explanation of this issue see Communists Can Not Count) and as such anything is justifiable and "implementable". It is only a case of implementing the correct process of the unholy trinity (tax, borrow and print) to make it happen…until the final debacle.

Open Government Partnership - results

Their website has an impressive array of guidelines (225 to be exact) as to how to implement an open government. They include:

Assets disclosure and conflicts of interest

  • Budgets
  • Citizen engagement
  • Open government data
  • Public contracting
  • Public services
  • Records management
  • Right to information
  • Whistleblower protection
  • Aid
  • Construction
  • Consumer Protection
  • Elections
  • Environment
  • Extractive industry
  • Fisheries
  • Land
  • Parliaments
  • Police and public security
  • Tax and Illicit flows

And they point out at an impressive array of such implementations (395 examples according to their count). Good, right? Well…no.

If you bother to dive into the details of such "open government" implementations you will begin to notice certain patters. They are:

  • The only implementations are those who are politically expedient
  • Per country these implementations are far and in between
  • Most (if not all) implementations do not have actual political or judicial power
  • They are very easily bypassed or made meaningless by other processes
  • They are pushing politicians deeper into secrecy
  • They are deceptive in the sense that they generate meaningless information and/or they do not have their intended effect
  • They increase the size of the bureaucracy needed to manage it

In other words, these implementations are simply smoke screens. The lives of citizens have not been directly improved by these implementations to any reasonable degree, although it is true that exceptions exist. The business of government has not been shaken nor stirred. It is business as usual, with a few minor added wrinkles to avoid. Many of these initiatives are simply off-loading government duties on people; duties that governments took over cheerfully when politicians believed it would give them political gains. What this message is saying is clear: government cannot deal with many issues and they are passing them to us. But if this is the case, why do we need governments in the first place?

In the end we need to go back to the original question: how do "Open Government" initiatives increase your trust in governments? Well… they don't. This is so, simply because there is no actual, real reason to trust them. Politicians believe that they can win trust with a few simple bureaucratic measures but people are not that stupid. They can see through and they want results, not processes. As such, the ultimate measure of peoples' trust is their quality of life and it is still going down the drains fast. Everything else is simply political mascara on the face of debacle brought to you by the usual suspects: the politicians.

But of course, you don't believe us. Fair enough. Ask any person living in those countries if any of the "openness" initiatives had any positive effect on their lives. Go ahead. Do that. You can do it. The internet is vast and all reaching. Just ask and verify by yourself that all those initiatives are, for any intent and purpose, meaningless.

Note: please see the Glossary if you are unfamiliar with certain words.

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