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Check this answer:

The government is supposed to be representative of its people. If the people are a bunch of idiots then the government should reflect that. It's not supposed to be a government of the smartest and brightest people. It's supposed to be a government of the people. That's how stability is maintained. It doesn't matter that a law, technically, is harmful or dumb, if enough people want that law, then they will have it; by pen or by sword.

In other words, if a country is lagging (Somalia) or war-torn (Mali) or having a corrupt leadership (Nigeria), it cannot come out of the cycle if it continues to follow democracy.

What is the point in having a democracy if it doesn't choose the smartest/most eligible people available in a population?

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    politics.stackexchange.com/q/11168/28418 does that answer your question ? Jun 23 at 11:15
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    "What is the point in having a democracy if it doesn't choose the smartest people available?" see: Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.
    – Trilarion
    Jun 23 at 11:28
  • Are you asking for dictatorship of the smartest?
    – convert
    Jun 23 at 11:44
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    It was more a rhetoric question. But a more important question is how you define who is smart and who is not?
    – convert
    Jun 23 at 11:52
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    At the risk of stating the obvious, the smartest people are not always the best leaders. Jun 23 at 14:51

2 Answers 2

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The idea of a government run by those most qualified to run it is called meritocracy. It would be very difficult to get such a system to work in practice, since many questions are quickly asked, foremost among which, that of who determines qualification?

The most impartial way to do this is with an exam, like the historical Chinese civil service exams. There is still the question of who gets to set the exam and what topics should be covered, but at least you can reasonably assert that the exam should be set by people who scored well on previous exams. However: who administers the exam? How do you prevent cheating? Should measures be taken against people with wealthy backgrounds getting tutored on how to take the exam? Do we actually care at all about fairness to potential examinees or just about putting the most competant people in charge at all costs?

The biggest barrier to a system like this is factionalism. If examiners or proctors are biased, they may inflate the scores of people in their faction or suppress scores of people outside of their faction. If the people in charge of appointments are biased, they may consider factors other than the exam in making decisions, or could simply ignore the exam altogether. Everyone has to cooperate towards the goal of putting the best people in charge of the country, or the whole thing falls apart.

Democracy, on the other hand, is dependent on factionalism. An election is a competition between two or more factions. Even without political parties, you still have a faction that supports John Smith and a faction that supports Jane Doe. Political parties, however, are generally an inevitability as like-minded politicians band together (as like-minded people are wont to do) to create a shared policy and platform; these groups will naturally tend to support each other, instilling in all politicians a natural bias for their own supporters.

You ask "What is the point in having a democracy if it doesn't choose the smartest... people available in a population?" as if this were the goal of democracy, when for this reason it is in fact impossible for a democratic system to create a government comprised of the most qualified candidates. Instead, the goal of democracy is to create a government comprised of candidates whose goals and interests reflect those of the population. (I will quibble that we do by definition elect the most eligible candidate, since the word eligible is related to the word elect.)

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  • if a country is lagging (Somalia) or war-torn (Mali) or having a corrupt leadership (Nigeria), it cannot come out of the cycle if it continues to follow democracy. --- what is your solution then?
    – user366312
    Jun 23 at 16:32
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    @user366312 Give me absolute and incontrovertible control and I will make sure to appoint only the most qualified individuals to run the world. Unless, of course, I'm lying. I'm sorry, if it were that easy, it would have been done by now.
    – Andrew Ray
    Jun 23 at 16:50
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There are many traps in democracy, but one thing to keep in mind, though it is not always apparent day-to-day is the wisdom of the crowd effect.

I.e. over time, people in aggregate tend to take fairly good decisions.

It might take a while, and there are ample options for suboptimal policies to gel, especially when direct democracy is over-used (Proposition 13 comes to mind).

There is also the risk of tyranny by majority (i.e. ethnic group X in the majority, democratically decides ethnic minority group Y needs special rules). But that's what bill of rights/constitutions/supreme courts are for.

But overall, letting Mr and Ms. Average decide who ought to lead them is far from a bad approach. As per Churchill:

Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time

Arguments opposed to that also brings to mind the fallacy whereas 90% of drivers think they are better than average: "if only people like me got to decide, then we would be in a better place".

A system to determine leadership based on other decision criteria also risks solidifying into a caste/customary system which becomes progressively less suited to changing circumstances, but has a vested interest keeping itself in power. I.e. you may start out with a better system, but you will not stay there.

France for example chose generations of leaders from ENA, a small elite national administration school, whose grads were presumably smarter than average, but it is far from obvious that was beneficial.

p.s. I would absolutely object to having Chomsky in charge of anything in my jurisdiction.

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    Agree on the Chomsky thing. Universal grammar is stupid.
    – Andrew Ray
    Jun 23 at 18:57
  • @AndrewRay not familiar with it. Read Manufacturing Consent, which is brilliant. But for the rest he seems to be someone I would not want in charge of my economy. Jun 23 at 19:03

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