It is a fact that educated people everywhere, indeed in the West, limit democratic participation of those with less education, those who just have compulsory primary education, but no further education and degrees. The rulers are mainly drawn from a small minority section of some twenty percent of the people. Even those who have technical or vocational education and training are considered inferior by those with academic qualifications and office work experience. That is the nature of a meritocracy. At regional and local levels, education counts a bit less, but then the administration there plays a more important role, in managing information sharing and planning, and the administrators are well-educated.

In last week’s article, I considered some overall issues about meritocracy, underlining that society becomes less democratic because of it. It is rule by a minority over the majority. Ordinary people are good enough as voters but less as elected politicians. True, sometimes, we find politicians in the West who have not completed their university degrees, although nowadays quite rare, and in most cases, they would then have worked with more senior politicians, in the political parties, as journalists, or in other jobs where they have been able to learn how to operate in politics.

Let me mention, too, that sometimes a university education doesn’t necessarily mean that a person has become more analytical and logical in his or her reasoning, being able to think about the consequences of specific and broader decisions. In Pakistan, we may complain about that university degree studies have not given the candidates enough analytical skills and methods, even if the degrees are in the social sciences. In the West, university graduates are today often too technocratic in their thinking, not really ‘practical intellectuals’, as politicians need to be. Furthermore, everywhere, the right networks and contacts are important, and money and wealth count, indeed so in Pakistan.

In Norway, we still sometimes have government ministers and other top politicians without degrees, such as the current Governing Mayor of the capital Oslo, Raymond Johansen (61), who is a trained plumber, but then he moved on to office jobs and senior posts in the civil service and politics, yes, probably a better school than politics. Besides his uncle was a factory worker only to end up as a top politician, so his niece could learn from him. More common, though, is that such gifted people succeed in the private sector, for example, establishing and running their own companies, rather than going into politics. Another top Norwegian politician without higher education is the current Minister of Education, Tonje Brenna (35), who completed upper secondary school, but did not pursue further studies. As a minister, she has taken initiatives to renew and expand practical vocational training, which has been neglected in the past. The Deputy Chair of the Conservative Party, Henrik Asheim (39), dropped out of his business management studies as he became too busy as Chair of the Young Conservatives. Nonetheless, he has shouldered ministerial posts, including both education and higher education.

These are exceptions to the rule as most politicians have bachelor’s or master’s degrees. On the other hand, people with Ph.D. degrees and research experience rarely become politicians, but it would be good if that happened from time to time. The main problem is rather that too few ‘ordinary people’ become politicians, letting the educated run it all. I have suggested that those with the ‘right’ background are a small minority of some twenty percent of the people. That is not democracy, is it?

Even if half of the politicians are women, yes, highly educated ones, and some would-be immigrants, indigenous people, and other minorities, that doesn’t excuse not including people with little formal education in politics. What about the workers at the petrol station, the owners and workers of the street kitchen, the maintenance people who keep the streets in order, the bus and tram drivers, the carpenters and plumbers, the caretakers at the old people’s homes, the cashiers at the supermarkets, the assistant nurses, and the IT specialists? They, too, should be represented and be able to speak for their interests and those of other ‘ordinary people.

In earlier decades, Labour Party politicians, and in Pakistan PPP and others with socialist ideals, spoke more clearly on behalf of ordinary men and women. Alas, less so today, when they speak on behalf of themselves and the ruling middle class. In Norway, one of the world’s richest countries, the Central Bureau of Statistics (SSB) has documented that ten to twelve percent of the people live below the poverty level, at what is termed a low-income level, taking into consideration the very high cost of living in that country. This year, electricity prices, food prices, transport charges, and other everyday expenses, have skyrocketed, not only affecting immigrants, refugees, victims of substance abuse, handicapped, unemployed, and others, but also ordinary mainstream people. Alas, the politicians seem not quite to understand the situation, and not taking the right action, just speaking with sympathy, yet lacking compassion. It seems that the meritocracy and the rich live in their world – as we also seem to do when it comes to the mitigation of climate change.

The dangers of the situation are not only the current difficulties and suffering of ‘ordinary people, indeed the poorest people; it is also the risk of revolt against educated rulers, distrust in politicians, and reduced participation in politics. In some ways, those who support Donald Trump and his like minded have a point; they object to the meritocracy, their complicated language, and solutions of the highly educated politicians. No, I am not saying that the populists have good solutions; they are often erratic with simplistic alternatives. But I am saying that they formulate concerns of ordinary people, against the meritocracy, that we must listen to. Then it is up to the real politicians to find the solutions that can benefit all, yes, sometimes together with the populists.

If I have not already criticized the educated politicians enough, the meritocracy, let me also ask: who is responsible for the mess in Europe today, with the Russian war in Ukraine, high inflation, lack of hope and optimism of many people, unsolved migration politics, and more? Is it not those ‘clever’ degree holders, with their technocratic studies and complicated language and concepts?

The highly educated Western European politicians should have been able to avoid the devastating war and the other major problems that I have mentioned. Certainly, they should have been able to include ‘ordinary people’ in politics and planning. They should have been able to help the last, the least, and the lowest, those that the politicians must always have in mind. But they must not speak on behalf of them; they must include them. Then everyone will become optimistic, believe in tomorrow, and be eager to develop their land. Sadly, meritocracy has failed us all, whether we are educated or not. We must turn around while there still is time.