Opinion

Don’t Try to Take Politics Out of Important Decisions

It only makes the dysfunction worse.

Washington DC
View of Washington DC with the United States Capitol in the distance, September 28, 2017 (Ted Eytan)

When politics becomes dysfunctional, there will be a temptation to remove it from important decisions.

This only makes the dysfunction worse.

Politics is what we call decision-making in a democratic society. Taking politics out of some decisions falsely suggests there is a consensus for a certain policy or delegates the decision to technocrats. Either is undemocratic.

Consensus

Consensus is — ideally — the outcome of democratic decision-making, not a prerequisite.

There is seldom a consensus about anything. When there is, it is more likely a sign of groupthink.

After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, a single member of the United States Congress voted against the Authorization for Use of Military Force in Afghanistan. It led to a twenty-year war in which, we recently learned from The Washington Post, nobody knew how to win.

Technocracy

Technocracy is only appealing to partisans who are unable to impose their will democratically.

People realize this when they are on the receiving end of a technocratic diktat.

Leftists understand that austerity imposed by faceless IMF bureaucrats and unelected EU-backed prime ministers in Greece and Italy fed populism and mistrust in institutions. Yet they propose to do the same for climate policy.

Conservatives in the United States have for decades argued against abortion laws handed down by the Supreme Court, not Congress. Yet they themselves have used the courts to overturn the popular will on issues such as campaign finance and gun rights.

Getting politics right

The better way is getting the politics right.

That means involving all stakeholders. Try to keep interest groups out and they will influence the process from the outside — without oversight — by lobbying and donating to politicians and political parties who share their views. Better to give businesses, labor, environmentalists and community representatives all a seat at the table with the technocrats and politicians.

If you’re worried that will bog down decision-making, look at systems that don’t do this. The most prominent example is national politics in the United States. Almost nothing gets done there, because the two political parties have all the power and they are evenly matched.

More parties at the table means no party can dominate. The outcome will have to be a compromise, and that is both more democratic than a 50-percent-plus-one vote in Congress and more likely to last.

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