Government Transparency and “Listening”

by Chip Griffin on October 14, 2008

Jeff Jarvis started an interesting discussion on his blog about what he perceives as the government’s failure to listen to the markets as it attempts to deal with the ongoing credit and equity crisis.

He asks, “Why wasn’t the government better at listening to the market? Did it ever ask what it should do?”

Here’s the response I posted in his comments, but it became detailed enough that I thought readers of my blog might find it interesting as well:

As Evan [a fellow commenter on the post] points out, the American system of governance is not suited to being directly and immediately responsive to the desires of the people. That is by design. The Founding Fathers quite wisely established a system wherein populist desires are balanced against thoughtful consideration (roughly, the House vs. the Senate).

Responding to the ever-changing whims of the American people would create a chaotic government subject to wild swings of policy. Moreover, aligning laws and regulations with strongly-held opinions of the short-term would threaten the long-term stability and prosperity of the nation as a whole.

Jeff, what you describe in your first two paragraphs sounds a lot more like direct democracy rather than representative democracy. Yet you go on to correctly note that our system requires that government officials listen to the public, not that they do their precise bidding. Regular elections provide the opportunity for the people to express their overall level of approval for the interpretations made by politicians.

As for the current crisis, it is not correct to say that the government did not consult with the market or listen to it or the American people. In fact, some would probably argue that in this instance it has listened too much to what the market wants. But the bottom line is that government leaders of both parties had discussions with Wall Street leaders, banking officials, economists, and constituents. Moreover, one need only watch CNBC to hear a variety of viewpoints and advice for government action — something that many government officials have certainly done.

While I believe in the Internet’s ability to provide new avenues of transparency and communication, it would be a mistake to use those tools as the primary basis for governing and policy-making in the future. It is but an arrow in the quiver.

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