Repost: Some years ago, a number of Irish politicians knowingly sentenced some their constituents to death. A report by experts pointed out that small local hospitals did not have the experience, capacity and technology to provide specialist care in the case of heart attacks. In effect, the report said that a person who had a heart attack on the steps of the local hospital stood a better chance of survival if they were flown by air ambulance to a regional hospital with a dedicated experienced unit who dealt with heart attacks every day.
A rational analysis of the report would have led to a debate about how to ensure that such an efficient air ambulance unit could be provided. Instead, in Ireland, the local deputies argued that every small local hospital should have such a cardiac unit, a proposal that was not only impractical but if attempted to be implemented would suck resources from other parts of the health service, thus resulting in unnecessary deaths from non-cardiac related illness.
Why did they do it? Why did these elected representatives knowingly campaign for a policy they knew would actually kill some of their constituents? Primarily, one would suggest, because their constituents demanded it, and in a democracy, the voter is always right. Even when he or she doesn’t read the report or just plain refuses to accept its findings because he or she simply don’t like them. The voter rules.
When the voter is then standing over the grave of his or her wife or husband who died on an operating table from a heart attack, in the local hospital, it’s not their fault. It’s the health service’s fault for not providing a world class cardiac unit in a tiny town. The local deputy will attend the funeral and agree that the wife or husband has been let down, despite having known this would happen from the expert report. And so on it goes.
In a democracy, the pointed finger beats rational fact every time.
Francois Hollande ran for the Presidency of France promising to reverse Sarkozy’s very modest pension reforms. How could any intelligent rational man looking at the demographic and life expectancy statistics conclude that people should be permitted to retire earlier? Pensions and increasing care for the elderly cost money, and so more people must work longer and pay taxes to fund those services. Is Hollande a fool, in the real sense? Probably not. But he knew that the voters didn’t care about the statistics. They stamped their foot in the Free Stuff From The Government aisle and had a tantrum, and would only leave with him if he promised them a young pension. Even though he must have known that it was the wrong thing for France’s long-term viability as a self sustaining nation.
It’s an issue we don’t want to confront: modern life, with modern expectations, is incredibly complicated. If you want to build a world class cardiac capacity, it takes years of planning, to bring and train the right people together, in the right place, with the right equipment. It takes long term planning. But democratic politics is becoming less and less tolerant of long term planning. It’s attracting candidates who are thinking more and more short term, sometimes just to Friday afternoon or the following days newspapers, candidates who aren’t interested in anything that they can’t wave at their voters before the next election.
That’s not to say we should scrap democracy, of course. China does long term planning very well, but it also uses tanks against its own people. Democracy is still the most effective bulwark against tyranny and for that alone must be maintained. But as a guarantee of good, rational government it is becoming less and less effective.