Scientific Sense Podcast

Saturday, October 19, 2019

The inefficient layer between people and policy

Democracy in modern societies requires an establishment of a highly inefficient layer between people and policies, aptly called the "representatives." This idea started as a matter of convenience rather than necessity as policy selection, design and portfolio management could not have been done with the participation of the entire society. This assumes that technology does not exist for that to happen, which may not be the case anymore. Half the world's population, however, avoided this inefficient layer as autocrats with infinite wisdom simply prescribe the best policies for themselves and the people. In both cases, we seem to have ended up with the least desirable outcomes.

Autocrats, unfortunately, are humans, driven largely by crude objective functions that maximize their own utility. This is efficient, not for the people but for the autocrats. This is not an issue one could attempt to debate and solve. On the other side, it may be time to seriously think about returning to direct democracy. There is a number of reasons for this.

1. It is clear that the representatives have objective functions that are extremely narrow. Getting elected is the dominant requirement and hence a representative will never be able to pursue optimal policies for the people. Even those who have a "broad view," are only worried about a few counties or a single state in the US. As such, they will never be able to opt for optimal policies that maximize the utility of the system. The fact that the joking congressman from the Midwest and the senator from the South recently found such irony in the statements of the "most powerful man," on Earth, clearly indicates what is important for them. Getting elected again is the only thing.

2. Policy choices are too complex to be designed by a small group of people. As a self-proclaimed "most stable genius," once remarked, "nobody knew healthcare is this complex." Unknown to him, it was known to most people in the world, except himself. If a society has representatives who are either unaware or unable to internalize the complexity of policy choices, they will continue to make bad decisions for the people.

3. Policies have to be dynamic. They cannot be optimally executed in 4 or 6-year cycles. Fine adjustments to policy choices have to be effected continuously. They cannot be prevented by the vacation schedules of the "representatives."

4. Policies have to be long term optimal and have to be contemporaneously relevant. If the representatives are from an era that has no relevance, they should not attempt policy. Those who cannot spell "internet," will likely make the wrong choices for the next generation.

It is time we moved to direct democracy. The octogenarians who are trying to save society in the nation's capital are unlikely to do so.  As they proclaim the "greatest day for civilization," while letting the defenseless be slaughtered, they have to understand that people in the aggregate are not stupid.

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