Government-by-Poll Is a Terrible Idea

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I really can’t disagree strongly enough with Tim Potts in this Majority Party PA letter from my inbox:

Finally, I don’t like to issue threats. However, after more than 40 years in this business I find there are times when you have to declare consequences and enforce them.

Citizens have the right to govern themselves. Public officials have a duty to serve the public. There are entirely too many public officials who think they know better than everyone else and the public be damned. Those are the Public Masters.

There are items on The Majority Party PA’s agenda with which I personally disagree. That doesn’t mean that my judgment should prevail over everyone else’s, nor does it mean that I should behave like the US Senate Republicans and just stonewall everything I don’t like. It means that I do what the public wants, and then I work to change their opinion so that I can make a better decision later. Not all decisions are or should be carved in stone. Another of our great fallacies is that once a law is passed it should never change. Laws always change. The only question is whether they change in the ways that people want or not.

The reason we have a representative democracy, and not government-by-poll, is that not everybody has the time to become an expert on every issue, and most people don’t want to.

That is why we elect representatives who share our values – who want the same outcomes we want – to go to Harrisburg and become experts on the issues, and then decide the “how” questions – how best to accomplish the outcomes constituents say they want.

There is no reason to believe that voters have any special insight on the “how” questions of public policy. Why would they? Most are not paying attention to politics even on a surface level, let alone at the granular level that would give them even a generalist knowledge of the ins and outs of various issues.

When you have a broken toilet, and you hire a plumber, the plumber doesn’t poll your family on the best way to fix the toilet. You hired him because he knows more than you about how to fix the problem. You want a specific outcome – a working toilet. If he fixes it, maybe you hire him again. If he doesn’t, then you hire a new plumber.

That is how government in a representative democracy should work. We ask politicians to deliver specific outcomes – high quality services at a fair price, clean air and water, an affordable cost of living, a high functioning transportation system, a dynamic business climate, etc. Then they and their staffers become experts on the relevant issues, and try to hash out the best way to deliver on these goals. If they do a good job, we reelect them, and if they fail, then we vote them out.

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