Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Long Live the Queen

The Netherlands, like many European countries, still has a monarchy. I've always thought the idea of a Queen or King pretty old-fashioned, yet as we talked to various people I realized that monarchies remain popular and that there are actually some pretty good reasons for keeping a weakened form of royalty around.

Politics in Canada (and even more so in the United States) is always overshadowed by the next election. Because the election cycle is so short this encourages some frightful short-term thinking. Politicians have little incentive to embark on a 20 year program of reform when they could easily be out of a job in 2 years. The temptation is to put off difficult problems until the next election and to score cheap popularity even if the long-term consequences are bad.

Monarchies work on longer cycles. Queens and Kings are often in office for decades so they see the consequences of their decisions. As a result, they provide a current of long-term stability in the chaos of ever-changing governments.

Modern monarchies are limited to diplomatic roles, but the ongoing popularity of monarchies reminds me of a broader idea Peter Gabriel presented at the TED conference few years ago. Maybe we need a branch of government that has a long term outlook to balance short term politicians. In Canada the senate could fill this role if we made some reforms.

Elected politicians are good at seeing the value of cutting down a forest and selling the trees. We need a balancing body that sees the value of saving a forest for our grandchildren. In a world with 6 billion people and an environment on the brink of destruction, it is time to experiment with some longer term leadership.

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