A good government needs to make unpopular decisions, do you agree?

Full essay outline


Contributed by: Admin



  • Oscar Wilde: “Democracy is the bludgeoning of the people by the people for the people.”
  • In an age of democracy, where popular opinion holds sway over the political mien of mot countries, it is hard to refute that governments are often forced to make the popular decisions over right decisions to continue to hold their positions of power
  • However, I ultimately believe that governments ought to make both popular and unpopular decisions, as long as they are the right decisions


The very nature and basis of democracy for the government to be elected by the people for the people, thus it has to always make the decisions popular with the society then the government can have the mandate of its people and represent their views


However, this does not consider the government’s responsibility to its people to create and sustain a society that is not just agreeable to its people but one which is also stable and secure

  • The public might not fully know the threats the society faces or the considerations involved in governmental policies –> a good government thus still needs to make the unpopular decisions in the interests of the nation
  • Eg: Germany government needs to make decisions that are of the best interests for the economy despite unpopular
  • Eg: The inability of the governments to take the unpopular path is a main reason why little improvement has not been made in the European Financial Crisis


Some might argue that a good government needs to make the popular decisions so that interests of various groups of the society are recognised and protected

  • Proponents claim that there are various groups of the community being marginalised
  • Eg: Some advocacy groups in US protested the shooting of Trayvon Martin, a black teenager, and argued that the government did not consider the popular view of the society which was an increasingly inclusive and anti-racial one in the community

However, what is popular may not necessarily be in the interests of all groups in the society

  • Eg: Strong racial faultlines in the American communities where majority are white, thus a great disparity between what different individuals consider as popular and what is in society’s best interest –> the government has a duty to be a guiding compass for the people should never base their decisions on popularity
  • Eg: Under Julia Gillbard’s administration, Australia recognised the rights of the Aborigines and granted them ownership over the land that their ancestors lived on –> not a popular decision at that time, but important step towards achieving greater social inclusiveness
  • Eg: Unstable and fractured early democracy in Egypt and Libya reflects how popular decisions have led to the stagnation in the political process


Another claim supporting populist policies is that doing what is popular will often solve problems quickly and prevent disagreements in the society

  • Eg: British media publicly ridiculed the British education system for not providing equal opportunities for students and the weak economy contributed to widespread riots in London –> the popular decision to legislate universal education and expand public sector jobs would solve the problem and prevent further rioting


However, we must recognise that governments have limited resources to meet unlimited wants

  • Governments who persist with populism ultimately realise that such will be unsustainable and would lead to the accumulation of debt which will be a burden the society has to bear in the future
  • Eg: The consequences of popular policies concerning the welfare state and free healthcare in Britain would result in the government being largely in debt with extended impact affecting unemployment
  • Eg: Countries with governments willing to make unpopular decisions like Singapore would have stronger stability due to reserves kept by the government – while policies may not be popular, they have maintained stability in the midst of global recessions has been beneficial to the public
  • Eg: Singapore government planned to increase foreign workers’ proportion in our population to near 50% by 2050, though seen as undesirable by citizens as they rioted against the population white paper, the foreign immigration policy may be something beneficial for our economy in the long run despite our short term discontent
  • Eg: Nordic state with high welfare benefits and social security, though their high taxes were initially met with social discontent, citizens soon appreciated the policies after they were fully implemented


A good government needs to make the unpopular decisions in the interests for the future developments of the society

  • Eg: Residents of Hong Kong initially unhappy about the widespread construction of the Hong Kong Mass Transit Railway (MTR), but the government’s willingness to take the unpopular path has reaped benefits for the people in the long run, by providing a convenient and well-connected of different places
  • Eg: Singapore’s “Do what is right and not what is popular” policy whereby the government often takes the long-term view on societal policies to ensure that the society is always improving


Good governments need to make the unpopular decisions when it comes to investment and industries

  • Eg: US with strong oil and coal lobby needs to make the unpopular decision to channel more resources to developing environmentally sustainable alternatives like hydropower and wind energy
  • The loss in jobs in the oil and coal industries may not be detrimental as investment in the new technology and energy sectors open up opportunities for workers to up-skill themselves to produce a more productive workforce


Good governments need to make unpopular decisions when it comes to legislation of laws and social policies

  • Governments need to ensure that society is stable and functioning
  • Eg: US reforms in the New York subway were crucial in making the streets of New York safer for everyone



  • When society’s best interests may not be popular to the masses, the government’s moral courage to take the path it believes will bring the best for the citizens of the country is important
  • It must consider the short term and long term impacts of the policies, and these unpopular decisions often need to be responsible ones that are not oppressive like the illiberal regimes
  • It is the responsibility of the governments to make the right decisions for the future of the country, no matter if they are the popular or the unpopular decisions


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