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Government Distrust

This is the sixth (and last) instalment of this series. Each instalment will be published independently and can be read independently. We are tackling head-on the 6 reasons why you should distrust governments, reasons that were kindly provided by the apparatchiks of The OECD A Bureaucratic Organization You Should Know.

Some time ago, we published the article In Government We Distrust and promised we will continue in that direction because of the massive amount of useless information (i.e. job security) that the apparatchiks from the OECD created. If you are interested in the original OECD article, search for the "Directorate for Public Governance and Territorial Development", specifically "Trust in Government". Let's make it happen.

EXCLUSIVE POLICY MAKING

Tell me how

This last section of OECD"s website seems little more than a stub, placeholder or a summary. It has extensive references to other sections of the same topic, but nothing too revolutionary.

Let's take a look at what do they have to say:

Moving from an approach that focuses principally on policy measures to one that understands better "how" policies are designed and implemented will help strengthen institutions and in turn promote greater trust between citizens and government.

The first element we need to scrutinize is the basic assumption that it is actually possible to describe to people "how" policies are created. This is, of course, a fallacy. Although it is possible to describe the logistics of the process (after all these logistics are determined by endless rules and regulations painstakingly documented) the problem resides in the fact that policies are created behind closed doors, mostly through hidden negotiations. What we usually see in parliaments and "open" sessions of committees and consultations, special inquiries and so on are simply works of art carefully choreographed. They are specifically designed to maintain the illusion of a truly parliamentary system where the wellbeing of the citizenship is paramount. It is not. What's worse, this problem is not even a "corruption" problem.

Even if we assume that by some sort of miracle all politicians are not committing any act of "corruption" or "conflict of interest" (as the OECD colourfully describes it), this solves nothing because at the core of the problem lies the fact that politicians must act in their own self-interest in order to stay in power. It is this self-interest that it is intrinsically opposed to the interest of the people and the democratic system is designed to accommodate and enable this bias in a strictly formal and legal fashion. In other words, the system is designed from the ground up so that even honest politicians may take advantage of it in order to stay in power (see for example Government Morality).

Let's be clear. It is not possible to describe truly "how" policies are made because this will expose politicians and therefore they will lose their jobs… which is entirely unacceptable (for them).

However, just for argument's sake, let's continue. Let's assume that it is possible to describe exactly "how" policies are made without jeopardizing politicians' jobs. This process is supposed to somehow "strengthen institutions". This is a truly bizarre statement because "institutions" are packed with apparatchiks who could not care (even after extensive practice) how policies are determined. This is so because "knowing" does nothing for their job security. They are not there to understand, they are there to get a salary producing nothing. Understanding is not necessary, only obedience. However, if they would to know, this would do nothing for the "strength" of institutions (in terms of providing better service to citizens) but it would do wonders to ensure job advancement for bureaucrats. Think it through. If a bureaucrat knows exactly where the order is coming from then this person can produce the exact policy document the ultimate authority (i.e. the person in charge) demands. In so doing this person will stand out from his/her bureaucratic peers regardless of policy content or benefit or disadvantage to citizens.

Lastly, we have the idea that if this explaining of the "how" could be possible, this act alone would "promote greater trust between citizens and government. And why exactly would this be so? Let's say that citizens suddenly know who is the ultimate responsible for a given policy. So what? Politicians routinely break electoral promises. Everybody knows who is breaking them. Everybody knows who is making the decisions and yet nothing happens. Government distrust continues to raise. Again, it is not knowing "how" policies are created and not even "who" decides on those policies that prevents trusting the government. The trust problem originates in the fact that governments issue policies and in this sense there is nothing that governments can do because without issuing policies their uselessness would suddenly become patent and obvious. Politicians do not commit political sepukku (ritualistic Japanese suicide).

Talk to me

The next OECD comment deals with topics previously addressed. They say:

Concerns over the undue influence of vested interests over decision making has led to increasing demands for more transparency and a greater commitment to safeguarding the public interest. Efforts to guarantee that the policy making process is open, inclusive and fair would improve the quality of policy decisions.

We have discussed all these points in our previous articles of this series. They are:

And so we won't repeat our arguments again. However, what we will do is to comment about the notion that all these processes can improve the quality of the decisions. Let's assume that through a mystical and mysterious process we can fix all the issues (previously exposed) of the policy making processes and that its openness, inclusiveness and fairness would create "quality decisions". And by "quality" we assume they mean "good" decisions which will favour a majority of people without other side effects and consequences. This is the absolute best case scenario we can possible imagine, no matter how ridiculous and farfetched. Wouldn't this be satisfactory? The answer is an unmistakable NO!. Even this would be unsatisfactory for two reasons.

  • The first reason is that on any such decision there is always a minority that suffers while the majority benefits. This is grossly unfair to us because there is no need for this state of affairs. Furthermore, we must consider the fact that minorities will change from policy to policy. Which means that in practice every single citizen will experience suffering.
  • The second reason is that there is no guarantee that openness, inclusiveness and fairness can be maintained over time. As a matter of fact due to the selfish nature of human beings, we can guarantee that they won't be maintained. It's the old issue of Who Watches the Watchers.

We know

The third commentary also deals with previously commented topics:

A policy-making process conducive to trust is built on informed decisions using reliable and relevant information, that are in the public interest, and are carried out with high standards of behaviour. 

As with previous topics, we refer the reader to previous links for extended commentaries. However, what we can say as a way of a summary is the following.

Any policy-making process is not conductive to trust because the process itself is not trustworthy precisely because it produces policies. Additionally, such a process cannot be built on informed decisions because the decision process is itself tinted by the personal (and overriding) selfish goals of the decision makers. This is true even if a sufficient quantity of information is available, since this information can never be sufficiently reliable and relevant because the sources are also acting on their own self-interests. Whether these sources are lobbyists for corporations or lobbyists for NGO's or lobbyists for citizens or the citizens themselves, they all have vested interests that are personal and subjective and they will always tint and bias the information. A decision maker simply lacks the necessary information to discern those biases, even if such decision maker would be absolutely selfless. Because of this flawed information and the fact that personal interests are always subjective, it is not possible to even provide a definition of "public interest" thus much less to make a policy in its favour. Lastly, even if we could somehow overcome all these problems, no policy-making process can ever be taken using high standards of behaviour simply because the political system itself relies on the selfishness of decision makers. The priority is always to win the election first and then to make decisions which will ensure the next electoral win. In this process "public good" come always as a distant third.

In ultimate analysis is this political process with its political built-in selfishness that creates policies of exclusion. This is, we, the people, are excluded one way or another. The only two groups that always benefit -regardless of the policies- are politicians and bureaucrats.

CONCLUSION

This is the sixth article in a series of six detailing why you should not trust governments. Most of the information was kindly (and ridiculously expensively) collated by the OECD for our perusal… although we are pretty sure that this was not what they had in mind when they did so. The bottom line is simple; you should not trust governments because they produce exclusive policies. Governments themselves are telling us that so far they have failed in earning our trust! But if they have failed in so doing for over 200+ years, what are the chances that this time will truly be different? Isn't this reason enough not to trust them?

Meanwhile, if you feel that you have been wronged by this article, it is your right to feel so. Next time you have your scheduled consultancy meeting with your "representative", please feel free to mention this article so that you won't feel excluded in the next policy.

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

 

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