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Who are the people democracy is supposed to serve?

Posted By Robin Jourdan, Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Robin Jourdan inspects the real audience of democracy in her ninth blog post for our Emerging Fellows program. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

In the past governments tended to serve the governors before the people. Inspired by Magna Carta in England, the US’s Bill of Rights serve as starting gates for the idea of government designed so that the people can exercise control over their governing representatives. Governance bending to build future strengths for all, rather than fortifying old victories took its first tentative steps.

 

A myth is that every generation’s youth go through non-political periods. This can translate into a cynicism about government; but not always. A “Youth LEAD” trend seems to be appearing with data points going back at least 50 years that show the youth of an area, region, and nations pulling together to represent their interests in environmental and climate actions. They acknowledge that problems are complicated; but angry over the inaction about the conditions they’re due to inherit.

 

Today, nearly half of the world’s inhabitants is under 30 years old. It’s known that educated, healthy, employed, and civically engaged youth drive economic growth, democracy, and prosperity. However, less than 6% of parliamentarians globally are under 35 years old. Young people are under-represented and excluded in policy related decision-making. Fewer than 2% of parliamentarians around the world are in their 20s and only 12% are in their 30s. In the early part of the 21st century, efforts have sprung up, Millennium Development Goals, to increase youth representation in advisory capacities, constitution reviews, reporting, and more. For example, since the Arab Awakening young people have remained politically active through “political movements” instead of engaging with and in political parties. The United Nations (Development Program) formally recognized that when young people engage in peace-building via new and mobile technologies, these can lead to non-violent change. A Nigerian Youth Agenda on political participation was developed to encourage collaboration. Bangladesh and Jordan launched similar actions with the assistance of the United Nations Development Program. Even with this progress, this generation at the beginning of the century have been left behind and denied opportunities. Some suspect there may be a far-reaching re-negotiation in the social contract between generations approaching.

 

What could change in the last half of this century is multi-tiered: from AI advances, security issues, to social media. Youths around the world will turn to smartphones rather than adults for what they need. Younger people use these fingertip tools for change and impact can only strengthen. Reforms for who government serves may be waged from the inside out and change the global narrative.

 

The end of the century may bring well-practiced socio-emotional skills and growth mindsets. Continuing the Youth LEAD trend of youth-motivated leadership, education, advocacy and development, has long-term potential to raise their global political power. Forward acting nations may pressure laggards by limiting access to their workforce. Instabilities for isolated regimes due to internal power struggles and energy could erupt into battles.

 

Going forward, if a business as usual approach continues, focus on skills-gaps and employment can go on to distract influencers, and a lack of real engagement with residents will continue in pockets. A grim retaliation could result. AI may diminish unwanted interactions with police due to autonomous mobility, but jobs may be even more scarce. Again, a distraction. To the second half of the twenty-first century, if people live longer, mixed with low pay, decreased employment opportunities, and constrained health care may strain even the most resilient of systems.

 

When in the past has one generation sacrificed for the benefit of future generations? Two examples: medieval cathedrals were built for future generations and fighting wars meant risking your life now to keep your country free for future generations. Wishful-thinkers may dismiss the trend for young people’s stand on environmental issues.

 

Alexis de Tocqueville pointed out that each generation must get the knowledge, skills, and traits of character that underpin a constitutional democracy. It’s relatively easy to produce competent people. Lobbyists today teach us an essential lesson about the service of democracy. Regardless of your side of an issue, they’ve figured out how to work the system for their sponsor.

 

Young people will continue to demand their right to a healthy inheritance when their elders fail to act on their metaphoric cathedrals. Knowledge and education can’t be sequestered anymore. Democracy is intended to serve everyone in its borders. Reality says it serves best those who take responsibility to make it work for today and tomorrow. Youth-motivated leadership and actions could reach a tipping point in this century to catch responsibility into their increasingly capable hands. Who is government supposed to serve? There are two kinds of people, those who focus on something to gain, and those treading water over something to lose. Democracy must move forward with its people and with energy, gusto and everything to gain.

 

© Robin Jourdan 2019

Tags:  democracy  governance  politics 

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Will liberty evolve with governance?

Posted By Ruth Lewis, Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Ruth Lewis a member of our Emerging Fellows program checks the possibility of evolving liberty with governance in her seventh blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

‘Corporate Social Responsibility’, ‘Sustainable Development’, ‘Socially Responsible Investing’.  I am often struck by these sorts of labels that imply an intention to work towards a better world.  But have they become weasel words, marketing-driven subjective descriptions that may be co-opted by those without an obligation or a plan to implement firm or agreed objectives? How can we promote or evolve human rights or liberty universally, or create a governance framework to allocate responsibility that can be clearly understood and delivered?

 

Human rights and liberty may evolve in the future though the use of global standards, long-term commercial goals and non-financial societal measures. This view focusses on the social accountability of the individual entity – a person, corporation, government or NGO for their own actions and is in line with the human rights paradigm of self-governance. Within this type of governance framework, the behaviour of the entity is observed and measured to ensure accountability. Liberty may evolve with honest governance that provides education, a robust and enforced justice system, and which upholds free speech.

 

A normalised common good for a community may develop where that community can be defined as ‘Earth’. We refer to all citizens of our planet as a global community, with all inhabitants enjoying equal human rights. The problem comes when human rights, as benefits or interests imposed by government or international rules, clash with human responsibility.

 

Responsibility is related to a duty or obligation for moral or legal purposes, and is assigned to you as a role. Moral responsibility or duty are concepts from a time before the Enlightenment, when civic virtue and social values were pre-eminent.  Duty ethics implies living by a set of rules, according to your duty to the society that you live in. This world view defines each person’s place in a hierarchy, whether as a ruler, religious leader or supplicant. These ethical theories are more powerful when considering a governance system that will care for a common good, such as our environment, or a social institution such as a culture or country.  The cultural aspect of the welfare of the community is dominant, over the rights or wishes of the individual.

 

Within a governance system that is respectful and nurturing to the individual and community, duty ethics can promote liberty.  However, in some cultures past and present, the governance system may be more concerned with enforcement of a defined duty within a social hierarchy, and may suppress individual liberty or exploit a person or a community for the ‘good’ of the hierarchically superior state.  Where this happens, there may be no recognisable individualism or recognition of human rights, as it is beyond the duty paradigm.

 

How do we morally reconcile egalitarian concepts of liberty and human rights with hierarchically-based duty and moral responsibility to ensure universal and equitable governance? This question underpins many global challenges that we face today, including care of our environment, responsible development of technology and natural resources, improving the living conditions for third world communities or ensuring inhabitants of our world are free to choose their own religion, lifestyle or family groupings.

 

The solution is to carefully integrate both liberty and duty ethics with an equal recognition of both, for the healthy functioning of the individual within the society that they live in.  Equitable governance will promote both liberty and duty in both a rational and a spiritual sense, looking at both short to long term development, and taking account of both high and low-level issues, complexities and inter-relationships.

 

Governance where the governed have input in shaping the governance and policy development process is a difficult process of finding consensus and reconciling many different points of view. The key is to follow an agreed framework that is able to benefit and validate all of these viewpoints within open and honest channels of communication, with a consideration of societal or collective normative values for the common good, truth and values.  Example frameworks that have been developed for this type of framework include ‘Communitarianism’ and ‘Commoning’.

 

An immediate need is common governance of the world’s natural environment.  A purely liberty-based view of governance based on ‘human rights’ may look to exploit the ecosystem for economic growth.  This may subsume all other considerations, including our duty to protect nature or our responsibility to preserve the world’s ecology for future generations.  The common and integrated view of environmental governance based on equivalent ‘rights’ and ‘duty’ allocates custodianship of countries and corporations for natural resource development, and specific responsibility for any social and ecological damage caused by economic production or consumption. This custodianship includes the duty of current generations to conserve the global environment for future generations. There are signs that future legal international frameworks will normalise explicit intergenerational environmental responsibility in equal measure to the legal status of human rights to ensure accountability for externalities of economic development, together with defined plans for delivery.

 

Technology can be used as an enabler of open and honest channels of communication and facilitate the transition from the extremes of individualistic liberty and hierarchical duty to a framework of the common good and universal governance. But how can technology judge what is open or honest?  And what if the technology includes artificial, autonomous systems or augmented intelligences that need to be factors within the framework of defining the common good?

 

© Ruth Lewis 2019

Tags:  governance  liberty  rights 

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Who authors the automation?

Posted By Tim Morgan, Thursday, June 20, 2019

Tim Morgan published his sixth blog post in our Emerging Fellows program by checking the possibility of building intended and unintended governance into automation. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who watches the watchers? This question penned by the ancient poet Juvenal may have more urgency in the current automation age than it did two thousand years ago in the palaces of Rome.

 

Our money is stored as data and flows digitally at the speed of light. We socialize online. We play online games and stream movies. Apps record our exercise, sleep, and heartbeats. News comes via feeds customized based on our observed interests. Search engines return ranked results based on more than just the keywords. All of it is done via algorithms written by someone for a specific reason. Even self-learning AIs are ultimately built to fulfill a human desire or need. Automations are systems which embody someone’s values.

 

What values are being intentionally and unintentionally encoded into the automated backbone of current society? What intended and unintended governance is being built into automation? As automation advances and becomes ubiquitous, what we develop and how we apply it becomes critical.

 

Most automation is developed to meet specific requirements. Quality Assurance professionals analyze and validate software via requirements-based testing and analysis. Automations are systems, be they games or banking apps or robots.

 

Complex systems have complex behaviors. Complex systems create and reinforce values consistent with that system. Systems promote the values embedded into the software, whether or not the developer intended to embed them. Testing rarely goes beyond the mere functional requirements to measure the systemic impacts of automation against the larger world. The current Institutional and Market watchers are insufficient to that task.

 

Proactive policing software promotes racially biased patrolling patterns when systemic biases have been unintentionally embedded into data and code based on existing policing practices. Voting rolls are purged of legal voters because of erroneous, and sometimes intentional, partial name matches with convicted criminals. Traffic light cameras are used more for automated revenue enhancement than for protecting public safety. Social media and news media both use dynamic consumer metrics to automatically amplify attention-getting divisive stories ahead of socially uplifting ones. Successful games exploit known psychological triggers to promote compulsive game-play, even when embedding those triggers were not a conscious programming choice. Successful games, news, and social media have quickly evolved into attention predators via market selection. Automation is evolving, but market and institutional selection mechanisms are not necessarily socially benign.

 

The future holds some interesting values questions around advanced automation. Could we go beyond normal Don’t-Hit-A-Pedestrian safety programming in self-driving cars, adding in Good Samaritan assistance behaviors for the roadside stranded or injured? Will consumers ever get a Make-My-Life-Better setting on their social media? Will we find ways to create new Social Awareness algorithms and new Social Quality Assurance testing standards for commercial and institutional automation?

 

Failure to anticipate the untested social impacts of new automation before it is deployed turns the entire world into an increasingly bug-filled, chaotic, free-for-all of externalized impacts and socialized costs. How technology is applied is a choice. How to encourage development of future automation which balances profit or control with social good is an epic challenge of our current era for both developers and users alike.  Who authors the automation? Who watches the watchers? Ultimately, we all do if we want a better world.

 

© Tim Morgan 2019

Tags:  automation  governance  technology 

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Can democracy solve our wicked problems?

Posted By Administration, Thursday, April 18, 2019

Robin Jourdan checks the possibility of solving wicked problems by democracy in her fourth blog post for our Emerging Fellows program. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

We are living in an age of wicked problems. These are problems that generally have a social or cultural component that makes it difficult to solve. They’re more often complex, connected to other grand-scale issues, a substantial economic burden, and often incomplete knowledge. Wicked problems as a marketing concept didn’t come into being until the early 1970s.

 

Historic wicked problems would include polio, cholera, typhoid, cancer, poverty, and more. Often these problems created a sense of fear, vulnerability, uncertainty, chaos, and ambiguity. Out of control societies witnessed break-downs in politics, economics, and culture. What these problems had in common included a lack of knowledge over things like hygiene, sanitation, microbes. In other instances, what was lacking often was the political willpower to create the needed changes.

 

Democracies haven’t yet solved these problems due to many factors, some technical, some social, some political. For example, approached with caution and skepticism, often analysts tackle the wrong question in such a complex challenge set. In the West, think tanks and research laboratories are most often charged with finding an answer. Problems and solutions can be overly politicized and at the mercy of wrong motivations. Science and education can be discounted as elitism and fakery. This adds to the challenge.  The same people who would doubt climate change science will stop eating broccoli when science says it’s contaminated.

 

Technocratic and autocratic strengths and weakness are the reliance on technological solutions. If based on short-term incentives, these technologies allow us to continue in our ignorant ways. Then we blame the technology when they fail. Thus, devices alone are incomplete solutions for global woes. Overreliance on this path alone may also widen the gap between solutions and willingness to implement them. Incremental thinking relying on today’s think tank structure will continue to face skepticism from the general public.

 

Short-term thinking spurred by economic priorities will compete for resources in these systems as well. Governance systems that can marshal enormous amounts of resources are likely to be positioned well for moving the needle on solutions as is seen by China's checkbook diplomacy and internal focus on climate change solutions. This assembling vast amounts of resources itself isn’t the lone tool, as squandering resources will increasingly be frowned upon.

 

A key lesson from success over these past wicked problems is the need to get to a long-term, root cause understanding. Systems thinking is a tool that can support and enable transitioning to that longer-term thinking.  Root cause understanding and multi-nation cooperation often result in action.  Such will no doubt be aided by technologies, perhaps yet to be discovered. This complements a most significant ingredient to past victory over specific wicked problems: diligence and resilience during the sometimes-long journey.

 

As the future is further transformed, the longevity economy will likely have specific influences as well. When people live longer, the higher the chance they will face the outcomes of decisions guided by short-term thinking. Having the ability to simulate results by way of systems thinking and problem-solving, but not acting logically regarding them would reveal illogical mindsets.

       

Democracies as a social construct rather than a governance system support the conditions to share what is learned on the march. This is not to suggest that the steps nor the efforts are easy or linear. Adequate investment and emotional diligence are needed are not traits ascribed to a single governance system. However, in a democracy, people can create a groundswell of interest, urgency, and memory to challenge political priorities accordingly.

 

© Robin Jourdan 2019

Tags:  democracy  governance  wicked problems 

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Economics lessons from wild nature

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, July 25, 2018
Updated: Monday, February 25, 2019

Polina Silakova‘s sixth post in our Emerging Fellows program explores some economics lessons to be learned from nature. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

If we try to apply Darwin’s theory of evolution to economic systems, would we conclude that capitalism “better suits to the environment” (better suits us) than communism? After all, most of the ex-communist countries shifted to capitalism and the majority of the few remaining are now transitioning to free market economies. Have we naturally selected the better way? Apparently, only a half of us would agree. According to a recent online survey of twenty thousand people in 28 countries run by the research company Ipsos, half of respondents around the globe think that now, in the XXI century, “socialist ideals are of great value for societal progress”.

What exactly are these ideals? Here are some stats:
•9 in 10 believe that education should be free and that free healthcare is a human right
•7 in 10 think that everyone should have the right to an unconditional basic income (UBI).
•Interestingly, about the same number (7 in 10) also agree that it is right for people who are talented to earn more than those who are less gifted, and that free-market competition brings out the best in people.
It seems that although the benefits of free markets in fostering progress are valued when it comes to the essential aspects of life – health, welfare, education – many of us are craving for a more egalitarian system; the one alleviating the polarizing inequality that capitalism has created.

With so many innovations fostering humanity’s progress being inspired by nature, we are curious: what examples of democratic distribution of resources exist in the wild world? One study particularly attracted our attention. A Belgian-French group of scientists studied self-organised collective decision-making by animals when it comes to choosing between alternative resources.

They ran an experiment where 50 cockroaches (Blattella germanica) were presented with three shelters, each with a capacity to hold 40 individuals. For cockroaches, who prefer dark to light, such a shelter is a resource, and they quickly filled them in. But instead of doing this in a chaotic manner, the cockroaches split into two equal groups of 25 occupying two shelters and leaving the third one empty. While in a scenario with larger shelters – each big enough for the whole group – only one of the shelters got occupied. The researchers were astonished by how cockroaches maximise the benefit of limited resources, trading off being together and access to shelter resources and finding a balance between collaboration and competition. “Without elaborate communication, global information, and explicit comparison of available opportunities, […] the collective decision emerges from the interactions between equal individuals, initially possessing little information about their environment. It is remarkable, then, that these rules should produce a collective pattern that maximizes individual fitness.”

Economic democracy observed in behaviour of cockroaches presents some of the features where capitalism and representative democracy did not quite succeed: egalitarian distribution of resource and decision-making benefiting all (or at least the majority of) individuals. It might seem too simplistic to directly compare the economic problems faced by Blattella germanica and those of Homo sapiens. But if we think of some emerging movements – collaborative mobile democracy, participatory budgeting, commons-based economic governance – are they not technologically empowered forms of truly collective decision-making, replicating those observed in nature? With new technologies making us more interconnected, we now have a unique opportunity to access the knowledge and opinions of all interested citizens and reshape the way we, as a society, take decisions and distribute value.

Following nature’s principle of evolution, only a better system, distributive by design and maximising the fitness of more individuals, will be able to replace capitalism by making it obsolete. Mother nature offers us many lessons, and the lesson of balancing collaboration and competition has been one of the hardest to comprehend. It requires both individual engagement and strong leadership ability to connect knowledge and talents from the community and to facilitate the best ideas evolving in something new.

As American sociologist Erik Olin Wright suggests, we cannot smash or escape capitalism, but we can tame or erode it. By slowly introducing new elements, inspired by nature and enabled by technology, we might start shifting the focus from maximising financial value and growth to real value creation and more equality. And then who knows… maybe one day this will make capitalism in its classical form obsolete.

© Polina Silakova 2018

Tags:  capitalism  economics  governance 

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