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Good Politician != Good Decider April 3, 2009
I've just realized what's wrong with our government: it's run by politicians. Seriously though, hear me out. The qualities that make a good politician aren't the qualities that make an ideal government official.

Here are the traits that make a successful politian:

→ Electability

Because of our media-based election system, you can't get into office unless you have a good on-camera personality, have the gift of gab, and are generally "likable." These are nice qualities for someone to have, and somewhat correlated with leadership, but less so with decision-making ability.

→ Leadership/Charisma

The ability to get others to join in your cause, to spend their efforts on your purpose. I believe people are hard-wired to want to follow leaders - it's part of our tribal ancestry.

→ Networking/Schmoozing/Politicizing

If you're able to rub elbows with the elite, "network", and get into "scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" exchanges with other politicians, you're going to be more effective.

But really, the most important trait we need in a government leader is:

→ Intelligence & decision-making

We need officials who can decide questions like: by analyzing the facts and making good judgement calls.

Unfortunately, I think the first 3 traits are anti-correlated with good decision-making and analysis. The people who are good at dealing with other people typically aren't the type to study the facts and research a topic.

A new form of government.
If it were up to me, we would separate the "politician" and "decision-maker" roles.

We would have a large body of decision-makers - folks whose only job is to research issues and make informed decisions. These decision-makers would essentially act as a "brain trust" and be isolated from the day-to-day activities a normal politician does. That is, they would be spared from photo-ops, dealing with the media, filibusters, and other wastes of time. You know, so they'd have time to actually read the bills they're voting on.

The politicians would be required to bring decisions to to the decision-makers and accept their decision. But note that the politicians still have the power of picking which decisions to present. So the politicians can still choose the issues to focus on.

For example, if a politician thinks that we need to reduce carbon emissions, she might propose a cap-and-trade system for emissions. The decision-makers might review this proposal and reject it because it wouldn't be effective. The politician then might propose a simple carbon tax bill instead. The decision-makers might approve this proposal, and then the approval could be turned into a bill.

The key is to have a decision-maker group that is highly intelligent and unbiased. You might think "you'll have all the same problems of electing decision-makers as you do for electing politicians." I don't think it would, for a number of reasons:

A decision-maker has a much more "boring" job. They are handed proposals, and they get to evaluate them. They can't choose which proposals they are given, so it would be much more difficult for special-interests to penetrate this group. Also, there should be some sort of impartiality-judgement (like they do for jury selection) when decision-makers are selected.

The group would be large (over 1000 people), so it would be more robust to rogue decision-makers. Also, any one decision-maker would have far less power, so it wouldn't attract the power-hungry politician type.

What do you think?
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