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A broader range of interest groups, a greater number of viable political parties, and more competition among media sources are at least as important for a functional democracy. My name is Alan Zundel, and I approve of this message. Lori rated it really liked it Dec 29, Alex Hackworth rated it liked it Dec 02, Elizabeth Devos rated it did not like it Jun 15, Andrew rated it liked it Mar 24, Ian Eve Perry marked it as to-read Jun 09, Maanasa marked it as to-read Jun 09, Sarah marked it as to-read Jun 10, Kathy marked it as to-read Jun 13, Jesse marked it as to-read Dec 16, Jon-Erik added it Aug 17, Will marked it as to-read Nov 09, Sean marked it as to-read Mar 15, Dave Burns marked it as to-read Aug 17, Adam marked it as to-read Apr 11, Will marked it as to-read Jun 09, Megan marked it as to-read Jun 17, Umair Mamsa marked it as to-read Jun 29, Khalil added it Jul 15, Christian Jones marked it as to-read Jan 21, Sahra marked it as to-read Oct 24, Brian Cechnicki marked it as to-read Aug 01, Alyssa marked it as to-read Jan 12, Joelle marked it as to-read Feb 11, Zach marked it as to-read May 20, Will is currently reading it Aug 07, George Collins-White is currently reading it May 11, Kayla added it Apr 01, Martin marked it as to-read Aug 12, Holly Balcom is currently reading it Oct 02, Meg is currently reading it Nov 29, John marked it as to-read Aug 28, There are no discussion topics on this book yet.

Although they mostly respect the rule of law and largely protect the rights of minorities, they fail to translate popular preferences into public policy. Over the past decades, many countries in North America and Western Europe have, in effect, unwittingly adopted undemocratic liberal regimes. It betrays one of the core promises of liberal democracy and inspires a deep distrust in the political system that grows more corrosive with each passing year. The stability of the system may thus depend on finding ways to make ordinary citizens feel that they are in charge again.

On the other hand, the technocratic institutions that have been a major factor in the rise of undemocratic liberalism are doing important work that is necessary for democratic governments to deliver on key issues such as public safety and economic growth: Abolishing these institutions would likely make the lives of many citizens worse, and erode the performance legitimacy on which democracies have always, to some extent, relied. Precisely because it cannot be overcome simply by returning power to the people, the decomposition of liberal democracy into its constituent parts will be one of the defining challenges of the coming decades.

Since the end of World War II, the complexity of the regulatory tasks facing the state has vastly increased. Technology has advanced, and economic processes have become more intricate. Even more important, some of the most pressing political challenges now facing mankind, from climate change to growing inequality, are global in origin and seemingly outstrip the ability of individual nation-states to find an adequate response. Each of these changes has prompted a shift of power away from national parliaments. To deal with the need for regulation in highly technical fields, bureaucratic agencies staffed with subject-matter experts began to take on a quasi-legislative role.

To make increasingly complicated decisions about monetary policy while resisting political pressure to create artificial booms, more and more central banks became independent. Finally, to develop rules, plans, and standards on issues ranging from trade to climate change, an array of international treaties and organizations were founded. This transformation is not the result of an elite conspiracy.

Democracy More or Less: America's Political reform Quandary | Communication Studies

On the contrary, it has occurred gradually, and often imperceptibly, in response to real policy challenges. One crucial factor narrowing the sphere of democratic contestation has been the growing role of state bureaucracies, which have taken ever more issues under their jurisdiction. Indeed, government agencies have not only grown more influential in designing the laws passed by parliaments over the past decades; at the same time, they themselves have also increasingly assumed the role of quasi-legislators.

A traditional bureaucratic body is charged with implementing legislation drawn up by the legislature and is led by a politician—often an elected member of parliament—who has been appointed by the president or prime minister. Once established, these bodies take on a life of their own, gaining the authority to design, implement, and at times even enforce broad rules in such key areas as finance and environmental protection.

Collectively, these bodies make key decisions in a wide range of crucial policy areas.


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The United States is not alone: Equivalents to these independent agencies exist in a variety of countries. While some are performing essential tasks, the rapid increase in their number and in the breadth of their mandates has worried the public. By contrast, the European Union has its broad policy priorities set by a summit of the heads of government of individual member states that meets only a few times a year. The European Parliament, meanwhile, wields little real power, and its members are chosen in low-turnout elections that voters treat chiefly as an opportunity to protest against unpopular national governments.

As a result, the European Commission, an organization of career bureaucrats, has historically been the motor of most EU activities, initiating, writing, and implementing much of EU law. After World War II, many Germans blamed the collapse of the Weimar Republic on hyperinflation spurred by political meddling with the money supply. To avoid a slide back into chaos or even fascism, they concluded, the new Bundesbank would have to be as independent as possible.

In stark contrast to other central banks around the world, the Bundesbank also gained the right to determine its own policy objectives, deciding on its own whether to prioritize low inflation or low unemployment. So when European political elites decided to embark on the process of monetary union in the course of the s, German leaders insisted that the new European Central Bank ECB follow the model of the Bundesbank.

Over the course of the s and s, economists began to make more far-reaching arguments for central-bank independence on the German model. And so over the course of the s more than fifty countries moved toward increased independence for their central banks. For most of the history of liberal democracy, central banks had only limited tools at their disposal. In the Bretton Woods system that prevailed in the wake of World War II, exchange rates were largely fixed, and on the relatively rare occasions when they had to be adjusted, elected politicians rather than unelected bureaucrats usually made this call.

Only after the demise of the Bretton Woods currency controls in the early s did central banks gain the leeway to set interest rates in keeping with their policy objectives. Long consigned to keeping stable a system designed by elected politicians, they have today become the key institutions deciding whether to focus on minimizing inflation or unemployment. As a result, technocrats now make some of the most important economic decisions facing countries around the world.

The rise of judicial review is yet another way in which important issues have been taken out of democratic contestation. Historically, judges have used their authority to check whether legislative acts might violate a written constitution or time-honored legal principles for some extraordinarily noble purposes. Many of the most important advances in the rights of U. There can also be no doubt, however, that the nine unelected justices who sit on the U.

Supreme Court now hold a vast amount of power—and a case can be made that they grew more willing to exercise that power over the course of the twentieth century. The geographical spread of judicial review has been even more clear-cut: Only eight of the twenty-two countries that could be classified as democracies in had judicial review at that time. Today, twenty-one of these countries do, with the Netherlands as the only partial exception.

Even in countries where the constitution does not explicitly grant the power of judicial review to the courts, they have to all intents and purposes started to exercise this power. A similar story could be told about other countries. With the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Canada effectively moved from parliamentary to constitutional sovereignty. Even in the Netherlands, where Article of the Constitution makes clear that no court can review the constitutionality of parliamentary acts, the introduction of international human-rights treaties has amplified the powers of unelected judges.

There is a direct democratic cost to the rise of judicial review: Decisions are taken out of the hands of the people and turned over to unelected technocrats. Francis Fukuyama has argued that there may also be a more indirect cost. Together with the influence of other entrenched interests, he suggests, the U. The point of an international agreement is to coordinate the actions of participating states, thereby setting stable expectations and helping these countries to achieve a common goal.

So the loss of national control over certain matters is not a bug of such agreements; it is their primary feature. This is as true of treaties regulating the emission of noxious gases as it is of those establishing organizations such as the World Bank or the United Nations. Trade treaties are a key case in point. Free trade offers big benefits to all countries that enjoy it. But to enter into free-trade agreements, a state needs to abdicate some of its power to make independent decisions: If signatory states could reintroduce import tariffs at will, for instance, the agreements would fail to set the stable expectations that account for much of their economic benefit.

In the past, many developing countries managed to foster high-level domestic industries by temporarily shielding them from competition. The United States did this for steel in the nineteenth century, just as Japan and Taiwan did it for cars and electronics in the twentieth century. Today, developing countries subject to the rules of the World Trade Organization or to even more onerous regional trade agreements are effectively barred from employing the same strategy.

The surrender of control that modern trade deals require goes well beyond decisions about tariffs. Free-trade treaties constitute only a small subset of the agreements and organizations that now structure the international system. These international arrangements offer immense benefits to the world, but this normative fact should not blind us to an even simpler empirical fact: As these treaties proliferate, they increasingly restrict the extent to which legislators within nation-states can make autonomous decisions or react to shifts in popular preferences.

Whether due to the expanding authority of bureaucrats, the independence of central banks, the rise of judicial review, or the growth of international treaties and organizations, the withdrawal of important topics from domestic political contestation is one major reason why political systems throughout Western Europe and North America have become less democratic. This might imply that we face a straightforward problem of legislatures hamstrung in their ability to enact the wishes of the people. But there is also another big piece of the undemocratic puzzle: Even in areas where parliaments retain real power, they do a poor job of translating the views of the people into public policy.

Although elected by the people to represent their views, legislators have become increasingly insulated from the popular will.