World: who are we electing exactly?

The questionable competance and experience of our top elected politicians.  Who's running our countries?

Donald Trump, a tycoon with "cotton candy-combed" hair, is making a potential bid for the White House.  The real-estate magnate and television personality has begun a speaking tour to whip up enthusiasm for a Republican presidential run in 2012.  A Wall Street Journal/NBC poll last month put him one point ahead of wealthy ex-Massachusetts' Republican governor Mitt Romney, management consultancy Bain and Company co-founder, and failed 2008 presidential contender. A Newsweek poll in February 2011 placed Trump within a few points of President Obama.  Despite his anti-egalitarian views, Trump's interior decoration tastes alone should rule him out.  But in a country where money enables ambition to translate into votes, a man like Trump can dream of political power.

What are the credentials for leadership?  In democracies we hope to have a selection of competant and experienced people from which to choose, come election time.  But that's not often possible.  Why?  Maybe its the combative, adversarial nature of the political game.  Who on earth would aspire to hold a job which is so closely scrutinised by the media, where your opposite number is paid to monitor and criticise your every statement, policy or decision?  And where, in the end, having become surplus to requirements or failed in some spectacular fashion, you are dumped unceremoniously and put out to grass?

So, most highly successful people remain in industry, commerce or the professions where they are paid more and criticised less.

What did those now in power actually do before they entered politics?  Here are some examples:

Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany - Reseacher at the Central Institute for Physical Chemistry of the Academy of Sciences in Berlin-Adlershof.

Barack Obama, President of the USA - Director of Woods Fund of Chicago, an independant charitable fund intent on assisting the disadvantaged, Director of Joyce Foundation, a charitable enterprise, and Director of Chicago Annaberg Challenge, a public school forum

David Cameron, Prime Minister of the UK - Director of Corporate Affairs, Carlton Communications, a media company

Goodluck Jonathan, President of Nigeria - Biology Lecturer, then Environmental Protection and Pollution Control Officer 

John Key, Prime Minister of New Zealand - Global Head of Foreign Exchange at Merrill Lynch, an investment bank, and Member of the Foreign Exchange Committee of the New York Federal Reserve Bank

José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, Prime Minister of Spain -  Teaching Assistant in constitutional law at the University of León in North-West Spain

Julia Gillard, Prime Minister of Australia - lawyer specialising in industrial law with Slater & Gordon in Melbourne, Victoria

Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India - Secretary General of the South Commission, an independent economic policy think tank in Geneva, Switzerland 

Nicolas Sarkozy, President of France - barister and lawyer specialising in business and family law (one of Silvio Berlusconi's French advocates)

Silvio Berlusconi, Prime Minister of Italy - media magnate with television and publishing interests, who according to Forbes, is Italy's third richest man.

Many others went from academic studies directly into politics - people like Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada.  Some, like Dilma Roussef, President of Brazil, or Jacob Zuma, President of South Africa, were political activists from the outset, often imprisoned and/or exiled before engaging (or being permitted to engage) in democratic politics.

Are we electing the right sort, and are we given a wide enough choice?  And once we elect them, do we give them room to perform?  CEOs of businesses are assessed annually at AGMs, aside ongoing shareholder and media scrutiny and commentary.  But politicians are often less well remunerated and clearly far more closely monitored.  This can and does tempt some to corruption.  Checks and balances are an essential requirement, but we deserve high competance and top performance from those who shoulder so much responsibility.  Fresh approaches are needed to achieve this.

Some who propose greater participatory democracy, like the Online Party of Canada, expect technology to deliver results.  But as The Economist maintains on California's dire budgetary predicament, "California offers a warning to voters all over the world."  Direct democracy, where voters constrain the legislature's and the executive's ability to govern, is reponsible.  We need good governance, so too many referendums can make it impossible for politicians to take necessary yet hard decisions.

Once we elect these people we ought to make sure they perform to expectations.  Whatever their backgrounds.  Some of the best politicians never achieved academically.  As Warren Buffet said when talking about who he chooses to invest in, it's character that counts.

No comments:

Post a Comment