I listened to an interesting podcast the other day, EconTalk with Martin Gurri. The topic they explored was digitalization and the effects on the public’s view of institutions and politics.
Martin Gurri has written the book The Revolt of the Public, a book about the tsunami of information that has become available to the public since the advent of the internet. He argues that in the old days information was scarcer and, more importantly, information came from a few select sources that were run by some kind of elite. Every country has them, media institutions that have existing for centuries. Things have changed, though, the public can get their information from other sources. Sources that are more credible, that do not have an agenda.
Because one thing that the new information has revealed is that the elites are not what we once thought. They used to be some ideal, when we saw the president of the US or some other important media personality, or politician, we used to think that they embodied a way of living that was admirable. We used to believe that the elites were working not only for themselves, but for some higher goal, for a future in which everyone is thriving. This picture has been shattered though, because we can now see the elites for what they are. They are just like the rest of us, the public. They have themselves in their best interest.
The internet has showed us the realities of our institution, they are run by elites who have little to no interest in solving the problems we face. And when they have an interest, they have no idea how to solve the problems we face. Thus, mistrust of institutions is growing. This mistrust may very well lead to a revolution one day, if not just a revamp of our institutions.
The conversation that Russell Roberts and Martin Gurri had about this topic had me change my thinking on what I have been seeing politically the last year. I have been somewhat scared about the populist movement, as I think that it may end in violence. I still fear violence, but I am also more positive regarding the populism. Maybe that is what is needed to change our institutions. I am of the opinion that many things are wrong with our institutions. They are too large, which limits personal freedom since they penetrate more and more parts of our lives. They are too complicated, which dilutes the responsibility for the decisions taken. Most of all, I think they are based on the premise that “experts” can make better decisions than individuals, a premise which I do not believe in. Experts have shown time and time again that they, just as the average individual, have no idea on how to solve, or at least remedy, inequality, unemployment, and, at present, how to protect the public from pandemics in efficient ways (especially in Sweden).
Now, I am going to focus in on Sweden specifically. Why? To explore the reasons to why this populist revamp of our institutions will be met with fierce resistance from a large part of the population. First, swedes have historically had a high trust in institutions and for a long time they have had no reason to mistrust their institutions. The success of the social democratic model has made Sweden one of the richest and most well-rounded countries in the world. But past success does not warrant future success. Public sentiment has been that it is dumb to fix something that works, but I believe that not fixing something that is broken sets us up for future devastation. Second, government in Sweden is large and it spans over a large portion of society. This means that there is an entire class of people that rely on the government for their livelihood, not by social welfare but rather by the government subsidizing their careers. This makes this class dependent on the government staying the same to keep their place in the societal hierarchy. This class of people includes journalists, culture workers, and all the jurymen that execute political decisions at all levels of government. All of these groups will want to keep their positions, which is why they will oppose changes.
What are sustainable institutions then? I am not sure. But there are some models of governance and decision making that are more interesting than others. I do believe that the scalability of government is important to consider. Making decisions on a local level is completely different than making decisions that affect an entire nation. Like Nassim Taleb and his friends I would therefore prefer a more decentralized model of governance. It allows for responsibility and responsiveness to local conditions. We will still need national institutions, but I think we could do with much fewer and smaller national institutions.
I think that this is it for this post, sorry if I am rambling a bit. This was an attempt at capturing some of the thoughts I have regarding current politics.