Do we get the right politicians? I recently wrote a column for new publication Flink
that argues that it’s broadly a good thing for humanity if the most ambitious people shun seeking political power in favour of building companies. But, of course, we do need able politicians - and there’s a danger that given the higher financial rewards available in the private sector, democracy may select against competence (I know lots of politicians read Thoughts in Between
, but don’t worry, I’m not talking about you
I came across this superb (and optimistic) paper
this week that suggests that we shouldn’t be too concerned. Using a remarkably rich dataset from Sweden that compiles candidates’ socioeconomic backgrounds, pre-office earnings, IQ and leadership ability, the authors conclude that politicians are, on average, smarter and better leaders than the people they represent.
Moreover, there appears to be no trade-off between able politicians and representativeness. The authors suggests that their results are not the consequence of elite capture of the political process. They find that higher ability is selected for even when they condition on social background - and, indeed, that the distribution of politicians’ parents’ incomes is fairly representative of the country as a whole. Of course, this may tell us more about Sweden than about democracy, but it’s an encouraging datapoint…