Who Should Make The Decisions?

I missed Fridays posting deadline as I watched the Brexit vote come in. I couldn’t focus enough to write. The change in the status quo, in what I know, and in the unexpected result left me anxious. I couldn’t get into the right state of mind to write.

The next few weeks, months, and possibly years will be plagued with a degree of uncertainty because of this outcome. Mostly as a result of  the size of the economy, its relevance in the western world, and whether it triggers similar movements elsewhere in Europe. Sentiment drives markets more than fact, so fun times ahead.

However, the Brexit vote is a real-time, at scale, live example of a topic that interests me, decision making.

Many of the  books I enjoy reading spawn from research on decision making. For example Thinking Fast and Slow and Predictably Irrational both have origin stories linked to decision making.

Only the passage of time will tell whether the risk was worth it. Whether anything really changes.

I have struggled to write this post. I want to dive into what I know about how we make decisions. But there is too much going on and I don’t know where to start. I can feel myself choosing the arguments that suit my own view. So I won’t go there. This is not about my politics.

On Friday, Australian time, the thought that kept going through my mind was “Is this the best way to make a decision of this magnitude?”.

With everything I know about decision making, and working in a job where I facilitate the decision-making process, the result feels at best like a coin toss. How much thinking really went into the decision-making process of 33m people? (See this article being shared on social media: The British are frantically Googling what the E.U. is, hours after voting to leave it)

If you factor in all the biases, heuristics, and mental shortcuts  we all use, then magnify that by 33m voters asked one question, how can we be sure a decision, either way, is the right one?

A friend of mine posted the following on Facebook on Friday morning UK time. He nails it.

Screenshot 2016-06-25 06.58.01

Of course, there is an assumption that the current leaders will get it any better than the rest of us.

However, the systems and processes of government, a politician’s greater exposure to information, and awareness of the consequences does mitigate the risk of a poor decision. Politicians make decisions all the time. They are experienced at it … OK, I can read what I am typing … I am being idealistic.

Making decisions is really hard.

Did most voters really consider all the facts? I mean ALL the facts. Did they think about all the risks? Did they think about what the risks mean? Did they ask themselves whether what replaces the current setup will actually be different, or better?

Take immigration as one example. It is possible that any trade deals with Europe will require free movement of EU and UK nationals as the deals for Norway and Switzerland do. So while a voter might have voted based on their feelings about immigration, the end result could still be free movement of EU nationals. So was that vote worth the risk from their perspective?

And like an ex-girlfriend/boyfriend there is no going back. At least not on the same terms. So again was it worth it?

Or did they vote with inertia. Did they just assume that the status quo, the thing that we know, is the easiest and safest decision?

Going with inertia is not necessarily any better either. As the EU evolves and laws and rules change and come into effect perhaps the UK would slowly lose more and more control of its own destiny. Maybe the voter is happy with that, maybe they aren’t, or maybe they don’t care?

And therein lies the difficulty. Why did a voter vote the way they did? What made them go to the polling station?  Was their reasoning sound and in their long-term best interest?

To add to how hard it is I saw the below tweet. With a decision affecting such a cross section of society again, how can a 50/50 vote result in what is best for everyone, especially in the long term?

I am going to close with this quote from Winston Churchill. It was in my mind at the same time on Friday. I don’t know what a better form of government is. But, with everything science is learning about decision-making surely we can do better than this. 

“Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” – Sir Winston Churchill (1874 – 1965), Hansard, November 11, 1947