'A' Level Essay: "A good government is one that is able to make unpopular decisions. Discuss."

At the core, governments are decision-makers. They have to make decisions which would directly influence their citizens, and a good government is one that is revered by its citizens for the contribution it makes to its people. Undeniably, unpopular decisions that are beneficial to the future of the country may sometimes be necessary. However, in light of current political trends most countries adopt, it has become more difficult to make unpopular decisions. Nevertheless, some popular decisions made by ignorant or unscrupulous governments may be detrimental to the country. As such, I agree that a good government needs to be able to bite the bullet and make unpopular decisions that are crucial for the country’s survival.

A good government must have courage to make unpopular decisions that would benefit the country. The government is the only institution with a bird’s eye view of all stakeholders within the country. Unlike ordinary citizens which may have a limited view of situations, the government has the capacity and the capability to consider the future. Thus, the government sees the big picture and is able to weigh the benefits and costs pragmatically, before deciding on its actions. Consider for instance, the National Security Agency (NSA), a governing body in the United States of America, which had controversially tapped on phone calls and messages of individuals to track terrorist activities. When news of these nationwide spying was leaked, many individuals were outraged at such massive breach of privacy. It would not be difficult to empathise with the Americans over such a blatant breach of privacy. However if we consider the context under which the surveillance program was implemented, the issue is not as black and white as it seems. The surveillance program was implemented in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In the immediate aftermath, strict security measures were put in place such as body scans in the airport. Individuals, at that time, were more than willing to sacrifice their personal privacy in exchange for security. Ten years onward, the threat and fear of a terrorist attack has waned along with the harrowing memory of the 9/11 attack. Contrary to public beliefs, terrorist attacks are still a threat to Americans as proven by the recent rise of terrorist group ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria). Therefore, it is evident that US citizens also failed to recognize just how valuable the policy is after living through a long era of peace. Thus, unpopular decisions must be made in order to ensure the well-being of citizens.

However, a good government must not only have the courage to make unpopular decisions but also do so without losing their mandate to govern. It is still important that governments be strategic in making decisions. Most countries today adopt democracy as their system of government. This means that the government of a country is elected by the people. Moreover, people today are more educated and are more fervent in fighting for change that they deem beneficial even if it may not be true. This would mean that if a good government were to lose popularity among its people, it might lose its power and this could lead to a transient government which could hinder long-term progress. For example, the Singapore government has implemented many beneficial policies such as the Central Provident Fund (CPF), a compulsory and comprehensive saving plan for working Singaporeans and Permanent Residents which would fund their retirement, healthcare and housing needs. A recent review of the policy to increase minimum contribution sum has caused protests amongst some Singaporeans. In this situation, the government’s decisions were well founded and for the benefit of the people. However, some Singaporeans were unhappy about it. This puts Singapore’s government in a tight spot because they could lose popularity and thus lose its governance over Singapore. Of course, that would be destabilizing to the country if it were to become reality. Hence a good government would have to recognise the fact that the people’s support is important. They must be able to reach out to people and allow them to understand the benefits of their policies. In this sense, Singapore has managed to fulfil this through platforms such as ‘Our Singapore Conversations’ where individuals give feedback and also learn more about current policies. This ensures that people do not feel alienated from the government’s decisions and the government would be able to remain in control. Therefore, a good government must not only have the courage to make unpopular decisions but also be able to remain in power through good communications with the people.

Nevertheless, being stubborn in making unpopular decisions could end up harming citizens instead. This can occur when governments are ignorant of the current situation or if the government is corrupt. An ignorant government may mistake the possible merits of the decision or they could underestimate the costs of the decision. These policies are more often than not opposed by citizens of the country. In such situations, having the courage to implement the policy despite strong opposition can lead to undesirable outcomes for the country. To illustrate this, Brazil won the bid to host the 2014 FIFA World Cup. However, the victory was not celebrated by many. With many parts of the country undeveloped and social services uncared for, many Brazilians were not keen on the idea of spending billions of dollars on huge soccer stadiums that would serve no other purpose other than hosting the World Cup. As such, the disgruntled members of the public took to the streets and carried out massive protests, hampering the preparations and infrastructure building for the World Cup. Although the government justified its spending by citing the huge tourism revenue and the boosting of Brazil’s image, much of their claims were overly optimistic. Multiple economic studies have shown that hosting major sporting events have more often than not led to more social problems and negative economic benefits. People’s standard of living might deteriorate because of the huge debt the government might incur. In such scenarios, courage and confidence are often baseless and detrimental to society. The incompetence of the government led to failure and the people suffering as an unfortunate consequence. Hence, having the courage to make unpopular decisions might not be the mark of a good government if such unpopular decisions are clearly detrimental to the society.

All in all, a good government has to have the foresight and courage to make decisions that are beneficial and necessary for the country regardless of how unpopular it may be. It should also be astute enough to ensure its citizens still pledge support to it. Only through this way can the government implement policies that will benefit the nation in the long run. As more people become educated, they would demand greater say in decision making for the country. This could become a greater challenge for governments in policy making. Therefore a good government is also one that understands the paramount importance of reaching out and letting people understand the rationale of the policies they implement.


This first appeared on The Knowledge Loft. It is reproduced with permission.


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