Kid's Corner: Politicians

Bringing complicated issues down to a level even you can understand

Written by Konrad the Bold

Dear Kid's Corner,

My daddy says all politicians are liars and crooks. If they're so bad why don't people just votes for new ones?

? ? ? Jimmy, Grade 3

Well Jimmy, I see what you're saying. Everyone says politicians are crooks, so why doesn't anyone do something about it? If all the politicians are bad, it should be easy; just get rid of them all and get new ones!

Here's why it's not that simple: Have you ever heard the saying "There's no such thing as a bad kid, only bad parents"? Let me give you an example. Let's say your mommy tells you and your siblings that no one is allowed to eat cookies before dinner. You're a good boy and you do what your mom tells you to, but your siblings don't listen and they always eat all the cookies as soon as your mom buys them. What would you do if that happened and your mom didn't do anything to stop it? If you waited until dinner there'd be no cookies left, so chances are you'd just ignore what your mom said and eat them anyway.

Does that make you a bad kid? Of course not! You'd be crazy to follow the rules, because you'd never get any cookies. The problem in this case isn't with you, it's with your mom's rules. Now, let's make the situation a bit different. Now your mom says that if anyone opens the box of cookies before dinner, she'll never buy cookies again. What do you think would happen then?

That's right! Nobody would eat the cookies before dinner, because if they did they'd never get cookies again. Your mom changed the rules and suddenly all the kids are behaving. Does that mean that you and your siblings were bad kids before your mom changed the rules and good kids afterwards? No, you're still the same kids as always. What's changed is now you have good reasons to follow the rules.

In the first case, the best thing for you to do would be to eat all the cookies as soon as your mom buys them. Then you'd get all the cookies and nothing bad would happen to you. (Of course, your siblings wouldn't get any for themselves.) After your mom changed the rules, you wouldn't want to eat the cookies before dinner because that would be bad for you since you wouldn't ever get cookies again. So the best thing for you to do is to wait until after dinner, when all your siblings are there, and eat the cookies together. In other words, what has changed is that doing what's good for yourself is also good for everyone else. That's why we say that good parenting makes good children.

Sure, I know what you're thinking, this is all obvious, but what does it have to do with politicians? Every kid knows that you've got to have rules so doing what's good for them is also good for everyone else. After all, parents never punish their kids for being nice and helping others. See, the thing is, the adults don't know this. They've got lots of books full of big words, fancy theories and even special university degrees about what they call "political science", but, as usual, adults can't see what every kid already knows: there's no such thing as bad people, only bad rules. That's why we can't just vote out all the "bad" politicians. The new ones would just do the exact same thing unless we change the rules!

So what makes a good government? Obviously, a good government is a government with good rules, but that doesn't really tell us anything new. We could say that a good government is one that makes a country better off. That sounds good at first, but you quickly see it's not always true. What if you have a major natural disaster and half the country is destroyed? Does that mean the government was bad? Of course not. We could also have a bunch of politicians doing stupid things but they get lucky and the country ends up better off for it. That doesn't that country had a good government, it just means it got lucky.

What's the answer to this important question that people have been trying to answer for centuries? Well, I tell ya, it's so simple only a kid could understand it. A good government is one that has rules so that doing what's good for the politicians is also good for everyone else. Adults like to use big words for these things, so when they want to say what's good for you is also good for someone else, they say that "your interests are aligned with the interests of the other person". In other words, if we want to make a simple definition, in only one sentence, that will tell us what makes a good government we would say this:

The only measure of a good government is that the interests of the politicians are aligned with the interests of the people they rule.

That's it! That's all there is to it! Adults will try to tell you a good government has to have representative democracy and the separation of powers and open trials and lots of other fancy ideas but the next day they'll be complaining about all the crooked politicians but won't be able to figure out why they can't just vote them out.

Let's take democracy as an example. Everyone says democracy makes a good government but if we look the world we'll see that there are some democratic governments that are good and some that aren't very good at all. On the other hand, we could go back in history and find lots of dictatorships, like the Roman Empire, that were run very well. Democracy doesn't make a government good or bad, it's just a way of getting things done. Of course, in modern times, democracy is very useful for making a good government but by itself it's not good or bad. The same goes for all the other fancy ideas people believe in. The only constant factor among all good governments throughout the history of the world is that the interests of their leaders were aligned with the interests of the people.

One way to look at it, is from the point of view of corruption. Let's say you're in charge of a big government agency that handles lots of money. If you can get away with it, the easiest way for you to make money is to steal money from the agency. That's good for you but bad for the people. In other words, to work in your best interest you'd do something that's not in the interest of other people. On the other hand, if you're in a government with proper safeguards against theft then you'd probably go to jail if you stole money. In that case, what's in your best interest is to do a good job and maybe get a promotion for your work. Doing a good job at the agency means you're not just helping yourself get a promotion but you're helping everyone else that relies on that agency. What's happened now is that your interests have become aligned with the interests of the people.

I hope that's cleared everything up for you, Jimmy. Now you know what makes a good government and why we can't just throw out all the bad politicians. It's pretty simple after all, isn't it?