Thursday, 1 June 2023

Incompetence Rules

Anyone who reads comments left by supporters of recently relegated UK Premier League football teams will come across plenty of reasons why their team failed to stay in the top flight this year.

As we might expect, most comments are generally disparaging in one way or another because there are always reasons for footballing failure. Poor management, poor decisions in the transfer market, inattention by the club owners, players who don’t give their all on the pitch, poor tactics and so on.

Yet as we all know, the league is designed this way - every season, three teams are relegated. In that sense, footballing incompetence is engineered into the rules. Every season there must be three teams which are too incompetent to remain. We could say that the rules simply identify the three most incompetent teams, yet the rules make sure there always are three incompetent teams by the end of the season.

In which case, perhaps we have a question worth asking. Does the league engineer the incompetence via its rules or do the rules uncover the incompetence? Both seems to be the obvious answer, but the question of engineered incompetence is the interesting one.

Moving from football on to less clearly defined situations, we could ask if the electoral rules of UK democracy engineer a situation where voters vote incompetently. A kind of Premier League where there are only two teams, one is always relegated for incompetence and the other only has to be marginally less incompetent. A different situation but governed by rules which ensure incompetence and make outstanding competence unlikely.

As an aside, political pundits tend to rationalise the result of an election in a manner which is not greatly dissimilar to what happens with relegated football teams.

Within the complexity of human affairs, rules often seem to engineer levels of competence and incompetence to suit the situation. Which is entirely familiar but slightly odd because we supposedly avoid incompetence. Yet we frequently don’t avoid it, we engineer it, sometimes by design and sometimes not.

For example, constantly tightening road traffic regulations creates a situation where even carefully competent motorists run the risk of committing minor violations due regulatory complexity. In effect, a level of motorist incompetence is ensured by the rules rather than what we might traditionally see as genuine incompetence. 

Here in the UK, cycling rules have recently been upgraded in a way which seems likely to encourage more incompetent cycling. Varied and somewhat unpredictable speed limits are another example. UK technical, scientific and economic incompetence is being engineered for political reasons – hence Net Zero. Political ideology could almost be defined as engineered incompetence.

We could go further and suggest that unavoidable incompetence is a common way for governments to govern. Complex rules engineer levels of bureaucratic incompetence which tie down the population, making them easier to govern. Rules and incompetence are linked. 


Sam Vega said...

Certainly, the current political system is engineered to make me an incompetent voter. Given the information I had, the last time I voted in a General Election was in an attempt to complete Brexit, reduce immigration, and stop woke nonsense destroying our culture.

But today I haven't got the politicians in office that I voted for; and very little of what I wanted has come to pass. And there's a lot of different stuff that I wasn't consulted about. Despite there being a massive majority and thirteen years to get it right.

Unless you actually want to see this country become a vassal state overcrowded with unassimilating immigrants and full of self-doubt, the system seems to be there to make a fool out of you.

DiscoveredJoys said...

I wonder if the issue is not so much the issue of incompetence but that any system old enough will be taken over by the bureaucrats (Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy) and bureaucrats need more and more complex rules to fulfil their cravings for order and justify their own existence.

So... why do we need the Highway Code to explain traffic laws? Why do we need so many complex laws when there are only crimes against a person, crimes against property, and (perhaps) crimes against society? Why do we need so many taxes?

I suspect that bureaucrats secretly fear that someone, somewhere, is not behaving in an approved manner. It doesn't matter who you vote for the Civil Service always gets in.

A K Haart said...

Sam - or the system seems to be there to make a fool out of anyone with party loyalty. As if the electoral system has settled quite naturally into what bureaucracies and vested interests find satisfactory, a democracy they can work with because it isn't democratic enough to interfere with them.

DJ - yes the Civil Service always gets in and it seems to have been reinvigorated by a level of integration with international bureaucracies. As if if is benefiting from even less responsibility, an enhanced ability to expand its remit and ineffective national political oversight.