Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Random thought #1: Exams for politicians

We require a lawyer to pass a bar exam before practing law. We require a doctor to pass a board exam before practicing medicine. We require accountants - and most other financial workers, personal fitness trainers, IT professionals, and teachers to get certifications. We require engineers, physical therapists, truck drivers - or drivers of any vehicle for that matter, electricians, plumbers, pilots and many others to be licensed. We require a politician to... well, win elections.

As far as I know (please correct me if I'm wrong), there is no license or certificate required to be a politician. All you need to do is win an election and you've got the job!  Pretty much any job I can think of requires some kind of license or certification that shows you have a basis of knowledge about your chosen profession. Furthermore, most of these professions require periodic testing and education to recertify or renew licensure. We require these licenses and certificates and continuing education to because we think to perform a job adequately and not make a royal mess of things, a person needs a set of basic knowledge about their chosen profession.

I recently saw this video about a senator from Texas questioning Dr. Stephen Chu - a physics Nobel Laureate and the US Secretary of Energy.

In summary, a senator asked Dr. Chu: "How did all the oil and gas get to Alaska an under the Artic Ocean". Now, admittedly, Dr. Chu's answer wasn't that great, but I'm sure given more than 6 seconds that he could give a better explanation. More shocking is that the senator from Texas would need to ask the question in the first place. How is it that a senator in such a powerful position does not know where oil comes from? I began to think that maybe we should require potential politicians to be certified before they run for office by demonstrating that they have the knowledge required to do their job just like most other professions. This isn't so say there aren't many well qualified politicians. In fact even the senator in the video might be a good senator, I don't really know anything about him other than what I saw in the video. I found him to be a bit disrespectful in his tone, though.

What basic knowledge does a politician need? I think many politicians have law degrees, which is I suppose a good start. However in addition to law, I think it is essential for an elected official to have some basic knowledge about economics, civics, history, geography and geopolitics, science and math. I don't think that requiring our officials to have this knowlege is partisan. I don't care weather my doctor is republican or democrat, but I do want him or her to know the germ theory of disease when I'm being treated. Similarly, a senator should know where oil comes from if he or she is making energy policy decisions irrespective of weather the senator is republican or democrat. What else? Is it a good idea? Think about it.
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