US Supreme Court Building

The UK had a General Election yesterday.  It’s the biggest kind of election we have in this country, where people vote on which political party will be in power and, by extension, who the Prime Minister will be.

Earlier this week, I talked about disagreements generally, but political disagreements seem to be among the sharpest.  The real question I’d like to deal with, though, is how you run anything, from a publishing company to a household to a country.  What’s the best form of governance?

In practice, there are many forms of governance, though many of them are variations on a theme.  To take a rather simplified approach, there are four main options:

  1. Dictatorship

One person has total control and makes all the decisions.  A company owned and run by a single individual will operate under this model.  Totalitarian states and monarchies of old are effectively the same.  Anyone who disagrees with the ruler is usually punished.

Having said that, a benevolent dictatorship can be remarkably effective.  A good CEO will listen to the opinions of subordinates, delegate responsibility and attempt to act in the best interests of the whole company, even though they have the final say in any matters arising.

A dictatorship can make decisions and effect change quickly because only one person has to make their mind up, but it’s often not much fun for the majority of the people in the organisation who just have to do as they’re told.

  1. Democracy

In a democracy, people vote on important decisions and the option with the most votes is enacted.  Voting on every decision is often impractical, so people usually vote (in an election) for a group of people who will make all the decisions for a limited period of time.

As well as many countries, companies with shareholders are run on this basis (shareholders will vote for the next CEO, for example).

In practice, democracies can become mired by bureaucracy and stalemates, which can make it very difficult to get anything done.  The General Election here in the UK has ended in a hung parliament, which means no one party obtained a big enough majority to rule.

“Democracy is the worst form of government” – Winston Churchill

This often ends in coalition governments, which are notorious for achieving very little as the politicians from different parties will often disagree on any proposed policy changes.

As Winston Churchill said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried.”

  1. Consensus

For a decision to be made in a consensus government, everyone (yes, everyone!) must agree.  As you might imagine, trying to operate a consensus government with more than a few people is almost impossible.

However, this is frequently how families are run.  The parents form the consensus government and for the family to do something together, they must agree.  Personally, I think it is a great experience to learn to work through disagreements in this kind of setting.  When two people are forced to come to an agreement, it can bring out the best and the worst in them.  It is certainly character building.

If one parent dominates and the other parent always submits though, in practice the family is being run as a dictatorship.

  1. Free Market

In a truly free market, there is no governing body that exerts control over people.  People can do whatever they want.

There are very few examples of countries being run as a free market (though there are philosophers and economists who believe that this is the best model for running a country).  However, there are plenty of examples in everyday life of free markets at work.

Relationships are governed by a free market.

Relationships are frequently governed by a free market.  People are free to form relationships with whomever they choose.  People may advise for or against certain pairings (and often do!), but at the end of the day most people are not forced or forbidden to enter into a relationship with a particular individual.

The fear with free markets is that anarchy would ensue, but most people would consider that the system works well with relationships at least and the idea of relationships being governed would be morally repugnant to many people.

As you might be able to tell, I am quite keen on the last two forms of government and it has been an interesting experiment running the Boardgame Opinions YouTube channel along these lines.

To a certain extent, it is a free market.  Anyone in our local gaming group is free to make videos that fall broadly in line with the channel’s focus and we will feature them on the channel.  YouTube itself is another example of a free market as people watch whatever they want to.  Good content gradually becomes more popular and bad content never reaches most people.

Decisions do need to be made though.  Initially, when it was just me, the channel was necessarily run as a dictatorship, but as more people have come on board, and inevitable disagreements have occurred, we have always managed to find a consensus so far.  I hope we can continue in this vein!

Which forms of governance do you prefer?  How would you run a household, or a company, or a country?

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Jonathan Hicks

Jonathan is the director of Maven Games. He blogs and records podcast episodes several times a week. Whenever he isn't doing anything else, he designs games.

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