[FB] Vetting world leaders

(February 6, 2017)

At some point we (the world) needs to think seriously about a system to vet leaders of countries. This thought is not directed at one particular case, but there are many. We have a situation where too much is left up to chance, manipulation, and raw power in selection of leadership. And when the leaders turn out to be dysfunctional the people suffer. Sometimes they die, and sometimes they are tortured. Or they must flee for their own safety and that of their children and families. All because a leader or clique is dysfunctional or worse.

The oft quoted passage from Isaiah, commonly translated as “Where there is no vision, the people perish” is broadly applicable, In the more narrow sense, a leader(ship) without vision. or with a vision that concerns only their position, is a problem. In the broader sense the world need a vision of how sane and functional governance can be assured, and when it goes out of bounds, how the community of nations can act together to restrain and correct as necessary the offending leaders. (The way the West African states handled the recent crisis in Gambia is worth attention.) These ideas are not new – various thinkers and world leaders have proposed parts or all of this. The Baha’i teachings also propose an approach.

But on the level of personnel, there also needs to be a way to put the same rigors to choosing leaders that we have for selecting employees. Various systems, some ancient like the old Chinese exams for public servants, on up to civil service exams in many countries today serve(d) to promote people based on a set of skills and knowledge. Wouldn’t it make sense for heads of government and ministries to also have some analogous test before they get the keys to their country?

Not to say this is easy. There are obvious merits to the democratic principle (as Churchill proposed, the worst system but for all others), but we repeatedly run up against problems, sometimes serious, repeatedly. And that’s not to mention the undemocratic systems that can result in unchecked abuses, even if sometimes there may be by good luck relatively benign dictators.

All of which is not to advocate for an uber-bureaucracy of technocrats – skilled but perhaps also lacking any vision – though that might sometimes seem preferable to careening into avoidable crises due to lack of skill or ideological miscalculation, or to inflicting mass suffering due to misplaced priorities and power politics.

One idea (why not?) would be to have anyone proposing to head a government or a ministry/department have to work for a time in a kind of adjunct position in another country (no power to make decisions, but involved in the process). Another might be for some basic training course – human rights, anti-corruption, basic economic concepts, etc. – for all mid- to upper-level government employees worldwide (start it off as a voluntary concept, perhaps under UN auspices, and improve and adjust it to the point where it can be proposed as mandatory).

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