Why Politicians Will Never Solve Your Problems!

We’re nearing the November 8 elections and I am once more reminded how abysmally stupid elections are. You have people, who go on television, and they tell the public that they’ll solve some of the most complex problems we face in this country: poverty, healthcare, energy, the economy, you name it, they’ll solve it!

The truth is far from it! Politicians are some of the least qualified people to solve problems and the main reason is the incentive structure. They may have the good will to go into government and solve problems, they may also talk about solving a lot of problems (as part of their campaign) and they may actually try to solve problems, however, they’re grossly incompetent at it! The skillset that actually defines their performance is their ability to get elected, not their ability to solve problems. In government, the only incentive is to win the election. And for career politicians, this turns into a lifetime of doing whatever it’s necessary to win the election, as we’ve seen from this bit from John Oliver on Congressional Fundraising, where politicians spend up to 75% of their time in office raising campaign capital.

In contrast, let’s look at a field like engineering, where the skillset that defines your performance is problem solving. Is it possible to have an occasional incompetent person go into engineering? Yes. Will that person be successful? No. And this is with an incentive structure, which is specifically designed to reward good problem solvers. The public office incentive structure, on the other hand, is specifically designed to reward those who get re-elected. Somebody with good problem solving skills may potentially be elected, but they’re entirely surrounded with people whose best skill is winning elections.

Think of it this way: the failure rate of startups in the Silicon Valley is something to the tune of 93% (estimated from Y-combinator). Y-combinator is the Harvard of startup accelerators whose entire focus is on finding the startups which are most likely to solve a big problem, their acceptance rate is less than 3%. So using those numbers and assuming that 1,000 startups apply to YC, only 30 will get accepted, and of those 30 only 2 will make it (roughly speaking). These are the best and brightest in America from the best engineering schools in the US, having worked in the best engineering companies in the US, with tons of experience in problem solving, and they have a failure rate of over 93%!

Now imagine if Y-combinator only cared about a startup’s ability to win popularity contests, what would you expect the failure rate to be for those startups? Do you think any problems would be solved whatsoever? It seems highly unlikely that we would even get remotely close to solving problems, yet, that’s the only requirement to be elected into government! When we elect the leaders of our countries, we don’t elect them based on their ability to solve problems, but based on their ability to win a popularity contest.

The conclusion is simple: vote for the people that promise, or are likely, to take the least amount of action in government, because that guarantees the least waste of public resources. Anything else is a waste of public resources, i.e. your tax money!