For the long haul of history, the world has been ruled by kings, chiefs, dictators, and oligarchs. Only in Greece was this form of government somewhat abandoned by the reforms of Cleisthenes, the Father of Democracy, in 508. The advent of democracy, which these reforms brought about, deflated much of the subversive emotions in some quarters, specifically those within the working-class men of the navy and the army, who thirsted for some type of reform.
In the modern west, the legacy of those reforms are still somewhat visible within the chambers of parliaments, national assemblies, and congressional houses, which like the boule of Ancient Greece, represent a certain city or sector of a population.
This would indicate progress in many ways. We are not completely unfree, and yet, with laws passed, not totally free. The good of the government, working under the consent of the people, would seem, at least in theory and on paper, to be in its inability to overstep the boundaries of the power it is granted, and to keep itself from doing us much harm, and in fact, only to work in doing us good.
But no system is ever equal to its ideal, and systems differ around the world. A government’s contract with the people seems to be one of temporary rule, mini dictatorial—at least so in the West—in exchange for a chance to bring to fruition some large ideal in which we’re all supposed to share an equal interest in.
But this is what creates the awful in government. Any system that creates power for some, even on a temporary basis, is bound to create another class of people, especially when the system lacks term limits. And yet, where a system is already in place, the problem does not seem to be in the lack of term limits, but in the power afforded to that term, either limited or unlimited, by the licenses granted by that very system.
Because while having power, a representative is bound to abuse it, even with checks and balances in place, even if he or she intends to use this power for good, since he or she privileged to serve for a constituency has the power of law, one that often the representative seeks to shelter him or herself from, not necessarily because either thinks the law is non-beneficial overall, but because every law has an adverse effect on the one who writes it.
A great example of this is the so-called obamacare law, which sought to force the purchase of an insurance product upon people who never voted for it, directly.
It was such a good law, indeed, that the writers themselves exempted themselves from it, and exempted unions, great campaign contributors, worried that they would lose the good coverage that they had. Thus, if a person among the common people refused to buy insurance for any ideological reason, he or she would be punished by a penalty, while a union member, or a member of congress, would not.
The great driver of bad governance is often in the desire to fix what is not broken. We can find imperfections in anything. Hard work is a bad thing, because it punishes the body, thus let’s make a law that protects those who do hard work. Poverty is rampant in some working areas, let’s raise the minimum wage so that people won’t be poor no more, and raise the taxes of the companies who would pay the extra wages in order to care for those let go after their price has gone up. Not cogent!
Laws often suffer from lack of rationale, and because they’re often political—meaning, they’re written or suggested to the floor for consideration so that we can win our seat back, since through them we can show that we want to improve conditions in the world—they’re more frivolous than the lawsuits of greedy lawyers.
Yet this only scratches the surface of what makes a government, that intends to do good, awful.