Democracy Unmoored: Populism and the Corruption of Popular Sovereignty

Book by Samuel Issacharoff: “The end of the 20th century marked a triumphant moment for liberal democracies, which sold their vision of governance on the basis of their strong markets, economic redistribution to their citizens, and a robust constitutional order. But today democracies young and old, fragile and resilient alike are under threat—not from military conflict, nor from autocracies beyond their borders, but primarily from within. New tactics employed by would-be autocrats, whether in Hungary, India, Brazil, or the United States, exploit cracks that have emerged in democratic institutions since the 2008 financial crisis. Why have democracies weakened, how has populism emerged in its place, and what are its implications for the long-term future of democratic governance around the world? Democracy Unmoored: Populism and the Corruption of Popular Sovereignty examines these questions in three parts. The first addresses the recent ascendancy of populism around the world, arguing that populism has emerged as democracies have grown less able to deliver on their promises and the economic, social, and cultural narratives underpinning democracy unraveled amidst economic dislocation, migration, and demographic change. The second explores how populists govern when they take power and the intralegal ways that populists wield democratic institutions against democratic governance. The third and final part offers suggestions to better insulate democracies against the populist tide, including the application of ordinary tools of criminal and administrative law; improving state capacity, checks on the executive and citizen participation; and exploring novel electoral frameworks…(More)”.

Rethinking democracy for the age of AI

Keynote speech by Bruce Schneier: “There is a lot written about technology’s threats to democracy. Polarization. Artificial intelligence. The concentration of wealth and power. I have a more general story: The political and economic systems of governance that were created in the mid-18th century are poorly suited for the 21st century. They don’t align incentives well. And they are being hacked too effectively.

At the same time, the cost of these hacked systems has never been greater, across all human history. We have become too powerful as a species. And our systems cannot keep up with fast-changing disruptive technologies.

We need to create new systems of governance that align incentives and are resilient against hacking … at every scale. From the individual all the way up to the whole of society.

 For this, I need you to drop your 20th century either/or thinking. This is not about capitalism versus communism. It’s not about democracy versus autocracy. It’s not even about humans versus AI. It’s something new, something we don’t have a name for yet. And it’s “blue sky” thinking, not even remotely considering what’s feasible today.

Throughout this talk, I want you to think of both democracy and capitalism as information systems. Socio-technical information systems. Protocols for making group decisions. Ones where different players have different incentives. These systems are vulnerable to hacking and need to be secured against those hacks.

We security technologists have a lot of expertise in both secure system design and hacking. That’s why we have something to add to this discussion…(More)”

Democracy and the Life of Cities

Report by the Chicago Council of Global Affairs: “In a world facing what some call a “democratic recession,” cities are getting a reputation as a supposed exception. On the geopolitical level, they have stood up against rising authoritarian and populist leadership in North America and Europe. At times, they have skirted around democratic gridlock and polarization at the national level to confront problems such as climate change, coordinating through city-to-city networks.

This role for cities—as global defenders of democracy—has also garnered interest from national governments wary of the rise of China and Russia, including the United States. But what is it about cities that makes them unique democratic actors? Do they, can they, and should they fit the role projected onto them as global democratic bulwarks? What does local urban action really mean for democracy globally?

This essay collection, published with the German Marshall Fund of the United States, approaches these questions with perspectives from leading urbanists, policymakers, academics, and political leaders in North America, Europe, and Africa. The essays consider cities not merely as places in which democratic action took place, but as the “independent variable,” whose unique spatial, social, and political features make it a powerful and creative generator of democratic practices—and, alternatively, a variable which can also make democracy difficult to realize.

If cities live up to their billing as global democratic bulwarks, it likely won’t be at the behest of powerful national governments seeking a geopolitical edge. Instead, they can do so on the basis of the potholes filled, the garbage collected, and the injustices rectified. And, ultimately, by remaking democracy in their image…(More)”.

Civic Information Handbook

Handbook by Adrienne Goldstein: “Policymakers should update and enforce civil and human rights laws for the online environment, compel radical transparency, update consumer protection rules, insist that industry make a high-level commitment to democratic design, and create civic information infrastructure through a new PBS of the Internet. In the absence of such policy reform, amplifiers of civic information may never be able to beat out the well-resourced, well-networked groups that intentionally spread falsehoods. Nonetheless, there are strategies for helping civic information compete.

This handbook aims to:

  1. Educate civic information providers about coordinated deceptive campaigns

…including how they build their audiences, seed compelling narratives, amplify their messages, and activate their followers, as well as why false narratives take hold, and who the primary actors and targeted audiences are.

  1. Serve as a resource on how to flood the zone with trustworthy civic information

…namely, how civic information providers can repurpose the tactics used by coordinated deceptive campaigns in transparent, empowering ways and protect themselves and their message online.

This handbook will function as a media literacy tool, giving readers the skills and opportunity to consider who is behind networked information campaigns and how they spread their messages…(More)”.

Spamming democracy

Article by Natalie Alms: “The White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs is considering AI’s effect in the regulatory process, including the potential for generative chatbots to fuel mass campaigns or inject spam comments into the federal agency rulemaking process.

A recent executive order directed the office to consider using guidance or tools to address mass comments, computer-generated comments and falsely attributed comments, something an administration official told FCW that OIRA is “moving forward” on.

Mark Febrezio, a senior policy analyst at George Washington University’s Regulatory Studies Center, has experimented with Open AI’s generative AI system ChatGPT to create what he called a “convincing” public comment submission to a Labor Department proposal. 

“Generative AI also takes the possibility of mass and malattributed comments to the next level,” wrote Fabrizio and co-author Bridget Dooling, research professor at the center, in a paper published in April by the Brookings Institution.

The executive order comes years after astroturfing during the rollback of net neutrality policies by the Federal Communications Commission in 2017 garnered public attention. That rulemaking docket received a record-breaking 22 million-plus comments, but over 8.5 million came from a campaign against net neutrality led by broadband companies, according to an investigation by the New York Attorney General released in 2021. 

The investigation found that lead generators paid by these companies submitted many comments with real names and addresses attached without the knowledge or consent of those individuals.  In the same docket were over 7 million comments supporting net neutrality submitted by a computer science student, who used software to submit comments attached to computer-generated names and addresses.

While the numbers are staggering, experts told FCW that agencies aren’t just counting comments when reading through submissions from the public…(More)”

Has 21st century policy gone medieval?

Essay by Tim Harford: “Criminal justice has always been a source of knotty problems. How to punish the guilty while sparing the innocent? Trial by ordeal was a neat solution: delegate the decision to God. In the Middle Ages, a suspect who insisted on their innocence might be asked to carry a piece of burning iron for a few paces. If the suspect’s hand was unharmed, God had pronounced them innocent. If God is benevolent, omnipotent and highly interventionist, this idea works. Otherwise this judicial ordeal punishes innocent and guilty alike, inflicting harm without sorting good from bad.

Suella Braverman, the UK’s home secretary, and her “dream” of deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda, is an eerie 21st-century echo of a medieval idea. In a way, the comparison is unfair to the medieval courts. Judicial ordeals really were designed to solve a policy problem, while the government’s Rwanda rhetoric is designed to deflect attention from strikes, NHS waiting lists and a stagnating economy.

But in other ways the comparison is apt. Deporting migrants to Rwanda, or similar deliberate cruelties such as separating parents from their children at the US-Mexican border, might well be expected to deter some attempts to enter the country, while those fleeing murderous regimes would come regardless.

Many people, myself included, draw the line at “deliberate cruelties”. But public policy is full of ordeal-like interventions: long waits, arduous paperwork and deliberate stigma are all common policy tools. The economist Richard Zeckhauser of Harvard defines ordeals as “burdens placed on individuals which yield no benefits to others” and argues that such burdens can sometimes be an effective way of ensuring scarce benefits are targeted only to worthy recipients.

But do these ordeals really select the most deserving? Carolyn Heinrich, professor of public policy at Vanderbilt University, has studied South Africa’s Child Support Grant, with a series of bureaucratic ordeals requiring bewildering paperwork and long waits. The families who struggle with these ordeals are those who face longer journeys to the benefits office, or have a limited grasp of bureaucratese.

Heinrich found that because of these arbitrary distinctions, many families received less support than they were entitled to. Most interruptions to benefit payments were errors, and the children in the affected families would become adolescents who were more likely to engage in crime, alcohol abuse or risky sexual behaviour. The ordeal harmed the innocent, undermined the goals of the support grant and seems unlikely to have saved public funds.

Some ordeals are the result of incompetence, such as badly designed forms, or underfunded public services…(More)”.

Enhancing Trust in Science and Democracy in an Age of Misinformation 

Article by Marcia McNutt and Michael Crow: “Therefore, we believe the scientific community must more fully embrace its vital role in producing and disseminating knowledge in democratic societies. In Science in a Democratic Society, philosopher Philip Kitcher reminds us that “science should be shaped to promote democratic ideals.” To produce outcomes that advance the public good, scientists must also assess the moral bases of their pursuits. Although the United States has implemented the democratically driven, publicly engaged, scientific culture that Vannevar Bush outlined in Science, the Endless Frontier in 1945, Kitcher’s moral message remains relevant to both conducting science and communicating the results to the public, which pays for much of the enterprise of scientific discovery and technological innovation. It’s on scientists to articulate the moral and public values of the knowledge that they produce in ways that can be understood by citizens and decisionmakers.

However, by organizing themselves largely into groups that rarely reach beyond their own disciplines and by becoming somewhat disconnected from their fellow citizens and from the values of society, many scientists have become less effective than will be necessary in the future. Scientific culture has often left informing or educating the public to other parties such as science teachers, journalists, storytellers, and filmmakers. Instead, scientists principally share the results of their research within the narrow confines of academic and disciplinary journals…(More)”.

Gaming Public Opinion

Article by Albert Zhang , Tilla Hoja & Jasmine Latimore: “The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP’s) embrace of large-scale online influence operations and spreading of disinformation on Western social-media platforms has escalated since the first major attribution from Silicon Valley companies in 2019. While Chinese public diplomacy may have shifted to a softer tone in 2023 after many years of wolf-warrior online rhetoric, the Chinese Government continues to conduct global covert cyber-enabled influence operations. Those operations are now more frequent, increasingly sophisticated and increasingly effective in supporting the CCP’s strategic goals. They focus on disrupting the domestic, foreign, security and defence policies of foreign countries, and most of all they target democracies.

Currently—in targeted democracies—most political leaders, policymakers, businesses, civil society groups and publics have little understanding of how the CCP currently engages in clandestine activities online in their countries, even though this activity is escalating and evolving quickly. The stakes are high for democracies, given the indispensability of the internet and their reliance on open online spaces, free from interference. Despite years of monitoring covert CCP cyber-enabled influence operations by social-media platforms, governments, and research institutes such as ASPI, definitive public attribution of the actors driving these activities is rare. Covert online operations, by design, are difficult to detect and attribute to state actors. 

Social-media platforms and governments struggle to devote adequate resources to identifying, preventing and deterring increasing levels of malicious activity, and sometimes they don’t want to name and shame the Chinese Government for political, economic and/or commercial reasons…(More)”.

Innovating Democracy? The Means and Ends of Citizen Participation in Latin America

Book by Thamy Pogrebinschi: “Since democratization, Latin America has experienced a surge in new forms of citizen participation. Yet there is still little comparative knowledge on these so-called democratic innovations. This Element seeks to fill this gap. Drawing on a new dataset with 3,744 cases from 18 countries between 1990 and 2020, it presents the first large-N cross-country study of democratic innovations to date. It also introduces a typology of twenty kinds of democratic innovations, which are based on four means of participation, namely deliberation, citizen representation, digital engagement, and direct voting. Adopting a pragmatist, problem-driven approach, this Element claims that democratic innovations seek to enhance democracy by addressing public problems through combinations of those four means of participation in pursuit of one or more of five ends of innovations, namely accountability, responsiveness, rule of law, social equality, and political inclusion…(More)”.

The Rule of Law

Paper by Cass R. Sunstein: “The concept of the rule of law is invoked for purposes that are both numerous and diverse, and that concept is often said to overlap with, or to require, an assortment of other practices and ideals, including democracy, free elections, free markets, property rights, and freedom of speech. It is best to understand the concept in a more specific way, with a commitment to seven principles: (1) clear, general, publicly accessible rules laid down in advance; (2) prospectivity rather than retroactivity; (3) conformity between law on the books and law in the world; (4) hearing rights; (5) some degree of separation between (a) law-making and law enforcement and (b) interpretation of law; (6) no unduly rapid changes in the law; and (7) no contradictions or palpable inconsistency in the law. This account of the rule of law conflicts with those offered by (among many others) Friedrich Hayek and Morton Horwitz, who conflate the idea with other, quite different ideas and practices. Of course it is true that the seven principles can be specified in different ways, broadly compatible with the goal of describing the rule of law as a distinct concept, and some of the seven principles might be understood to be more fundamental than others…(More)”.