Education requirements for elected officials

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Cradarc
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Education requirements for elected officials

Postby Cradarc » Mon Feb 15, 2016 7:15 pm UTC

NOTE: I live in the U.S.A so that's the political environment I'm drawing my experience from. Feel free to to discuss other countries though.

Politics in the modern world is ridiculously complex. Clearly there are some people who are simply not qualified to hold certain positions in the government. However, in democratic republics it is perfectly possible for a popular, but unqualified, person to win the election and take office. What if we required all candidates for political office to hold PhDs in a relevant field? For example, anyone running for legislator must have a JD or PhD in Law.

The education requirement can be waived if the candidate can prove he/she has over 8 years of relevant experience. This makes positions accessible to those who may not have the financial background to obtain a formal degree.

Some may complain this is elitism, but I think there's anything wrong with this type of elitism. We need intelligent, qualified people in power. We need people who are diplomatic and capable of conducting healthy discourse.
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Re: Education requirements for elected officials

Postby cphite » Mon Feb 15, 2016 8:02 pm UTC

Is there any evidence that legislators with law degrees are actually better? And, even if there was, do we really want a system where our lawmakers all come from essentially the same background? Some would argue that having different backgrounds and areas of expertise is actually beneficial.

Besides, I think you'd find that anyone with enough money who wanted to run for office would find themselves holding a PhD pretty quickly, regardless of whether or not they were qualified.

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Re: Education requirements for elected officials

Postby eran_rathan » Mon Feb 15, 2016 8:58 pm UTC

One could also state that having a law degree should make one ineligible to be a legislator, simply so that bills don't get drowned in legalese.
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Re: Education requirements for elected officials

Postby morriswalters » Mon Feb 15, 2016 10:12 pm UTC

Cradarc wrote:We need intelligent, qualified people in power. We need people who are diplomatic and capable of conducting healthy discourse.
Can you demonstrate that any such people exist? Intelligence doesn't give you a pass on being human.

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Re: Education requirements for elected officials

Postby ucim » Tue Feb 16, 2016 2:25 am UTC

The problem with the people in power is not lack of intelligence, or lack of experience, or lack of qualifications, or lack of any of the things we "need".

The problem is:
1: lack of integrity
2: ... well, everything else comes back to #1.

By and large...
Spoiler:
I would never make a categorical statement, because they are always wrong.
...politicians are in it for ulterior motives. This is more true the higher up the power scale you go (honest people fall by the wayside). People may run for town council because they feel strongly about some issue or other, and want to make a difference - in that sense they actually do represent those that voted for them. But for each stage of the game, you have to get elected. And that requires tradeoffs. Those uncomfortable making these tradeoffs are weeded out. The higher you go, the more you'll find people willing to compromise anything they need to in order to get the job.

I can legitimately disagree with somebody in office, but that's not the problem. The problem is that the one in office all too often disagrees with his own stated position.

Consider that pretty much the only people who run for office are the people who want to govern - that is, the ones who want power over you. I don't want people who are in office in order to gain power over me, (despite the fact that being in office does exactly that). I'd rather have somebody in office who has respect for the power they hold over people. If they have to make a decision about something that they know little about, they can hire some brains to advise them... but this presumes they want to actually do the right thing. They don't. They want what's best for the next election. And people are easily fooled.

It's not the elected officials that need educating, it's the general populace. I'd like to add "and we can start with the reporters in the media" but even that doesn't do the trick, because the press is driven by sales, and stupid sells.

If there's one thing ("one weird trick"?) I would want people to absorb, it's "It's not that simple."

Everything I have read in the press or from politicians or anywhere that wants me to change my opinion... that I already know enough about to make a judgment, simplifies the issue in question to absurdity. I extrapolate that most things that I do not know about, that I read about from people who want to change my opinion are doing the same thing.

We need people to realize this.

If people realized this, politicians and advertisers would be stopped dead in their tracks.

It's that simple.
Spoiler:
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Re: Education requirements for elected officials

Postby Cradarc » Tue Feb 16, 2016 2:39 am UTC

Some good points made.

cphite wrote:Is there any evidence that legislators with law degrees are actually better? And, even if there was, do we really want a system where our lawmakers all come from essentially the same background? Some would argue that having different backgrounds and areas of expertise is actually beneficial.

Usually politician hear from experts/consultants when they are considering things outside of politics. I'm not advocating for lawyers to run the country. I was trying to describe people who have studied law and its effects on society. Someone may run for office because the rent is too high and they want to do something about it. That's fine, but they should also realize legislation is more than just pushing selfish agendas.

cphite wrote:Besides, I think you'd find that anyone with enough money who wanted to run for office would find themselves holding a PhD pretty quickly, regardless of whether or not they were qualified.

True, but that is the case even if there isn't an education requirement. People with money have better chances.

eran_rathan wrote:One could also state that having a law degree should make one ineligible to be a legislator, simply so that bills don't get drowned in legalese.

Well, we do want our bills to be specific. Just because someone studied law doesn't mean they can't write without all the jargon.

morriswalters wrote:Can you demonstrate that any such people exist? Intelligence doesn't give you a pass on being human.

I'm not sure I follow. In a democracy, the elected officials represents their constituents. The constituents have human interests. Sure, it would be nice for our leaders to be warm and friendly, but as long as things are kept in order and people are treated fairly, why does it matter?

ucim wrote: I'd rather have somebody in office who has respect for the power they hold over people. If they have to make a decision about something that they know little about, they can hire some brains to advise them

Agreed. Maybe I'm biased, but I think well-educated people tend to have more respect for power.
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Re: Education requirements for elected officials

Postby ucim » Tue Feb 16, 2016 3:37 am UTC

Cradarc wrote:Maybe I'm biased, but I think well-educated people tend to have more respect for power.
Well educated people are more able to finesse their abuse of power.

Seriously, you're aiming at the wrong problem. There's not much of a difference between the OP, and one that would require at least a college education before being permitted to vote on matters as serious as electing our national leaders.

And I think you know that.

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Re: Education requirements for elected officials

Postby morriswalters » Tue Feb 16, 2016 12:49 pm UTC

We need intelligent, qualified people in power. We need people who are diplomatic and capable of conducting healthy discourse.
I responded to this. I asked you why you thought humans could be diplomatic and have healthy discourse?
morriswalters wrote:Can you demonstrate that any such people exist? Intelligence doesn't give you a pass on being human.
In a nutshell can you show me that in any significant way that educated humans act differently than uneducated humans. They cheat on their wives, steal and lie. They are vain and self important.

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Re: Education requirements for elected officials

Postby Puppyclaws » Tue Feb 16, 2016 2:06 pm UTC

Over half the senate and 25% of the house already have advanced law degrees. It's not working out so hot. http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/ ... _congress/

Cradarc wrote:Agreed. Maybe I'm biased, but I think well-educated people tend to have more respect for power.


The Smartest Guys in the Room demonstrated what a terrible idea this is; there is no correlation between intelligence and respect for power, and very intelligent people are much better at abusing power.

Intelligent/highly-educated people are not in general better than those who are not. Ben Carson is one of the world's greatest neurosurgeons. He would be a terrible politician.

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Re: Education requirements for elected officials

Postby Zohar » Tue Feb 16, 2016 2:13 pm UTC

Of course you want elected officials to be intelligent, but requiring them to have an education puts a huge barrier of entry, especially in the US where getting a JD is ridiculously expensive. You're essentially saying only rich people can be legislators, and politics is skewed towards the rich quite a bit anyway. No, I don't think you need a specific education to become a legislator - you need to be able to make informed decisions in a compassionate and logical matter. It requires you to be smart, and for you to hire experts that are able to present the facts to you accurately. Those experts should have JDs, perhaps, but not the elected official.
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Re: Education requirements for elected officials

Postby leady » Tue Feb 16, 2016 3:20 pm UTC

To make things interesting, make politicians get at least a 120 on an IQ test :)

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Re: Education requirements for elected officials

Postby Zohar » Tue Feb 16, 2016 3:37 pm UTC

That's a terrible idea - because of the ridiculous esteem intelligence has as well because of the incredibly limited and culturally-dependent scope of an IQ test.
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Re: Education requirements for elected officials

Postby Tyndmyr » Tue Feb 16, 2016 4:48 pm UTC

We already have a ton of lawyers in politics. A wildly disproportionate amount.

If you want representatives to be, well, representative, this is a problem.

Education isn't quite the same thing as intelligence. Nor is intelligence the only thing I'm worried about a representative having. I will cheerfully concede that Clinton is plenty intelligent, for instance, but I still don't trust her.

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Re: Education requirements for elected officials

Postby mcd001 » Tue Feb 16, 2016 7:49 pm UTC

For reasons already enumerated, requiring advanced degrees or other proof of intelligence would not work any better than what's in place now. Two things that I think *would* work better:

1) Term limits. No more career politicians. They serve their time in office, then ride off into the sunset to live under the laws they helped pass. Also, there's not as much time or opportunity for them to be corrupted by the system, or the power they wield.

2) Limited government. Government at each level (Federal, State, and local) should do only those things appropriate for that level of government. If in doubt, check the Constitution. The more power government has--the more it taxes, the more it regulates, and the more it spends--the greater the potential for corruption and abuse. After all, government officials cannot abuse power they do not possess.

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Re: Education requirements for elected officials

Postby ucim » Tue Feb 16, 2016 8:54 pm UTC

mcd001 wrote:Two things that I think *would* work better [than an education requirement for elected officials]:
1) Term limits. [...]
2) Limited government. [...]
These are problematic, mainly because they address a different issue.

1: Term limits sound good, and the reason given sounds convincing upon first glance. But it's not like there will just be "less power" - rather, the power will be elsewhere, residing in the (nonelected) bureaucracy with which each succeeding elected official needs to function. The alternative, I suppose, is to clear out the entire bureaucracy every election, but I don't see that doing anything except keeping anything from getting done. Yes, we do this with the (US) presidency, but the lower you go, the less practical this becomes.

2: Limited government sounds good too, but it has nothing to do with the OP. This is just an excuse to trot out a favorite political idea. Government needs to be powerful enough to protect me (from my fellow citizen as well as enemies of the State), but should not have power over me, preventing me from doing as I wish. But you can't have it both ways. Exactly where to draw the line, and why to draw it there, is not simple. The power that the government does not have because it's "limited government" is retained by people who wish me harm: Business owners who would pollute the rivers, gangs who would rape my sister, car part manufacturers who disguies a shrapnel bomb as an air bag, and hospitals who deny my partner visitation rights because they don't like who I married.

But the discussion of how limited a government should be is an utter red herring here.

The thing that is missing in the discussion is a clear statement of just specifically which (of the many!) problems of (US) politics we are trying to address.

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Re: Education requirements for elected officials

Postby mcd001 » Tue Feb 16, 2016 10:36 pm UTC

ucim wrote:The thing that is missing in the discussion is a clear statement of just specifically which (of the many!) problems of (US) politics we are trying to address.

The problem stated in the OP appears to be "Politics in the modern world is ridiculously complex," to the point that requiring advanced degrees by office holders was floated as a solution. This idea didn't seem to get much traction among respondents. I suggested term limits and limited government, and while I didn't specifically say in my earlier post that these would reduce the complexity of government, I think they very well could (in addition to their benefits of reducing government corruption and abuse of power). After all, complex laws and burdensome regulations are a predictable side effect of corrupt politicians (who write laws for the benefit of their cronies and donors), and powerful government (with bureaucracies that seek to expand their reach and justify their existence).

I'm not going to be able to answer all your questions on where--between total anarchy and total tyranny--the lines of government power *should* be drawn in any post of reasonable length, but I do believe that given a reasonably-drawn line, these two concepts would address the OP (reducing the complexity of government) without exposing your sister to increased risk of rape or you to increased danger from exploding airbags.

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Re: Education requirements for elected officials

Postby morriswalters » Tue Feb 16, 2016 11:20 pm UTC

mcd001 wrote:The problem stated in the OP appears to be "Politics in the modern world is ridiculously complex," to the point that requiring advanced degrees by office holders was floated as a solution.
Government is unreasonably complex. This has nothing to do with the intelligence of those who govern. Rather to me it has to do with the inherent complexity of trying to govern large numbers of individuals.
ucim wrote: Government needs to be powerful enough to protect me (from my fellow citizen as well as enemies of the State), but should not have power over me, preventing me from doing as I wish.
This is precisely the problem. We want to keep other people from speeding, not ourselves. There is actually a real world example of this in the interaction of humans and autonomous cars.

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Re: Education requirements for elected officials

Postby cphite » Tue Feb 16, 2016 11:22 pm UTC

mcd001 wrote:
ucim wrote:The thing that is missing in the discussion is a clear statement of just specifically which (of the many!) problems of (US) politics we are trying to address.

The problem stated in the OP appears to be "Politics in the modern world is ridiculously complex," to the point that requiring advanced degrees by office holders was floated as a solution. This idea didn't seem to get much traction among respondents. I suggested term limits and limited government, and while I didn't specifically say in my earlier post that these would reduce the complexity of government, I think they very well could (in addition to their benefits of reducing government corruption and abuse of power). After all, complex laws and burdensome regulations are a predictable side effect of corrupt politicians (who write laws for the benefit of their cronies and donors), and powerful government (with bureaucracies that seek to expand their reach and justify their existence).


I like term limits. The problem is convincing career politicians to write up laws that limit career politicians.

I'd personally like to see legislators have limits of two consecutive terms per chamber. That is, if you're a Senator you could serve two terms but then have to take at least one term off from the Senate. You'd be free to run for whatever other office you like.

I'm not going to be able to answer all your questions on where--between total anarchy and total tyranny--the lines of government power *should* be drawn in any post of reasonable length, but I do believe that given a reasonably-drawn line, these two concepts would address the OP (reducing the complexity of government) without exposing your sister to increased risk of rape or you to increased danger from exploding airbags.


If the problem is "government is too complex" the most reasonable solution is "make government less complex" - rather than try to come up with ways to find smarter politicians.

The problem is not that our politicians aren't educated or don't understand the law. They are and they do. That's actually part of the reason why our government is so complicated. Because they do understand, all too well, how to bend and shape the system to meet their (and their donors) wants and needs.

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Re: Education requirements for elected officials

Postby ucim » Tue Feb 16, 2016 11:23 pm UTC

mcd001 wrote: After all, complex laws and burdensome regulations are a predictable side effect of corrupt politicians...
No, complex laws are a result of the complexity of real life. Yes, some of the total complexity of the law is a result of inappropriate laws being passed that benefit one group over another, but pretty much all laws benefit one group over another. Where you stand depends in part on where you sit, whether you are a politician or a voter.

Another part of the complexity of law is that the law is not actually in the statutes, but in the judicial decisions also. It has to be that way, because the statutes cannot cover all possibilities and still be readable, and because historically, judicial law came before statutory law. The two have to be taken together, and that's not just a logic problem.

A third part of the complexity of law is the powerful forces advocating for one or another version of the law to be written (or interpreted). Most of the law that matters is high stakes (DCMA, health care, telecommunications bills, abortion...) which generally means there are no good simple answers, and where there are, there is often a huge opposition to them.

Society is complex, full of people and groups wanting to take advantage. The laws can't help but be complex. But making them less complex hurts at least one group, and that group doesn't want it.

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Re: Education requirements for elected officials

Postby Cradarc » Wed Feb 17, 2016 4:45 am UTC

Under what circumstances will a stereotypical farm hand be more qualified to be president than a stereotypical professor of Constitutional law?

Statistically speaking, they are both equally likely to become corrupted by power. The farm hand, however, will be more easily manipulated due to his naivety. If for some reason, the general public like the farm hand, does that necessarily make him the better leader?
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Re: Education requirements for elected officials

Postby elasto » Wed Feb 17, 2016 7:38 am UTC

Cradarc wrote:Under what circumstances will a stereotypical farm hand be more qualified to be president than a stereotypical professor of Constitutional law?


Montevideo – José Mujica, president of Uruguay, has been described as the world’s poorest and most generous political leader; he donates about 90% of his salary to charities, lives in a modest house at his wife’s flower farm, and drives a 1987 VW Beetle.

José Mujica, 77, is an atypical politician. Uruguayans know him as “Pepe” and just about everyone in the country agrees that, in everyday life, he’s a citizen like any other, except he doesn’t have a bank account and has very few debts. He lists an old VW Beetle as his only personal asset, although he also gets to use, as official transport vehicle, a humble Chevrolet Corsa which he calls “the Presidential car”.

By law, Mujica’s annual salary is about US$ 150,000. Pepe keeps 10% of it for personal expenses and transfers the rest to a Foundation administered by the Movement of Popular Participation, his political left-wing organization, which supports small productive enterprises and NGOs working on housing developments for the poor. That leaves Mujica about US$ 1,250 a month.

“I do fine with that amount; I have to do fine because there are many Uruguayans who live with much less,” said Mujica in an interview with El Mundo

Lowest paid politician
How does Mujica’s salary compare with earnings of other political leaders? Assuming that most of the highest-paid political leaders do not give away an important fraction of their salary, and just to mention a few comparative examples, Mujica’s annual take-home pay (US$15,000) is 5.8 percent of David Cameron’s (UK) annual income; 4.2 percent of Stephen Harper’s (Canada); 3.1 percent of B. Obama’s yearly income (USA); 2.9 percent of Kenya’s Raila Odinga; just 2.5 percent of what Julia Gillard of Australia earns, and only 0.7% of the income amassed by Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore.

An example of austerity and solidarity
At a time when many world leaders request or impose austerity on their country’s citizens, Mujica himself maintains a very simple and austere lifestyle. He doesn’t live in the Palace of Suarez y Reyes, the official presidential residence. Instead, he lives in a farmhouse in Rincón del Cerro, a locality in the outskirts of Montevideo, the Uruguayan capital.

The farm and the house are the property of his wife Lucía Topolansky, whom Pepe married in 2005 after many years of co-habitation. At Lucía’s farm, the couple operates a vegetable and flower growing business.

During the coldest days of the winter of 2012 (Southern Hemisphere), Mujica offered the use of the presidential residence, normally used for government meetings, to serve as shelter for homeless families. The Ministry of Social Development (MIDES) managed to find suitable alternatives, and the Presidential Palace was not used, but it remains as an option in case of emergencies.

Most recently, José Mujica took part in a meeting of CEFIR (Training Center for Regional Integration) where he attended a lecture on “Challenges for Mercosur” (the Southern Common Market). He had a bruised nose. When asked about the cause of his injury, he confessed it happened while helping a neighbour to repair a metal roof after a severe wind storm that recently hit Southern Brazil, Uruguay and Northern Argentina.


There are a lot of advantages to a politician not being from elite academia - not least that they'd be better able to sympathise and empathise with the majority of the people he seeks to represent. And, as Mujica says, it's all the better for leading by example if times demand austerity.

Statistically speaking, they are both equally likely to become corrupted by power. The farm hand, however, will be more easily manipulated due to his naivety. If for some reason, the general public like the farm hand, does that necessarily make him the better leader?


You're conflating a couple of things here: No, public likeability isn't necessarily going to have have a strong correlation with competence; But that's the downside of democracy: Its goal isn't to find the best possible leader so much as to avoid the worst.

Also, I disagree completely with the premise of this thread: The most important quality of a leader is not that they are educated but that they are capable of surrounding themselves with and listening to educated people. In other words - we want wise leaders moreso than strictly intelligent ones.

Sure, there's some kind of correlation between those attributes, but personally I'd be against any arbitrary educational cutoff.

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Re: Education requirements for elected officials

Postby ijuin » Wed Feb 17, 2016 9:28 am UTC

As my maternal grandfather would say, the difference between an intelligent person and a wise person is that an intelligent person knows how to use a weapon, while a wise person knows when to use it.

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Re: Education requirements for elected officials

Postby Tyndmyr » Wed Feb 17, 2016 12:47 pm UTC

Cradarc wrote:Under what circumstances will a stereotypical farm hand be more qualified to be president than a stereotypical professor of Constitutional law?

Statistically speaking, they are both equally likely to become corrupted by power. The farm hand, however, will be more easily manipulated due to his naivety. If for some reason, the general public like the farm hand, does that necessarily make him the better leader?


You're assuming they're both good people when they become president, and only become corrupted after taking office.

Look at our current crop of candidates. Does that seem like a reasonable assumption?

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Re: Education requirements for elected officials

Postby morriswalters » Wed Feb 17, 2016 5:05 pm UTC

Cradarc wrote:The farm hand, however, will be more easily manipulated due to his naivety.
Can you support that assertion?

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Re: Education requirements for elected officials

Postby cphite » Wed Feb 17, 2016 8:35 pm UTC

Cradarc wrote:Under what circumstances will a stereotypical farm hand be more qualified to be president than a stereotypical professor of Constitutional law?


I suppose it depends on your stereotypes.

The popular stereotypes seem to be that if you're someone who works the land, or works with your hands, and so forth - that you must either be stupid, uneducated, or at the very least deprived of advanced education. And, that if you're a professor of... well, anything... that you must be highly intelligent, well educated, and obviously more sophisticated.

And that is, frankly, a load of horseshit. On both sides of it.

There are plenty of farmers and other laborers who aren't doing what they do because they stupid or uneducated or naive or similar reasons. And, there are plenty of professors in law and any other field who are, frankly, buffoons.

And even if we ignore that, the fact of the matter is there is more to being a leader than intellect and education. There are things like honor and integrity, and decency, that are not at all dependent on ones choice of career.

It might actually be nice to have more people in power who know what it means to put in a hard days work. It might be nice to have more people in power who know what it's like to worry - legitimately worry - about making ends meet. People who actually know what is involved in running a business - a real one, not a classroom example.

Statistically speaking, they are both equally likely to become corrupted by power. The farm hand, however, will be more easily manipulated due to his naivety.


Right, because all farm hands are uneducated rubes who are easily dazzled by city folk...

If for some reason, the general public like the farm hand, does that necessarily make him the better leader?


Not necessarily, but it can help. Being a good leader is a package deal. It's a combination of getting things done and doing things that are good for the people you're leading. Some leaders get things done because they're good at going neck deep into policy; others get them done by bringing the right people together and letting *them* go neck deep into policy. Does it really matter which one?

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Re: Education requirements for elected officials

Postby Cradarc » Wed Feb 17, 2016 9:03 pm UTC

@Elasto
If you look more into the background of Mujica, you will notice he was very active in politics before being elected into office. At the time of his election, he was not a mere farmer. He was well acquainted with the world of politics. In my OP, I explicitly stated formal education is not required if relevant experience can be demonstrated.

@Thread
A lot of people have been saying "The person doesn't have to be smart, they just have to be humble enough to listen to smart people." What makes you think those educated advisors are somehow free from selfish interests? If the person in charge lacks the knowledge to form political judgments on their own, their advisors can take advantage of their ignorance, willfully or inadvertently.

Suppose there is $5 billion free to use. A group of scientists wants the money for building a new space ship. A environmental group wants it to go into tax incentives for alternative energy. A group of farmers want it to go toward tax breaks for small businesses. The defense department wants it to go towards research for increased cyber security.
There is legitimate reason to support all of these causes. Pure wisdom isn't going to tell a leader what to do. They need to consider the complexity and ramifications of each choice. Advisors will have their own biases. The leader needs weight them carefully and come to a decision. This is a skill that needs to be honed.

cphite wrote:Some leaders get things done because they're good at going neck deep into policy; others get them done by bringing the right people together and letting *them* go neck deep into policy. Does it really matter which one?

Then why bother electing someone? Why not just run a job search for these "right" individuals and have them take charge? The person bringing people together must be able to identify the strengths and weakness of those individuals. They must be able to anticipate the reaction to those choices from other areas of the government and the general public. They need to know these people beforehand because they need to have a full picture of these people's characters to trust them.
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Re: Education requirements for elected officials

Postby Tyndmyr » Wed Feb 17, 2016 9:14 pm UTC

Cradarc wrote:@Elasto
If you look more into the background of Mujica, you will notice he was very active in politics before being elected into office. At the time of his election, he was not a mere farmer. He was well acquainted with the world of politics. In my OP, I explicitly stated formal education is not required if relevant experience can be demonstrated.


To who?

All these 'vet the voters' or 'vet the candidates' ideas run into this. Who decides what is sufficient?

How do you guarantee they won't blatantly bias the shit out of it?

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Re: Education requirements for elected officials

Postby Zohar » Wed Feb 17, 2016 9:37 pm UTC

Cradarc wrote:@Thread
A lot of people have been saying "The person doesn't have to be smart, they just have to be humble enough to listen to smart people." What makes you think those educated advisors are somehow free from selfish interests? If the person in charge lacks the knowledge to form political judgments on their own, their advisors can take advantage of their ignorance, willfully or inadvertently.
Of course everyone has biases, what's your point? The leader needs to choose people they can trust, and multiple people as well, and that's pretty much all you can do. No one is going to be an expert on everything, and no one can look at every single word of every single plan to evaluate if it's good or not. At some point you go to someone whose sole job is concentrating on that subject and ask them "Is this viable? Is it worth it? Will it actually cost this much and be completed in that timeline?" and you have to trust them and decide what's best based on your advisers.

And of course IQ and advanced degrees aren't the only measurement for leadership ability, otherwise we'd all be running to vote for Ben Carson.
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Re: Education requirements for elected officials

Postby elasto » Thu Feb 18, 2016 7:57 am UTC

Suppose there is $5 billion free to use. A group of scientists wants the money for building a new space ship. A environmental group wants it to go into tax incentives for alternative energy. A group of farmers want it to go toward tax breaks for small businesses. The defense department wants it to go towards research for increased cyber security.
There is legitimate reason to support all of these causes. Pure wisdom isn't going to tell a leader what to do.


Wisdom will, because wisdom will have delegated such fine-grained decisions to trusted and intelligent subordinates.

You may say, well, why don't we just elect the subordinates then? Because there are advantages* to having a single person at the top - for nimbleness of decision-making, for clear accountability and so on - but no single person is going to be an expert in all the areas you listed - in fact they most likely won't be an expert in any of them.

Imo, the most important qualities of a good leader are being able to read people (having a robust BS detector) and being able to inspire people (no point making a smart decision if you can't persuade people to carry it out).

More intelligent people are more likely to be good at those things, but I don't see how any particular educational cutoff makes sense; I'm sure I could find any number of examples of school dropouts who have gone on to have fine careers in business or politics.


*OTOH, there are clear disadvantages to having a single person at the top - more likely to become corrupt, more likely to try to cling to power, more likely to take extreme decisions which blow up etc.

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Re: Education requirements for elected officials

Postby cphite » Thu Feb 18, 2016 5:50 pm UTC

cphite wrote:Some leaders get things done because they're good at going neck deep into policy; others get them done by bringing the right people together and letting *them* go neck deep into policy. Does it really matter which one?

Then why bother electing someone? Why not just run a job search for these "right" individuals and have them take charge? The person bringing people together must be able to identify the strengths and weakness of those individuals. They must be able to anticipate the reaction to those choices from other areas of the government and the general public. They need to know these people beforehand because they need to have a full picture of these people's characters to trust them.


Because we live in a representative democracy. We, the people, get to vote to decide which persons we feel will best represent our interests. The "right" individual is, at least in theory, the one who is selected by that process.

The moment you take that power away from the people and start selecting your leaders based on some arbitrary "right" criteria, you no longer have a democracy.

The drawback to this is that, yes, sometimes the people select the wrong person. Sometimes the person lies about what they're going to do, or what they're capable of doing; and sometimes the person is selected based on how nice they look or talk or whatever. It still beats the alternative.

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Re: Education requirements for elected officials

Postby Zamfir » Fri Feb 19, 2016 10:17 am UTC

The drawback to this is that, yes, sometimes the people select the wrong person.


I am not even sure this is a drawback, compared to alternatives. You find bullshitters in power everywhere, not just as elected officials. Academic circles are full of PhDs, many of them intelligent people as well. You'll also find plenty of bullshitters who get ahead on smooth promises.

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Re: Education requirements for elected officials

Postby Soupspoon » Sat Feb 20, 2016 9:04 pm UTC

My basic thoughts on this is that Educational opportunities don't guarantee better people, at their core.

There are people who never got the opportunities, but would easily have the aptitude, and those who got all the breaks, but are (maybe in part, because of this?) complete arses. (...I'll just add that last word to my browser's dictionary. I obviously don't use it very often.)

It's almost enough for me to promote the idea of Lottery-Leaders, at some or all levels of government (both local and national). Select a random cohort of potential officials from the general population (sortition-based, if you like) and then given them any education that seems fitting, to prepare them. That would mean a statutory delay (a year or three, depending on what the maximum provision of education you might want to apply to a person, giving experience in life to those already with qualifications and qualifications to those who have only experience of life). ...but you need to look to better people than I to work out a fair way of doing this... Consider it as just an idle whimsy, at this point.

(I would also happily subscribe to the old adage that anyone who actively seeks power should be permanently barred from doing so. If such a policy wouldn't generate 'paradoxical apathetics', cleverly avoiding the outward appearance of wanting to seek power because they want to be seen to be the best choice to be 'shoved' into such a role in a manner they've prepared for in secret...)

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Re: Education requirements for elected officials

Postby elasto » Sun Feb 21, 2016 3:47 am UTC

Soupspoon wrote:It's almost enough for me to promote the idea of Lottery-Leaders, at some or all levels of government (both local and national). Select a random cohort of potential officials from the general population (sortition-based, if you like) and then given them any education that seems fitting, to prepare them. That would mean a statutory delay (a year or three, depending on what the maximum provision of education you might want to apply to a person, giving experience in life to those already with qualifications and qualifications to those who have only experience of life). ...but you need to look to better people than I to work out a fair way of doing this... Consider it as just an idle whimsy, at this point.

Yeah. This idea is sometimes a serious contender in my mind too. In US terms, you have basically four seats of power that check-and-balance each other: POTUS, SCOTUS, Senate and House; I sometimes wonder if replacing, say, the Senate with a body that was filled by lottery whether it'd make for better governance. Works pretty well for jury service after all.

But it should be noted I wouldn't start with the US system in a perfect world. I think there are better models out there that lead to multi-party, pragmatic, compromise politics instead of factional, partisan, two-party 'with us or against us' ideological deadlock.

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Re: Education requirements for elected officials

Postby ucim » Sun Feb 21, 2016 4:01 am UTC

elasto wrote:I think there are better models out there that lead to...
...but which ones they are (and whether they are actually better than starting with the US model) depends heavily on just what it is you value, and where you are willing to make your tradeoffs. A discussion of political systems to replace or improve the present one is really a proxy for a discussion of one's personal values, and how these values intersect other people's values.

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Re: Education requirements for elected officials

Postby elasto » Sun Feb 21, 2016 4:31 am UTC

ucim wrote:but which ones they are (and whether they are actually better than starting with the US model) depends heavily on just what it is you value, and where you are willing to make your tradeoffs. A discussion of political systems to replace or improve the present one is really a proxy for a discussion of one's personal values, and how these values intersect other people's values.

Not sure I agree. Extremist or moderate policies of any flavour can be enacted by almost any system of government. eg. Strongly private or public heathcare systems can come to be under a wide range of types of legislatures.

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Re: Education requirements for elected officials

Postby Soupspoon » Sun Feb 21, 2016 11:43 am UTC

elasto wrote:In US terms, you have basically four seats of power that check-and-balance each other: POTUS, SCOTUS, Senate and House; I sometimes wonder if replacing, say, the Senate with a body that was filled by lottery whether it'd make for better governance. Works pretty well for jury service after all.

I tend to speak from a British perspective, where 'the big question' (well, for some people) is the House Of Lords. Our unelected second-chamber that (currently) consists of Hereditary Peers (people 'born lucky' - usually the main target of "why is this person in a position of power?" arguments against the House of Lords), Life Peers (given the honour for their 'good works' - often seen as overtly politically-given by a current or past government, and thus often 'packed' with partisan supporters by a given Administration, in your terms) and the Lords Spiritual (20-odd Bishops of the Church of England - and for a country that is, publicly, more secular than the US, it is seen by some that it is strange to have its National Religion so ensconced in the actual governance of the State).

(For direct comparison, Houses of Commons and Lords would be Senate and House - or is it House and Senate? - the Queen would considered life-POTUS and of course we have the legal system (now SCOTUK, I suppose, although I've never actually heard it reduced to that acronym!) that roughly equates to the SCOTUS, but because of history and having no constitution so explicitly written as yours, including its amendments, we sometimes just have to rely on precedence, and a whole mountain of stuff written onto vellum, as to who which body is in charge of which aspect...)

Now, I actually don't have problems with Hereditary Peers (or the Royal Family, though I am no Royalist), because while they haven't 'earned' their position in the Lords (or as Monarch/Monarch-in-waiting/'side-celebrities'), they have gone through a kind of 'genetic sortition' and then been raised (enough of the time, although there are exceptions to be found) to form the steady backbone of the establishment, without fear or favour of having to bow to transient political populism. And to those who have a problem with the House Of Lords being 'packed' with Hereditary Peers, since 1999 only 92 (of 800-odd) 'Lords' have been Hereditary. IMO, too few, given the next block.

Life Peers - they're both the 'problem' and 'solution'. As I said, quite a few are politically appointed. The current party (and the latest Conservative government, despite everything it has said it intends, is no exception) tends to appoint people officially favourable to its own viewpoint (250 affiliated to the Conservatives, 213 affiliated to Labour, out of 800-odd seats that, with smatterings across other the other parties that are less than the 178 officially unaffiliated 'cross-benchers'). Ex-politicians and political supporters tend to be the most obvious 'stackers' in this process (see also the "Cash For Peerages" scandal, where donors to a party seem to get 'recognised' as peer-material). The former at least have useful knowledge of the workings of government, and may have even retired gracefully away (before or after they knew they'd gain their Lordship) before losing their seats, but it is also often seen as a consolation prize for no longer considered being electable or able to work in the electable house - the closing credits of the old "a life in politics invariably ends in failure" phrase.

The best Life Peers (if you can disassociate them from their naked political biases, and it seems that you sometimes can) are the 'experts and community figures' who get appointed. There might be any number of eminent surgeons and doctors and other scientists, educated in Health and Science issues and who thus understand things that 'politicos' do not, legal-eagles who can guide the House on legal issues, sportspeople who can contribute useful opinions on that subject, businessmen (useful, although one always suspects that they bought their way in, even if they didn't), etc, etc.

Meanwhile, as well as the 'official' Lords Spiritual, there are also other faith-leaders, outside of the Church Of England). Lord Sacks (Chief Rabbi of the Commonwealth), Baroness Neuberger (a rabbi, and a female one, amongst other specialities) and Lord Suri (Sikh), from a quick check of the lists. Can't immediately see any Catholic/Islamic/Hindu/Buddhist/Jedi representatives, though... (One suspects that the brace of Sith are already in the other House.) It'd be nice to get a better mix of faith representation, but I (having no affiliation to any church) don't see a problem with the current Lords Spiritual, either.


If you can reach into the BBC iPlayer (Radio) archives (not sure if it'll be available to you, by geographic and time limitations) for "A Point of View", Radio 4, from 8th January, 2016, there's an episode called "Peerless" that has the author/speaker of the episode suggest the following composition for the Upper House:
A third of independent 'experts', as a transparently apoliticised subset of the current Life Peerage system, to serve for 15 years (only)
A third of party 'politicians', strictly proportionate to the electoral results for the Commons, for 5 years (renewable, assuming the election results give enough 'slots' for them), to give the 'political expertise' element to the Upper House.
A third of ordinary people, randomly chosen from the electorate (with a right of refusal!), given an 'induction programme' to help them understand what they're doing but otherwise. I forget how long he suggested for these, but maybe a year or two of service? (And, because of the randomness, they probably don't have to legislate against continuation.)

...I'm not opposed to that, in general, although it does sound like it was made as a sop to all points-of-view.

And I still rather like the idea of people who have been brought up from birth 'to know how to govern' having a part in the system (despite these people being far from my own class, or experience), perhaps though with the stipulation that birthright-eligibility then has to be further proven by active involvement (serving as 'junior Lord'/assistant to an existing (non-Hereditary?) member, prior to their ascendency-proper; and provably doing more than "turning up for a few minutes each day" to retain their position, or else being replaced by the next worthy individual). There's questions about 'class bias', given the skew towards the (non-popularist!) right-wing, so how about instead of Hereditary Peers, we make it Birth Peers, instead? By lottery (as per the 'ordinary people', above) each year select a sufficient number of random babies born in Britain, to give the 'privilege' of an ennobled birth, to be given the guidance and scholarships and leadership opportunities generally available to those 'with the right breeding'. Unless they are of 'the right breeding', as I'm sure the random choice will pick a traditional Hereditary candidate, in which case they can just get what they already have.

There'd be more than necessary, by the time they reach whatever age they become 'Lords' material, to deal with those who cannot/will not take up positions, for one reason or another, and then there would then need to be a further sub-lottery of all those who make themselves available. But the 'excess' candidates could find themselves empowered enough (if they take advantage of their granted privileges) to also go onto better things. They might even find themselves eligible to become 'expert'-appointees to the Upper House...

...obviously, the above will only mean much of anything to a Brit (and possibly some other nations, but not really anyone used to the US system), and I bet quite a few of those will hate various of the suggestions. But putting it out there.

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Re: Education requirements for elected officials

Postby cphite » Sun Feb 21, 2016 8:24 pm UTC

Zamfir wrote:
The drawback to this is that, yes, sometimes the people select the wrong person.


I am not even sure this is a drawback, compared to alternatives. You find bullshitters in power everywhere, not just as elected officials. Academic circles are full of PhDs, many of them intelligent people as well. You'll also find plenty of bullshitters who get ahead on smooth promises.


Well, maybe drawback isn't the right term... caveat maybe? The point is, with an electoral system you're always going to run the risk of bullshitters, incompetents, and so forth getting in...

And I for one will take that risk over the alternative :D

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Re: Education requirements for elected officials

Postby Zamfir » Mon Feb 22, 2016 7:11 am UTC

Oh, we're in agreement there. You're just conceding a point that doesn't have to be conceded. It's not the 19th century, and democracy is not some radical new experiment anymore. We don't have to theorize that the rubes will be swayed to vote in incompetent charlatans. We now know that there is no trade-off. You can listen to the people, and you also get good leadership as result. Not every single time ever, but on the whole it just works.

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Re: Education requirements for elected officials

Postby elasto » Mon Feb 22, 2016 9:03 am UTC

Soupspoon wrote:...obviously, the above will only mean much of anything to a Brit (and possibly some other nations, but not really anyone used to the US system), and I bet quite a few of those will hate various of the suggestions. But putting it out there.

Just a quick word to say I can't find anything to disagree with in your post.

Though it may be unfashionable to say so these days, I too think hereditary peerages have a place amongst the democratic checks-and-balances - in this case being a check against populist extremism - and I find your idea of distributing it by lottery to be fascinating. And I agree that expert peerages are mostly a good thing and political peerages mostly a bad one.

In short: You have my vote!

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Re: Education requirements for elected officials

Postby Zamfir » Mon Feb 22, 2016 3:54 pm UTC

Can you be more specific about the populism that you worry about, and that peers of one kind of another would prevent?


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