Thinking fast and slow is an understanding of decisionmaking made popular in psychologist Daniel Kahneman’s best-selling book by the same name. This approach could perhaps also be used to compare and analyze collectively made legislative policy and political governance.
A fast-thinking approach to legislation is valuable in that it is quick and decisive, but it carries a risk that the wrong decision will be made. A slow-thinking approach focuses on mature consideration and careful planning before taking action, although that often comes at a higher cost of decisionmaking.
The Forward-looking Infrastructure Development Program and its special budget that were passed last year, as well as amendments to the Labor Standards Act (勞動基準法) and changes to the irrigation association system that were passed last month, are examples of a fast-thinking approach.
The national conferences on judicial and pension reform, on the other hand, would be closer to a slow-thinking approach.
Administrative expertise and party politics are two kinds of heuristics based on which the fast-thinking legislative approach makes a fast decision.
However, if the policy planned and proposed by administrative departments is put forward in a rush without convincing planning and evaluation by experts, while partisan maneuvering by the different legislative caucuses reduces the time spent on rational deliberation, then the decisionmaking process would inevitably be criticized and its quality would be questioned.
Although then-Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislator Chang Ching-chung (張慶忠) rammed through the cross-strait service trade agreement as legislative committee convener in just 30 seconds only four years ago, the government still seems to rely to a considerable extent on a fast-thinking approach to legislative decisionmaking.
However, many commentators have denounced the slow-thinking approach, because they think that communication and negotiation are a waste of time and will have a negative impact on reform dynamic.
In the post-Sunflower movement era, why is Taiwan still adopting a winner-takes-all fast-thinking approach rather than a slow-thinking approach of deliberative democracy when it comes to substantial, complicated or difficult legislative decisions?
Whether this should be attributed to radicalized competition among political parties is something that would still have to be tested. After all, the more preconceived ideas a political party holds, the more constant and heated party competitions will become and the more difficult it will be for parties to engage in self-reflection.
Another structural factor that should be considered is the pressure on the government to achieve visible political performance and to show its decisiveness in a short period of time, even if the slow-thinking approach to legislation is more beneficial to the nation in the long term.
Moreover, there seems to be a large group of people who tend to use the authoritarian regimes of the past or in neighboring nations as a benchmark for evaluating government efficiency and political leadership, as they are impatient with democratic deliberation. Such a mindset is hazardous, as learning from authoritarian rulers will only lead to the dismantling of the great wall of democracy.
The fast and slow-thinking approaches to legislation should be discussed in more detail, as the choice between the two not only affects legislative quality, but is also closely related to what sort of democracy Taiwan wants to become.
Su Yen-tu is an assistant research fellow at Academia Sinica’s Institutum Iurisprudentiae and a member of the Taipei Society.
Translated by Chang Ho-ming and Perry Svensson
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