Thursday, May 15, 2014

Declining Trust in Politicians and Governments

In the first week of May I had the opportunity to attend the OECD Forum during OECD week in Paris. One recurring theme during the discussions was a lament about declining trust by the public in governments and politicians, apparently occurring right around the world. The OECD noted this as a very important issue. People were concerned that lack of faith in the political process led to public disengagement, and were also concerned about ongoing and quite widespread problems of corruption.

This is an absolutely valid concern, but sits awkwardly with the OECD’s unwavering devotion to growth and to increasing aggregate demand – the OECD wants more people, more workers, more consumption, more everything! The thing is, increasing population undermines political participation and political engagement. It is RATIONAL to disengage if you are in reality powerless, which you certainly are in large population countries like India and China. The late Professor Albert Bartlett noted that the population of his home city, Boulder, Colorado, had increased tenfold during his lifetime, leaving him with one tenth the say in the running of it that he had initially.

If citizens disengage, the “agency problem” identified by Race Mathews and others kicks in. The people who are paid to run the place (including public servants) have much more at stake than any given ordinary citizen, who has little to gain individually from trying to catch them out or stop them. The risk of corruption at the top by and large is greater for large population countries than it is for small population countries.

The OECD would have more success in maintaining or increasing public trust in politicians and governments if it stopped supporting the “bigger is better” model and worked to slow growth down.


  1. Hear Hear, agree with you 100% Mr Thomson

  2. I'm wondering if you had an opportunity to express your very sensible views at the OECD forum