people trust authoritarian governments most

(Philadelphia) This Edelman international poll shows that trust in government is low in most countries and declining almost everywhere. But five important countries stand out as exceptions. People trust the world’s largest single-party state, an absolute monarchy, a country in which one party has governed since 1959, a democracy with a very strong elected leader whom critics call authoritarian–and Indonesia, where a government chosen recently in a competitive election actually seems to be trusted.

I arrived at this graph from a piece by Ethan Zuckerman, who notes, “Depressingly, there is a discernible, if weak, correlation (R2=0.162) between more open societies and low scores on Edelman’s trust metric.”

I don’t think we have long-term historical data on this question, but the pattern that Ethan notes is what I would imagine for the 1930s, when the European democracies were fraying and authoritarianism was on the rise. I didn’t expect to see it in my lifetime.

Note also that the US actually scores above the OECD democracies on trust in government, surpassing states that (in my opinion) are governed in a more trustworthy fashion. This chart indicates that we can’t explain distrust in the USA by focusing on specifically American traits, events, or leaders: the pattern is global.

Posted in democratic reform overseas, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

a college class on equality

This is an outline of a class discussion that seemed to work pretty well this morning. The reading is T.M. Scanlon’s “When Does Equality Matter?” Scanlon offers five reasons that a given difference among people may be unjust, and I add a sixth:

  1. The difference reflects suffering by the less advantaged–suffering that could be remedied.
  2. It is humiliating, conveying disrespect.
  3. It allows, or reflects, “dominance”: one person’s being able to control the other without giving reasons or being accountable.
  4. It shows that people lack equal opportunity.
  5. An institution is violating an implicit or explicit promise to treat its members alike.
  6. The difference reflects a past injustice that must be remedied.

For each of the following differences among people, debate: 1) Is it an injustice? 2) If so, for which of the six reasons listed above, or for other reasons? 3) What is unequal? (For instance, a measured outcome, a good, a right?) Who or what is responsible for remedying the injustice?

  • Men in the US live 37 years longer than men in Malawi (from Scanlon).
  • White men in the healthiest US counties live 15 years longer longer than African American men in the least healthy counties (from Scanlon).
  • American CEOs are paid 341 times more than average workers (Scanlon example; updated stats).
  • Kids from households in the 99th income percentile have a 94% chance of completing college. Kids in the lowest percentile have a 22% chance (Raj Chetty).
  • Amish kids are much less likely to go to college (from Scanlon).
  • Tufts faculty are 2.7% African American; 12.1% of the US population are Black.
  • Ninety percent of Tufts students come from the USA. Four percent of the world population is American.
  • A (hypothetical) teacher treats one of his students better than others.
  • A (hypothetical) teacher treats all of his students better than people not in his class.
  • In a doctor’s office, everyone calls the physician “doctor”; the nurses are called by their first names.
  • Among young Americans, roughly 75% of those with BAs vote, versus 25% of those without high school diplomas (CIRCLE).
  • One in four Americans say they have no one with whom they can discuss “important matters” (GSS). They are lonelier than the other 75% of Americans.
  • There aren’t enough good jobs for all the people. Today 62.7% of Americans are in the labor force (BLS); that could fall with automation and AI.
Posted in philosophy, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Menemsha, Nov. 2017

The green belly of a wave stretches, tautens
Under its own mass–filaments or nerves
Of paler green stretching to their limits
As the body, relentless, falls forward.
But the wave is a hybrid creature, its
Sober underside carrying a head
That’s white and airy, that boils steadily,
And the head grows as the belly slides under,
And the whole thing gives up, flopping itself
On the rattling shingle, tossing froth,
While behind, what had seemed a mere bulge
Is the new wave, its skin stretched to breaking.

[Posted in Philadelphia. See also: seascape and Martha’s Vineyard, August 2009]

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tools for the #resistance

I was in Eau Claire, WI, on Sunday and honored to present to a large group of active citizens convened by a local Indivisible chapter and other parts of the #resistance. I offered five tools for thinking about political movements. My presentation went into somewhat more detail, but this is the gist.

First, the question for citizens is “What we should do?” — where “we” means a concrete group of people like the folks convened in a room in Eau Claire on Sunday.

The hard part is to avoid a shift into “What should be done?” or “How should things be?” Those questions evade responsibility. They are also excessively easy. Carbon should be taxed; Trump should resign. Those points may be correct but they don’t tell us what we should do.

Second, any functioning political group, network, or movement should combine deliberation, collaboration, and civic relationships. Deliberation means discussing what to do in diverse groups. That makes us wiser. Collaboration means actually getting work done together, coordinating voluntary action. And civic relationships are the reasons that people participate.

That framework is central to my book We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For, which I wrote while Barack Obama was president. I have considered whether this framework is obsolete when a man who threatens the republic occupies the White House. I still believe it applies. For one thing, people learn to value deliberative and collaborative styles of leadership by participating personally in decent groups. When only 28 percent of Americans report belonging to any group that is inclusive and accountable, no wonder many tolerate Trump’s style of leadership. Besides, every large-scale social movement, no matter how adversarial, needs deliberation, collaboration, and civic relationships to move forward. These are scarce but renewable sources of power.

Third, try to maximize four goods that are often in tension. “Scale” means involving a lot of people. You can’t win without numbers. “Depth” means transforming people, building their skills, confidence, wisdom, and leadership. That’s necessary because we must all grow to be effective. “Pluralism” means encompassing a diversity of ideas and identities. Groups that fail to be pluralist get stupid and are unable to appeal to outsiders. “Unity” means coming together for one cause. Together they spell “SPUD,” which is a handy acronym. The challenge is that Depth trades off against Scale, and Pluralism against Unity. But the best movements achieve a bit of all four.

Fourth, work at several levels of power. The discussion of  “faces” or “levels” of power goes back at least to Stephen Lukes and John Gaventa in the 1970s; I borrow from the recent version by Archon Fung. The basic idea is that you can challenge a particular wrong, or a rule or policy, or who makes the rules and policies, or what’s on the public’s agenda. For instance, you could help an individual vote, change voting laws, change who makes the voting laws (e.g., who draws district boundaries), or change how the public thinks about voting.

I venture the generalization that right-wing leaders are much better than the left at the third level of power. For example, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has relentlessly attacked public sector unions (except police) so that union leaders can’t help determine policies; and he has passed restrictive voters to change who participates in elections. The left is better at the first and second levels of power, but those levels have limits.

Finally, I reposted my “How to Respond?” chart, which I first released on this blog a couple of days after the November election. (Click to expand it.) It offers a set of strategies for activists in the current moment.

You can do more than one of these things. Probably some people should be doing each of them. But the eight options in the bottom row are too many for any one person or group to undertake, and they are in some tension. It’s hard for a group devoted to winning the 2018 election also to convene ideologically diverse conversations to bridge the gap between right and left. So most of us need to choose.

Note that I didn’t write, “How to respond to Trump’s victory.” This diagram doesn’t pretend to be nonpartisan or politically neutral. It offers options like winning the next election with a Democratic coalition and resisting the administration. But it is meant to be somewhat open-ended and subject to various interpretations. Genuine conservatives might take it to mean, “How to take our party back from a big-government chauvinist.” And leftists might interpret is as “How to respond to three centuries of injustice, in which Democrats are complicit.” As always, a plurality of views is an asset.

One way to use these tools might be to brainstorm concrete actions and then ask which cells in the last table you are filling, which levels of power you are addressing, how you are doing in SPUD, and whether you have deliberated and collaborated well. This process will not generate The Right Answer but it may help inform your strategies.

Posted in 2018 election, revitalizing the left, Trump | Leave a comment

principles for researcher-practitioner collaboration

(Brief remarks at an Ash Center/Kennedy School of Government meeting on redistricting reform) I know less than anyone in this room about districting, but I do have experience with several networks of researchers and practitioners who have worked together on aspects of democracy. I’m talking not about specific projects but about partnerships that persist. Reflecting on those experiences, I’d propose three recommendations for any group of researchers and practitioners who come together to work on a problem:

1. Separate the people from their roles

Academics and practitioners of various sorts have official roles that structure their lives. It’s not because of arrogance or naval-gazing that tenure-track academics strive to publish: that’s a requirement. Publication requires originality, generalizability, and advanced methodological proficiency, none of which necessarily matters to practitioners. Meanwhile, practitioners must hit targets negotiated with funders or members, and they cannot spend scarce resources on research unless it advances their goals. Understanding these parameters allows creative solutions to emerge.

To promote a constructive conversation about how to work together, it helps to break down stereotypes about the human beings in these respective roles. In my experience, they tend not to be all that different. Many practitioners are deeply scholarly, in both their attainments and their dispositions and interests. And many scholars are practical people who work for real-world objectives and know how to get things done. Once academics and practitioners learn that they do not have fundamentally different priorities or values, it’s easier for them to focus on the nitty-gritty of incentives and opportunities.

2. Be diplomatic

This should go without saying, but I have seen plenty of cringe-inducing moments. Imagine professors from fancy institutions saying to grassroots organizers who have sacrificed and put their safety on the line for decades, “You don’t know whether your strategy has any impact because you have not done a randomized experiment.” There may actually be some truth to this claim, but it is no way to treat a fellow human being–nor will it encourage a partnership. I have also seen grizzled political organizers dismiss academics, especially young ones, for being politically naive, thereby missing what these scholars can contribute. We can’t work together well unless we treat each other well.

3. Recognize the three dimensions of complex problems

Redistricting is a good example. It is technically complex: massive data and computational power can be used to draw districts that advantage any side. It is normatively contested: good people would prefer districts that are (1) maximally competitive, (2) maximally representative of the partisan divide in a state, (3) maximally representative of the racial demographics of the state, (4) maximally secure for disadvantaged minority representatives, or (5) maximally compact. They prefer processes that are insulated from political pressure or responsive to political organizing. These are decent values but they conflict. Finally, the issue is riven with power: the technical tools and legal authority to redistrict are held by powerful people who use them for their ends.

These three dimensions also arise for most other 21st-century social and political problems. Progress typically demands empirical/methodological sophistication, normative deliberation, and strategic insight.

My claim is that both researchers and practitioners contribute to all three dimensions. Empirical, normative, and strategic sophistication comes from the academy and from practice. It’s a mistake to see academics as the sole custodians of empirical methods or the practitioners (and the public) as the only ones who can think about values or strategies. Questions of ideals and strategies can be investigated with scholarly rigor; practitioners can create and analyze data. We need everyone working on all three tasks.

See also: the Tisch College initiative on gerrymanderingmini-conference on Facts, Values, and Strategiespolitical science and the public; and twenty-five years of it.

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a real surge in youth voting

According to CIRCLE, youth turnout has doubled in Virginia over the past three gubernatorial races, from 17% of eligible young people in 2009 to 34% yesterday. Virginians under the age of 30 also tilted dramatically to the Democratic side. Just over half (54%) of young Virginians had chosen Hillary Clinton one year ago; 69% voted for the Democrat, Ralph Northam, yesterday. Voting in force and tilting to one party is how to have real impact.

In New Jersey, where this year’s gubernatorial race was not particularly competitive, the youth turnout trend was flat.

Closer to home, Boston (like several major cities) held a mayoral election yesterday. We don’t know the youth turnout rate there because the data aren’t available yet. However, in the past two Boston mayoral elections (each conducted in an odd-numbered year), youth turnout did not reach even two percent. In contrast, last November, about 35% of young eligible voters voted in Boston, and 80%-87% of the registered young adults in each ward turned out. Although there’s work to be done to educate and engage young people in local politics–and some excellent organizers are doing that right now in Boston–it’s also bad to hold elections in off years. If you want your city to flourish, you need a youth perspective. You should hold elections on years when one in three–instead of one in fifty–young people turn out.

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the public supports women’s rights in US foreign policy

We released a new survey today that finds strong support for gender equity as a foreign policy goal. For instance,

  • 85% rated the rights of women and girls as a very high priority.
  • 74% agreed that the U.S. government should actively work to promote human rights in other countries.
  • When given a choice among the rights that the U.S. should promote, 51% ranked women’s rights as first or second, second only to “free and open elections” and ahead of freedom of religion, freedom of the press, and the rights of workers and unions.
  • Two-thirds agreed that more participation by women would make the world more peaceful.
  • Most respondents would support women’s rights overseas even if that meant less consumer choice from international trade, fewer exports, or more disagreement with America’s friends and allies.

Click for more detail from this survey of 1,000 Americans conducted in early September 2017 by the Department of Political Science and the Tisch College of Civic Life. Credit to my colleagues Professor Richard Eichenberg in the Political Science Department, Dr. Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg and Noorya Hayat of CIRCLE, and student Anna Jacobson.

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Tisch Program in Public Humanities

Tisch College has a Program in Public Humanities. As of today, the Program has its own webpage, which I invite you to visit.

The webpage introduces the Program’s director,  Diane O’Donoghue. An art historian, Diane first came to Tisch College as a Faculty Fellow in 2013—working on a Nazi-era restitution project in Vienna—after chairing the Department of Visual and Critical Studies at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts.

The page also describes a major exhibition that celebrated a century of printing in Boston’s Chinese community. In addition to serving scholarly and cultural purposes, this exhibition drew attention to the need for a public library in Chinatown. In January 2017, Boston Mayor Martin Walsh announced that library services would be restored to the neighborhood.

On the same page, you can read about our current research on the Pao Arts Center in Chinatown, Diane’s spring course on “Public Amnesias and their Discontents,” and past and future presentations on the public humanities.

I have argued that the humanities and civic life have an intrinsic connection. “Humanist” was originally an informal term for someone who taught rhetoric, history and ethics to future public leaders–in contrast to philosophy and theology, which prepared clergymen. Citizens must make ethical judgments in concrete circumstances, and the humanities are disciplines that combine ethics, judgment, and concreteness with analytic and conceptual rigor. In recent decades, the professional humanities have had a somewhat distant or even fraught relationship with public life, but that is changing, thanks to the kinds of scholars, artists, and practitioners who congregate in Imagining America or in the North Eastern Public Humanities Consortium, of which Tisch College is a charter member.

From the perspective of Tisch College, Public Humanities is one component of Civic Studies, which also encompasses empirical research on civic engagement in the US and abroad, Civic Science, community-based participatory research, civic math, and other strands of research.

See also: what are the humanities? (basic points for non-humanists)the public purposes of the humanities (a brief history)the state humanities councils, connecting the public to scholarship; and “Rethinking the Humanities

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Ethan Zuckerman on the #ObamaSummit

I’ve been blogging almost daily since January 2003, and I would normally write reflections on something as interesting as the Obama Summit that took place this week as the kickoff event of the new Obama Foundation. However, my motivation to write is somewhat diminished by the fact that my friend Ethan Zuckerman has said everything I would–and very well–in a piece for Medium. To be sure, Ethan and I are similarly positioned, with similar demographics and job descriptions. I am sure there were other ways to perceive the Summit, but I saw the same event that Ethan did and I recommend his report.

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The truth in Hayek

(Washington, DC) You are reading English; I am writing it. English has elaborate rules and conventions. You can break the rules, but that has consequences beyond your control. Mess up your grammar in a job interview and you may not get the position. On the other hand, talk very formally in a dorm hallway and you may come across as a geek.

English also has many limitations. There are things for which we lack words. There are words without rhymes. There are words that sound awkward together. Using the language can be a struggle for people at any level of proficiency. It was a struggle for Shakespeare, as you can sense when you see him trying to convey ideas that had never been said before in his language.

Yet hardly anyone experiences the rules and limitations of English as an infringement on liberty. Why not?

  1. No individual or committee designed the language. Its limitations, therefore, are not the result of anyone’s will. Not being able to express something in English is like not being able to run at 60 miles/hour: a constraint, but not an example of coercion, because no one is coercing you.
  2. No one can change the language wholesale. We can work to change it, one piece at a time. In my lifetime, “man” has ceased to mean “human being.” That change is a result of deliberate argument and advocacy. But it’s a change of one word, and it required lots of voluntary agreement to become a new norm.
  3. Language is predicable. Within any linguistic context, the rules-in-use (not necessarily the official rules written down in grammar books) are quite stable. Change is gradual. Therefore, we can usually predict how a listener will understand a given phrase. Its predictability makes language a tool for intentional agents, something that we can plan to use for our own ends.

Friedrich von Hayek admires emergent systems. They are “complex and orderly and, in a very definite sense, purposive institutions [that] owe very little to design” (Constitution of Liberty, p. 58). Each system is a “self -maintaining whole which is kept going by forces which we cannot replace.” (p. 70). It is “not invented but arose from the actions of many men who did not know what they are doing.” (pp. 58-9). It demonstrates “organic, slow, half-conscious growth” versus “intelligent men coming together for deliberation about how to make the world anew” (pp. 56-7).

Hayek sees an intrinsic link between emergent systems and liberty, for the three reasons numbered above. Another advantage of emergent systems is that they avoid human cognitive limitations. They create complexity without relying on anyone’s brainpower to design the whole system well.

Hayek thinks of markets as emergent systems, and that is why he is associated with the political right. He opposes the idea of “social justice” (p. 65), arguing that to assess a complex system according to your own idea of justice is actually antisocial. You are substituting your opinion for what a whole society has created through emergent processes, such as market exchange.

I disagree with this important strand in Hayek. I view markets as substantially the products of political power and intentional design, in the form of laws that create and structure economic activity. I also view modern markets as the domain of large corporations that are run by (more or less) “intelligent men coming together for deliberation.” For instance, the online marketplace is not just an emergent system but an archipelago of designed islands (Amazon, Google, Facebook, the App Store). Finally, I don’t think that liberty, in Hayek’s sense, is the only important good. So even when markets do meet Hayek’s criteria of emergence and thus generate liberty (in his sense), I’m not satisfied if they are also deeply unequal, destructive, or inhumane. Note that Hayek may agree on this point (p. 18).

Having noted my disagreement with Hayek on the question of markets, I would like to underline the value of his overall view. Even with respect to economics, it is important to recognize the link between markets and liberty in the specifically Hayekian sense. His argument is not that markets offer negative liberty (freedom to do what you want), nor that they guarantee happiness or prosperity. His argument is that markets allow you to form and implement your own plans, which is a form of liberty. There is considerable truth to this position.

Besides, markets are not the only examples of emergent systems, and not the purest or best ones. Consider indigenous human cultures that are deeply embedded in natural ecosystems. The people who admire such examples and want to conserve them against the imperialistic forces of science and the state are typically on the left. Here I am not only talking about hunter-gatherer societies in distant rainforests. Plenty of leftish Americans will regard an elaborate but fragile community, like Boston’s Chinatown, as a valuable emergent system and will strongly oppose planning that disrupts it. So you can be a left-Hayekian.

Another example is the Internet. Today it is dominated by such large designed platforms as Amazon. But I remember when it emerged with very simple, very stable protocols that allowed maximum scope for creativity. The result was beautifully Hayekian, in contrast to the planned network of the telephone company. The fact that it has evolved to be dominated by multi-billion-dollar companies with centrally planned algorithms is an argument against Hayek’s pro-market complacency. The market has undermined Hayekian values. Still, the best response is to make the Internet more of an emergent system through rules like net-neutrality—not to try to design the content of the World Wide Web.

Finally, I tend to agree with Hayek’s view of ethics. Moral rules are, “next to language … the most important instance of an undesigned growth.” We observe them because of their consequences even though we do not know what their consequences will be (p. 67). That makes sense given human fallibility. Hayek rejects the Socratic ideal of questioning everything. “This givenness of the value framework implies that, although we must always strive to improve our institutions, we can never aim to remake them as a whole and that, in our efforts to improve them, we must take for granted much that we do not understand” (p. 63). Habermas uses the word “givenness” in exactly the same way when he also argues for criticizing values one at a time, never wholesale. Here the Austrian School and the Frankfurt School coincide.

[See also:  Lifeworld and System: a primerit’s not just what you think, but how your thoughts are organizedFoucault and neoliberalism]

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