NATIONAL WISDOM & THE PRISONERS DILEMMA
In 1989, an overenthusiastic environmentalist started the claim that "Alar", a chemical used by an apple company in USA, was harmful to human health. The claim was picked up in the public domain and fuelled by the media. It was hotly debated in congress. The idea became so believable that high profile public figures were willing to put their reputations on the line to protect the public. The Apple Company was closed. Some years later an independent expert medical enquiry looked into the "Alar chemical affair" and found that the there was no harmful effect whatsoever caused by the chemical on human life.
Several centuries BC, Rehoboam took over the kingdom from his father Solomon, the wisest and richest King of the time. He ordered a heavy burden to be placed on the people. The people rebelled with the cry "to tents, O Israel, look after your own house O David". Rehoboam was left to rule over one tribe while the others appointed governors to rule over them. It took many hundreds of years before the nation was united again.
Though these two incidences had democratic outcomes, one wonders whether the wisdom (or folly) of the crowd resulted in the most favorable results in both cases. In the first case, the Apple Company suffered injustice and irreparable damage due to a democratic decision. In the second, the nation was splintered by a democratic choice. In both cases, the nation faced what is known to economists as the "prisoner's dilemma" (or "catch 22"). A situation in which you are dammed if you do, and damned if you don't. Unfortunately, the prisoner in these cases is the public. Could these outcomes have been avoided and the public saved from paying such a heavy price for making such irrational decisions?
Careful evaluation of these two situations shows that there was opportunity to salvage the nation from its destructive intent before the situation became critical. If the public had taken the counsel of experts, the nation would not have suffered the loss of the apple company providing health benefits to the public. If Rehoboam had taken the counsel of his elders, the nation would not have splintered for a thousand years. It would NOT be wise for Kenya to ignore the counsel of experts and elders when faced with a decision of national significance.
March 8th 2013