The 20th century was marked by waves of pro-democracy revolutions. Now, the future of democracy looks uncertain.
- A recent paper examined the status of democracy among the world's countries.
- The paper outlines three key indicators showing that democracy is generally declining worldwide, and it lists several potential reasons for the decline.
- Surveys indicate that nearly half of U.S. citizens are dissatisfied with how democracy is playing out on the national level.
Diamond<p><strong></strong><span style="background-color: initial;"><strong>Democratic freedoms have receded: </strong></span>Four different scales that measure levels of democracy — <a href="https://freedomhouse.org/" target="_blank">Freedom House</a>, the Economist Intelligence Unit, and V-Dem's Liberal and Electoral Democracy indices — "agree that there has been a modest negative trend for the advanced Anglophone and West European democracies, a more substantial slide for countries in Latin America and the Caribbean above one million population, and erosion – but of widely varying extent – in Sub-Saharan Africa." Meanwhile, those same scales found significant improves in freedom among South Asian and former Soviet nations.</p><p><strong>Democratic breakdown has accelerated:</strong> The past five years have seen more democracies crumble than any other five-year period since the third wave of democratization began in the mid-1970s. During that same period, the number of nations that switched to democracy was the lowest it's been in decades.</p>
What explains the global democratic recession?<p>The paper notes that, while military leaders and revolutions have toppled past democracies, the past decade or so "has mainly been an era of civilian assaults on democracy." In other words, it seems as if a large share of citizens in democratic nations are — wittingly or unwittingly — supporting the erosion of democracy, at least as it currently exists.</p><p>Populist candidates, Diamond suggests, have been able to rise to power by "inflaming divisions and mobilizing the good, deserving "people" against corrupt elites – the professional or "deep" state and their effete, educated handmaidens in the other (liberal) political parties – as well as a host of alien threats, such as international institutions, refugees and migrants, and "undeserving" minorities who really don't "belong" in the country."</p><p>Noting there's no "master" explanation for the democratic recession, the paper outlines several potential contributors, like:</p><p><strong>The erosion of political norms and institutions</strong>: Autocrats tend to have an easier time gaining power when political parties are weak, citizens aren't committed to democratic ideals, the rule of law is weak, and there's a lack of horizontal accountability, such as independent courts and legislatures.</p><p><strong>International context:</strong> Amid the chaos and failures of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, the world began to adopt a more "pessimistic view of democracy promotion." The 2008 recession had a similar effect. Diamond wrote: "If the world's most powerful democracy could spawn a financial crisis that almost produced a global depression; if the world's largest collection of democracies (the E.U.) could not manage its borders or accommodate the rising tide of refugees and migrants due to wars and revolutions, then maybe democracy was not such a great system after all."</p>
Comparison of Democratic versus other types of governments in 1977 and 2017
Pew Research Center<p><strong><span style="background-color: initial;">Russian rage and Chinese ambition</span></strong><strong>:</strong> Although the U.S. remains a superpower, these two "authoritarian projects" are working to undermine liberal values around the world by using "sharp power," which the paper defines as operating "in the shadows to compromise institutions," unlike soft power, which "seeks to inspire and persuade transparently though attraction and the power of example."</p><p><strong>Global socio-economic trends:</strong></p><ul><li>Social and digital media: Helpful to democratic movements in a sense, the rise of the internet also made it easier for bad-faith actors to spread disinformation and group hatred.</li><li>The economic shift from manufacturing to finance has accelerated wealth inequality, leading to class resentments and leaving nations vulnerable to populism.</li><li>The rise of China displaced workers in the U.S. and similar nations, "further aggravating social and economic insecurities and resentments."</li><li>The long-term impact of neoliberal economic policies: "In the United States, this freed up financial markets to engage in ever riskier and more speculative lending and financial transactions. The final element was the growing economic instability of this potent mixture – deregulation, digitization, financialization, globalization – resulting in the 2008 financial crash, which, since it originated in the U.S. further badly damaged the reputation of democracy, as well as the resources and political self-confidence of the United States."</li></ul>
Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)<p>Diamond concludes the paper by warning that the global community is "perilously close to and indeed have probably already entered what [<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_P._Huntington" target="_blank">Samuel P. Huntington</a>] would have called a "third reverse wave," that is, a period in world history in which the number of transitions away from democracy significantly outnumber those to democracy."</p><p>By survey results, most people seem to <a href="https://www.pewresearch.org/global/2020/02/27/democratic-rights-popular-globally-but-commitment-to-them-not-always-strong/" target="_blank">value democratic rights</a>, yet many are dissatisfied with how democracy is playing out on national levels. In the U.S., U.K., Japan and France, more than half of citizens say they're dissatisfied with democracy. Of course, that doesn't necessarily mean people want autocracy.</p><p>But it does beg the question: What kinds of leaders and governing styles will dissatisfied citizens be willing to entertain — or unwilling to resist — if democracy doesn't find a way to reinvent itself in the 21st century?</p>
People remember when governments lie to them and it lowers their satisfaction in government officials.
- A recent study measured how the public's trust in government differs when exposed to rumors, government denials, and subsequent verification of the initial rumors.
- The study, conducted in China, also examined whether any changes in trust lasted over a three-week period.
- The results suggest that governments that deem negative information as "fake news" may persuade some people, but over the long term it can cost them in credibility and public satisfaction.
Credit: Anthony Kwan/Getty Images<p><br></p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The ability to label claims and explanations that the authorities deem objectionable as fake has long been regarded as a power," the researchers wrote. "Because the revelation of the falsehood of government denials could erode the government's power, it is important to investigate its consequences, particularly in the authoritarian setting."</p><p>In the study, the researchers conducted a survey on three groups of participants. Each group was shown different information regarding a new automobile registration policy, and they were also asked general questions about demographic information and political interests. The study explains:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The first group was exposed to a rumor regarding the government's automobile registration policy (<em>rumor group</em>), the second group was exposed to the government's denial of the rumor (<em>denial group</em>), and the third group was exposed to an event in which the rumor initially denied by the government was verified as true (<em>verification group</em>)."</p><p>Each group then reported how much they believed in the initial rumor and the government denial. The denial and verification groups were also asked to rate their satisfaction with the government's handling of automobile registration.</p><p>The results showed that government denial effectively decreased belief in the rumor, compared to the group that was exposed only to the rumor. Meanwhile, being exposed to a verification of the rumor increased belief in the rumor and decreased belief in the denial. Also, the verification group reported being slightly less satisfied with the government.</p>
Design of survey 1
Credit: Wang et al.<p>But do these effects last? After all, <a href="https://www.jstor.org/stable/40982891" target="_blank">past research</a> suggests that the effects of persuasive communication — say, a negative political ad smearing a candidate — tend to disappear within days.</p><p>To find out, the researchers conducted a follow-up survey three weeks after the first. This time, the survey included only two groups: the verification group from the first survey, and a group of new participants. Both groups were exposed to a rumor and then a government denial.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The difference between the two groups was simply that one of them had previously experienced the revelation of the government's false denial of an online rumor, while the other group did not have such an experience," the researchers wrote.</p><p>The results showed that the verification group — that is, people who had weeks earlier been shown that the government had lied to them — was much less likely to believe in the government's denial. What's more, the verification group was also less satisfied with the government.</p>
Design of survey 2
Wang et al.<p>The findings suggest that governments can lose credibility over the long term when they call something "fake news" but it later proves true.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"As discussed earlier, while authoritarian countries can be awash with rumors and fake news, it is less frequent for the government's false denials to be caught due to the lack of independent news media and fact-checking organizations," the researchers wrote.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"It is therefore a vivid and memorable experience to see the government's denial bluntly shown to be false. Unsurprisingly, such an experience would make people less willing to believe a new denial from the government, especially if it is somewhat similar to the one that had been shown to be false."</p><p>Ultimately, calling "fake news" on negative information does seem to persuade some people. But it seems to be a costly short-term strategy, one that comes with the added cost of a dissatisfied public.</p>
The Labour Economics study suggests two potential reasons for the increase: corruption and increased capacity.
Cool hand rebuke<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQyMTIyNy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NjY1NTYyOH0.0MCPKN3If94mYCNf3mMNrnTvJXjXN_bKLhgk9203EXk/img.jpg?width=917&coordinates=0%2C0%2C0%2C0&height=453" id="1627b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="6d76421ba1ea0de4b09956b97e80c384" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
A chart showing prison population rates (per 100,000 people) in 2018. The United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world.
Who profits with for-profit prisons?<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="97ac37e6c7f6f22ec130ea2d56871701"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/dB78NV2WpWc?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>The Labour Economics study suggests that privately-run prisons do convicts a few favors at the moment of sentencing. However, proponents of private prisons often point to other benefits when making their case. Specifically, they argue that private prisons reduce operating costs, stimulate innovation in the correctional system, and reduce recidivism—the rate at which released prisoners are rearrested and return to prison.</p><p>In regard to recidivism, the research is mixed. <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0011128799045001002" target="_blank">One study</a> compared roughly 400 former prisoners from Florida, 200 released from private prisons and 200 from state-run facilities. It found the private-prison cohort maintained lower rates of recidivism. However, <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1745-9133.2005.00006.x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">another Florida study</a> found no significant rate differences. And two other studies—one from <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0011128799045001002" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Oklahoma</a> and another out of <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0734016813478823" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Minnesota</a>, both comparing much larger cohorts than the first Florida study— found that prisoners leaving private prisons had a greater risk of recidivism.</p><p>The research is also inconclusive regarding cost savings. <a href="https://www.hamiltonproject.org/assets/files/economics_of_private_prisons.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">A Hamilton Project analysis</a> noted that such comparisons are difficult because private prisons, like all private companies, are not required to release operational details. In comparing what studies were available, the authors estimate the costs to be comparable and that "in practice the primary mechanism for cost saving in private prisons is lower salaries for correctional officers"—about $7,000 less than their public peers. They add that competition-driven innovation is lacking as the three largest firms control nearly the entire market.</p><p>"We aren't saying private prisons are bad," Galinato said. "But states need to be careful with them. If your state has previous and regular issues with corruption, I wouldn't be surprised to see laws being more skewed to give longer sentences, for example. If the goal is to reduce the number of incarcerated individuals, increasing the number of private prisons may not be the way to go."</p>
In his new book, "American Rule," Jared Yates Sexton hopes to overturn a centuries-long myth.
- In "American Rule," Jared Yates Sexton wants to eradicate the myth of American exceptionalism.
- Since its founding, Sexton writes that America has been constructed to protect the wealthy elite.
- In this interview, the writer suggests that facing up to our tragic history affords us an opportunity to build something new.
Conspirituality 17: Interview with Jared Yates Sexton<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="15ef8bcd30b09c9541cc8d5d51d16893"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/XpQJfxzLAik?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>America's leaders were suspicious of the public's intellect well before that war. The founding fathers created our particular system of democracy because they didn't trust common people. The protection and success of white, wealthy landowners has always been the focus, regardless of the generational veneer pained over the top. </p><p>At one point, Sexton had to leave his desk and walk around. The <a href="https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/white-settlers-buried-truth-about-midwests-mysterious-mound-cities-180968246/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Moundbuilder Myth</a> made him shake his head in disbelief. This conspiracy theory promoted the idea that Native Americans were not sophisticated enough to build mound complexes in the Ohio and Mississippi River Valleys and throughout the Southeast, which must have meant Europeans were on the land well before indigenous people. This myth was so woven into the societal fabric that Andrew Jackson, who Sexton calls "a total genocidal madman," mentioned it during the State of the Union address. </p><p>This isn't the only flummoxing footnote. Americans are particularly primed for paranoia. As he says, "You cannot understand modern America without understanding conspiracy theories."</p><p>The recent horrors of <a href="https://www.forbes.com/sites/jemimamcevoy/2020/09/15/pelosi-calls-for-investigation-into-claims-of-mass-hysterectomies-poor-covid-19-care-at-ice-detention-center/?fbclid=IwAR030JRc9pYvYwvgQMoeBDndZpSbqHkSw16Fn0YLPxwS1O-U2pvmA0DZCgk#4dc1d55e5f7c" target="_blank">hysterectomies performed without consent</a> (not a conspiracy theory) point to another long-standing stain on America's reputation: eugenics. British thinker Francis Galton's bastardization of his cousin Charles Darwin's idea of natural selection fell into favor throughout America. This biologically (and religiously) determined call for selective breeding laid the basis of Nazi Germany, though today few Americans recall how much we inspired Hitler's pogroms. </p><p>The problem, Sexton says, is that we constantly choose to deny or overlook past grievances, which keeps us primed to commit new ones. Germany fessed up to their horrors; so did South Africa. Not so America. Sexton cites Jimmy Carter's "<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KCOd-qWZB_g" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">malaise speech</a>," an oft-denounced address that was one of the most honest declarations by a U.S. president. Instead of living up to Carter's impassioned call to action, the public chose an actor that spent eight years coddling a nation's ego instead of holding up a mirror. </p>
Jared Yates Sexton<p>And so here we are, a failing empire foolishly gripping onto the myth of a time that we were supposedly great. In fact, Reagan asked us to make America great again; so did Bill Clinton. With this myth comes the proliferation of conspiracy theories, most notably QAnon, though dozens persist. And they all point back to the founding myth in some capacity.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"If America is so special, how are we failing right now? Within the myth is the idea that we're being sabotaged from beyond and from within. Nationalistic conspiracy theories are what happens when a country's mythology starts to wane." </p><p>While critical, Sexton is not without optimism. Our failures shouldn't not erase the incredible progress we've made. Right now, however, that mirror Carter tried to wield is needed. Otherwise, we could be reliving the end of the Cold War. The dismantling of the Soviet Union destroyed Russian optimism, which the government used as a wedge to attain absolute power. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"After the Cold War, they became as a people and a culture incredibly depressed, and incredibly oppressed. It reached a point where they knew their leaders were lying to them. But it was met with a big shrug. Eventually that apathy and powerlessness breeds more apathy and powerlessness."</p><p>Which is where America stands today: skyrocketing rates of depression and anxiety, as well as the blueprint for a new Civil War—a possibility Sexton calls a probability. Nothing new here: instead of collectively focusing our energy on the accumulation of wealth by the moneyed class, culture war issues and conspiracy theories keep us engaged in turf wars. </p><p>If you think it can't happen here, "American Rule" is a reminder that it has, and likely will. Sexton's advice: to achieve any sort of unity, we have to resist the urge to become apathetic. This isn't a red or blue issue. We're still neighbors, part of a community that stretches sea to shining sea, even if at the moment the seas are covered in smog. </p><p>And the road to healing begins with a recognition that we need to rid ourselves of the greatest myth in the history of the republic. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Once we disabuse ourselves of the myth of American exceptionalism, and we start looking at American history and say it's really problematic and inspirational at other times, it allows us to build something new."</p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
The American economy may be locked into an unhealthy cycle that only benefits a select few. Is it too late to fix it?
- What will the economy of the future look like? To answer that we must first consider the current trajectory and the ways in which modern capitalism operates, who it benefits, and if it is sustainable.
- In this video, historians, economists, and authors discuss income and wealth inequality, how the American economy grew into the machine that it is today, the pillars of capitalism and how the concept has changed over time, and ways in which the status quo can, and maybe even should, change.
- "It's not that hierarchy is bad," says John Fullerton, founder of Capital Institute, "it's that hierarchy where the top extracts from below is definitely bad and unsustainable." He says that the modern capitalist system works this way, and that it perpetuates the cycle of growing inequality.