Monday, March 28

How do you run a government when the voters are smarter than you?

Pundita's regular readers are 'ahead of the curve' people--those who see just a little farther and quicker than most. They know we're all students now, striving to comprehend massive shifts in civilization that took half a century to build and finally converged around the turn of this century.

One of the biggest shifts has gone almost unnoticed by the media, even though signs of it are everywhere. I first got wind of the shift 30 years ago, courtesy of a computer scientist who was known as the Guru to several in the computer industry. I wasn't involved with the computer field but one day I expressed my concern that the US government would eventually abuse computer technology to create a Big Brother society. The Guru looked at me as if I was a child and replied, "You don't understand. If they get too far out of line we'll shut them down."

I did not understand the import of his words until a week after 9/11. Then it hit me that for the first time in recorded history the pyramid of society is turned upside down. Except for a very few pockets around the world, the government does not represent the smartest and best-informed people in the society. This situation is crashing the Machiavellian School of government (exemplified by Henry Kissinger in modern times), which has been the linchpin of civilization going back to the ancient times.

The government and military in the United States are aware of the situation and at least some of its implications. They have no choice but to be aware. In a globalized, market-oriented society, only the saintly among the smartest are going to labor in the government for a fraction of the salary they could get from working in private enterprise. Indeed, only the war's appeal to patriotism is bringing in the kind of minds the government needs to fight this war effectively.

Something like this up-ended situation has arisen several times in history but it's always been nipped in the bud by military conquest. There have been eras when a knowledge explosion put a great deal of information within reach of many outside the ruling class. As long as the rulers had control of a military, they could simply enslave the burgeoning brainpower and keep it doing their bidding.

That solution to the problem of the masses getting above their station came crashing down on 9/11. Nineteen guys with box cutters outfoxed NORAD, bombed the flagship building of the most powerful military in history and destroyed the symbol of world trade.

Granted, the 19 had financing and planning behind them that trace back at least in part, and by many twists and turns, to a few governments. Yet that doesn't invalidate the fact that possession of a standing army no longer guarantees the ruling class a secure berth. Nowhere is that more evident than in the K&R (kidnap and ransom) industry, which is huge in certain countries.

Again, one may argue that the most successful gangs depend on their government, or at least corrupt factions or individuals in the government, to help them. But the elite in several countries must take very elaborate and very expensive precautions to prevent being hit by kidnappers.

Setting aside criminality and terrorism the question is how government can function effectively with so many smart people outside government putting in their two cents worth and demanding at every turn that the government keep up with their curve.

The flip side of the issue is that the problems now facing humanity are so huge that governments need all the brainpower they can get to assist them.

Last year I spoke with a guy in his 30s from India who spent a half hour blowing off steam about the problems in his country, his government's totally inadequate response, and the government's deaf ear to the recommendations made by people in his class -- young, smart and well educated professionals. I asked what ideas he had about getting New Delhi to listen.

He replied, "I will tell you how it is. We're waiting for the older generation to die off."

Given the current state of medicine that could be a long wait. And look at the age of the top leaders in China and Saudi Arabia. If you're not completely gaga, you can hang onto power well until the young ones have white hair.

So here we are. Trying to balance between anarchy and prodding slow governments to act more quickly and efficiently to deal with problems that the smart ones outside government clearly see and know how to solve.

Make no mistake; even the governments in the wealthiest, most powerful nations are very slow. Pundita has received letters asking why she never returned to discussing what she learned from Yossef Bodansky's seminar at the National Intelligence Conference. We're working up to it--trying to find a way to discuss what we learned without plunging the sensitive reader into a steep depression.

But without going into gory detail, you need to stop and think about the people you elect to represent you in Congress. Why do you elect them? For their ability to plow daily through 200 page reports with footnotes on geopolitical situations? For their ability to analyze and synthesize data in a flash? Or so they can sit on congressional foreign relations, defense and intel committees?

No. You elect them to represent your interests on a range of domestic issues. Yet realize the interests are now so complex that to understand them requires plowing through more 200 page reports with footnotes.

If you observe that surely they have aides to do all that reading and analysis and synthesis for them -- um, have you seen the aides? Most are kids straight out of college with virtually no real-world knowledge, and who weren't picked to be congressional aides for their brainpower. They were picked because they loyally served the party and the congressional's campaign.

That's enough scary campfire stories for today.

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