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Political Blame Games: How to Escape the Mankind’s Favorite Game of Destruction?

Imagine the following public exchange between two guys - Serge, the president, and Larry, the CEO of a company by the name Oogle:

Serge (Oogle president): You know Larry, our stock market numbers look pretty good today. The Wall Street Journal said it must be because the president is taking the company in the right direction!

Larry (Oogle CEO): Come on, Serge, we all know that the president is not calling all the shots around here. And by the way, the numbers would have been much better, if your design team hadn’t made those …. pink-tinted glasses.

Serge: Wow, man, you just said you were so important, you took credit for everything. So who is responsible for the glasses? It happened under your watch, not mine. And by the way, remember the time back in 2008 when the Oogle stock was down by ten percent?

Larry: Hey, Serge, wait a second, that was 2008, the global financial crisis, ALL stocks were down.

Serge: Don’t make excuses for this one, Larry.  If I had been the CEO at the time, there would have been no global financial crisis in the first place…

If you witnessed such a dialogue, would you be worried about Oogle’s future? Yes, I think anyone would be. This is why conversations like this do not take place in the boardrooms of successful companies. 

And yet, take any two Georgian parliamentarians on the opposite sides of political spectrum, and you can easily imagine them conversing exactly like this. 

Of course, the political blame game is not a uniquely Georgian phenomenon. All over the world politicians engage in this kind of behavior. In fact, blame game is one of the mankind’s oldest, and also one of the most bizarre and unexplained rituals.


THE BLAME GAME RITUAL

In the old times, particularly after major crises, humans always looked for someone whom they could hold responsible. Ancient societies had scapegoats (either animals of humans) that would be sacrificed after a disaster. People believed that the sacrifices purified the community and helped avoid the punishment of the gods. 

Human scapegoats, who sometimes were convicted criminals and sometimes just people suffering from a physical deformity, would be marched through the city and afterwards stoned to death. 

The word “scapegoat” is known to us from the Book of Leviticus. During “Yom Kippur” (The Day of Atonement) the Israelites used two goats to symbolize their sins. One was used as an offering to praise God and another was meant to pacify Azazel, an evil spirit. A priest conveyed the sins of the Israelites to the goat meant for Azazel, and the unlucky goat was then cast out into the wilderness.  

Blaming was also popular in ancient Greece. The powerful rulers often executed the messengers who brought bad news, hoping that the death of a messenger would somehow cancel the news. As an artifact those times we now have the proverb “don’t shoot the messenger”. 

Nowadays, scapegoating is considered to be an anthropological atavism - a destructive, unnecessary practice. Certainly, the attitude of finger-pointing, rather than accepting responsibility for one’s actions, is frowned upon in business circles. 

And yet, humans have not managed to overcome the urge to find someone to blame under difficult circumstances. In particular, the blame game culture continues to flourish in contemporary politics, among people who are responsible for managing entire countries.


BLAME GAME IN CONTEMPORARY POLITICS 

Political parties all over the world always seek ways to attract supporters and stay in power for as long as possible. The game they play consists of two simple rules: 

1) Always blame your political opponents. Do so whenever something goes wrong in the economy or society, as well as when everything appears to doing just fine (you can always say that things could be even better). 

2) Always deflect responsibility in advance in order to avert future accusations of a policy error. The easiest way to do so to avoid risky reforms (even if needed), or to lower expectations related to such reforms by blaming e.g. poor starting conditions (high level of national debt, empty coffers), the responsibility for which lies with your predecessors. 

Part one can take many different forms. For example, it is known that citizens generally observe the outcomes of a specific reform, but they rarely observe the behind-the-scenes of the decision-making or implementation process. Thus in a government coalition consisting of several parties, one party may undermine the implementation of a risky reform in order to blame other parties and gain political capital and reputation. Needless to say, such “blame casting” games have severe reputational and economic consequences for the country as a whole. 

Part two, the practice of “blame avoidance”, is perhaps even more destructive than “blame casting” – it gives rise to organizational structures and “cover-your-ass” (CYA) type of behavior which ensure that absolutely no one in the organization is taking any responsibility for anything.


BLAME GAME IN GEORGIA AND ITS CONSEQUENCES 

The contemporary as well has historical examples of blame game practice are not hard to find in the Georgian politics.  

For example, when Georgia lost its sovereignty in 1921, instead of searching for real reasons behind the defeat, politicians started to cast blame on each other. 

In modern times, ever since 2003 (the Rose Revolution), new governments find it more convenient to blame their predecessors for each and every failure, instead of seeking solutions to pressing problems.

We have witnessed this on the example of the ongoing war of words between the UNM (United National Movement) and the GDC (Georgian Dream Coalition), in particular in the Parliament. In this game UNM representatives were charging the GD coalition with mismanagement of the state budget, blamed their policies for the low pace of economic growth and currency depreciation. The GD coalition leaders, in turn, were claiming that UNM’s nine-year rule undermined the economy of Georgia so much, that it is now hard to achieve the desired high growth rates. They also tirelessly blamed the National Bank’s leadership (whose tenure was given during the UNM rule) for GEL devaluation in 2014-2015. 

All of this bickering appears to be very childish to an outside observer, but it has serious economic consequences for the country.  For example, the “GEL devaluation blame game” gave rise to the legislation which proposed taking the power of commercial banks supervision away from the National Bank of Georgia. This legislation gave much unease to the international financial institutions and, by the same token, could have affected the decision of private foreign investors.


SOLVING THE PROBLEM: BRING BACK THE SCAPEGOATS!? 

It looks like “scapegoating” one’s opponents is a dominant strategy in the game of politics. Unfortunately, however, this strategy leads to socially suboptimal outcomes. Instead of fixing problems, politicians end up scaring away investors.

Perhaps ancient societies were not so unwise when they tried to put the responsibility for a community’s sins on a hapless goat, instead of engaging in the destructive practice of finger pointing and mutual accusations?

What about the following (tongue-in-cheek) solution: just imagine that next time the GDP growth figures don’t look as good as we all hope for, the UNM and GDC parliamentarians come together and release a goat into the wilderness. Of course, the animals’ rights advocates will be invited to stand close by, ready to rescue the poor animal, in case something goes wrong. 

As the election season heats up, and partisan politics gets uglier, let’s hope that the wisdom of the ancient law in the Book of Leviticus be heeded – if not literally, then at least in spirit.

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Nodar on Sunday, 17 April 2016 18:05

As it is easy to find this kind of practice in Georgia thats why we are here and not somewhere els. Its true that every government did this, blamed previous ones and will also see in the future the same, but here arises one question: What will happen if government of Georgia instead of blaming one another will do their jobs? It seems easy to say this and even easier to imagine that government do its job and everything is OK. We have high GDP, living standards increases rapidly, and so on. But if government will not do this [who will do]?
Several days ago one of my professor told me this sort of expression: If all Georgians, not only government do their jobs we will be somewhere else, not here

As it is easy to find this kind of practice in Georgia thats why we are here and not somewhere els. Its true that every government did this, blamed previous ones and will also see in the future the same, but here arises one question: What will happen if government of Georgia instead of blaming one another will do their jobs? It seems easy to say this and even easier to imagine that government do its job and everything is OK. We have high GDP, living standards increases rapidly, and so on. But if government will not do this [who will do]? Several days ago one of my professor told me this sort of expression: If all Georgians, not only government do their jobs we will be somewhere else, not here
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