Category Archives: International

The Dunning-Kruger effect

While discussing the incompetence of Trump in the New York Times, David Brooks mentioned the Dunning-Kruger effect. Also Politico writes about it. Wikipedia explains:

The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias wherein persons of low ability suffer from illusory superiority, by mistakenly assessing their ability as greater than their actual capability.

More importantly in this context, and an important reason why we should select our leaders with a normal competence based vetting proces like a job application rather than elections, is that those who are compentent tend to underestimate their competence.

In a test performed with psychology students:

students of high ability tended to underestimate their relative competence. Roughly, participants who found tasks to be easy erroneously presumed that the tasks also must be easy for others; in other words, they assumed others were as competent as, if not more competent than, themselves.

And now think of what you a political candidate needs to do during a election campaign. Certainly not underestimate their competence! Luckily, political parties tend to preselect competent candidates and many political campaigns seem to be more about discussing the issues at hand rather than the competence of the candidate.

Obama: ‘It’s not cool to not know what you’re talking about’

In a speech to class 2016 of Rutgers University Obama makes a case for professional politicians. He also does not distinguish between the executive and representative politicians, unfortunately. We can savely assume he meant the executive.

(…) it’s interesting that if we get sick, we actually want to make sure the doctors have gone to medical school, they know what they’re talking about.  (Applause.)  If we get on a plane, we say we really want a pilot to be able to pilot the plane.  (Laughter.)  And yet, in our public lives, we certainly think, “I don’t want somebody who’s done it before.”

Read the whole speech at

The European Parliament and how we find the president and commissioners

As the head of the European Parliament Bureau in the Netherlands argued, national politics should see the European Parliament and how the government is formed as an example. Yes, but we still have a lot to wish for. Now that the elections in Europe are over and the European Parliament got the Commission president it wanted, there is one major objection. The parliament cannot send him away.

Next are the commisioners. Candidates come from the member states. Is this what the parliament wants? If not, then the parliament can block the entire European Commission. There will be a public hearing with the candidates the president selected from the candidates put forward by the member states. Parliament did not draw up a list with wishes for the positions. Few citizens can be candidate since member states make a pre selection. After the Commission is installed, we are stuck with them. Parliament can not send individual Commissioners away.

What should be improved?

  • Parliament should be able to replace the president if there is a majority in favour.
  • Each European citizen should be able to reply to the vacancy of Commisioner.
  • The vacancies for the Commissioner jobs should be written by the Parliament, not the member states.
  • Parliament should be able to replace individual Commissioners if there is a majority in favour.

Apart from obvious changes like the right for the parliament to take the initiative for legislation.

Reputation damage

A reason to not run for public office is the damage this may cause for your reputation. You might not ever get a job in the private sector again. Damaged goods.

This also works in other ways I noticed when a befriended journalist joined the elections for a new candidate for a new mayor of Paris inside the party of the Greens. One of his employers called him with the announcement that his contract has ended because of this. You are not supposed to engage in politics as a journalist. The fact that only three party members voted for him did not matter. From a party that only makes a chance when the others leave the race.

If you lose your current job in the private sector simply because you show an interest in running for public office as Elder or minister, this means a large reservoir of good candidates are now excluded.

For this reason the selection of governors should get an adapted procedure. Once they do not come from political parties and apply to the job opening, this selection procedure should protect their anonimity. Applicants should be able to indicate nobody should know about their intention until the last selection round is reached.  Only then the identities are revelead from the candidates who chose to remain anonymous. Just before this happens they get the choice to revoke their candidacy. For example because they carefully studied the anonimised profiles of competing applicants. Or they can ask the selection committee to have another candidate contact them to establish among each other who is likely to be the best candidate and who should step back.

More Democracy

“We should react with more democracy”, said Stoltenberg, prime minister of Norway, in reactie to Breivik’s actions. More democracy through more direct democracy instruments, like referenda, does not mean people feel better represented. In the discussion about the representative democracy we find the implicit assumption that citizens vote to get power, to become the winner. Although this might be true for many political leaders, their constituency does not necessarily follow in this. Voting to be heard and to feel represented is more realistic. When I was campaigning in 2009 I spoke with many PVV-voters. The said they mostly wanted to be heard; “to punish the social democrats”, but did not want to see Wilders become prime minister. They mostly wanted to break the power of the social democrats which let them down.

“But of course we want to win to carry out our plans” is what I hear from party members in different parties. “Politics is about power and only when we are big we can achieve what we argue for.” Unfortunately, in a coalition you do not dictate. Nobody gets to have that power. Citizens seem to understand this a lot better than politicians.

Breivik and the likes of him should therefore certainly be properly represented in parliament. A functioning representative democracy has parties at the extremes to function. The assassin of Pim Fortuyn did not like this idea at all. He wanted to ‘rescue’ the country after he saw a televised debate in which Fortuyn succesfully attacked the leaders of the major center parties. Very undemocratic.