Long Term Thinking and Democracy

In the United States, a Senator enjoys a six-year term in office before re-election. A representative has two years, a governor or president, four years. In between each term, an American politician must bring something home to his constituents – a tax cut, subsidy, or new roadway, for instance. If he does not accomplish this, he cannot politically survive, as his opponent will criticize him for his lack of action.


Yet, many important issues faced by the United States (or the rest of the World) cannot be tacked in two, four, or six years. Climate change will require decades of concerted effort and trillions of dollars of investments to properly combat. America’s Society of Civil Engineers gave the United States a D+ on its 2017 infrastructure report card. In order to rebuild this infrastructure, two trillion dollars of investment over the next ten years will be required. Any politician who supported these sorts of measures would likely be viciously attacked by his opponents for “overspending”, and failing to deliver a benefit to his constituents during his term – even though after fifteen years, the newly created and rebuilt infrastructure would provide massive socioeconomic benefits.


This same problem manifests itself in scientific research. The global average for R&D spending is 2.23% (America is at 2.7%). Essentially, the world only spends 2.3% of its resources on developing a better future, and America, the most developed and wealthiest nation on Earth, does not see fit to take more global leadership in this regard. Meanwhile, humanity remains mired in Low Earth Orbit – her space programs having regressed significantly since the 1970s – and the United States, who once had the prime opportunity to gain dominance in space after the collapse of the Soviet Union, abandoned the expansion of mankind to other nations and private companies. The reason behind this failure is, once more, a direct consequence of short-term thinking, an inherent flaw within the democratic system.


Scrapping democracy is not a viable option, nor is it a sane option. The top nations in R&D funding (with the exception of China) are all democratic states, as authoritarian nations are likely pre-occupied with corruption, suppression, and incompetence. Furthermore, the will of the people must be a factor in the government, for both stability and to ensure that there is a government “of the people”, “for the people”, and “by the people”. At the same time, however, there is an undeniable lack of long-term thinking within democratic states. With the threat of climate change looming, national deficits and debts exploding, new technology developing, and the global population growing, long-term planning is more necessary now than ever before.


Instead of surrendering to this inherent flaw of democracy, we must instead reform our governmental institutions. A board of appointed experts, nominated and confirmed much like Supreme Court judges and serving longer terms (10-15 years), could be a potential solution. These experts would primarily be scientists and engineers, given that many of the largest problems faced by mankind may only be solved with the use of science and engineering. However, economists and international-relations experts would also serve a role, as long-term domestic and foreign policies are also extremely important.


The powers granted to this body would pertain exclusively to long-term legislation. Any piece of legislation which makes a large impact on society after fifteen years would be subject to approval by the new body. Furthermore, the new body would have the authority to propose laws which make a large, demonstrable impact on the United States fifteen years after passage. Members would be subject to impeachment by Congress, and while the body would not be as powerful as the judicial, executive, or legislative branches of government, it would still hold significant power.


The working goal of this body would be to ensure America’s strength in the future, as well as protect Earth’s ecological health and promote technological development. The current American political system makes no such provisions for the future, despite the wave of technological, ecological, and demographic developments sweeping the planet. Overall, such a body is a necessity to ensure that America is competitive on the global stage, not merely at the present, but ten, twenty, fifty, or a hundred years from today. In a system which promotes thinking on a two, four, or six-year basis, a body to promote thinking on the spans of human lifetimes is a requirement.


Winston Churchill once said that “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others”.  America’s democratic republic is a prime example of this phenomena – despite the myriad of political dysfunction in American history, America still rose to become the greatest nation on Earth. Alternatives such as monarchy, fascism, anarchy, and communism could never produce such a result, as they fail to mobilize or account for the people in governance. It must instead be our quest to gradually improve our democracy, step by step, into a better and more efficient form of government.


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