Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Why We Elect Bad and Incompetent Rulers?

People hire others to take care of tasks they themselves can’t do or don’t want to do. 

Selecting a suitable person for any job is a very complex task with very stringent criteria for selecting and requires trained and experienced staff. Not only should the selectors be aware of all the factors that affect the process of securing a “job-person match”, but they should also select the candidate without breaking any antidiscrimination laws and guidelines in force. Considering all this, what kind of criteria are utilised to recruit people?

Flippant Criteria to elect People to Rule Us

We use such stringent criteria to recruit people who work for us but use flippant criteria to elect our rulers. When asked about their choice of candidate in elections, many people give the following reasons:
  • He looks so handsome
  • She is a celebrity who believes in equal opportunities
  • He believes that the government should do more for equality
  • The party believes that global warming is a major threat to our way of life etc.

A key characteristic of democracy is the responsiveness of the government to the preferences of its citizens” Robert Dahl (1971) guided us how to measure the effectiveness of voter choices. Yet, in all political systems, ranging from constitutional monarchy to representative democracy, we use such flippant criteria for “selecting” our rulers. Why?

We know that the North Koreans don’t have much choice in electing their rulers. Citizens also do not get to elect constitutional monarchs, as they are chosen from among the earlier monarch’s eligible offspring. But how about incumbent rulers like George Bushbeing re-elected after one of the most dismal track records in US history? All over the world, we have lots and lots of our rulers who are utterly incompetent, and according to Paul Krugman’s NewYork Times blog, excel in not seeing their incompetence. 

But what does it say about the people who vote the incompetent ones to power?

Stringent Criteria for Recruiting People to Work

In every workplace, selection criteria are usually developed from four main areas:
  1. Qualifications
  2. Attributes
  3. Knowledge
  4. Skills and abilities 

These all are clearly outlined in the job analysis and explicitly defined in the job description. Further, there is the concept of demonstrated ability. This usually means placing a huge weighting on experience and previous job performance. Interviewers like to hear what the candidate has achieved elsewhere, so they can imagine what the candidate would likely do for the job s/he is being recruited into.

Qualification: This usually means a formal recognition that the candidate has, under formal supervision and guidance, acquired expertise in the field. Here are some typical examples of qualification requirements:
  • Preferred 4 years prior Information Technology experience required. Minimum: Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science or a related field
  • A research doctorate or equivalent in hydrology
  • A Certificate level qualification with a minimum of 3 years worth practical experience of working in a child care centre

Attributes: Attributes are behaviours, which are required in the desired job e.g., flexibility, attention to detail, service orientation, independence and initiative etc. In a job interview, the candidate might be asked to give examples of “a situation in your previous job where you demonstrated independence and initiative”.

Knowledge: How much the candidate knows about the field, the subject matter necessary to do the job well and it is usually measured by:
  • A thorough understanding of e.g. current issues in teaching planning in higher education, including national policy settings
  • Specific knowledge of e.g. flux cored arc welding
  • Demonstrated knowledge coupled with practical skills for e.g. handling immigrant parents and guardians of teenaged school children in public schools

Skills: Skills can range from so called transferrable skills like Negotiation skills, Project Management Skills or Leadership Skills to highly job-specific skills like “Certification for Cloud Computing Infrastructure management” or “Certification for flux cored arc welding, oxy-acetylene welding, metal inert gas (MIG) welding, tungsten inert gas (TIG) welding and manual metal arc (MMA) welding”.

Criteria Used to Elect Rulers Totally Useless in Job Requirements

If we were to apply the criteria we use to recruit people who work for us to “select” people who currently rule us, almost 90% of our rulers should be kicked out as utterly incompetent!

In a constitutional monarchy, being born in that particular family is about the only criteria for being chosen as the monarch. Even being mad is good enough for the job e.g., Caligula of Rome, Fyodor I and Ivan V and VI of Russia, Charles II of Spain, Alfonso VI of Portugal, Charles VI of France, Ludwig II of Bavaria, Henry VI and George III of UK. When the heir presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Archduke Ferdinand and his wife, Countess Sophie Chotek, were assassinated in Sarajevo, the Emperor Franz Jospeh “breathed a sigh of relief” that the unsuitable Sophie was removed (King and Woolmans, 2013).

In modern Western democracies, most of our “rulers” are professional politicians who believe they have the required expertise, skills, aptitudes and attributes but rarely give any proof that they have achieved anything similar in their earlier endeavours. 

Why do voters put up with this kind of belief with no evidence of achievement?

The spatial theory of voting (Downs, 1957) claims that voters have a most preferred policy or “bliss point” and measures alternative candidates/policies by judging how “close” they are to that ideal. However, research has shown that this ideological “position” may not be always so clear (Degan and Merlo, 2009).

In high-profile single candidate elections e.g. US Presidential elections, personal characteristics of the candidate are very important along with party label (Marsh, 2005).

Criteria Guidelines for Choosing Rulers

The criteria to judge a politician candidate, there are lots of them: Lets’ take two examples. 
The first one is the comprehensive guideline from the League of Women Voters

  1. Decide what you are looking for in a candidate.
  2. Find out about the candidates
  3. Gather materials about the candidates
  4. Evaluate candidates' stands on issues
  5. Learn about the candidates' leadership abilities
  6. Learn how other people view the candidate
  7. Sorting it all out

These are very good guidelines. But, how many voters actually go to all that trouble? Further, significantly missing from this list is the proof of previous achievement, which answers the question “How do we know that you can really do what you say you will do?”

The second example of a set of criteria is from the 2016 US Presidential Candidate Selector

The 18 questions lets the voter find how her/his own position aligns to the candidate’s answer on issues such as Gun Control, Minimum Wage, Immigration Law, Marijuana Laws, Abortion etc. But, here also there is no way to check how the candidate will demonstrate the mix of qualifications, attributes, skills and competence demonstrated in past performance. If the candidate says that she believes that marijuana should be legalised, there is no explanation of how is she going to get it done.
Rather often in parliamentary elections, voters may choose candidates as long as they are within the party of the voter’s choice (Mair, 1987:92) e.g., Conservative and Unionist Party or Labour Party in UK. But few people actually ask the candidates to demonstrate capability for promised actions on the basis of past performance as recruiters do in job interviews. 

The Rolling Stone magazine had an interesting article “The Ten Worst Members of the Worst Congress Ever”, where significantly almost each example personally benefitted much more from being in the US Congress than in their business attempts before that.

Studies have shown that “Narcissistic People are Most Likely to Emerge as Leaders”. Narcissism makes people utterly self-centred, who lack any empathy for others and habitually exaggerate their talents and abilities”. People around them also tend to see them as leaders who can “really lead them”.

If we are honest, we would notice that in most countries things are good not because of the leaders but inspite of them. Isn’t it time to start upgrading political leader selection methods all over the world?

Democracy 2,0, where are you?

  • Degan, Arianna, Merlo Antonio. (2009). Do Voters vote ideologically? Science Direct. Journal of Economic Theory 144 (2009) 1868-1894.
  • Dahl, Robert A. 1971. Polyarchy: Participation and Opposition. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
  • Downs, A. (1957). An Economic Theory of Democracy, Harper and Row, New York, NY,
  • King, Greg., and Woolmans, Sue, 2013. ‘The Assassination of the Archduke: Sarajevo 1914 and the Romance That Changed the World’.
  • Mair, Peter and Michael Marsh (2004) ‘Political Parties in Electoral Markets in Postwar Ireland’, in Peter Mair, Wolfgang Muller and Fritz Plasser, eds. Political Parties and Electoral Change: Party Responses to Electoral Markets, pp. 234-63. London: Sage.
  • Marsh, Michael (2005). Candidates or parties? Objects of electoral choice in Ireland. Department of Political Science Trinity College, Dublin, Republic of Ireland. http://www.tcd.ie/Political_Science/Staff/Michael.Marsh