If you want to drive a car, fly a plane, practice law, or perform surgery, you have to take a test and get a license. If you want to run a country, there’s no proof of proficiency required.
When we select leaders outside politics, we don’t even consider their ideologies until after they’ve established their competencies. If you haven’t performed as a manager, you rarely make it into consideration for an executive role. Shouldn’t we hold political candidates to the same standard?
I’m generally dismayed by politics, but if someone forced me to start a political party, it would be the Competence Party. The core ideology would be anti-ideology. Before you can run for office, you’d have to demonstrate your capacity to lead and serve.
An election is a forecasting task: you’re trying to predict how well a candidate will rise to the challenges of an office. Psychologists have long found that instead of having candidates do interviews and debates, we can learn more about their competencies by getting samples of their work.
Some of the key skills involved in public service might include critical thinking, diplomacy, strategy, verbal fluency, and economic policy. It wouldn’t be hard to design war games, forecasting tournaments, and other simulations to test knowledge and skill in these areas. But a few years ago during election season, it dawned on me that we could try something simpler and more fun. What if we challenged the candidates to play board games?
Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about friends and family by watching how they play board games. I wonder if the same is true for political candidates?
I’d have them play Clue to test their critical thinking and Risk to gauge their diplomacy. We could try chess or Settlers of Catan for strategy and Scrabble, Boggle, or Taboo to get a sense of verbal fluency. I’d pick Monopoly for economic policy… and anger management. If you throw the board, you’re automatically disqualified.
If they don’t have a working understanding of key events of the past and how their country works in the present, we can’t rely on them to guide us into the future. To get a sense of their knowledge of civics and history, I’d go with Trivial Pursuit or even Jeopardy.
We wouldn’t have to stop there. We might get a glimpse at cognitive deficits by asking them to play Memory. If they can’t remember where the cards are, they’re off the table.
Of course, dominating these games wouldn’t prove that you’re ready to lead. But struggling at them might make it clear that you’re unfit to serve. The goal of a board game tournament wouldn’t be to greenlight the winners—it would be to surface red flags. I’d be looking to screen candidates out, not invite them in.
Now that I think of it, the Competence Party might be the wrong name. If recent history is any guide, that bar might be unrealistically high. We could call it the Anti-Incompetence Party.