Politicians are either God or the Devil Himself, or, are they?

অতিথি লেখক's picture
Submitted by guest_writer on Wed, 01/08/2012 - 11:01pm
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We often blame the politics and political leaders for all the mishaps of our country. The solution (and hope), according to the majority, is to think about a utopia where most of the politicians, if not all, will be honest in one fine morning, and we will take it from there! Hence search for our own ‘dark knight’ continues… and even when we find someone, we soon realize that ‘the Joker’ has just played another trick.

However, how realistic is this expectation? More often than not we forget to take into account that politicians are human beings as well. They also maximize their utility function like us. They have the same preference set like us, only with more constraints. In plain language, they also want to make money and earn fame-when both risk and reward are greater. The only difference is, the actions they take has a larger effect than the action we take in a day to day life and the job they do is much more complex than the job we do-especially in a resource constraint country like Bangladesh.

Like us, political leaders have the tendency to cheat. Now let’s face it without raising your eyebrows-we all like to cheat. You think otherwise? Think again. Ask yourself the following questions: Do you always stop at red light? Are you completely unbiased when you grading your students? Are you auditing according to the rules all the time? Are you downloading/streaming everything legally? Are you writing in a public platform without a hidden agenda of yours? I can go on and on… –the answer, for most of us, in most of cases will be -NO. So, why we all educated/sophisticated/sensitive people (unlike our politicians) behave these way? Behavioral economists have the answer. The tendency to cheat depends on two things: i) the quantity of the award and ii) the probability of getting caught. If the former is greater than the latter then people will, in general, cheat, no matter you are a politician in a third world country or a well respected citizen in the most developed nation.

So, one solution to have a corruption free national environment in Bangladesh could be to think about a system where politics is least rewarding, at least in terms of monetary values! Sound unrealistic? Let’s put it this way: make politics rewarding where the reward is distributed among a larger set-that is to decentralize the power among the governance system in a creative way.

So, what’s new in this note? - Nothing really, but probably we need to address the right issues, at least! The illusion of poetic justice will hardly bring us anything.

-phoenix


Comments

ধ্রুব বর্ণন's picture

Interesting. If people are generally greedy, the last thing we want is more of them assuming power over all others. For many of the questions that you have asked about everyday honesty, the response will be negative. Human being is corrupted in the sense of their own standard of honesty. So are politicians. But, unlike an ordinary man, a politician in a centralized all mighty government can affect a lot of other people. If he does good, a lot of people will be benefited. If he does evil, a mass disaster will ensue. According to the two things you mentioned on which their cheating tendency depends, we can either decentralize and minimize their power so that each corrupt has a minimal affect on his subjects and/or we can make a system where they can be caught easily. To make the latter happen, is there anyone who is omnipresent, more just and powerful than the politicians in the government?

অতিথি লেখক's picture

According to Aristotle, justice originated from the ideas that we created. When you say if

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there anyone who is omnipresent, more just and powerful than the politicians in the government?

I would say that it is us, the public. It isn't an individual because that's not possible. However if everyone was to look out for eachother, then it might have been possible to have a just and and ompresent government. This way whatever the general public thought to be just would be considered just by the majority.

phoenix's picture

The idea behind this note is to think about creating incentives/institutions within the political structure rather than looking for someone. No single individual is capable of fixing a whole system, no matter how powerful or just he/she is.

Prithvi's picture

Passing moral judgements on politicians is always misguided, in my opinion. Like you said, they are no more or less human than the electorate. I tend to think that politicians of a country are only as good as the people who elect them.

By the way, does the degree of accountability change in the transition from centralized to decentralized government? I mean, if there is no increased accountability in a decentralized form of government, and the primacy of accountability is indubitable, then why bother?

phoenix's picture

Decentralized/Local Government is generally constituted with locals, that is, if you are a part of the local govt., your decision is going to affect you too. So, it's a better hypothesis that you will be more accountable than central govt.

মন মাঝি's picture

Quote:
Passing moral judgements on politicians is always misguided, in my opinion.

Totally disagree! It's a favourite catchphrase of our politicians nowadays and perhaps for some of the elitist beneficiaries of the prevailing system too, but those jokers apart, this is a very erroneous view in my opinion, itself misguided. Criticism, judgements, moral judgements, whatever you call them - of politicians and leaders, is/are the most basic building block of a democracy, and a most desirable and commendable one in any '-cracy' whatsoever, in any situation whatsoever, in any country whatsoever, and irrespective of whether they bring any immediate or foreseeable positive results or NOT whatsoever! Without this practice of 'passing judgements' on politicians, political leaders, and on any public functionary - any system is bound to go to the drains. No high-flying (or whatever it is) solution will work then. It (not passing judgements) is THE most surefire way of sealing the fate of a country and a nation.

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they are no more or less human than the electorate.

I disagree. Some people have more drive, more greed, more ambition for power and domination, etc than others. When two or more of these are combined with real power, the cocktail of those can and do make them a lot more or less human and good or bad than the rest. But this is not an inevitability.

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I tend to think that politicians of a country are only as good as the people who elect them.

I would contend you are partly right, but neither wholly nor necessarily. If the electorate don't have a better choice because of the manipulation of the electoral system or because of the overall prevailing system or political/economic environment which prevents the 'good' from entering into the foray, cripples him the moment he attempts to do any such thing, or strangles him into inconsequence even before he dreams of entering into the foray, then the electorate cannot be held fully responsible for the bad deeds of the politicians/leaders, neither can they be equated with them in a moral sense.

Politicians and leaders of a country have a lot more powerdrive and intelligence (at least in certain respects) than most. When this drive, intelligence (or cleverness if you prefer), opportunity and real power combine or coincide - they tend to create a monopoly of it for themselves and try their hardest to keep it to as smaller number of people as possible and prevent the rest from gaining it or entering into the club. Power has a certain dynamics of its own and is able to enforce and maintain a kind of exclusivity (hence the 'political/economic environment' I mentioned earlier), affording or enabling its holders or members to practice a lot of good or bad deeds without consequences effectively negative to themselves. But, this does not mean they "are only as good as the people who elect them", because as I have explained, with their monopoly or stranglehold over power they also can and do prevent, and create an overall/overarching environment that automatically prevents and filters out, 'good' or better alternatives or choices to themselves that the masses can have. This is surely a statement of weakness on the part of the electorate or common people, but 'weakness' does not equate to or can be compared to 'badness' (or 'goodness' for that matter). They are not the same thing.

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দুর্বাশা তাপস's picture

Messiah syndrome will not do us any good. We should try to develop functioning, self-correcting institutions.

I think political/govt posts should be made more rewarding in terms of monetary value not the other way around, but in a transparent way. So that these positions become like very highly paid jobs and hopefully people occupying these positions wont have to use illegal means to accumulate wealth. And since you can serve and earn good money in legal ways, I think a lot of honest people will be interested and join politics. Considering the amount of money people ultimately pay(bribes and others) to get things done, I think instead we can pay them a lot more legally and atleast make things hassle free.

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phoenix's picture

I partially agree with you, we need self-correcting institutions. However, paying more to political post is something I completely disagree with. See, following your logic, you are assuming corruption in political post is a function of income only. Income, of course, an important variable but not the only one. Corruption is a multidimensional issue and the definition of honesty is very subjective. If there was an inverse relationship between income and corruption, you wouldn't hear about corporate corruption or wall-street scandals. So, I think, the focus should be more on creating incentives/institutions rather than simply focusing on income.

মন মাঝি's picture

Quote:
is to think about a utopia where most of the politicians, if not all, will be honest in one fine morning, and we will take it from there!

That's a mistaken assumption, I think. It could be true for teens and a minority of middle-class young adults, but I don't think the majority of adults harbour any such delusions or illusory expectation nowadays!

For the majority of hard-working low-income people, any betterment whatsoever is always welcome! They know these politicians very well, perhaps a lot more than you give them credit for, and don't expect them to transmogrify into angels or totally honest in one fine morning. They just hope against hope that, they would become a wee less dishonest and greedy and be a wee more humane in their virulently insatiable greediness, to allow the people a little more breathing space to survive a bit more tolerably. That's all!

I don't believe that's too much of an expectation, let alone a utopian one.

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phoenix's picture

Thanks for reading and letting me know what you think.

"That's a mistaken assumption, I think."

I am just quoting you,

"They just hope against hope that, they would become a wee less dishonest and greedy and be a wee more humane in their virulently insatiable greediness, to allow the people a little more breathing space to survive a bit more tolerably. That's all!"

Now, the only difference I find between my assumption and your expectation is the degree of honesty, which again is very subjective and a topic of another debate.

"It could be true for teens and a minority of middle-class young adults, but I don't think the majority of adults harbour any such delusions or illusory expectation nowadays!"

Even if i agree with you, it's very important to understand what and how "teens" in our country (both rural and urban) think since they are the future representation and I also think that the proportion of middle class young adults to the population as a whole, who may think this way, is large.

Now, in this note, I am not trying to defend corrupt politician. I am just trying to say that expecting any kind of altruistic behavior from the politician should be non-subjective (from our part) and incentive driven (from their part), just like any other profession.

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