Question of the Day

question_mark1This is a new feature.  Each afternoon we will have a question that we pose the Vanguard community.  Sometimes it will be a local issue, sometimes a national issue, and sometimes a deeper and more philosophic question.

Today’s question: How much trust should we impart in our public officials?

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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5 Comments

  1. jimt

    Ronald Reagan’s quip “Trust, but verify” seems fitting with regard to public officials.
    Their statements and actions must be critically scrutinized.

    Seems to me that the integrity of the political process, and thus the decline in regard and trust in public officials, has been and is largely due to the growing influence of big money in politics; as evidenced both by the growth in campaign money and the intensity of lobbying by PACs and other coordinated big business interests.

    I suspect many people do feel that it is appropriate that big business should have a voice in politics; and that the problem is that instead of being just one of several or a number of interests that are being addressed; the balance has been disrupted in favor of big business.

    This influence trickles down to city politicians–a councilman must “play ball” with business interests if he has any interest in a future political career, or he may find campaign financing to be very difficult; thus it would seem that very fair-minded young politicians who would genuinely like to represent the interests of the broader community cannot help but be swayed by moneyed interests–after all, looking ahead to the future, a young politician has to think about how he is going to support his family. So in a sense perhaps we shouldn’t put the blame to heavily on politicians as on the current money-run system that acts to exclude those who don’t have a track record of ‘playing ball’ with big moneyed interests. Why not have publicly financed campaigns, and overhaul of lobbying regulations to allow for more balance?

  2. jimt

    Rusty–yes, likely accurate for state government unions in california; but not so much an issue locally or statewide; I remember recently seeing a statistic that only 11% of employees nationwide were union members; so on a national level union influence is not nearly as strong as big corporate/finance influence (just strong influence or effective steering and control?)

  3. Edgar Wai

    The balance is in the risk of deception and the cost of verification. The more power is being mobilized, the more verification should be done. When we don’t check, the typical reasons should be these:

    a) We don’t care if someone cheats because the damage will be small
    b) We don’t know a way to verify
    c) We know a way to verify, but we would rather spend the resource to do something else

    To reduce the uncertainty asking for verification, the processes should be designed to reduce uncertainty. This could mean the following:

    a) Public officials should have less power
    b) There should be more public officials so that each of them will have less power
    c) Processes should be more transparent
    d) Processes should be simpler
    e) Public offices should facilitate the public to make decisions, but make less decisions itself
    f) Public offices should facilitate the public to coordinate their power, without taking their power and act on their behalf

  4. Edgar Wai

    (Cont…)

    There are also some curious processes where an entity would have no motivation to cheat, or that cheating becomes undefinable. Usually these processes are in a feedback loop where there is no benefit to the entity if the entity cheats.

    John’s roof is leaking and he wants it fixed. He gets some tools and starts working on it. It was wet, it was cold, it was miserable. [i]Wouldn’t it be good if I could cheat a little?[i] he thought. But he kept working on it because there is no benefit to [i]cheating[/i]. If he does a lousy job he is going to have to fix it again.

    How do we design a community so that every need is provided, and cheating makes no sense?

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