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Accelerating Democracy

Accelerating Democracy: Transforming Governance Through Technology

John O. McGinnis
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 176
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  • Book Info
    Accelerating Democracy
    Book Description:

    Successful democracies throughout history--from ancient Athens to Britain on the cusp of the industrial age--have used the technology of their time to gather information for better governance. Our challenge is no different today, but it is more urgent because the accelerating pace of technological change creates potentially enormous dangers as well as benefits.Accelerating Democracyshows how to adapt democracy to new information technologies that can enhance political decision making and enable us to navigate the social rapids ahead.

    John O. McGinnis demonstrates how these new technologies combine to address a problem as old as democracy itself--how to help citizens better evaluate the consequences of their political choices. As society became more complex in the nineteenth century, social planning became a top-down enterprise delegated to experts and bureaucrats. Today, technology increasingly permits information to bubble up from below and filter through more dispersed and competitive sources. McGinnis explains how to use fast-evolving information technologies to more effectively analyze past public policy, bring unprecedented intensity of scrutiny to current policy proposals, and more accurately predict the results of future policy. But he argues that we can do so only if government keeps pace with technological change. For instance, it must revive federalism to permit different jurisdictions to test different policies so that their results can be evaluated, and it must legalize information markets to permit people to bet on what the consequences of a policy will be even before that policy is implemented.

    Accelerating Democracyreveals how we can achieve a democracy that is informed by expertise and social-scientific knowledge while shedding the arrogance and insularity of a technocracy.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4545-3
    Subjects: Political Science, Sociology, Law

Table of Contents

    (pp. 1-8)

    Most of us are caught up in the quickening whirl of technological change. As consumers we can readily recognize the benefits created by the quicker technological tempo—ever smarter phones, more effective medicines, and faster connections to those around us. We thrive as companies leapfrog one another to create the next new thing. We rarely pause, however, to consider what such technological progression means for our lives as citizens.

    Yet the central political problem of our time is how to adapt our venerable democracy to the acceleration of the information age. Modern technology creates a supply of new tools for...

  2. CHAPTER ONE The Ever Expanding Domain of Computation
    (pp. 9-24)

    The computer is now the fundamental machine of our age. Continuing exponential increases in computing power both propel the potentially cascading benefits and catastrophic threats that demand better governance and create the tools for better governance. The computer is the force behind most material technological advances as more and more fields from biotechnology to energy are brought within the domain of its digital power.¹ Advances in these material technologies will generate many benefits but also may create new dangers such as novel kinds of pollution and weapons.

    The rapid rise of computers likely reflects technological acceleration, a process by which...

  3. CHAPTER TWO Democracy, Consequences, and Social Knowledge
    (pp. 25-39)

    Democracy serves many functions. It helps capture the preferences of citizens, making the government responsive to what the public wants. Over time responsiveness has become a crucial source of legitimacy for government. It is not enough for a government to reflect the preferences of citizens, however; it has to be perceived as doing so. Thus, on Election Day the public display of the results of changing preferences is as important as the election results themselves. But there is a third, just as important but often neglected function of democracy: its capacity to assess and predict the consequences of social policies....

  4. CHAPTER THREE Experimenting with Democracy
    (pp. 40-59)

    Technological acceleration increases the capacity to measure the consequences of government action. The resulting social knowledge of which policies work can improve government performance and decrease social disagreement. Government itself can be a catalyst for increased social knowledge if government transforms itself into a better instrument for social learning by adopting rules that will better examine which government programs are successful. These include rules encouraging policy experimentation through decentralization and randomization, providing incentives for improved research practices, and making government data more transparent and accessible. The information age permits us to foster a more experimental politics.

    Empirical social science attempts...

  5. CHAPTER FOUR Unleashing Prediction Markets
    (pp. 60-76)

    Political prediction markets—markets that allow the public to speculate on election and policy outcomes—have the potential to improve the capacity of democracy to update on the facts in our day, just as the rise of the press improved its capacity in an earlier era.¹ These markets can elicit information about the likely effects of policies even before they are implemented from those who are most knowledgeable about their effects.

    Prediction markets temper three of the largest problems of politics. First, they offer a mechanism for overcoming what has been called the “basic public action problem” of collective decision...

  6. CHAPTER FIVE Distributing Information through Dispersed Media and Campaigns
    (pp. 77-93)

    Empirical investigation and prediction markets can generate substantial data about the likely effects of policy. But by themselves they cannot broadly distribute the data to the general public. Moreover, by themselves they cannot create debate about explanations of the relevant facts. Other information technology must be responsible for distributing this information and for creating platforms for debate. Fortunately, new information technology has also created a more dispersed media that has the capacity to bring a sharpened deliberation to the data and set the stage for a more intensive discussion of policy results in political campaigns.

    The most beneficial effect of...

  7. CHAPTER SIX Accelerating AI
    (pp. 94-108)

    Many different kinds of technologies, from nanotechnology to biotechnology, promise to dramatically change human life. But of all these potentially revolutionizing technologies, the most important for social governance is artificial intelligence (AI), because AI is an information technology. As a result, the development of machine intelligence can directly improve governance, because progress in AI can help in assessing policy consequences. More substantial machine intelligence can process data, generate hypotheses about the effects of past policy, and simulate the world to predict the effects of future policy. Thus, it is more important to formulate a correct policy toward AI than toward...

  8. CHAPTER SEVEN Regulation in an Age of Technological Acceleration
    (pp. 109-120)

    Modern government is largely administrative government. Congress, by legislation, delegates substantial power to executive agencies. These agencies then promulgate regulations on a wide variety of subjects, from pollution to banking, from consumer safety to pharmaceuticals. While Congress oversees and influences the content of these regulations by conducting hearings on agency performance, it rarely overturns them. Courts also defer to the decisions of agencies and overturn only those regulations that are outside the scope of Congress’s delegation or are not supported by evidence.

    Administrative government though agency regulation was itself a response to technological change. The rise of the administrative state...

  9. CHAPTER EIGHT Bias and Democracy
    (pp. 121-137)

    Social knowledge improves collective decision making only if new information changes minds. But internal bias presents an important obstacle to updating on the basis of external evidence of the world. Indeed, some political scientists and psychologists believe bias is so pervasive that little if any updating takes place in politics. If bias prevents more information from modifying electoral outcomes, better deployment of information technology and better information-eliciting rules will not help solve problems of governance.

    A host of biases infect political decision making. Nevertheless, even now these pervasive biases do not present an insuperable obstacle to democratic updating. The fundamental...

  10. CHAPTER NINE De-biasing Democracy
    (pp. 138-148)

    Bias remains a substantial impediment to improving policy on the basis of new information. Thus, reforms that constrain bias are an important element of accelerating democracy. Some of these reforms would build on the existing mechanisms of democracy like majority rule for electing candidates and responsive representation that already constrain bias. Other reforms would deploy new information technology to further constrain bias.

    Majority rule promotes updating on information in elections, because less partisan and more open-minded voters cast the decisive ballots to choose candidates for office. But partisan gerrymandering can reduce the influence of swing voters. Gerrymandering can also entrench...

  11. CONCLUSION The Past and Future of Information Politics
    (pp. 149-160)

    Today’s need to match social governance to technological change is but the latest chapter in a long story of political adaptations to material innovation. Improvement in social governance has tracked the improvement of the political information sphere—the sum of political institutions that facilitate the creation, distribution, and use of social knowledge. Improvements in the information sphere have in turn depended on technological innovation. In the information age, information can now be readily seen as a driving force of history, one that is probably more important than race, ethnicity, class, or religion.

    The history of the symbiosis of information, technology,...