The Findings of the Empire and Democracy Project

Question: What were the key findings of the Empire and Democracy Project?


Andrew Kuper: What we found was that unilateral attempts to promote democracy and of course retrospectively this is proof true are generally ineffective. That it requires not only multilateral stakeholders at the global level but really a multilevel approach that starts from the grass roots right up to the grass tips. I had written my PhD on democracy, promotion and restructuring democracy globally called, “Democracy Beyond Borders,” eventually and what the fundamental insight there is that globally we need a balance of power so that people check and balance one another, we’re not going to be able to have global elections and the like but as you’ll notice within states, one of the profound mechanisms for maintaining democracy and promoting diversity of voices and accountability is the division of powers between the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. And what I had tried to show was that you could have a similar balancing of powers at a global level between nonprofit states, corporations, local communities and so on. And that we needed to think much more in terms of this multilayered approach to governance and multi stakeholder approach to governance.

Now, what the Empire and Democracy Project did was it took it to a new level, we worked with Joseph Stiglitz, Mary Robinson, Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, Richard Goldstein, Aryeh Neier [IB] in this field talking about their particular areas of expertise and trying to bring those together.

So, Joseph Stiglitz looking at what kind of economic mechanisms within countries would promote democracy and so forth. And we came to a number of interesting conclusions, I would say the most important among them and this is interesting in the year of Obama is that you do have to do it all at once.

You can’t simply say, “Oh, we’ll do it militarily or we’ll do it economically,” and people who are reductionists in that way, I think, has a very implausible view of how you truly build democracy.

I’m South-African and I can tell you from both from just pre the end of apartheid period and the post apartheid period, it’s been absolutely central that there’d be all sorts of development in the media, in government, in the legislative and executive branch in the judiciary across all this different levels.

And that’s part of the success of the new democracy that is South-African, if you look at other successful democracies, that’s also the case. So the major lesson is avoid reductionism, use multiple stakeholders and not just on different levels but of different types that are able to check and balance one another.


Question: Should the U.S. be aggressively promoting democracy?


Andrew Kuper: I think there’s a very big distinction between promoting democracy and imposing democracy. I’m deeply skeptical of Asian autocrats or African or Latin American or for that matter, anywhere else who say, “I know the will of the people,” and when someone tries to encourage woman to have the vote or trust to create a scenario where people can speak out their infringing on our values. I think that’s profoundly implausible because you’re infringing on the autocrat’s values, you don’t even know what the people’s values are at that point.

So to be clear, what I’m suggesting is that we promote democracy.

Promoting democracy involves giving people a voice, it doesn’t involve arriving with your own system and telling them what to vote for, it involves encouraging the creating of systems that allow for people to be heard, to elect their own representatives, and to have those representatives be held accountable for when they fail.

And let me tell you a few reasons why this is so important, never mind if things go fantastically, let’s talk about if things go very badly, what [IB], who was my PhD supervisor, his study show is that there has not been mass famines in democracies, there has been mass famines in autocracies. So while you do have long nourishment and terrible situations in India the reality is since it became a democracy, you have not had a mass famine. In China, you have a series of famines over the years and in several other countries that are autocratic countries, now why is that? Well, it’s quite a simple and intuitively plausible reason, where millions of people are starving, that democratic leaders tend to get voted out, they failed in a profound way and they will be replaced by someone who tries to take action on this desperately or they will be thrown out, that is not the case with an autocrat.

The autocrats, the people starve, it makes them less effective at protesting, they’re hungry often, it makes them less able often to take action, sure it sometimes leads to them to take action but fundamentally the autocrat looks to the military to support them. Now, those are two very different systems so if you want. Democracy doesn’t secure all the best things in the world but what it does help you protect against is the worst and it does give people a voice.


Recorded on: May 1, 2009



The president of LeapFrog Investments talks about the right ways to promote democracy worldwide.

China's "artificial sun" sets new record for fusion power

China has reached a new record for nuclear fusion at 120 million degrees Celsius.

Credit: STR via Getty Images
Technology & Innovation

This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink.

China wants to build a mini-star on Earth and house it in a reactor. Many teams across the globe have this same bold goal --- which would create unlimited clean energy via nuclear fusion.

But according to Chinese state media, New Atlas reports, the team at the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) has set a new world record: temperatures of 120 million degrees Celsius for 101 seconds.

Yeah, that's hot. So what? Nuclear fusion reactions require an insane amount of heat and pressure --- a temperature environment similar to the sun, which is approximately 150 million degrees C.

If scientists can essentially build a sun on Earth, they can create endless energy by mimicking how the sun does it.

If scientists can essentially build a sun on Earth, they can create endless energy by mimicking how the sun does it. In nuclear fusion, the extreme heat and pressure create a plasma. Then, within that plasma, two or more hydrogen nuclei crash together, merge into a heavier atom, and release a ton of energy in the process.

Nuclear fusion milestones: The team at EAST built a giant metal torus (similar in shape to a giant donut) with a series of magnetic coils. The coils hold hot plasma where the reactions occur. They've reached many milestones along the way.

According to New Atlas, in 2016, the scientists at EAST could heat hydrogen plasma to roughly 50 million degrees C for 102 seconds. Two years later, they reached 100 million degrees for 10 seconds.

The temperatures are impressive, but the short reaction times, and lack of pressure are another obstacle. Fusion is simple for the sun, because stars are massive and gravity provides even pressure all over the surface. The pressure squeezes hydrogen gas in the sun's core so immensely that several nuclei combine to form one atom, releasing energy.

But on Earth, we have to supply all of the pressure to keep the reaction going, and it has to be perfectly even. It's hard to do this for any length of time, and it uses a ton of energy. So the reactions usually fizzle out in minutes or seconds.

Still, the latest record of 120 million degrees and 101 seconds is one more step toward sustaining longer and hotter reactions.

Why does this matter? No one denies that humankind needs a clean, unlimited source of energy.

We all recognize that oil and gas are limited resources. But even wind and solar power --- renewable energies --- are fundamentally limited. They are dependent upon a breezy day or a cloudless sky, which we can't always count on.

Nuclear fusion is clean, safe, and environmentally sustainable --- its fuel is a nearly limitless resource since it is simply hydrogen (which can be easily made from water).

With each new milestone, we are creeping closer and closer to a breakthrough for unlimited, clean energy.

The science of sex, love, attraction, and obsession

The symbol for love is the heart, but the brain may be more accurate.

  • How love makes us feel can only be defined on an individual basis, but what it does to the body, specifically the brain, is now less abstract thanks to science.
  • One of the problems with early-stage attraction, according to anthropologist Helen Fisher, is that it activates parts of the brain that are linked to drive, craving, obsession, and motivation, while other regions that deal with decision-making shut down.
  • Dr. Fisher, professor Ted Fischer, and psychiatrist Gail Saltz explain the different types of love, explore the neuroscience of love and attraction, and share tips for sustaining relationships that are healthy and mutually beneficial.

Golden blood: The rarest blood in the world

We explore the history of blood types and how they are classified to find out what makes the Rh-null type important to science and dangerous for those who live with it.

Abid Katib/Getty Images
Surprising Science
  • Fewer than 50 people worldwide have 'golden blood' — or Rh-null.
  • Blood is considered Rh-null if it lacks all of the 61 possible antigens in the Rh system.
  • It's also very dangerous to live with this blood type, as so few people have it.
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There never was a male fertility crisis

A new study suggests that reports of the impending infertility of the human male are greatly exaggerated.

Sex & Relationships
  • A new review of a famous study on declining sperm counts finds several flaws.
  • The old report makes unfounded assumptions, has faulty data, and tends toward panic.
  • The new report does not rule out that sperm counts are going down, only that this could be quite normal.
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