In a society in which the power at the top is fixed, or defined by someone else, getting the government of the layers that flow down from that to be tolerably correct is not too hard. Such as a colonial administration1. Or an English county. Or a theocracy? But when the entire structure needs to be self-supporting, the problem becomes much harder. Preventing too much drift, whilst also avoiding ossification is difficult. Cue my analysis of the USAnian constitution, in another post.
So when CIP comments that Brexit allows us Yanks to imagine that we might not be the stupidest democracy in the world I can but agree. Both Brexit and Trump are many things, but arguably manifestations of the public's separation from The Ruling Class and their increasing distrust of it. But this separation and distrust is also largely correct: TRC are not competent to their job2. Unsurprisingly: the chief qualification of a pol is the ability to get elected, which has little correlation with their ability to be competent in office; Darwinism applies in many areas, we should not fall victim to the error of believing in Intelligent Design.
How could you solve this problem? In a way, it ought to be self-solving: when the public becomes disenchanted and elects unsuitable people, those pols not elected, and those on the selection committees, and those voting in primaries, ought to learn from this and choose more suitable candidates. Alas, the feedback loops often don't work. Sometimes they are even unstable: if you're not elected, it is easy to decide this was because you weren't radical enough, and you move in the wrong direction. See-also rational ignorance. I don't see the Dems learning anything from 2016; and I don't see the UK or EU pols having learnt anything useful from Brexit.
I have come increasingly to believe that the direction to move in - this isn't a Final Solution, so I don't need to define it too carefully, it is more a direction to travel - is to have govt do less. They are, manifestly, not competent; so they should do less4. This though goes against the direction we've been moving for centuries; and directly opposes the Progressive View which invariably involves Govt Must Act. It is supported by only a small minority; even those parties that might nominally support it - Repubs in the USofA and Cons in the UK - don't actually support it.
Different views of competition
There are two sorts of competition: good competition, which acts as a spur to innovation and responsiveness, and results in a better world. And bad competition, in which two sides grind themselves down into the dust in a ding-dong battle to beat the other side. War is bad competition, unless you can win it quickly and cleanly. Civil war - a la Syria - is particularly bad. Market competition is generally good3. Political competition where it offers voters a choice of policies is good. But when it polarises into two parties fighting it out and turns into deadlock, it is bad. Is it a co-incidence that our two exemplars of bad governance - Trump and Brexit - come from systems with first-past-the-post electoral systems? [Note: this is not a suggestion that the best thing to do is to focus on the electoral system.]
Other things that are not the real problem
mt twote: The biggest public question in my opinion is not climate change. It is not global security. It... is bullshit immunity whose failure is at the root of all those other risks. I attempted to suggest that he meant governance, but he denied it, asserting that [BSI] has rapidly decayed of late. I don't believe that; I never trust the age-of-gold "it has rapidly decayed of late" stuff. That opinion is heavily influenced by Popper; for that see my Why don’t people pay attention to the future of their own world?
1. Cue howls of outrage. Yeah, I know it wasn't all roses or even close. Don't get too hung up on the details or my lack of history. I've read Heart of Darkness.
2. In all likelihood, they never were. But the increasing complexity of the world makes the job harder, and the increasing transparency of the world makes the failure more obvious. Meanwhile, the selection process for pols becomes ever more ruthlessly focussed on electability, which selects out competence.
3. Progressives will leap in with the other sort of bad competition - fake competition - where evil companies or pols gang up behind the scenes and agree to pretend to compete but actually collude, thereby ripping off the public. But this isn't actually competition, so doesn't need to go into my taxonomy.
4. For an example of people pushing this idea, the market reduces or eliminates the need for collective or political choices to be made concerning composition, organization, extent, and distribution of valued product.
* The left has no theory of the behavior of the government?
* Sometimes the first duty of intelligent men is the restatement of the obvious; from George Orwell's review of Power: A New Social Analysis by Bertrand Russell in The Adelphi, January 1939.
* Factcheck: Is 3-5C of Arctic warming now ‘locked in’? - carbonbrief