Political Activity and Government Efficiency

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For most democratic countries in the world, it is a norm to keep bureaucracy and military, apart from a host of other bodies like Election Commission, Parliamentary or Experts panels, etc apolitical. This, despite them generally urging its citizens to take active interest in the affairs of the country. Why this paradox? The answer is that we want some people to simply “carry out” what politicians decide is right for the country. They are not supposed to question the decision after it is made. Of course, they are kept in the loop during the decision making process. This example dismisses the notion that greater political activity makes democracy better. If the bureaucracy was actively political it would go “out of the way” to implement what it considers right and eventually ruin itself by destroying its efficiency. This brings to the topic in discussion; that is just how much political activity do we desire from our citizens.

The problem there is of domain knowledge and authority. The general citizen has little knowledge about most issues. For example, if you ask a person on the street how much money a government have in India the answer is likely to be, that this question is irrelevant as government has lot of money but because of corruption it is not spending it efficiently. But in reality it having overspending problems and has to choose between infrastructure and welfare and subsidies. Now with their lack of domain knowledge, their political activity can rarely contribute positively. This is not to say their say is always irrelevant as in issues like corruption, transparency, inflation, unemployment, their knowledge is greater. Now if we come to a decision, disagreements afterwards or protests not only weakens the value of our decisions but also makes them difficult to implement. This is not to say protesters or that political disagreements are wrong but that we should arrive at a decision after enough consolation that there are no further disagreements. The policy or laws should mark the end of debates and should not increase it. This is what authority means. Once the final decision is taken there should no questioning of the authority over the decision but only implementation and obedience. This largely defines what the most efficient government should be like.

Political over-activity makes systems rotten and it destroys the process described. For example, citizens or political opposition angry at their plight, start to question established laws/policies, it is still possible to rescue these laws and policies but it is nearly impossible to implement them creating lose-lose scenarios. Neither is the new nor the older policy implemented nor are they important as they can change anytime. Also not all citizens are knowledgeable enough, that they won’t become decoys for politicians to win power. For example, in early 1970s, a famine made living conditions of Indians miserable, and the political opposition tried to make use of people’s anger to call for reelection so they could win elections meanwhile completely paralyzing the country’s economy. So we wasted our time on politics when it gave zero or negative results. So is it true that politics should we given limited time and interest?

It is striking that if we take statistics, assuming that country/states with one head are generally less politically active then ones with healthy competition, it becomes amply clear that this is true. Indian states like Gujarat, Maharashtra, Delhi, now Madhya Pradesh, all have little political competition; fare better economically than political hotbeds like Bihar, UP, Bengal which have heavy political followers and goons. Even in Far East Asian countries, which saw miracle growth were politically less active whereas political hotbeds like Middle East or Sub-Saharan Africa are politically active see poor or non-existent governments. So does high levels of political activity adversely affect government’s efficiency?

The answer to this is complex as this is a two way lane. While higher levels of political activity might adversely affect government’s efficiency, even an inefficient government forces or draws people’s anger and frustration. So we can’t clearly conclude the answer. This question is curiously similar to the age old question “what came before, the egg or the hen?”. Although this gives us the liberty to assume heightened level of political activity, may make a country’s policy weak. This is also because with political stability politicians can strongly implement policies which bring prosperity by a way which all might not accept but will succeed sooner or later. This is still better than a weak policy of right way because of better efficiency. Powerful political protest or movement reduce the ability of the government to direct policy in a planned manner to achieve a planned aim, instead forces them to change policies or its objectives to please people in the opposition, but can create a unplanned and weak policy regime. Thus we could conclude that limited political activity is best for any democracy.

3 comments to Political Activity and Government Efficiency

  • Arihant Sinha

    That not bad but states why we have continue my changing political parties force parties to try and make mobs to enact vote-getting subsidies, quota etc but in states where one party remain in power for sometime see good economic growth with politicians more willing to take risks

  • Arihant Sinha

    Yeah but I think if we give one party a 2 or 3 terms than we could get better governance as it could be more willing to take unpopular and tough decisions and be more focused on governance than politics

  • Arihant Sinha

    Yes but I think if we can give 2 to 3 terms to one government then there would be political stability and politicians would take unpopular and tough but required steps. They would also focus more on governance and less on politics

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