Arriaga: Democracy Does Not Live by Tech Alone

Manuel Arriaga‘s Foreign Policy magazine article is a well-aimed, much needed corrective to the techno-progressivist formula of popular political theory:

Democracy Does Not Live by Tech Alone

Democracy is in crisis — and more apps won’t save it. Instead, bring decision-making back to the people.

Enthusiasm for reforming our democracies has been gaining momentum. From the pages of FP to the colorful criticisms of comedian Russell Brand, it is evident that a long-overdue public conversation on this topic is finally getting started.

There is no lack of proposals. For example, in their recent FP piece, John Boik and colleagues focus on decentralized, emergent, tech-driven solutions such as participatory budgeting, local currency systems, and open government. They are confident that such innovations have a good chance of “spreading virally” and bringing about major change. Internet-based solutions, in particular, have captured our collective imagination. From Pia Mancini’s blockbuster TED presentation to New Scientist‘s recent coverage of “digital democracy,” we’re eager to believe that smartphone apps and novel online platforms hold the key to reinventing our way of governance. This seems only natural: after all, the same technologies have already radically reconfigured large swaths of our daily lives.

To put it bluntly, I believe that focusing on innovations of this sort is a dangerous distraction. Continue reading

Manuel Arriaga: Rebooting Democracy

A review of Manuel Arriaga’s Rebooting Democracy: a citizen’s guide to reinventing politics

Rebooting Democracy is a short and enjoyable book (available at Amazon; the first 50 pages are available online). Its introduction explicitly positions it as being motivated by the sentiments of the Occupy protests and the author’s proposals as responding to those sentiments. Like the Occupy protests Arriaga’s message is to a considerable extent anti-electoral:

[V]oting out one politician or party to bring in a different one will not solve our problems. Time has made it clear that this is not merely an issue of casting. If the play stinks, replacing the actors will not make it any better.

The first two chapters present an explanation of why the Western electoral system does not serve “us”. Arriaga summarizes his explanation with the following two points:

1) We have delegated power to the political class and hardly supervise it.

2) As voters, we are condemned to unreflective and easy-to-influence decision-making. Even if we were inclined to effectively supervise politicians, this would severely limit our ability to do so.

Continue reading