(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘governance

“Every decent man is ashamed of the government he lives under”*…

The majority of countries are democracies, but how many people enjoy what we think of as democratic rights? A nifty interactive map from Our World In Data charts the changes in political regimes across the globe, country by country, over the last 200 years. By way of explaining its categories:

• In closed autocracies, citizens do not have the right to choose either the chief executive of the government or the legislature through multi-party elections.

• In electoral autocracies, citizens have the right to choose the chief executive and the legislature through multi-party elections; but they lack some freedoms, such as the freedoms of association or expression, that make the elections meaningful, free, and fair.

• In electoral democracies, citizens have the right to participate in meaningful, free and fair, and multi-party elections.

• In liberal democracies, citizens have further individual and minority rights, are equal before the law, and the actions of the executive are constrained by the legislative and the courts.

As Visual Capitalist observes…

Do civilians get a representative say in how the government is run where you live?

While it might seem like living with a basic level of democratic rights is the status quo, this is only true for 93 countries or territories today—the majority of the world does not enjoy these rights.

It also might surprise you that much of the progress towards democracy came as late as the mid-20th century

An interactive look at the state of democracy around the world, and how it has evolved. From @OurWorldInData, via @VisualCap.

* H. L. Mencken

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As we ruminate on representation, we might recall that it was on this date in 1933, the day after an arsonist ignited the Reichstag building, home of the German parliament in Berlin (and four weeks after Nazi leader Adolf Hitler had been sworn in as Chancellor of German), that Adolf Hitler attributed the fire to a conspiracy of Communist agitators.

Marinus van der Lubbe, a Dutch “council communist”, was the apparent culprit; but Hitler insisted on a wider network of villains. He used it as a pretext to claim that Communists were plotting against the German government, and induced President Paul von Hindenburg to issue the Reichstag Fire Decree suspending civil liberties, and to pursue a “ruthless confrontation” with the Communists. A court later found that van der Lubbe had in fact acted alone. But Hitler’s orchestrated reaction to the Reichstag Fire began the effective rule of the Nazi Party and the establishment of Nazi Germany.

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“Suffrage is the pivotal right”*…

… but how we vote matters. We tend to take the electoral system in which we exercise our franchise for granted. Perhaps we should think more broadly. Why Is This Interesting? explains how Venice selected its Doges, and ponders the questions that raises for our own elections…

The way societies make decisions is important. There is a growing understanding that different systems can lead to quite different outcomes. Ireland rejected the British first-past-the-post system after independence and adopted the single transferable vote in 1921. New York City started using ranked-choice voting this summer, with some hiccups. Other countries have moved to full proportional representation where seats are allocated to parties more or less based on national vote share.

There’s also the question of the best level of representation. Should city councils be elected at-large for the whole city (like in Cambridge, Mass.) or in single-member districts, and how would that affect outcomes such as diversity and zoning? Perhaps some decisions should be taken away from the city council, and either moved down to the neighborhood level or up to the regional level? And should some decisions, such as monetary policy, be taken out of democratic control altogether and left to technocrats?

Using sortition to choose government officials, as Venice and Ancient Athens did, is a niche idea these days, but in common-law countries, juries deciding legal cases are (supposed to be) chosen randomly from the population. Nobel laureate Daniel McFadden wants to use “economic juries” of randomly selected people to decide on big public projects, arguing that this can better reflect public opinion than a referendum.

Since these political design choices affect policy outcomes, it would be naive to think this is only about high-minded notions of the “quality” of decisions. But that doesn’t make the question of how societies should make decisions any less interesting.

What’s the best way to hold elections? On Venice, decisions, and policy outcomes: “The Dogal Elections Edition,” from Why is This Interesting? (@WhyInteresting) Eminently worth reading in full.

[Image above: source]

* Susan B. Anthony

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As we ponder the practice of polling, we we might recall that it was on this date in 1620 that 41 adult male colonists recently arrived in what we now call Massachusetts, including two indentured servants, signed the Mayflower Compact (although it wasn’t called that at the time). Though they intended to reach the Colony of Virginia, storms had forced The Mayflower and its pilgrim passengers to anchor at the hook of Cape Cod in Massachusetts. It was unwise to continue with provisions running short. This inspired some of the non-Puritan passengers (whom the Puritans referred to as ‘Strangers’) to proclaim that they “would use their own liberty; for none had power to command them” since they would not be settling in the agreed-upon Virginia territory. To prevent this, the Pilgrims determined to establish their own government, while still affirming their allegiance to the Crown of England. Thus, the Mayflower Compact was based simultaneously upon a majoritarian model and the settlers’ allegiance to the king. It was in essence a social contract in which the settlers consented to follow the community’s rules and regulations for the sake of order and survival– the first (colonial) document to establish self-government in the New World.

Signing the Mayflower Compact 1620, a painting by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris 1899

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“The strength of a family, like the strength of an army, lies in its members’ loyalty to each other”*…

Here’s an exchange on Twitter that illustrates the new schism in politics, from May 2020:

– Michael Gove, UK government minister: Caring for your wife and child is not a crime. (On the topic of an advisor breaking the law on lockdown.)

Commentary from John Holbo, philosophy professor: It really is astonishing how true it is. Conservatism says the law protects in-group members without binding them; while binding out-group members, not protecting them. Mafia logic all the way up and down.

Is it ok to put your family, or your tribe, above the law?

Unlike Holbo, I don’t believe that answering “yes” to that question is a particular conservative or right wing trait. It’s a question that different people will answer differently; it’s a new axis on the political map. Perhaps it’s the new axis.

The Political Compass has been a pretty good model as long as I’ve been politically aware.

(Caveats: I’ve only been paying attention to politics since the early 1990s. And when I look back to say, the 1960s, before the free market ideology took hold, the right seemed way happier to promote state intervention. So I don’t know how it felt back then.)

There are two axes, and you can take a test and end up somewhere on this grid:

Social: authoritarian vs libertarian

Economic: left vs right

But this implies that there’s a kind of universality to policy: it presupposes that everyone is treated the same.

What if that no longer holds true?

The term oikos has framed my thinking for a while. A few years back I read Benjamin Peter’s How Not to Network a Nation which is a great look at why there was never a successful Soviet internet, despite many attempts between 1959 and 1989. From the blurb on the back, the book argues that the American ARPANET took shape thanks to well-managed state subsidies and collaborative research environments, while the Soviet network projects stumbled because of unregulated competition among self-interested institutions, bureaucrats, and others.

Here’s the passage that grabbed my attention (p194 of my edition)

Consider the language of Hannah Arendt’s The Human Condition – a landmark work of political theory that introduces its disenchantment with normative liberal values with a discussion of Sputnik and the nuclear age, the two ingredients that, once combined, could spell instantaneous planetary annihilation. For Arendt, the distinction between the public and the private is not the liberal economic opposition of the public state and the private market but a classical (Aristotelian) distinction between the public as an expression of the polis (where actors gather “to speak and act together”) and the private as an expression of the oikos (Greek for household and the root of the word economy) (where actors inhabit a domain of animal necessity and are compelled to pursue their own interests for their survival).

So this stuck in my head, and here’s my crude, way-over-simplified way of thinking about it as a framework:

– an oikos view is: it’s morally preferable to favour “people like me”

– a polis view is: it’s morally preferable to treat everyone equally

I was initially baffled when, in 2019, the Brexit Party announced its only non-Brexit political policy: the abolition of inheritance tax. (See the announcement on Twitter.)

Why should this be sole additional policy? Why not remain silent? The oikos vs polis framework helped me. “Brexit” is a classic oikos preference: this country matters more than this bigger union, it says. And if Brexit is the macro, then removing inheritance tax is the micro: tribe over state.

But I want to be clear: oikos is not bad. Like any political preference, it can be wielded for good and ill.

Community is an oikos value! Neighbourhood is an oikos value! Closing the streets to city traffic so kids can play, that’s an oikos value! Mutuality and cooperative organisations… traditionally left wing, but elements of oikos there. EastEnders, the long-running British TV soap about fierce family loyalties: oikos.

The old English aristocracy: that’s oikos all over. As The Institutional Revolution points out… the aristocracy was an economic adaption to a world without reliable communications or measurement. To function, that world required high trust relationships and ways to bind people into high trust relationships. The aristocracy met that challenge for 300 years – and its values of loyalty, honour, family, and so on are oikos values: trust and defend my group over any other allegiance.

Now the right wing ruling class of the UK is closely connected with those old aristocratic families. Is it any wonder they continue to display oikos culture?

Anyway, my conclusion was that oikos is independent of left vs right; independent of owner class vs labour class; independent of being socially liberal or authoritarian…

Self-interest: oikos. Solidarity: polis. (Though it strikes me that fighting the climate crisis will require framing the solution in terms of self-interest too.)

For me, this helps explain the recent election results (where the Tory party was not punished for Johnson’s self-interest) and also the coalition of wealthy elite and working class that carried the “Leave” vote for Brexit…

Perhaps the value of the polis needs to be shored up. Solidarity, equality in the eyes of the law, utilitarianism: these are ideas that need to be re-established.

The right has claimed oikos for its own. That makes sense: it’s a natural fit for neoliberalism (free market economics), and also for small government (because you should look after your own). But I don’t believe this necessarily has to be the case. What should the left fight for in an oikos world? A vital question.

Matt Webb (@intrcnnctd) with a provocative reframing of the political landscape: “Oikos vs polis: a new (but old) axis on the political map.”

See also Cory Doctorow in a similar vein: “Mafia Logic.”

[image above: source]

* Mario Puzo

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As we remind ourselves that the human race is a family, we might recall that it was on this date in 1527 that Florentines expelled the Medici (for the second time) and (re-)established a republic. But, with the siupport of both Emperor Charles V and Pope Clement VII (Giulio de Medici), the Medici in 1532 became hereditary dukes of Florence, and in 1569 Grand Dukes of Tuscany, and ruled Florence (and much surrounding territory) for two more centuries. 

View of Florence by Hartmann Schedel, published in 1493

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

May 16, 2021 at 1:01 am

“Plans are worthless, but planning is everything”*…

 

gilmanweber-1536x1024

 

We’re living through a real-time natural experiment on a global scale. The differential performance of countries, cities and regions in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic is a live test of the effectiveness, capacity and legitimacy of governments, leaders and social contracts.

The progression of the initial outbreak in different countries followed three main patterns. Countries like Singapore and Taiwan represented Pattern A, where (despite many connections to the original source of the outbreak in China) vigilant government action effectively cut off community transmission, keeping total cases and deaths low. China and South Korea represented Pattern B: an initial uncontrolled outbreak followed by draconian government interventions that succeeded in getting at least the first wave of the outbreak under control.

Pattern C is represented by countries like Italy and Iran, where waiting too long to lock down populations led to a short-term exponential growth of new cases that overwhelmed the healthcare system and resulted in a large number of deaths. In the United States, the lack of effective and universally applied social isolation mechanisms, as well as a fragmented healthcare system and a significant delay in rolling out mass virus testing, led to a replication of Pattern C, at least in densely populated places like New York City and Chicago.

Despite the Chinese and Americans blaming each other and crediting their own political system for successful responses, the course of the virus didn’t score easy political points on either side of the new Cold War. Regime type isn’t correlated with outcomes. Authoritarian and democratic countries are included in each of the three patterns of responses: authoritarian China and democratic South Korea had effective responses to a dramatic breakout; authoritarian Singapore and democratic Taiwan both managed to quarantine and contain the virus; authoritarian Iran and democratic Italy both experienced catastrophe.

It’s generally a mistake to make long-term forecasts in the midst of a hurricane, but some outlines of lasting shifts are emerging. First, a government or society’s capacity for technical competence in executing plans matters more than ideology or structure. The most effective arrangements for dealing with the pandemic have been found in countries that combine a participatory public culture of information sharing with operational experts competently executing decisions. Second, hyper-individualist views of privacy and other forms of risk are likely to be submerged as countries move to restrict personal freedoms and use personal data to manage public and aggregated social risks. Third, countries that are able to successfully take a longer view of planning and risk management will be at a significant advantage…

From Steve Weber and @nils_gilman, an argument for the importance of operational expertise, plans for the long-term, and the socialization of some risks: “The Long Shadow Of The Future.”

* Dwight D. Eisenhower

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As we make ourselves ready, we might recall that it was on this date in 1822 that Charles Babbage [see almanac entry here] proposes a Difference Engine in a paper to the Royal Astronomical Society (which he’d helped found two years earlier).

In Babbage’s time, printed mathematical tables were calculated by human computers… in other words, by hand.  They were central to navigation, science, and engineering, as well as mathematics– but mistakes occurred, both in transcription and in calculation.  Babbage determined to mechanize the process and to reduce– indeed, to eliminate– errors.  His Difference Engine was intended as precisely that sort of mechanical calculator (in this instance, to compute values of polynomial functions).

In 1833 he began his programmable Analytical Machine (AKA, the Analytical Engine), the forerunner of modern computers, with coding help from Ada Lovelace, who created an algorithm for the Analytical Machine to calculate a sequence of Bernoulli numbers— for which she is remembered as the first computer programmer.

220px-Difference_engine_plate_1853

A portion of the difference engine

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“We must be free not because we claim freedom, but because we practice it”*…

 

algorithm

 

There is a growing sense of unease around algorithmic modes of governance (‘algocracies’) and their impact on freedom. Contrary to the emancipatory utopianism of digital enthusiasts, many now fear that the rise of algocracies will undermine our freedom. Nevertheless, there has been some struggle to explain exactly how this will happen. This chapter tries to address the shortcomings in the existing discussion by arguing for a broader conception/understanding of freedom as well as a broader conception/understanding of algocracy. Broadening the focus in this way enables us to see how algorithmic governance can be both emancipatory and enslaving, and provides a framework for future development and activism around the creation of this technology…

From a pre-print of John Danaher‘s (@JohnDanaher) chapter in the forthcoming Oxford Handbook on the Philosophy of Technology, edited by Shannon Vallor: “Freedom in an Age of Algocracy “… a little dense, but very useful.

[image above: source]

* William Faulkner

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As we meet the new boss, same as the old boss, we might recall that it was on this date in 1962 that telephone and television signals were first relayed in space via the communications satellite Echo 1– basically a big metallic balloon that simply bounced radio signals off its surface.  Simple, but effective.

Forty thousand pounds (18,144 kg) of air was required to inflate the sphere on the ground; so it was inflated in space.  While in orbit it only required several pounds of gas to keep it inflated.

Fun fact: the Echo 1 was built for NASA by Gilmore Schjeldahl, a Minnesota inventor probably better remembered as the creator of the plastic-lined airsickness bag.

200px-Echo-1 source

 

Written by (Roughly) Daily

February 24, 2020 at 1:01 am

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