Studies have shown that cognitive diversity can improve the effectiveness of thinking and quality of decision making in groups. This is in part because it forces people to articulate and defend their assumptions. Along the same lines, studies have shown that putting an ‘idiot’ into a group of ‘geniuses’ has improved outcomes.
The benefits of adding idiots to groups is why we have professional politicians. Professional politicians being representatives whose knowledge and experience is limited to electoral or party voting calculus or running “campaigns”. They are also generally those whose careers are essentially limited to working for ministerial or electoral offices, unions, public affairs and government relations advisory (lobbying) firms, in the government relations departments of large corporates or public policy advocacy tanks (think BCA or Property Council). (Please note the distinction between public policy advocacy tanks and public policy think tanks; they are different beasts.)
In the right quantity, these professional politicians provide an important feedback loop. In the wrong quantity, you get policy by polling and values vacuity. Essentially, a parliamentary kakistocracy.
Ironically, these kakistocrats, who have low levels of cognitive diversity are the ones that loudly and vehemently advocate for cultural diversity in domains outside their own. They seem to believe that cultural diversity is an effective proxy for cognitive diversity, notwithstanding that ministerial staffers or union officials or corporate affairs hacks of varied gender and race still think like ministerial staffers or union officials or corporate affairs hacks.
The absence of genuine cognitive and experiential diversity in our parliaments and cabinets is a serious problem. It is ripe for groupthink, epistemic hubris and the arrogant belief that complexity can be controlled. Like salt in a meal, a little bit enhances the flavour and a lot ruins the whole thing and may even kill you.
And whilst the most blatant recent example is the Victorian quarantine fiasco, this problem is not limited to any particular political party. This is a problem within all major Australian political parties. Just go through the Parliament House Senators and Members biographical pages and see if you can find fifteen representatives who have senior leadership experience on their resumes. People who have built or run businesses. People who have managed more than ten people. People who have had to hire and fire. People who have had to worry about making payroll. People who have had to meet the compliance obligations dumped on them by our Parliaments and regulators.
Yet because of their skill in electoral calculus, they crowd out people with different and useful experiences who could make valuable contributions.
Perhaps this is a naive perspective, but it seems that once upon an earlier time, the essence of politicians was to strike a balance between responding to and influencing community desires. Influencing and educating the electorate was particularly important when implementing complex policy reform. Nowadays, any policy or reform that elicits even the slightest political noise is dumped faster than a Victorian health minister.
So the question for we the people is, do we continue to suffer these kakistocrats in their exaggerated numbers or do we do something about it. Sortition would be ideal, but perhaps party democratic reform would be second best.
There are ample options out there.
Let’s take our government back.
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