Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Decision makers and you

A discussion I had with my roommate recently about health care raised the issue: who should be responsible for getting health insurance, government or private employers and individuals? When political issues are discussed, analyzing who is making the decision and whether this entity is responsive to public feedback is as important as the actual substantive policy issue at hand.

Freedom comes in many forms, such as the five freedoms outlined in the First Amendment. But say that a despotic government disallows a newspaper from printing critical editorial pieces. It is crucial to recognize not only the differing views of the government’s policies, but also that a centralized group of like-minded individuals – in this case consisting of despots who are running the government – takes away the option of the newspaper to print dissenting opinion. What mattered most to the Founding Fathers when writing the Declaration of Independence was not necessarily English taxes on colonists but that the decision-makers responsible for these policies were not Americans but distant legislators and monarchs overseas.

The actions of such distant Britons represented the tendency of an insulated group of people who hold disproportionate political influence to make judgments and pass legislation affecting those who do not have that influence. These judgments include establishing what they deem as a morally superior policy and then looking down on others who do not share these same values. This was one of the causes of the Revolutionary War and has been a perpetual political theme throughout history. For instance, in Greek mythology, rather than directing their energies toward representing the concerns of Greek citizens, gods were concerned solely with their own subjective sentiments and their relationship to other gods.

One consequence of these centralized and insulated groups is that they are not subject to constituent feedback, a collective opinion that may have different viewpoints than their own. Because the populace is not fortunate enough to be part of such groups, it is difficult to alter whatever legislative or administrative solution the members of that centralized group have already decided upon.

For instance, affirmative action policies first publicized by President Kennedy and President Johnson to prohibit job discrimination were implemented by administrative agencies to promote hiring policies based on racial characteristics. These agencies consisted of officials who were insulated from public opinion and who were the primary decision makers of implementing this policy. Although many public opinion polls revealed that opposition of these policies were expressed not just by American citizens but also by black Americans, members of executive agencies such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission transformed the original policy intentions to fit their own prescribed and like-minded visions of justified public policy, regardless of the opinions of those who were directly affected by them.

The difference between these insulated groups and groups that are in the private sphere, such as business executives, is that the latter are directly affected more by feedback than public groups like administrative agencies or judicial courts. Owners are considered to be the primary decision makers for their businesses, but unlike public agencies they are responsive to feedback by their customers. If customers do not like a product or a service, then the owner will be forced to cater to this feedback or he will lose a lot of money.

As opposed to insulated governmental groups who have been afforded the role of being primary decision-makers in areas once left to the private sphere and who have the benefit of carrying out policy with little fear of suffering public backlash, business executives do not have the benefit of implementing initiatives without fear that they will be subject to public feedback. Customers are the ultimate decision-makers for private enterprise.

There is also a tendency for isolated groups of people who are not responsible for passing or implementing policy to claim moral superiority through academic work or news reporting. The fact that many members of these groups, such as university professors in the humanities or journalists who work for major newspapers, hold far more liberal positions than Americans not in these groups is not as important as the point that these viewpoints are considered by many within their group circles to be the authoritative word on the subject at hand.

Historically, the views and academic work of these insulated people have been used to justify policy decisions that have not resulted in what they originally perceived. For instance, many psychologists — individuals considered to be astute observers of human behavior — supported the implementation of sex education programs in public schools, yet there have not been conclusive studies showing that these programs have reduced teen pregnancy.

It is the assumption that people who hold disproportional influence within academia (or in administrative agencies) are intellectually superior and therefore should have the final say in developing and carrying out policy that encourages the transfer of decision-making processes from a private individual or entity to a more centralized group.

The next time you engage in a debate with someone about political and non-political issues, think about the entity that is responsible for the decision-making in addition to the actual decision being made. Consider whether insulated groups not subject to responsive feedback are truly taking into account the concerns of their constituents or are rather promoting their own visions with little regard to the people who are actually affected by the policies. A look at history, whether it is the British Empire or Nazi Germany, reveals that such actions erode the liberty that enables individuals to make their own decisions.

Greg Collins is a Collegian columnist.

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