Considering the disastrous decisions made by politicians in Ireland over the past few years, I once again came to consider the person of the politician. It may be a populist platitude to complain about the quality of the typical politician, but there are oddities around the role. Governments typically regulate important professions: one must study and pass formal, peer-regulated exams to become a physician, a lawyer, even an accountant. To be a politician, however, one need not (in theory) study anything at all. In certain American circles, even, the lack of formal training is oddly viewed as a selling point (remember a certain Alaskan, anyone???).
Education is itself a good thing, and there are good reasons for insisting that important professionals are properly trained. Few would want a surgeon who had never passed medical exams to operate on them. What career has the potential of impacting more lives drastically than that of politician? They must make difficult decisions about regulations, finances, and foreign policy that can plunge (and recently have plunged…) nations into poverty or war. Yet most do this with no formal training in economics, morality, or even logic.
Surely this is madness. The difficulty comes with any proposed rectification. How could a republic mandate that its leaders were properly able to lead rationally without simultaneously making the profession (even more of) a closed and elitist affair?
Plato wanted to institute philosopher-kings who would wisely rule for the good of all. But his vision is rather condescending and totalitarian when one notes the details (not to mention rather impractical and bereft of artistic culture).
The first idea that comes to mind would be to create mandatory MAs and/or PhDs in being a politician (let’s call it “practical politics”), with a mandated course of studies, which one must complete in order to run in an election. To make it more egalitarian, the republic could then underwrite the fees for all who wanted. But this idea comes riddled with practical demons: 1) who decides the courses, their contents, their markings? Considering the difficulty of cabinet appointments, one can only imagine the rancor around faculty appointments to this course; 2) the cost would be enormous; 3) it would still hamper the lower classes from participation, and it would discourage anyone with “life experience” from running after having another career.
Rather damning difficulties.
Any other ideas for improving the candidate pool?