There is an assumption that our political leaders are better educated than us; that they are more qualified to rule and make decisions on our behalf. This is an anachronism from antiquity, when we were ruled over by a noble class. Implied in this system of governance is a sense of benevolence, in which they consider what is of value to our society as a whole, but as previous articles in the Gazette have suggested, this is not so. This is partly because of the imperfections found within the policy and decision-making process.
When looked at superficially, the policy and decision-making process seems very transparent. Politicians, weighing up all of the facts, balancing decisions between ideals of public needs and their costs, will put a plan together. These ideas are often floated within the public sphere to gauge support and to receive feedback that will assist in this process. This can take time, as there are many hurdles to overcome, but in the end the objective is to produce sound policies and decisions for all of society.
In reality, however, there are more actors at play behind the scenes, beyond the limelight. Interest groups are constantly looking to push their agenda to shape policies and decisions that will favour them over others. This could include businesses and business associations, along with social agencies that are looking to foster social changes for society as a whole. These groups usually dominate the feedback process, which in turn skews the decision-making process.
The bureaucracy itself can skew and sway decisions, whether this is with intent to pursue an agenda or not, which can affect how and what information is collected and presented to political leaders. Political leaders, many of whom are not experts in their portfolios, have evidenced this in the past, feeling pressured to make decisions they are ill prepared for. Even when the political leader is diligent in doing their own research, they can still be pressured and overwhelmed by this process, thus skewing the final outcome.
Finally, “group think” creates its own bias in the decision-making process, as the desire for harmony and conformity leads to the conception of like-minded views. It is normal for people to want to associate with like-minded individuals, and to avoid conflict, and our politicians are no different from us. Thus they will hear the same message from within their sphere of influence, and believe such consensus is the truth and the wants of the citizenry.
All of these factors distort the decision-making process, which can lead to some bad results, without there ever being any Machiavellian intentions. In short, the system is flawed, but armed with the power of this knowledge, our politicians can work to overcome these weaknesses. And, as we are aware of these shortcomings, we can stress the importance of our politicians working with us, showing faith in the public and becoming more transparent and accountable. We are all human, susceptible to these failings inherent in the system, but by acknowledging them we may be empowered to do better.
John Kennair is an international consultant and doctor of laws who lives in St. Albert.