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Rebooting Democracy Foreign Policy

“Rebooting Democracy” on Foreign Policy 16.03.2015

This week on Foreign Policy  Lorenzo Fioramonti, John Boik and Gary Milante discuss why our current democratic systems may be failing us and what democracy can look like in the near future:

“If forms of government can be likened to operating systems, current variants of democracy are a bit like early, primitive versions of Windows. They are neither optimally functional nor user-friendly — they are buggy, susceptible to malware, and lack desired features.

While our democratic systems have brought us far, they appear incapable of solving complex modern problems like recurring global financial crises,rising inequality, climate change, and various forms of resource depletion. Even the most established democracies are failing to deliver public goods: the U.S. Society of Civil Engineers recently issued a grade of D+ on the condition of U.S. roads, bridges, water systems, schools, and other infrastructure. Not unexpectedly, the approval rating of the U.S. Congress is at a near-historic low of 20 percent.

The versions of democracy attempted by newly democratizing nations have been even less effective. The democratic system imported by the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq in 2003-4, for example, was really no different from British mandate arrangements tried in the 1920s. The U.S. occupation provided an illusion of democracy, but with little functionality underneath — like a corrupted version of Windows that shows a static desktop but runs no programs. Several years later, in response to the Arab Spring, democracy transfer failed again.

The most powerful pro-democracy wave since the end of the Cold War resulted in precious little new participatory governance.

The failings were not due to a “clash of civilizations,” as Huntington famously argued. There is nothing inherent to democracy that makes it incompatible with the Arab or any other culture. Rather, the failings resulted from promotion of form over substance — replicating an image of democracy rather than a functional, inclusive, accountable decision-making system that is adapted to local needs. If democratic initiatives in the Arab world and elsewhere are to evolve and mature, it will be because expressions of democracy have markedly improved. We are suggesting that democratic systems are due for a major upgrade, and that new, more flexible versions will allow for community programming — refinement of a system by the very people who use it.”

So, what’s next for democracy? Read the full article on Foreign Policy

 

Redistribution the only way to stop the downward spiral – Business Day 21.01.2015

Business Day 21.01.2015This week on Business Day, South Africa’s leading business newspaper, GovInn director Lorenzo Fioramonti -drawing conclusions on Piketty’s research – discusses why redistribution is the only way to tackle inequalities in South Africa and worldwide: will the WEF listen?

“One does not need a doctorate in economics to recognise that SA is one of the most unequal societies in the world. We see it every day, when we drive through our cities and across the country, when we go shopping or take our kids to school.

While inequality is a fact of life (we are different people, with different capacities, interests and aspirations), it becomes a social malaise if it exceeds certain levels. And each society should democratically decide which degrees of inequality are acceptable.”

“Such a level of inequality also reinforces violence, frustration and crime.

In SA and elsewhere, economic growth has been employed as a magic wand to avoid a serious debate on inequality. The belief that the economy can grow infinitely and at a sustained pace has been comforting to the ruling elites, as this means the pie will continue expanding without the need to redistribute its shares.

Indeed, allowing the rich to become richer has been often presented as a precondition for the economy to excel for the benefit of all.

Nowhere has this been as evident as in the justification of the stellar salaries of top managers of private and public corporations.

The reality, however, is that this “trickle-down” vision of economic development is largely a dogma, as Piketty has now confirmed with his data.
Moreover, he finds no correlation between the pay cheques of “super managers” and the performance of the companies they lead.
In his view, the only thing that explains these skyrocketing salaries is the fact that managers can easily influence the scale of their remuneration, often with the support of complacent boards of directors, while common workers cannot.

Read full article on Business Day