Are the Authoritarians Winning?


Review of several books by Michael Ignatieff in the New York Review of Books: “In the 1930s travelers returned from Mussolini’s Italy, Stalin’s Russia, and Hitler’s Germany praising the hearty sense of common purpose they saw there, compared to which their own democracies seemed weak, inefficient, and pusillanimous.
Democracies today are in the middle of a similar period of envy and despondency. Authoritarian competitors are aglow with arrogant confidence. In the 1930s, Westerners went to Russia to admire Stalin’s Moscow subway stations; today they go to China to take the bullet train from Beijing to Shanghai, and just as in the 1930s, they return wondering why autocracies can build high-speed railroad lines seemingly overnight, while democracies can take forty years to decide they cannot even begin. The Francis Fukuyama moment—when in 1989 Westerners were told that liberal democracy was the final form toward which all political striving was directed—now looks like a quaint artifact of a vanished unipolar moment.
For the first time since the end of the cold war, the advance of democratic constitutionalism has stopped. The army has staged a coup in Thailand and it’s unclear whether the generals will allow democracy to take root in Burma. For every African state, like Ghana, where democratic institutions seem secure, there is a Mali, a Côte d’Ivoire, and a Zimbabwe, where democracy is in trouble.
In Latin America, democracy has sunk solid roots in Chile, but in Mexico and Colombia it is threatened by violence, while in Argentina it struggles to shake off the dead weight of Peronism. In Brazil, the millions who took to the streets last June to protest corruption seem to have had no impact on the cronyism in Brasília. In the Middle East, democracy has a foothold in Tunisia, but in Syria there is chaos; in Egypt, plebiscitary authoritarianism rules; and in the monarchies, absolutism is ascendant.
In Europe, the policy elites keep insisting that the remedy for their continent’s woes is “more Europe” while a third of their electorate is saying they want less of it. From Hungary to Holland, including in France and the UK, the anti-European right gains ground by opposing the European Union generally and immigration in particular. In Russia the democratic moment of the 1990s now seems as distant as the brief constitutional interlude between 1905 and 1914 under the tsar….
It is not at all apparent that “governance innovation,” a bauble Micklethwait and Wooldridge chase across three continents, watching innovators at work making government more efficient in Chicago, Sacramento, Singapore, and Stockholm, will do the trick. The problem of the liberal state is not that it lacks modern management technique, good software, or different schemes to improve the “interface” between the bureaucrats and the public. By focusing on government innovation, Micklethwait and Wooldridge assume that the problem is improving the efficiency of government. But what is required is both more radical and more traditional: a return to constitutional democracy itself, to courts and regulatory bodies that are freed from the power of money and the influence of the powerful; to legislatures that cease to be circuses and return to holding the executive branch to public account while cooperating on measures for which there is a broad consensus; to elected chief executives who understand that they are not entertainers but leaders….”
Books reviewed:

Reforming Taxation to Promote Growth and Equity

a white paper by Joseph Stiglitz
Roosevelt Institute, 28 pp., May 28, 2014; available at rooseveltinstitute.org

Digital Government: Turning the Rhetoric into Reality


Miguel Carrasco and Peter Goss at BCG Perspectives: “Getting better—but still plenty of room for improvement: that’s the current assessment by everyday users of their governments’ efforts to deliver online services. The public sector has made good progress, but most countries are not moving nearly as quickly as users would like. Many governments have made bold commitments, and a few countries have determined to go “digital by default.” Most are moving more modestly, often overwhelmed by complexity and slowed by bureaucratic skepticism over online delivery as well as by a lack of digital skills. Developing countries lead in the rate of online usage, but they mostly trail developed nations in user satisfaction.
Many citizens—accustomed to innovation in such sectors as retailing, media, and financial services—wish their governments would get on with it. Of the services that can be accessed online, many only provide information and forms, while users are looking to get help and transact business. People want to do more. Digital interaction is often faster, easier, and more efficient than going to a service center or talking on the phone, but users become frustrated when the services do not perform as expected. They know what good online service providers offer. They have seen a lot of improvement in recent years, and they want their governments to make even better use of digital’s capabilities.
Many governments are already well on the way to improving digital service delivery, but there is often a gap between rhetoric and reality. There is no shortage of government policies and strategies relating to “digital first,” “e-government,” and “gov2.0,” in addition to digital by default. But governments need more than a strategy. “Going digital” requires leadership at the highest levels, investments in skills and human capital, and cultural and behavioral change. Based on BCG’s work with numerous governments and new research into the usage of, and satisfaction with, government digital services in 12 countries, we see five steps that most governments will want to take:

1. Focus on value. Put the priority on services with the biggest gaps between their importance to constituents and constituents’ satisfaction with digital delivery. In most countries, this will mean services related to health, education, social welfare, and immigration.

2. Adopt service design thinking. Governments should walk in users’ shoes. What does someone encounter when he or she goes to a government service website—plain language or bureaucratic legalese? How easy is it for the individual to navigate to the desired information? How many steps does it take to do what he or she came to do? Governments can make services easy to access and use by, for example, requiring users to register once and establish a digital credential, which can be used in the future to access online services across government.

3. Lead users online, keep users online. Invest in seamless end-to-end capabilities. Most government-service sites need to advance from providing information to enabling users to transact their business in its entirety, without having to resort to printing out forms or visiting service centers.

4. Demonstrate visible senior-leadership commitment. Governments can signal—to both their own officials and the public—the importance and the urgency that they place on their digital initiatives by where they assign responsibility for the effort.

5. Build the capabilities and skills to execute. Governments need to develop or acquire the skills and capabilities that will enable them to develop and deliver digital services.

This report examines the state of government digital services through the lens of Internet users surveyed in Australia, Denmark, France, Indonesia, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Russia, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the UK, and the U.S. We investigated 37 different government services. (See Exhibit 1.)…”

Open Government Data: Helping Parents to find the Best School for their Kids


Radu Cucos at the Open Government Partnership blog: “…This challenge – finding the right school – is probably one of the most important decisions in many parents’ lives.  Parents are looking for answers to questions such as which schools are located in safe neighborhoods, which ones have the highest teacher – students’ ratio, which schools have the best funding, which schools have the best premises or which ones have the highest grades average.
It is rarely an easy decision, but is made doubly difficult in the case of migrants.  People residing in the same location for a long time know, more or less, which are the best education institutions in their city, town or village. For migrants, the situation is absolutely the opposite. They have to spend extra time and resources in identifying relevant information about schools.
Open Government Data is an effective solution which can ease the problem of a lack of accessible information about existing schools in a particular country or location. By adopting the Open Government Data policy in the educational field, governments release data about grades, funding, student and teacher numbers, data generated throughout time by schools, colleges, universities and other educational settings.
Developers then use this data for creating applications which portray information in easy accessible formats. Three of the best apps which I have come across are highlighted below:

  • Discover Your School, developed under the Province of British Columbia of Canada Open Data Initiative, is a platform for parents who are interested in finding a school for their kids, learning about the school districts or comparing schools in the same area. The application provides comprehensive information, such as the number of students enrolled in schools each year, class sizes, teaching language, disaster readiness, results of skills assessment, and student and parent satisfaction. Information and data can be viewed in interactive formats, including maps. On top of that, Discover Your School engages parents in policy making and initiatives such as Erase Bullying or British Columbia Education Plan.
  • The School Portal, developed under the Moldova Open Data Initiative, uses data made public by the Ministry of Education of Moldova to offer comprehensive information about 1529 educational institutions in the Republic of Moldova. Users of the portal can access information about schools yearly budgets, budget implementation, expenditures, school rating, students’ grades, schools’ infrastructure and communications. The School Portal has a tool which allows visitors to compare schools based on different criteria – infrastructure, students’ performance or annual budgets. The additional value of the portal is the fact that it serves as a platform for private sector entities which sell school supplies to advertise their products. The School Portal also allows parents to virtually interact with the Ministry of Education of Moldova or with a psychologist in case they need additional information or have concerns regarding the education of their children.
  • RomaScuola, developed under the umbrella of the Italian Open Data Initiative, allows visitors to obtain valuable information about all schools in the Rome region. Distinguishing it from the two listed above is the ability to compare schools depending on such facets as frequency of teacher absence, internet connectivity, use of IT equipment for teaching, frequency of students’ transfer to other schools and quality of education in accordance with the percentage of issued diplomas.

Open data on schools has great value not only for parents but also for the educational system in general. Each country has its own school market, if education is considered as a product in this market. Perfect information about products is one of the main characteristics of competitive markets. From this perspective, giving parents the opportunity to have access to information about schools characteristics will contribute to the increase in the competitiveness of the schools market. Educational institutions will have incentives to improve their performance in order to attract more students…”

Estonian plan for 'data embassies' overseas to back up government databases


Graeme Burton in Computing: “Estonia is planning to open “data embassies” overseas to back up government databases and to operate government “in the cloud“.
The aim is partly to improve efficiency, but driven largely by fear of invasion and occupation, Jaan Priisalu, the director general of Estonian Information System Authority, told Sky News.
He said: “We are planning to actually operate our government in the cloud. It’s clear also how it helps to protect the country, the territory. Usually when you are the military planner and you are planning the occupation of the territory, then one of the rules is suppress the existing institutions.
“And if you are not able to do it, it means that this political price of occupying the country will simply rise for planners.”
Part of the rationale for the plan, he continued, was fear of attack from Russia in particular, which has been heightened following the occupation of Crimea, formerly in Ukraine.
“It’s quite clear that you can have problems with your neighbours. And our biggest neighbour is Russia, and nowadays it’s quite aggressive. This is clear.”
The plan is to back up critical government databases outside of Estonia so that affairs of state can be conducted in the cloud, even if the country is invaded. It would also have the benefit of keeping government information out of invaders’ hands – provided it can keep its government cloud secure.
According to Sky News, the UK is already in advanced talks about hosting the Estonian government databases and may make the UK the first of Estonia’s data embassies.
Having wrested independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Estonia has experienced frequent tension with its much bigger neighbour. In 2007, for example, after the relocation of the “Bronze Soldier of Tallinn” and the exhumation of the soldiers buried in a square in the centre of the capital to a military cemetery in April 2007, the country was subject to a prolonged cyber-attack sourced to Russia.
Russian hacker “Sp0Raw” said that the most efficient of the online attacks on Estonia could not have been carried out without the approval of Russian authorities and added that the hackers seemed to act under “recommendations” from parties in government. However, claims by Estonia that the Russian government was directly involved in the attacks were “empty words, not supported by technical data”.
Mike Witt, deputy director of the US Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT), suggested that the distributed denial-of-service (DDOS) attacks, while crippling to the Estonian government at the time, were not significant in scale from a technical standpoint. However, the Estonian government was forced to shut down many of its online operations in response.
At the same time, the Estonian government has been accused of implementing anti-Russian laws and discriminating against its large ethnic Russian population.
Last week, the Estonian government unveiled a plan to allow anyone in the world to apply for “digital citizenship of the country, enabling them to use Estonian online services, open bank accounts, and start companies without having to physically reside in the country.”

Democracy and open data: are the two linked?


Molly Shwartz at R-Street: “Are democracies better at practicing open government than less free societies? To find out, I analyzed the 70 countries profiled in the Open Knowledge Foundation’s Open Data Index and compared the rankings against the 2013 Global Democracy Rankings. As a tenet of open government in the digital age, open data practices serve as one indicator of an open government. Overall, there is a strong relationship between democracy and transparency.
Using data collected in October 2013, the top ten countries for openness include the usual bastion-of-democracy suspects: the United Kingdom, the United States, mainland Scandinavia, the Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.
There are, however, some noteworthy exceptions. Germany ranks lower than Russia and China. All three rank well above Lithuania. Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Nepal all beat out Belgium. The chart (below) shows the democracy ranking of these same countries from 2008-2013 and highlights the obvious inconsistencies in the correlation between democracy and open data for many countries.
transparency
There are many reasons for such inconsistencies. The implementation of open-government efforts – for instance, opening government data sets – often can be imperfect or even misguided. Drilling down to some of the data behind the Open Data Index scores reveals that even countries that score very well, such as the United States, have room for improvement. For example, the judicial branch generally does not publish data and houses most information behind a pay-wall. The status of legislation and amendments introduced by Congress also often are not available in machine-readable form.
As internationally recognized markers of political freedom and technological innovation, open government initiatives are appealing political tools for politicians looking to gain prominence in the global arena, regardless of whether or not they possess a real commitment to democratic principles. In 2012, Russia made a public push to cultivate open government and open data projects that was enthusiastically endorsed by American institutions. In a June 2012 blog post summarizing a Russian “Open Government Ecosystem” workshop at the World Bank, one World Bank consultant professed the opinion that open government innovations “are happening all over Russia, and are starting to have genuine support from the country’s top leaders.”
Given the Russian government’s penchant for corruption, cronyism, violations of press freedom and increasing restrictions on public access to information, the idea that it was ever committed to government accountability and transparency is dubious at best. This was confirmed by Russia’s May 2013 withdrawal of its letter of intent to join the Open Government Partnership. As explained by John Wonderlich, policy director at the Sunlight Foundation:

While Russia’s initial commitment to OGP was likely a surprising boon for internal champions of reform, its withdrawal will also serve as a demonstration of the difficulty of making a political commitment to openness there.

Which just goes to show that, while a democratic government does not guarantee open government practices, a government that regularly violates democratic principles may be an impossible environment for implementing open government.
A cursory analysis of the ever-evolving international open data landscape reveals three major takeaways:

  1. Good intentions for government transparency in democratic countries are not always effectively realized.
  2. Politicians will gladly pay lip-service to the idea of open government without backing up words with actions.
  3. The transparency we’ve established can go away quickly without vigilant oversight and enforcement.”

The "Accessibility Map"


Webby 2014 Nominee: “Project Goal is to make information about accessible venues accessible to people.

About venues where people with disabilities can engage in sports and recreational activities, and live full lives without any barriers or stereotypes.

The Solution

To develop a website where everyone can not only find accessible venues in each city, but also add new venues to the website’s database.
Creating the accessibility rating list for russian cities to get an idea how accessible a particular city is, will draw the local governement’ s attention to this problem.
The foundation of the website is an interactive map of accessible venues in Russia, which can help people with disabilities find locations where they can participate in sports, take classes or recreate.
All you need to do is choose the necessary city and street, and the map will show all the accessible venues in the city.

The Result

After a few months of operation:
over 14 000 venues
over 600 cities
millions of people with disabilities have become able to live full lives

Project’s Website: kartadostupnosti.ru

Twenty-one European Cities Advance in Bloomberg Philanthropies' Mayors Challenge Competition to Create Innovative Solutions to Urban Challenges


Press Release: “Bloomberg Philanthropies today revealed the 21 European cities that have emerged as final contenders in its 2013-2014 Mayors Challenge, a competition to inspire cities to generate innovative ideas that solve major challenges and improve city life, and that ultimately can spread to other cities. One grand prize winner will receive €5 million for the most creative and transferable idea. Four additional cities will be awarded €1 million, and all will be announced in the fall. The finalists’ proposed solutions address some of Europe’s most critical issue areas: youth unemployment, aging populations, civic engagement, economic development, environment and energy concerns, public health and safety, and making government more efficient…
James Anderson, the head of government innovation for Bloomberg Philanthropies, said: “While the ideas are very diverse, we identified key themes. The ideas tended toward networked, distributed solutions as opposed to costly centralized ones. There was a lot of interest in citizen engagement as both a means and end. Technology that concretely and positively affects the lives of individual citizens – from the blind person in Warsaw to the unemployed youth in Amsterdam to the homeowner in Schaerbeek — also played a significant role.”
Bloomberg Philanthropies staff and an independent selection committee of 12 members from across Europe closely considered each application over multiple rounds of review, culminating in feedback and selection earlier this month, resulting in 21 cities’ ideas moving forward for further development. The submissions will be judged on four critieria: vision, potential for impact, implementation plan, and potential to spread to other cities. The finalists and their ideas are:

  1. AMSTERDAM, Netherlands – Youth Unemployment: Tackling widespread youth unemployment by equipping young people with 21st century skills and connecting them with jobs and apprenticeships across Europe through an online game
  2. ATHENS, Greece – Civic Engagement: Empowering citizens with a new online platform to address the large number of small-scale urban challenges accelerated by the Greek economic crisis
  3. BARCELONA, Spain – Aging: Improving quality of life and limiting social isolation by establishing a network of public and private support – including family, friends, social workers, and volunteers – for each elderly citizen
  4. BOLOGNA, Italy – Youth Unemployment: Building an urban scale model of informal education labs and civic engagement to prevent youth unemployment by teaching children aged 6-16 entrepreneurship and 21st century skills
  5. BRISTOL, United Kingdom – Health/Anti-obesity: Tackling obesity and unemployment by creating a new economic system that increases access to locally grown, healthy foods
  6. BRNO, Czech Republic – Public Safety/Civic Engagement: Engaging citizens in keeping their own communities safe to build social cohesion and reduce crime
  7. CARDIFF, United Kingdom – Economic Development: Increasing productivity little by little in residents’ personal and professional lives, so that a series of small improvements add up to a much more productive city
  8. FLORENCE, Italy – Economic Development: Combatting unemployment with a new economic development model that combines technology and social innovation, targeting the city’s historic artisan and maker community
  9. GDAŃSK, Poland – Civic Engagement: Re-instilling faith in local democracy by mandating that city government formally debate local issues put forward by citizens
  10. KIRKLEES, United Kingdom – Social Capital: Pooling the city and community’s idle assets – from vehicles to unused spaces to citizens’ untapped time and expertise – to help the area make the most of what it has and do more with less
  11. KRAKOW, Poland – Transportation: Implementing smart, personalized transportation incentives and a seamless and unified public transit payment system to convince residents to opt for greener modes of transportation
  12. LISBON, Portugal – Energy: Transforming wasted kinetic energy generated by the city’s commuting traffic into electricity, reducing the carbon footprint and increasing environmental sustainability
  13. LONDON, United Kingdom – Public Health: Empowering citizens to monitor and improve their own health through a coordinated, multi-stakeholder platform and new technologies that dramatically improve quality of life and reduce health care costs
  14. MADRID, Spain – Energy: Diversifying its renewable energy options by finding and funding the best ways to harvest underground power, such as wasted heat generated by the city’s below-ground infrastructure
  15. SCHAERBEEK, Belgium – Energy: Using proven flyover and 3D geothermal mapping technology to provide each homeowner and tenant with a personalized energy audit and incentives to invest in energy-saving strategies
  16. SOFIA, Bulgaria – Civic Engagement: Transforming public spaces by deploying mobile art units to work side-by-side with local residents, re-envisioning and rejuvenating underused spaces and increasing civic engagement
  17. STARA ZAGORA, Bulgaria – Economic Development: Reversing the brain-drain of the city’s best and brightest by helping young entrepreneurs turn promising ideas into local high-tech businesses
  18. STOCKHOLM, Sweden – Environment: Combatting climate change by engaging citizens to produce biochar, an organic material that increases tree growth, sequesters carbon, and purifies storm runoff
  19. THE HAGUE, Netherlands – Civic Engagement: Enabling citizens to allocate a portion of their own tax money to support the local projects they most believe in
  20. WARSAW, Poland – Transportation/Accessibility: Enabling the blind and visually impaired to navigate the city as easily as their sighted peers by providing high-tech auditory alerts which will save them travel time and increase their independence
  21. YORK, United Kingdom – Government Systems: Revolutionizing the way citizens, businesses, and others can propose new ideas to solve top city problems, providing a more intelligent way to acquire or develop the best solutions, thus enabling greater civic participation and saving the city both time and money

Further detail and related elements for this year’s Mayors Challenge can be found via: http://mayorschallenge.bloomberg.org/”

The Data Mining Techniques That Reveal Our Planet's Cultural Links and Boundaries


Emerging Technology From the arXiv: “The habits and behaviors that define a culture are complex and fascinating. But measuring them is a difficult task. What’s more, understanding the way cultures change from one part of the world to another is a task laden with challenges.
The gold standard in this area of science is known as the World Values Survey, a global network of social scientists studying values and their impact on social and political life. Between 1981 and 2008, this survey conducted over 250,000 interviews in 87 societies. That’s a significant amount of data and the work has continued since then. This work is hugely valuable but it is also challenging, time-consuming and expensive.
Today, Thiago Silva at the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais in Brazil and a few buddies reveal another way to collect data that could revolutionize the study of global culture. These guys study cultural differences around the world using data generated by check-ins on the location-based social network, Foursquare.
That allows these researchers to gather huge amounts of data, cheaply and easily in a short period of time. “Our one-week dataset has a population of users of the same order of magnitude of the number of interviews performed in [the World Values Survey] in almost three decades,” they say.
Food and drink are fundamental aspects of society and so the behaviors and habits associated with them are important indicators. The basic question that Silva and co attempt to answer is: what are your eating and drinking habits? And how do these differ from a typical individual in another part of the world such as Japan, Malaysia, or Brazil?
Foursquare is ideally set up to explore this question. Users “check in” by indicating when they have reached a particular location that might be related to eating and drinking but also to other activities such as entertainment, sport and so on.
Silva and co are only interested in the food and drink preferences of individuals and, in particular, on the way these preferences change according to time of day and geographical location.
So their basic approach is to compare a large number individual preferences from different parts of the world and see how closely they match or how they differ.
Because Foursquare does not share its data, Silva and co downloaded almost five million tweets containing Foursquare check-ins, URLs pointing to the Foursquare website containing information about each venue. They discarded check-ins that were unrelated to food or drink.
That left them with some 280,000 check-ins related to drink from 160,000 individuals; over 400,000 check-ins related to fast food from 230,000 people; and some 400,000 check-ins relating to ordinary restaurant food or what Silva and co call slow food.
They then divide each of these classes into subcategories. For example, the drink class has 21 subcategories such as brewery, karaoke bar, pub, and so on. The slow food class has 53 subcategories such as Chinese restaurant, Steakhouse, Greek restaurant, and so on.
Each check-in gives the time and geographical location which allows the team to compare behaviors from all over the world. They compare, for example, eating and drinking times in different countries both during the week and at the weekend. They compare the choices of restaurants, fast food habits and drinking habits by continent and country. The even compare eating and drinking habits in New York, London, and Tokyo.
The results are a fascinating insight into humanity’s differing habits. Many places have similar behaviors, Malaysia and Singapore or Argentina and Chile, for example, which is just as expected given the similarities between these places.
But other resemblances are more unexpected. A comparison of drinking habits show greater similarity between Brazil and France, separated by the Atlantic Ocean, than they do between France and England, separated only by the English Channel…
They point out only two major differences. The first is that no Islamic cluster appears in the Foursquare data. Countries such as Turkey are similar to Russia, while Indonesia seems related to Malaysia and Singapore.
The second is that the U.S. and Mexico make up their own individual cluster in the Foursquare data whereas the World Values Survey has them in the “English-speaking” and “Latin American” clusters accordingly.
That’s exciting data mining work that has the potential to revolutionize the way sociologists and anthropologists study human culture around the world. Expect to hear more about it
Ref: http://arxiv.org/abs/1404.1009: You Are What You Eat (and Drink): Identifying Cultural Boundaries By Analyzing Food & Drink Habits In Foursquare”.

Coke Creates Volunteering App For Local Do-Gooders


PSFK: “If you’ve ever wanted to volunteer some time but didn’t know where to look, Coke Romania has the app for you. After teaming up with digital marketing company McCann Bucharest, Coke just created a new app that shows good Samaritans local volunteer opportunities. ‘Radar For Good‘ scans your location and brings up NGO’s, soup kitchens, orphanages, or libraries that want help right now.
coke-radar-for-good.png
Any opportunity that “Radar For Good’ discovers is a site that is definitely looking for volunteers at that moment. The app shows company names, websites, and contact information, as well as directions from where you are. It even allows you to save your favorite organizations for future reference, and has options to receive notifications from those companies.
Coca-Cola has numerous iOS apps, most of which deal with their soda products, but ‘Radar For Good’ is the first of its kind. While the app currently only works in Romania, Coke’s innovative creation has opened doors for similar mobile apps to get started in the United States.”

Democracy in Retreat


Book by Joshua Kurlantzick (Council on Foreign Relations) on “The Revolt of the Middle Class and the Worldwide Decline of Representative Government”: “Since the end of the Cold War, most political theorists have assumed that as countries develop economically, they will also become more democratic—especially if a vibrant middle class takes root. The triumph of democracy, once limited to a tiny number of states and now spread across the globe, has been considered largely inevitable.
In Democracy in Retreat: The Revolt of the Middle Class and the Worldwide Decline of Representative Government, CFR Fellow for Southeast Asia Joshua Kurlantzick identifies forces that threaten democracy and shows that conventional wisdom has blinded world leaders to a real crisis. “Today a constellation of factors, from the rise of China to the lack of economic growth in new democracies to the West’s financial crisis, has come together to hinder democracy throughout the developing world,” he writes. “Absent radical and unlikely changes in the international system, that combination of antidemocratic factors will have serious staying power.”
Kurlantzick pays particular attention to the revolt of middle class citizens, traditionally proponents of reform, who have turned against democracy in countries such as Venezuela, Pakistan, and Taiwan. He observes that countries once held up as model new democracies, such as Hungary and the Czech Republic, have since curtailed social, economic, and political freedoms. Military coups have grabbed power from Honduras to Thailand to Fiji. The number of representative governments has fallen, and the quality of democracy has deteriorated in many states where it had been making progress, including Russia, Kenya, Argentina, and Nigeria.
The renewed strength of authoritarian rule, warns Kurlantzick, means that billions of people around the world continue to live under repressive regimes.”