Democracy via opinion polls?

Fully a half of the 200-odd countries of the world have a twin system of government. One is of politicians chosen by electorates, the other is a bureaucracy chosen by a self-selecting examination of some sort.

Although the political government is the one that chooses the policies in theory it usually doesn’t have the expertise of the civil service and needs its help in the formulation of policies. Thus, in practice they are close to power equality. In extreme situations, such as wartime or monetary crisis, then the bureaucracy take over power almost completely, needing the politicians only for their PR abilities.

The big problem with this ambiguous — almost ambidextrous — situation is that it leaves open the possibility of an ultimate power take-over by the bureaucracy. Indeed, this is the big danger at the present time of the EU. The power of the people is at least three degrees remote from the policy-making power of the Brussels non-elected civil service. Bureaucracies are becoming remote from the people they need to tax.

But modern times are becoming more multifarious and specialized than ever. Leading countries will need their bureaucracies more than ever before. How is the circle to be squared?

Germany is probably leading with the answer. With the most integrated of all the twin governments in the world what its civil service does to ensure it remains close the electorate is to spend highly on opinion polling. Two years ago, under a Freedom of Information request, the German bureaucracy revealed that it commissioned over 3,000 private opinion polls and focus groups. I’ve little doubt that the civil services of the UK, US, France and several more are heading on that direction.

The political arms of advanced governments are losing credibility with tbeir electorates hand over fist because of the complexity of demands. Their bureaucracies might be gaining credibility for the same reason.

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