Monday, November 2, 2009

Judging Government

Among all the cute phrases dreamed up by humans, perhaps “political science” is the most humorous. (I claim to be a political scientist, so I can say that.) I mean, you have to admit, there is precious little science guiding the actions of our leaders in regards to, say, the war in Afghanistan or health care or the regulation of Goldman Sachs. To be a little more polite, let’s say that “political science” is a goal. To bring us one step closer to that goal, which would presumably enable the creation of decent government, I propose the following simple metric for judging the quality of every official act by politicians:

Was their action on balance “for the elite” or “for the people?”

I am a political scientist; I can make the implementation of this simple heuristic as complex as you like. It can be arithmetic or really mathematical (e.g., based on calculus) or complex or graphical or philosophical. A nice little graduate seminar could be held on the merits of the various methods.

The point remains, however: if a politician does something that advances the interests of the society in general, that politician has done good; if it is just the elite that benefits, the politician has done bad. If you want good government, you need to be able to tell the difference, whether you are a political scientist or a barber…or even a TV news commentator.

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