Jan 19th 2017

The Accidental Princess

Queen Ashley

Ashley was an ordinary high-school student until one day she found out that she is a heir to the throne of a distant Eastern European kingdom called Aintopia. She was really a princess — no, not a princess, a queen! — of a real, albeit relatively small and unknown, perhaps poor but not so poor country that the ruler could not live a lavish life.

And so Ashley sat on her throne. But after enjoying the luxuries of her new home, enjoying the admiration of her subjects, she realized that being a queen is a job. It turned out she should decide on some matters of state policy. Court officials, "masters" of Aintopia, bring her problems and advice on what to decide. Sheep lobby has some issues, China wants to invest more, the Russians do not like that, and the farmers are complaining about drought or famine or something.

Now, the problem is that Ashley does not know much about politics and the economy. She was not a bad student (it would be fair to say that the average), but how much that means when you need to manage the state? She lacks in knowledge and, to be honest, she is lacking in the motivation department, too. Her thoughts wander to other things, mainly to free climbing, boys and music . You could easily interest her in organizing a sporting event or a concert or something, but foreign policy and macroeconomics are the last things on her mind.

It's not that Ashley has no opinions. For example, she's a vegetarian and she has no sympathies for the sheep lobby, especially their meat trade. She'd wanted to ban the slaughter of animals in the kingdom, but masters said they cannot prohibit the meat production. She doesn't like the Chinese, but apparently their desire to invest in Aintopia is very important for the economy. Not that she has anything against them as a nation, it's simply that she can't stand them snooping around her kingdom, whispering in their strange language. She doesn't trust the Russians either, but the Chinese are so... yucky.

Ashley is aware that its masters not only ordinary servants. She is young and inexperienced, but he knows how these masters in fact behind each of its decisions, as they were behind the decision of its ancestors. Masters do not decide for her, but they tell her what she can and what cannot decide. They narrows her options so that it appears that the decision is hers, but in a way that in the end it turns out just as they want it to turn out.

And what if she rebels?

"Your Majesty, it is impossible!" masters scorn her.

"But I can do it! I am the queen! I can forbid the killing of animals within the borders of Aintopia! I can banish all Chinese people! I can organize the biggest music festival ever right here in the palace, and from the Holy rock of the Sages make the greatest attraction in the history of rock climbing!"

"Your Majesty, you do not know what the consequences of those action. We are very old and experienced in the art of governing this country, we are very highly educated and have great knowledge..."

"You're not the queen, I am!" — frowns Ashley.

"Your Majesty, we lived in this country our whole lives, and this is only your second Friday in Aintopia. No one expects you to know everything you need to know to govern it. Listen to us, we will explain all the arguments for and against."

But Ashley does not want to listen to arguments. He knows that the masters are far too smart for her and that she will lose in the debate. She has no better arguments, she only feels that what she sees in Aintopia is bad and that her intuition is correct. But to fight the masters on their own field is not an option. She can only fall in line, or rebel. Which of the two is a smarter thing to do, she's not so sure.

We are all Ashley

In a way, all of voters in democratic countries are like Ashley. We get to decide on national issues, at least to some extent. Unlike Ashley, our right to govern is shareed with others: we are part of a huge collective of rulers and their share of management make that in elections and referendums, the protests and in the polls. Even if you do not participate in them, whatever we say something and something to influence his inactivity.

Just to be clear: we are not stupid. We may be quite intelligent and reasonable people. And this is exactly the reason why we don't waste too much time on political and economic issues. Even to kill informed on all the details of state policy in order to make the wisest possible decision, which would benefit from it was? Our opinion is only a drop in the ocean views of others. What is the chance that the quality of our decisions outweigh the collective voice? If the majority acted wisely one bad voice that will not bother you much, but if most silly very hard and one person will not help much. Even if by some miracle our efforts to the fruit, the benefits will be spread throughout society, as those who have made an effort to make smart decisions as well as those who were towed.

Therefore, it is much smarter and more sensible to focus on the things in which you can really change something (especially for yourself), and leave politics to those who are paid to do it: the masters.

Or not.

Brexit masters

The majority of voters are like Ashley. They don't really want to think about governing. But sometimes they do rebel and ditch the masters. Case in point: Brexit.

Take a look at the list of institutions that urged Brits to stay in the EU. These include the governments of United Kingdom, as well as governments of Scotland and Wales; the majority of the ruling party and almost all members of Parliament in opposition; The European Central Bank, The World Bank, G7, G20, WTO, IMF, NATO, OECD; every government of an EU country, heads of government of the United States, Japan, China, Canada, Australia, New Zealand; the most respected British publications: The British Medical Journal, Financial Times, The Economist, The Guardian, The Independent, The Lancet, Nature, The Observer and The Times; public letters were collectively signed by Nobel laureates, academics, leaders of British universities.

These are some of the greatest masters of our civilization, ancient guardians of the traditions of politics, democracy, professionalism and integrity. They were almost unanimous. But something went very wrong.

Masters against Trump

Recently, the princesses of the United States chose between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. A lot of masters were against Trump. Take the editorial boards of American newspapers.

Recently, the GOP candidates were less popular among the editors, but never in US history did the people elected for president a person who had so little support from the media. On the list of most popular daily newspapers only on 72nd place you will find one that supported Donald Trump. The Economist has a graphical overview :

Look what the most read newspapers who had not supported democrats in a great while say:

USA Today

The Editorial Board has never taken sides in the presidential race. We're doing it now. This year, one of the candidates is, by unanimous consensus of the Editorial Board, unfit for the presidency. By all means vote, just not for Donald Trump.

Dallas News

There is only one serious candidate on the presidential ballot in November. We recommend Hillary Clinton. We don't come to this decision easily. This newspaper has not recommended a Democrat for the nation's highest office since before World War II...

Newsday

The flaw in Donald Trump’s candidacy is that his best promises are fairy tales, but his worst attributes are real.

Arizona Republic

Since The Arizona Republic began publication in 1890, we have never endorsed a Democrat over a Republican for president. Never. (...) This year is different.

Houston Chronicle

He is, we believe, a danger to the Republic.

Confidence in America

In the old days, the candidate with such a weak support from the media would have had no chance of obtaining the most prestigious political position in the world. But times have changed.

Gallup has been asking this question for forty years:

In general, how much trust and confidence you have in the mass media — such as newspapers, TV and radio — when it comes to reporting the news fully, accurately and fairly? A great deal, a fair amount, not very much or none at all?

We see how the responses of voters for Democrats differ materially from those who vote for the Republicans: while trust Democrats relatively high and has never fallen below 50%, Republicans are almost completely lost this trust over the last twenty years. Last year, Gallup reported a record low number of positive responses, only 14%:

Even more interesting is YouGov poll of December 2016 in which the Americans asked how much they agree with the following statement:

Everyday Americans understand what the government should do better than the so-called "experts".

Available responses were:

Strongly agree Somewhat agree Not sure Somewhat disagree Strongly disagree

See how they fit the people who voted for the two leading candidates in the presidential election. Voters Hillary Clinton mostly said "no" in the ratio of 55%: 36%. But Trump voters are the exact opposite, three times as many of them agree with this statement than there are those who disagree (71%: 24%).

Custom artwork Clinton and Trump cartoon illustration | designed by Vexels

Look again at this statement. and tell me what happened to the US presidential election in 2016. "Ordinary", everyday high school student Ashley protested against the masters and said, "I know better". I know how to formulate foreign policy better than diplomats. I know how to fix the economy better than economists. "Experts" are overrated. Talent, school, recognition, experience — none of it makes any difference. Ordinary Americans know better.

This is the same story as with Brexit. Leave supporters were much more inclined to trust ordinary people's "common sense" than to rely on "experts", and they were much less inclined to trust institutions, according to YouGov poll.

Masters may have taken a punch with Brexit and Trump, but they didn't drop out of the game. Just as a couple of broken machines did not mark the end of the industrial revolution, the complexity of today's civilization is no longer within the scope of "ordinary" citizens. It will be difficult to reconcile masters with Ashley, without somehow "improving" them: to make masters more worthy of Ashley's confidence, and making Ashley wiser.

How can we achieve this? I would not presume to give a recipe, but it seems to me that masters are becoming more cunning and manipulative, and on the other hand that we aren't investing a lot of effort to make voters wiser, more responsible and more aware. If we keep this up, Ashley's story will not have a happy ending.

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