The questioning raised by some members of the Senate about the physical and mental health of the president and, consequently, of his ability to govern in the current moment of social crisis, comes to add to a series of comments already drawn up by different commentators and media outlets on the difficulties that both the government and the political class in general have had in making meaningful proposals to such disgruntled and active citizens.
Over the past decade, and considering both the Chilean context and that of many other countries, the negative perception of political figures established itself as a constant in numerous public opinion surveys. While the underlying reasons that can be explored about this notion of illegitimacy of career politicians are extremely varied, the commentary to be developed in this column is guided by the following idea: the possibilities of action of the institutionality are insufficient to address the increasing complexity of today’s societies.
The “best” governments
Formulating an expression such as “Government of the Best” is only possible when general understanding of political performance has to do with teams of people made up of interests and motives other than technical competence and merit. On the contrary, in the field of appointments of positions of trust or even in more than one public competition, the rule to follow has more to do with appointments based on kinship, friendship relations, commercial relations, payment of favors of different and, obviously, membership of a particular political party. Unsurprisingly, in a society where equity and equal access to opportunity is a thriving – if perhaps most relevant issue – networks of influence are becoming increasingly valuable. In particular, political influence can be attractive when it is understood as a currency of exchange to access well-paid positions and to form a specific know-how from an early age in areas such as the formulation and evaluation of projects and funds Public.
Overall, Chile has moved on to democracy with governments whose team-building practices have been based on stable contact networks that have made the public service a high-priced career. While it is not a law that extends to every person who has gone through public posts (designated by governments on duty), it is possible to establish that the political class at its generality took a self-indulgent path of management that took it away from the problems of great magnitude that have been coming for a few decades and which are the ones that, in fact, demand clear governance.
The new complexity of the problems
In this week’s edition of the famous American podcast Joe Rogan, the expert on infectious diseases and epidemiology Michael Osterholm commented on how in 2017, within his book “Deadlies enemyt”, there were already clear estimates of how it could be unleashed a new virus, alluding to the current situation linked to Coronavirus. From this, it notes how there is a certain arrival of these estimates to public health authorities in different countries.
“No one saw the social outburst come” several participants and former government participants from the past 3 decades, when reports of inequality have been numbered in the 1990s. The logic applies to a variety of topics. For years we have been warned of a potential drought (which, by the way, thousands of people in Chile already experience) and, probably, we will only see a significant reaction when this problem manifests itself in Santiago and the scope for action is very tight. Or so, it warns about the negative economic consequences that dependence on copper and Chile’s undiversified production matrix could have in the future, but we will likely see concrete measures when the first effective replacement copper has gone on sale from another country.
Despite the diversity of the 4 situations presented, a common element that brings them together has to do with the technological changes and their impact on the social interactions present. Just as the expansion of a new virus globally can be partially explained by the rising rate of international travel, climate reactions in turn relate to various industrial practices that erupted decades ago. In the same vein, economic crises – and bonanzas – fluctuate according to diplomatic relations and new discoveries in areas such as computer science, physics and chemistry.
With all of the above, we arrived at our current central phenomenon under the sign of social outburst. As mentioned above, the diagnosis around situations of social inequity in Chile has been developed extensively from the social and economic sciences over the last decades. Beyond that, there is numerous internationally produced literature around the causes of social crises during these first two decades of the 21st century, where, as Alberto Mayol warns in his book “Big Bang, Social Burst 2019”, Chile met – and complies with- with each of the conditions that can cause a crisis of this dimension.
Now, connecting with the first point on how the governing teams are formed and how they respond to the current social complexity, what possible expectations could we have regarding political management for this and so many other problems?
Thinking about new forms of governance
In its last two versions, the CASEN Socio-Economic Characterization Survey implemented a new poverty understanding framework called “multidimensional poverty”. Faced with the obvious inadequacy of the mere economic criterion to define the quality of life of a Chilean person, the indicator was diverged by adding elements related to topics such as education, work and housing. The results were clear: by complicating understanding of the poverty situation (relative to the economic criterion), the number of people grouped in the category reaches 20%, varying very slightly over the last 5 years, and doubling the poverty estimate based only on revenue (around 9%).
Among the various lessons that can be drawn from this example, the following becomes relevant for the purposes of this text: By delving into and specifying the ways in which we observe Chile’s social problems, we come to drastically different conclusions.
It is no coincidence that in each scientific discipline two clear trends are currently marked: 1) Levels of specialization in each subject increase sharply over time and 2) It becomes increasingly relevant to carry out research and interventions from an interdisciplinary approach. With an unstoppable pace of technological development, interactions between people, animals and objects vary more and more. As mentioned earlier, diseases change, the economy changes, the climate changes and, by the way, social coexistence changes. For political purposes, therefore, the idea of governance is also drastically changed. Problems are multi-related, multi-dealed, and the specific effects are difficult to predictable for people without specific disciplinary training.
Faced with this maelstrom of complex problems, the prevailing forms of political organization are exposed to continued failure. By their technical preparation and their forms of composition, they do not have either the speed or adequacy of the reactions that are required. Now, what are the alternatives?
Echoing proposals already being developed in other countries, two initiatives need to be indicated. First, the sum of an effectively technocratic component, where the accumulation of specialized professionals and scientific knowledge in different areas has effective value when legislating on different topics of public interest. Secondly, instances of popular participation and voting without intermediaries, that is, without political representation embodied in career politicians. For both ideas, the technological component will be fundamental, as long as platforms will be required to make the idea of a more efficient and open society more efficient and open in its decision-making. With all these possibilities ahead, for today we still have to stay watching this erratic management of problems (and disasters).