Image via Variety.com
Francis Fukuyuma noted 4 reasons why political reform happens:
- Reform is a profoundly political process, not a technical one
- The political coalition favouring reform has to be based on groups that do not have a strong stake in the existing system
- While government reform reflects the material interests of the parties involved, ideas are critical in shaping how individuals see their interests
- Reform takes a great deal of time.
Humans are a significant (actually, the only) reason these reforms don’t happen – we can see this in, for example, the lack of speed with which any public service reform happens.
Why are we like this? Fukuyama notes:
Human nature has provided us with a suite of emotions that encourage rule or norm following that is independent of the norm’s rationality. Sometimes… we follow rules simply because they are old and traditional. We are instinctively conformist and look around at our fellows for guidelines to our own behaviour.
Instead of reason, human behaviour is grounded in emotion and resulting biases (pace Kahnemann) like pride or shame.
Such human behaviour aggregates to institutions, and there are two main reasons institutions don’t adapt either.
The first is because they’re made up of humans, who follow rules for reasons that aren’t rational – see above!
The second is that institutions contain groups who have a vested interest in keeping things as they are:
Political institutions develop as new social groups emerge and challenge the existing equilibrium. If successful institutional development occurs, the rules of the system change and the former outsiders become insiders.
This is encouraging for those who seek and are successful in change.
As the institutions update themselves, though, so we have to be wary about the new elites within them:
But then the insiders acquire a stake in the new system and henceforth act to defend the new status quo. Because they are insiders, they can use their superior access to information and resources to manipulate the rules in their favour.
As each baddie in Scooby Doo notes they’d have gotten away with it if it weren’t for those pesky kids, so we’d achieve every public policy aim we could ever wish for if it weren’t for those pesky humans.
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