Why There Are So Many Policy Failures Despite the Existence of Democracy and Batteries of Experts

democracy autocracy

The incidence and frequency of major policy failures has been increasing in some of the major countries of the world , including the USA, UK, Brazil, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, India and Pakistan, to mention only some of the more obvious examples. This has brought immense and avoidable distress to hundreds of millions of people, apart from inflicting other longer term damage.

Some policy failures have been such a glaring nature that it would be an understatement to dismiss them merely as self-goals, rather it would be closer to reality to say that it would have been difficult for even an enemy to inflict the kind of harm on people as was inflicted by policy failures of their  own elected government.

While not all of the countries experiencing such increasing self-harm are democracies, it is important that some of the largest democracies governed by elected governments are included in this group. What is more, some of the more admired democracies, considered to be more mature, are also included in this group.

It was expected that a democracy would allow for the kind of wider consultations, participative decision making, a system of checks and balances that would prevent the risk of major policy failures. The additional safeguard of the ready availability of advice of a battery of experts, from within a government meritocracy and some  other highly reputed institutions, was supposed to  further minimize if not eliminate the possibility of major policy failure.

All this is available now, and there are high budgets for high-level meetings, consultations, consultancies, so-called think-tanks, but still very major, very distressing policy failures take place with very worrying frequency. Why?

I think one major reason for this is that government decisions in many countries are now influenced more by big business interests than by considerations of welfare, environment protection etc. Lobbyists of various big businesses spend vast amounts as donations to major political  parties, bribes, media campaigns etc. to ensure that their interests are dominant in decision making.

However at the same time certain politically important groups of people also need attention in democracies. So governments try to be somewhat accommodative towards certain other groups, particularly around election times, even though the dominant influence is that of big business interests.

Big business interests have enormous financial resources which they can spend in a very free way , and they have the expertise to buy broad based, longer-term support, investing in think-tanks, universities, academia , NGOs, media. This enables the policy they impose on governments to get support from many experts, media and NGOs , to an extent that complete falsehoods appear as the eternal truth ( for example widespread praise for so-called economic reforms or agricultural reforms or for highly disruptive and harmful technologies which increase the power of big business). In this way widespread support  is built for very harmful ideas and ideologies and the leaders who take this forward.

An important part of such efforts is to divide people at various levels and to seek support for harmful policies by playing off one section of people against the other. Towards this ends  various artificial divides among people on the basis of various identities such as religion, sect, ethnicity, caste, region, province, nationality etc. are created and promoted in many open as well as subtle ways. The politicians who are more adept in this are declared to be the most promising  by big business interests and get the most financial and other support from them, helping them to win elections. This leads to emergence of leaders with less understanding of real challenges but very dangerous tendencies of divisive agenda to emerge as very powerful and such leaders are often very friendly to each other, creating even more fearful possibilities at world level, all the more so because of the backing of billionaires.

In addition there may be more personality based factors relating to the ego, arrogance, eccentricity, nepotism etc. of individual leaders but the above listed factors are more important. These factors become more predominant in conditions of crony capitalism and people  often pay a very high price for policy failures, while the longer term impacts may sometimes be even worse.

Certainly the solution is not at all in the direction of more authoritarian regimes like those of Russia, China, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey which have immense problems of their own.

Such possibilities can be reduced significantly  only by a wider realization of the various serious deficiencies of existing democracy by more and more people at world level, and by their wider and stronger effort to genuinely improve democracy, with increasing national-level and international solidarity.

Bharat Dogra is a veteran journalist and author. His recent books include Protecting Earth for Children and Planet in Peril.




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