Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Political Turmoil and Timing

The level of political turmoil in the world has shot up, not just in Egypt, but also in places like Turkey, Brazil, Portugal, France, and less obviously, the United States, United Kingdom, and Russia. Some of the greatest controversies center around questions of timing. It is the foot-dragging and obstruction of the president of Egypt that has people worried there that their country is turning into a totalitarian state, but timing is equally at fault in Portugal and Brazil where capricious timing turned consensus policy moves into political insults.

The political theories we work under were created in a period when timing was less critical. The year-long presidential campaign process in the United States might have been the appropriately cautious approach two centuries ago when it took a month for a letter to be delivered. Now the lags involved are a barrier to democracy.

Constitutions in particular are subject to problems of timing. A constitution throws together an operational system that can be agreed upon quickly with more abstract principles or problematic details that really ought to be agreed on multiple times over decades before they become permanent policy. This is especially evident in Egypt currently but is true everywhere. Consider the European Union as another example. The system in the EU has inadequate oversight for all decisions, but tries to make up for it by doing everything at a snail’s pace. It doesn’t quite work — many decisions are still badly taken, and when a crisis requires quick decisions, the careful decision-making framework must be bypassed entirely, allowing decisions that aren’t based on any semblance of democracy.