Government for the people, of the people, by people who are pretending

Choosing a Public-Spirited Leader. An experimental investigation of political selection By: Thomas Markussen (epartment of Economics, University of Copenhagen) ; Jean-Robert Tyran (Department of Economics, University of Copenhagen)

In this experiment, voters select a leader who can either act in the public interest, i.e. make efficient and equitable policy choices, or act in a corrupt way, i.e. use public funds for private gain. Voters can observe candidates’ pro-social behavior and their score in a cognitive ability test prior to the election, and this fact is known to candidates. Therefore, self-interested candidates have incentives to act in a pro-social manner, i.e. to pretend to be public-spirited leaders. We find that both truly pro-social and egoistic leaders co-exist, but that political selection is ineffective in choosing public-spirited leaders. The main reason is that egoistic candidates strategically pretend to be pro-social to increase their chances of winning the election.

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6 years ago

The clever Athenians had an institution called dokimasia, scrutiny. All candidates had to undergo dokimasia in advance of their election, whether by voting or by lot. The majority of historians argue that the dokimasia tested if a candidate was a fit and proper person for the office, but a minority argue that the dokimasia was restricted to formal qualifications like age and citizenship. A dokimasia could be called by the assembly or the courts on an official who had already passed dokimasia.

According to Aristotle:

When they are checking qualifications, they ask first: “Who is your father, and what is your deme? Who was your father’s father and who was your mother, and her father and his deme?” Then they ask whether the candidate is enrolled in a cult of Apollo Patroos and Zeus Herkeios, and where the shrines are, then whether he has family tombs and where they are; whether he treats his parents well, pays his taxes, and has gone on campaign when required.

Indonesia is at the head of a small but growing group of countries that require presidential candidates to pass a medical commission. That is obviously rooted for the Indonesians, in the tragic and failed presidency of Abdurahman Wahid.

If candidates had to face 1. a medical commission and 2. a scrutiny commission with evidence on oath and the power to call for witnesses and papers, the choice of candidates available to electorates could well be different and the chance of exposing an egoist candidate masquerading as a pro-social candidate would be greater.