JOHN TIRMAN: Welcome to the Starr Forum, on behalf of the Center for International Studies. I'm John Tirman. And tonight we have a remarkable subject and panelists to address the rather odious topic of, Is Democracy Dying?
Tonight, the panel will be moderated by Dean Melissa Nobles. I'll introduce her in a moment, but first I would like to bring you up to date on some future events that we're sponsoring.
One is next week on Tuesday with James Baker, who is a visiting Wilhelm Fellow at the Center on Artificial Intelligence at National Security. He's a very prominent national security attorney, and a judge of the US Court of Appeals of the Armed Forces. That's at 11:00 AM at the Center, at E40.
On March 15th, at 4:30, in Building 3, will be Azmat Khan, a journalist who wrote a remarkable piece in the New York Times Magazine a few weeks ago, on civilian casualties in the Iraq war. A truly incredible piece of research she did with the Anand Gopal, on how civilian casualties are miscounted and underappreciated. She will be here on March 15th. And I think she has been to Iraq since the article, so she'll have some new insights.
And then on March 20th, in E26, at 4:30, will be a Starr Forum on US-Russia relations-- with Carol Saivetz, Elizabeth Wood, Barry Posen, and Angela Stent.
All good events. I hope you'll be able to come. And we have a calendar on our site. You can check for these and future events. Tonight, we'll have some time for Q&A, and there are microphones up at the front. Please do line up behind the microphones because these are broadcast and recorded sessions for questions-- brief questions-- for the panelists.
And one other thing I would like to bring to your attention, and that is that we do have books available. Professor Mounk's book on The People Versus Democracy-- Why Our Freedom Is In Danger and How To Save It. And there will be a book signing down here after the event. So you can purchase copies of his book tonight, and I recommend it.
Melissa Nobles is the Kenan Sahin Dean of the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences-- Professor of Political Science here at MIT. And she has done a lot of research on various topics, but she has two books that I want to mention. One is Shades Of Citizenship-- Race and the Census in Modern Politics. And the second-- The Politics of Official Apologies from Cambridge University Press.
She's written and researched many other things, but tonight she's going to moderate. And I think it's appropriate, because this forum was her idea-- and a good one it is. So please help me welcome Melissa Nobles.
MELISSA NOBLES: Great. Thank you, John. Good evening everyone. Last Fall I was talking with John, and I was thinking-- I imagine as many of you all were thinking as we saw the election results, and began to see political developments in our country and across the world-- I watched with increasing alarm, and wondered, what was the fate of democracy?
I'm a political scientist, and so I'm trained to be not quite so alarmist. But I must say, I was and am quite fearful. And I thought, what a great thing to do, which would be to have a Starr Forum which gives us an opportunity to begin to think about this question that is now, I would say, probably occupying many of our fellow citizens here in this country, and, indeed, around the world.
Tonight we've assembled a group of people who are exceptionally qualified in their own way, to help us think about this issue. So I'm going to introduce them in order of presentation beginning from my left.
The first is Daron Acemoglu, my colleague. He is an Elizabeth and James Killian Professor of Economics, here at MIT. His areas of research include political economy, economic development and growth, human capital theory, growth theory, innovation, search theory, network economics, and learning.
His recent research focuses on the political, economic, and social causes of differences in economic development across societies, the factors affecting the institutional and political evolution of nations, and how technology impacts growth and distribution of resources, and is itself determined by economic and social incentives.
He has written many books and articles, including, most famously in a way, Why Nations Fail-- The Origins Of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty, coauthored with James Robinson, which was a New York Times bestseller in 2012.
Our second speaker is María Ramírez She's a Spanish reporter and entrepreneur who works in New York and Madrid. She writes about US politics for Univision, and co-founded Politibot, a chatbot that delivers messages about political developments in Spain, the rest of Europe, and the United States. She previously worked as a correspondent for the Spanish daily El Mundo, reporting primarily from New York and Brussels.
She later was part of the founding team of the startup El Español, that broke the world record for crowdfunding in journalism in 2015. She's the co-author of three books about US politics, and is currently studying how to develop better and personalized tools to reach an audience skeptical about media in the age of populism and fake news.
Our final panelist is Yascha Mounk. He's a lecturer on political theory at Harvard University's Government Department. He's also a postdoctoral fellow at the Transatlantic Academy of the German Marshall Fund, and a nonresident fellow at New America's Political Reform program.
His primary research interests lie in political theory and comparative politics. He is now working on the areas of crisis and liberal democracy. His papers on the rise of populism and the growing openness of citizens of democratic countries to authoritarian alternatives has been published by the Journal of Democracy and Foreign Affairs, among others. And as John mentioned, his book, Why Our Freedom Is In Danger, and How To Save It, is on sale. And so, after the talk, he'll be signing copies.
So with that, I'm going to turn it over to Daron.
DARON ACEMOGLU: --for being here. Is democracy dying? Well, I don't know the answer, but it's sure having a rough ride right now. And so, I think it's incumbent upon us to try to understand it.
I think there's certainly something going on, because it's an international trend. We're seeing democracy fall or become strained in many different countries, with somewhat different characteristics within the developed world, but also in the developing world-- from the Philippines, to Turkey, to Malaysia, and so on.
So what I want to do is-- at first anyway-- is focus on the US, because that's where some of the developments have been most striking. And many people in the room, of course, care about the US. And I think it's also emblematic of some of the challenges. And then we'll come back to the other countries a little later-- perhaps during the discussion time.
So I think the first thing to recognize is that democracy is facing some true challenges. And some of them, not all of them, but some of them are economic in nature. We are living in the midst of rapid economic change, and some of its consequences have been quite uplifting for at least some segment of the population. But also, the gains have been very unequally divided.
Since the late 1970s, for example, the wages of postgraduate workers in the United States has almost doubled. But during the same time period, if you look at male high school graduates, their wages have fallen in real terms by 20%.
During the same time period, we've seen big losses in manufacturing employment, which, of course, were the lifeblood of many cities and areas in the United States. In many cases, these are related quite directly to increased international trade, or off-shoring, which have taken some of these jobs to other countries. Or technological changes, which have automated some of the jobs in many of the manufacturing industries.
We've also seen a great concentration in many dimensions-- It seems like this microphone is-- I don't know whether you can hear me when the microphone goes. But we've also seen great concentration in many dimensions of economic activity, reflecting off the wider inequalities that have been created by these economic changes.
For example, the share of overall national income captured by the very, very wealthy, say for example, the wealthiest 0.1%-- one out of the 1,000-- has gone up from about 2.5% of national income, to over 11% over the last 30 years. The degree of economic concentration measured in other ways has also increased.
When the Gilded Age, the age of the robber barons, which forced US political system-- which was very lethargic at the time-- into action the largest five corporations at the time commanded 6% of GDP. Today, the largest five corporations market value is over 17%. So almost three times as much as the level of concentration that we saw about 100 years ago.
So what does all of this imply? Well, it implies that some people have been left behind. And I think, perhaps, even more challenging for the political system, for true reasons or otherwise, for quite a while, the people who were left out felt voiceless. So in the sense that a lot of the media did not, perhaps, fully reflect the plight of quite significant fractions of the population that were not benefiting from these changes, and were facing hardship because of the reallocation of jobs and other economic changes.
But it would also be a mistake, I think, in my opinion, to think that it's just about economic hardship. And that's the rest of my comments are going to focus on. So one puzzling feature, which will get us to think about this, is that if you expect that people-- in the manufacturing sector, especially-- but people with lower education, like high school graduates, who come from the lower parts of the income distribution are feeling hardship.
And if they're going to turn to a party to represent their interests-- populist or otherwise-- you would expect that to come from the center left or the left end of the spectrum. In the United States, that coalition has formed in the Republican Party, which is not renowned for its very dedicated defense of the less fortunate's economic prospects.
What has happened is that economic grievances have met with other perceived grievances around immigration and race, and they have found a home in the Republican Party. And this has created a very peculiar, but, perhaps, no less threatening-- more threatening-- coalition for the political developments in the United States.
So why has this coalition emerged? And what it implies are crucial questions for us to answer, if we want to understand the true challenges to democracy. And in that context, I think it's useful to go back in history and say, well, let's look at another episode in which there were similar economic hardships-- in fact, much more severe economic hardships-- and how did they play out?
And I think one that would come to people's mind naturally-- of course, again, the current hardships are nowhere to be compared to that-- but still an interesting comparison is the Great Depression. After all, didn't the German Wiemar Republic fall to a populism-tinged odious regime in the aftermath of the Great Depression? That's right. But I think the German experience is not indicative of everything that was possible, or everything that did happen.
At the same time as Germany disbanded its democracy and created a internationally murderous regime, in response to the same sort of economic hardships in Sweden, for example, we saw the birth of the social democratic model. So what distinguished Sweden relative to Germany-- I think there are several factors, and I don't have time to go into it-- but forgetting the root causes, but focusing on the process or the actual things that happened, is that a very different quality got formed in Sweden.
And a defining feature of that coalition-- which sometimes goes under the name of the Red-Green coalition, or the cow trade-- was that the Social Democratic Party of Sweden, which was very non-ideological by world standards of the 1930s-- it had totally shaken off its Marxist roots, or was not interested in any sort of revolutionary change-- not only became the voice of the people who were losing their jobs and facing big wage cuts in the industrial sector, but made the what people thought was impossible a reality by forming a coalition with farmers, who, at the time, were perceived by everybody to have diametrically opposed interests with workers. They didn't want high wages. They did not want industrial supports. They wanted price supports for agricultural products, which trade unions were very much against.
The US, by the way, is not much closer to Sweden than Germany. It did not implement the same degree of industrial policies and wage compression in the social democratic model, but it did also form a very different political coalition, with very different economic policies. And many of them were going quite similar to the Swedish direction, and that sort of helped with the burden of the Great Depression until they were reversed.
So I think, then, the question becomes, why is it that a very, very different collation is being formed today? And what does that imply for the future of US democracy? Or well, also European democracy, because you see similar coalition form in Britain.
And I think the first answer to be given is that there is some idiosyncrasy here. I think the identity and the structure of the parties is very important. There was nothing preordained about that sort of coalition being successful in the US-- or in the context of the Brexit, if the Brexit did not exist in the UK.
But I think there are also some structural factors. And I think some of these structural factors help explain these changes. But also, some of the structural factors are perhaps useful to bear in mind in putting this in context.
I think the most important structural factor is that the divergent economic consequences of recent technological and globalization changes have been felt along an axis that's differentiated by age and education. And I think that has created a much easier polarization in the current context, than when there wasn't a similar sort of confluence of age, education-type divisions in other periods.
So older, less educated, less centrally located people-- meaning away from the metropolis of the countries, or the major cities-- I think that has created a particular confluence in the US and in Europe, that makes this easy.
A second, in my opinion, even more important factor, is media. And I don't necessarily mean Facebook, Twitter, fake news, and all that. But I think there has been a much broader change in the ability of populist readers to exploit media. In some sense, you could say that populist-- authoritarian populist leaders, especially-- have discovered what the soft underbelly of liberal democracies-- or whatever those regimes you're going to call-- are.
And I say that, in part, because you see remarkable similarities between the strategies used for this purpose in many different parts. For example, in Turkey-- with somewhat different economic trajectory, very lower level of democratic achievement, but similar polarization-- the rise of Erdogan cannot be understood without his very successful-- his and his supporters-- very successful manipulation of the media, and gradual control of the media. Which you see in the US, and in some other instances.
The other important thing is the decline of manufacturing. I don't see the decline of manufacturing as the death knell of democracy, just because manufacturing naturally creates trade unions, and the trade unions are going to defend democracy. Certainly the role of trade unions in ushering in the Swedish system, and then monitoring it and supporting it, was very important.
But I don't think there's anything unique about trade unions. But I think whatever organization is going to replace trade unions as a vehicle for bottom-up participation-- which is so important for democracy-- has not been created yet. So in other words, it's not that without trade unions we are doomed, but we don't know what is going to replace trade unions. And trade unions have become weaker everywhere because of the decline of manufacturing-- their home base.
But against all of these things, I would like to point out one structural factor, which goes in the other direction. I think despite all of the media manipulation and all of these other threats, we live at a time when it's not that easy to take down democracy, precisely because there is much greater awareness internationally of human rights, civil rights, freedom of the press, and manipulations.
It doesn't work, especially for people who feel that they haven't benefited from democracy. But it does mean that there is going to be strong resistance against some of these moves. And we saw that after the election of Donald Trump in the United States, when there were a lot of protests and much greater mobilization, and the energy that some media outlets are bringing to the table at the moment-- which I think holds back many of the corrupt and repressive practices of the current government-- are actually part of that reflection.
So in ending this, I think the question is, what sorts of more pro-democracy coalitions are realistic? How can we make them happen? And what are the structural and international barriers to it? I think we can have some of that conversation during the discussion time, perhaps. Thank you.
MARÍA RAMÍREZ: I'm short. OK. I'm going to try to be an optimist, even though I'm European and a journalist-- so it's kind of a miracle. I'm going to start reading to you something from a memoir. Readers were writing me, accusing The Washington Post of ulterior motives, bad journalism, lack of patriotism, and all kinds of breaches of faith in our effort to get the news to the people.
It was a particularly lonely moment for us in the paper. This is Katherine Graham, the publisher from The Washington Post, and this is in her memoir. She's writing about Watergate just a few months before Richard Nixon was forced to resign. And in this memoir-- personal history-- there are many lessons. One of the lessons is perspective.
In fact, we usually think about Watergate-- those years-- as the golden age for journalism and trust in media. And it's true. If we look at the polls, the Gallup poll started in 1972, measuring trust in media. And it's probably the record as we know. At its peak, more than 70% of Americans say they trusted media. 70. Now the same poll shows around 40%.
We sometimes long for the past, but the truth is Katharine Graham was receiving these complaints when The Washington Post was doing this remarkable job in the 70s And the government was dismissing the scoops of what became an institutional crisis. Sounds familiar?
The thing is, it's easy to be nostalgic maybe about the past, but the truth is the struggle we're living in now is not so new, and maybe also not so impossible to conquer. Even if everything is more complex now, for just the way we consume news, the way that we deal with information, we have to consider also the good things.
When I started working in a newsroom in the late 90s, the contact with the audience was basically the list of crazy calls that someone would tell journalists, someone would call late at night to the newsroom, or would deliver a secret file in a suitcase-- rarely there was a secret file there-- and now everything has changed, in part, for the better. The audience is part of our daily job as journalists, and that's not a bad thing. It could be obviously tricky also for us reporters, but that's a good thing that the audience is part of our daily lives.
I have covered four presidential campaigns in the US, and many more in Europe. And I covered their last presidential campaign, and the first months of the Trump administration. And it was different-- really different. And, well, as a reporter I was really challenged by campaign officials, by the candidate, by his voters-- sometimes in a not very nice way. We were insulted constantly, daily, while we were doing our job.
I covered the campaign for Univision, so sometimes just the mention of my outlet would to provoke that Trump voters didn't want to talk to me, or would provoke that they would like give me long speeches about immigration-- usually long speeches I didn't ask for.
But it was really a struggle. For the first time I struggled just listening to voters enumerating lies. And I wondered, should I say something or should just smile and listen. And that's what we do. That's what you do as a reporter when you're talking to ordinary people-- you just smile, listen, smile, no matter what they say to you.
At the same time, my stories were read by a lot of people-- had more impact because they just simply had more readers. And that's a good thing. We reached people we really could not reach in the past. And you know that social media is a platform for hate, for harassment. But it could also be still a place where you can find sources, where you can double-check people's identities, and sometimes you even have a constructive conversation. So it's not all bad.
Perhaps the biggest change in society that we're seeing now, is because of a hashtag-- #metoo. Of course it could not exist if it were not for the months of reporting of three great journalists from The New York Times and The New Yorker. But the Times story, The New Yorker story, and others, could not have had that impact without the biggest readership ever because of their online presence, and maybe without that hashtag.
It's hard to imagine also how a group of brave, very articulate teenagers from a high school in Parkland would have had the power to actually confront politicians, confront companies, if it were not for the impact of their message on social media and on also on CNN-- just broadcast live and forever online.
So obviously print circulation is falling, and we journalists are very worried about it, and it has an impact on democracy. Not clear how are we going to make money. And especially for medium-sized outlays, for local outlets, it's very challenging. But meanwhile, there was never a time where more people read-- and have access, really-- to high-quality professional journalism. The New York Times has now 2.0 million subscribers online-- 2.6 million readers paying now. The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal have over a million.
And those are facts beyond polls, really. They're showing us there are new ways of consuming journalism. And I think one mistake sometimes we make, measuring the health of media-- the health of democracy-- is just looking at the old parameters. The public-- especially the younger people-- may not be into reading a copy of The New York Times every day. But many are listening, hopefully, the podcast The Daily, that didn't exist one year ago. And episodes from The Daily have been downloaded 200 million times. 200 million. That's a lot.
The same way, we cannot measure anymore political interest in terms of memberships to unions or two political parties. We need to come up with new ways to measure the relationship between the media and the audience. And people in the business sides are already doing that.
Also, about our job, I think the questions in the polls can be really tricky. Because if you really ask, do you trust the media? Probably you're going to get a low number. But if you ask, do you trust your media-- the outlet that you're actually listening, that you're actually reading-- you get a higher number. And just by asking a more concrete question like [AUDIO OUT] news about government officials, about reporting news accurately? If you ask the question this way you get a higher number, too. This is from Pew Research.
Beyond polls and subscriptions, we know how challenging it is to just bring the truth to a part of the population who is really becoming unwittingly the perfect target for propaganda, and with darker goals, sometimes, than just winning an election. We now have a lot of details about the Russian operation to discredit democracy in the US, and in Europe as well.
And well, here platforms as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter-- have really a big task ahead. And also news outlets. We struggle to get the business model right, and also to assert ourselves in this world that is fragmented, and confusing also for us. As reporters, the only way forward is doing our job without ulterior motives, with an ideal of fairness, and hopefully also distance that give us some perspective.
But there is also, I think, a share of responsibility for readers, for the audience, for you, if you care about keeping your democracy. A few days ago, at the Nieman Foundation for journalism at Harvard-- the neighbor-- we gave our annual prize to Elena Milashina. She's the journalist from Russia who uncovered the persecution against gays in Chechnya, and other really big important stories.
And she was telling us about how, when she started in the 90s, there were some sort of press freedom in Russia that's not there anymore. She said that freedom was given to the people, and later taken from them in the same quick manner. She said few people really care enough to fight for freedom, to just affirm the importance for a free press in her country.
Elena works in one of the few newspapers that are still allowed to do their job somehow-- the Novaya Gazeta-- but they are really an exception. So if you don't want press freedom to become [? out of session, ?] just support it. In the US, in most of Europe, we are lucky. I think we're in a better place still. But we need enough people to care about press freedom to keep it. It's about protest. It's about voting. It's about organizing. It's about subscribing. And also maybe about being careful of what you share, and where it come from.
As a journalist, as a citizen we have to [AUDIO OUT] propaganda that they are now big drivers of the conversation, but it really doesn't have to be like that. Facebook and Twitter, some regulation come in, and they are already suffering the backlash. Probably they cannot afford to be complacent anymore.
But as readers, essentially as journalists, I think we can do better, too. We can't give up the public sphere to trolls, or extremists, or representatives of authoritarian regimes. And I believe technology could help. There are some really nice experiments about this at the Media Lab, at MIT here. Ethan Zuckerman and Deb Roy are really trying to just show new ways to use the platforms to have healthier conversations.
And responsible platforms are needed, but also journalists, as me, to do the job, and really be very careful not to just get too obsessed with the shiny illusion of clicks. And also just be careful with the arrogance of believing that we have the monopoly of public opinion.
Journalists who focus on their mission to do a public service that sometimes is hard, but it's a public service that now is maybe more clear than ever. Support journalism is my message. Please just think before you share. Thank you.
YASCHA MOUNK: Since that microphone doesn't work, I'm going to ditch it and just stand here. Is democracy dying? That's a great title for an event and a panel. I'm born in 1982, [INAUDIBLE] And in my generation, that question would have seemed insane, right?
I mean, we knew that particular democracies could die, that particular countries may experience democratic breakdown, but everybody assumed-- not just Francis Fukuyama and The End Of History, which some people disagreed with, or didn't take seriously-- but a lot of people thought that there was a set of countries where democracy was safe.
So in countries where relatively poor democracy might collapse. We've seen over the course of last months, over the course of last year, real democratic reversal in Kenya-- which is tragic and important-- but that wouldn't have surprised political scientists in the 80s or 90s. Because democracies in countries like Kenya have always come and gone, because they were relatively poor.
We knew that there were authoritarian countries that didn't necessarily transition to democracy. So the fact that Saudi Arabia, the fact that China is not a democracy today, and doesn't seem like it's about to transition to democracy, wouldn't have surprised political scientists.
But they did look at the history of democratic regimes, and come to this one really striking observation, which is that once you've had a couple of changeovers of governments for free and fair elections, once you had a GDP per capita-- in today's terms-- of about $15,000, there weren't any examples of democracies dying.
In one famous phrase from literature, democracy had become the only game in town in those places. It had consolidated, and you could bet that it was going to continue. To ask whether or not it might die seemed like a silly question.
Well, I've been a little skeptical of that consensus for a while. There's some obvious reasons for that. The fact that trust in government institutions has kept going down. The fact that membership in traditional parties has kept going down. The fact that we have less and less voter turn out. There were lots of signs that might have made us think that the news is a little less rosy than people thought. But by and large, social scientists kept making this distinction between the legitimacy of particular governments, and the legitimacy of a political system in itself.
What they were saying is that perhaps people become more and more critical of this or that President or Prime Minister, but they're still as committed to the democratic system itself. So with a colleague, [INAUDIBLE], I started to look at what it would mean to continue to be the only game in town, and whether that is still the case.
So what we looked at was whether most people actually support democracy strongly, whether they were open to authoritarian alternatives to democracy, and to whether there are any politicians or political movements that actually violate the most basic rules and norms of a political system.
So on the first item, when you ask Americans who were born in the 1930s and 1940s, how important it is to them to live in a democracy. Over 2/3 say, absolutely important. When you ask millennials, born since 1980, less than 1/3 say that it's absolutely important to live in a democracy. People are even becoming more open to these authoritarian alternatives to democracy.
So when you ask about the most extreme form of alternative-- military rule-- 20 years ago 1 in 16 Americans said that army rule was a good system of government, now it's 1 in 6. When you look at young and affluent Americans, it was 6% 20 years ago, now it's 35%-- a nearly six-fold increase.
And we see similar figures in a lot of other countries. So looking at a question like, whether or not you like a strongman ruler who doesn't have to bother with Parliament and elections, not as clear an indicator of support for authoritarian rule, but quite clearly not a deeply democratic system.
In Germany 20 years ago, 16% of people said yes to that-- now it's 33%. In France and the United Kingdom it was 25%, and it's now grown to 50% of people who would like a strongman leader who doesn't have to bother with Parliament and elections. So clearly something is going on. People aren't as confident in the political system, as sure that it delivers for them.
But I think the third part is most important, because the third part that we see playing out in this country at the moment, that we see in the rise of authoritarian strongmen in countries like Poland, and Hungary, and Turkey, and the Philippines, and India, and Israel, and that we start to see in Western Europe, where most of those kinds of figures are not yet in power, but are getting more and more share of the vote.
And that is politicians and parties that don't accept the most basic rules of the democratic system. You have to accept that we might have deep political disagreements with each other, but I think it's incredibly important that my side wins and not your side. That you are completely wrong about politics, and also you're an idiot. All of that is fine. That's part of normal politics.
But at the same time, I have to accept that we settle those differences through elections. And that if you win the election, I can live-- however much of an idiot you may be-- I can live with you being in power for four or five years. And I accept that you are a legitimate part of the political system, but though you're wrong about the things that matter, you, too, are a fellow citizen of mine who's patriotic enough, who's democratic enough, that I don't have to be afraid of you winning power.
But what we've been seeing is the rise of populism. And some people don't want to use that term because they think it's too nebulous. And I see why. There are populists who are very right-wing economically, and populists who are very left-wing economically. There's populists like Donald Trump, who doesn't seem to be too fond of Muslims. But there's also populists like Recep Erdogan, who doesn't seem to be too fond of anybody who isn't a Muslim.
So what do all of these different populists have in common? Well, what they have in common is a basic political vocabulary and political imagination, that precisely leads them to violate the most basic rules and norms of a political system.
What populists say, essentially, is that the only reason we have any political problems is that the elites are corrupt, that they're self-serving, that they care more about ethnic, or religious, or sexual minorities, or about foreigners, than they care about people like you and me. And that therefore, I, the populist, will come and solve all your problems. Because I actually speak for the people. I actually understand the commonsense solutions that everybody gets, other than the corrupt politicians. And so, I'm going to go and sweep aside the political class and solve everything.
Now, there's a few problems with that. The first problem is that politics is actually quite complicated. So once populists get elected, they can't deliver on all of their promises. They have to say, who knew that things could be so complicated? Who knew that health care could be so complicated? Who knew the Middle East could be so complicated?
But, of course, they don't want to admit that they were lying all along. That it was all their own fault, and so they start to blame. And this is where the second key component of populism comes in. They claim that only they are loyal. Only they truly belong to the people.
And so why can't they deliver on their promises? Because judges stop them from doing what they need to do, and they are enemies of the people. Because the opposition is stopping them from doing what they want to do, and they are traitors. Because the press keeps criticizing them in unfair ways, and they're all lies. And so on and so forth.
And so, what you see is a process by which populists start to go against one key element of our political system-- because our system isn't just democracy but has to translate popular views and public policies-- it's also a liberal democracy, which is to say that it needs the separation of powers for rule of law, for protection of individual and minority rights in order to function.
So with popular support, in a sense in a democratic way, you see populists in countries like Poland and Hungary abolish the independence of a judiciary, cripple the media by turning state media into propaganda outlets, and forcing private media either to be compliant or to sell their ownership stakes to allies of a regime. You see them colonizing independent institutions like electoral commissions.
Now, all of this is a democratic element, because it often allows these populists to put in place policies that actually are quite popular in parts of the population. In Switzerland, one of the quintessential elements of democracy was a referendum which banned the building of minarets in the country. This was popular. 60% of the Swiss voted for it. But as a result, the Swiss constitution now reads, and I quote-- There's freedom of religion in Switzerland. The building of minaret is forbidden.
Took a little second there. So it goes against the rights of minorities, of individuals, it violates some of the most basic parts of our political system. But over time, it becomes anti-democratic as well, because you actually need those independent institutions, you need that critical media, you need an electoral commission that isn't staffed by the cronies of the Prime Minister, in order to have free and fair elections.
And so what we're seeing in a country like Hungry now, for example, is that we have elections in a couple of months which aren't free and fair. Because the electoral commission, which is staffed by the cronies of Viktor Orbán has given giant fines to all of the opposition parties, to basically take all of the funding away.
And the only party that's left able to campaign is the party of Viktor Orbán-- the Fidesz party. So the democratic energy-- the claim to be standing for the people-- starts to be turned against the political system itself. And democratically-elected strongmen make it impossible for the people to oust them by democratic vote.
Now the big question is whether this is just happening in relatively recent democracies-- in democracies that are just about around the $15,000-mark of GDP per capita, but aren't at $35-, $40-, $45,000 dollars-- or whether it could happen here. Whether it could happen in the United States, and Germany, and France, and so on and so forth. And that's an open question. We don't know yet. We don't have the historical precedent to see.
But I just want to say two words of caution here. The first is that political scientists who study countries like Poland and Hungary had concluded that they were consolidated as recently as 5 or 10 years ago. They thought Poland and Hungary have done so well. They are the prime examples of transition from communism to democracy. They are now consolidated. We no longer have to worry about them.
Well, five or 10 years later, the world looks very different. And we're seeing some of the mechanisms that were happening those countries starting to play out in the United States. We are seeing a state Republican Party in North Carolina say, we narrowly lose the gubernatorial elections, so we're going to rewrite the job description of a governor in order to make sure he can't effectively rule.
We are seeing somebody elected to the highest office in this country, even though he said that he would keep voters in suspense about whether he would accept the outcome of the election, and called on his main political adversary to be jailed. We are seeing attacks on the very norms and rules that we need in order for liberal democracy to be stable.
I just want to end on a very quick story by one of my favorite philosophers, Bertrand Russell, who was telling a story about a chicken on a farm. And the chicken lived very happily. It was a nice farm. He got to run around in the kind of way that our chickens don't-- unless you all eat organic, which you probably do.
But all the other animals were saying, be careful. The farmer only seems nice. One day, he's going to come and wring your neck. And the chicken says, what are you talking about? He's always nice to me. He always comes and feeds me. Why would he suddenly do something different? Well, as Russell says in his nice, dry wit-- one day, the farmer does come to wring the chicken's neck, showing that more sophisticated views as to the uniformity of causation would have been to the chicken's benefit.
What does this chicken story tell us? Well, I think we should ask the chicken a question, which is to say, what were the scope conditions-- what were the background conditions-- that made the farmer act in one way as long as the chicken was too thin to be taken to the market, and in another way once it was thick enough to bring in a good price. Those questions apply to democracy as well.
We have an astounding record of democratic stability, which is one of the most striking findings of social science in the past decades. But what are the conditions that held during that time period, that no longer hold? In my book I essentially argue that there's three things, at least, that were true. That you had a very rapid increase in living standards for average citizens. In the United States it doubled from 1945 to 1960, from 1960 to 1985. And that's no longer the case. It's now stagnant.
You had either mono-ethnic democracies, or democracies that were multi-ethnic, like in the United States, that had a strict racial hierarchy. Thankfully, we are overcoming those. But we don't yet know what the dynamics of an equal multi-ethnic democracy, and the rebellion-- the resentment against it-- in parts of the population are.
And then you have the rise of social media, which makes it much more difficult for gatekeepers to control the system. And the honest answer is no political scientist, no economist, no social scientist can tell you, whether we now live in circumstances where democracy might die, because we're like the chicken who doesn't understand the entire system. But what we can do is try to identify via analogies, and try to go against the things that are obvious factors leading towards instability. Thank you.
MELISSA NOBLES: Great. Thank you. That was-- I don't know whether to be happy or scared. Scared mostly. Right.
I'm going to take a couple of minutes to ask a few questions of our panelists, to get a conversation going between them, before opening up to you all. So we have roughly half an hour, so I don't expect this part will take too long. Because I know there are tons of questions, and we certainly want to hear from you all.
So Yascha, you seem to suggest that we really don't know what yet is going to happen. We're in a particular moment. But I would imagine for those of us in the audience-- and myself included-- we'd like to know that there's something that we can do. So María told a story that the journalists are playing a pretty important role. And Daron gave us four issues-- three of which were negatives, and one was a positive.
So, I wonder, what is it that-- Obviously it's institutions that would seem to be a pretty important part of this-- maintaining institutions. Who has that role? Is it entirely up to the politicians themselves? Or what roles do citizens have in perhaps trying to keep some adherence to norms? Because at the end of the day, it's the norms that seem to be eroding. So each one of you might take a swat at that. Whichever order.
YASCHA MOUNK: I guess I can start. I think we really have to distinguish between tactical things we can do, and strategic things we can do.
MELISSA NOBLES: Sure.
YASCHA MOUNK: Right? So tactically, in countries where populists aren't yet in power, you have to do whatever you can to keep them out of power. And there's things you can do about that. You can campaign for, and join traditional political parties. Even when they're imperfect, you can push them to campaign more effectively.
You can make sure that you explain your ideological differences to the populace very clearly, but you don't just look down on them. I think too often the instinct is just to say, well, you guys are idiots anyway. And why am I even going to talk to you? And that doesn't work very well. There's a great article about Venezuela, and basically Venezuelan opposition for a long time had said, that guy? Chavez? Are you serious? That guy? To people to whom those political figures are appealing, that's not a very effective way of persuading them.
So you have to take their concerns seriously. You have to argue with them seriously. But from an obvious position of ideological difference. So there's a lot of things you can do tactically. But I didn't think that the tactical things are going to be enough.
So I think that when you see that populism has been rising for 25, 30 years-- and it's been rising in political contexts that are so dissimilar to each other-- then obviously you've got to actually run a good campaign. Frankly, you've got to make sure that you've got to run a better campaign than Democrats ran in 2016.
But you also need to counteract the structural drivers of populism. Because if you don't do that, your task is going to keep getting more and more difficult from election cycle to election cycle. We're now at a stage we're populists are within striking distance of winning when the establishment parties screw up. OK, so don't screw up in the next election. That's important. But also make sure that you actually counteract the drivers of this, so that your position doesn't become more and more difficult.
So for me that means that you need to show people that globalization is good, and free trade is good, and all of those things are good. But you can actually steer these things in such a way that average citizens feel like they can control their lives, and they're actually getting wealthier. They're actually getting more affluent than their parents.
I think you've got to find a way of modeling a multi-ethnic society that fights proudly and without compromise against discrimination, against racism. But that also emphasizes a common weave, something which everybody can be included-- including members of a majority group-- and which we can see what unites us rather than divides us.
And thirdly, I think on social media and so on, the response isn't to censor, it's to fight in a much more proactive way, for our most basic political values. I don't think that in high school we teach civics very much anymore. And if we do, it's either to have people learn dates off by heart, or criticize everything that's wrong with our system.
There's lots of things that are wrong that are wrong with out system, that we should fight to improve, but we also need to make sure-- as political thinkers from Plato to Aristotle, and from Machiavelli to Rousseau have realized-- and to the founding fathers-- we need to fight to transmit our political values from one generation to the next. And that means actually making a case for what's good in our system as well.
I think that's probably the most controversial thing to say in a university. Because that's not how political scientists, that's not how people in the humanities think of our educational role and task. But I think that is part of what we should be doing.
MARÍA RAMÍREZ: Well, I think that probably you have to differentiate the country that you're talking about. And if we're talking about the US and Western Europe-- where we have really a system of check and balance-- even if obviously sometimes it's hard to keep seeing the good things when you have a President that is so against the basic rules, but we still have this system.
So I think it comes to individuals sometimes in key positions. And as we were talking about Watergate-- there the system work, because particular individuals work, and did their job in the right way. As now we have Mueller in the investigation of the Russia interference in the US election. Something so particular like an individual could play a role. And, at the same time, thinking about the future, definitely just a better candidate for the Democratic Party would probably work better.
And as for journalists, it's the same. Sometimes it's really the job of particular journalists to just try to listen more, try maybe to understand what's going on in certain areas of the country better. And I would definitely say that it really is up to each individual to be really careful about what you share, as I said before, and what you do online. Because it really matters that the good conversation, and the democratic control of the conversation, is good for us.
We don't have the problem in the US or in Europe of censorship mostly, but we have a problem of overcrowding of information. So when there is too much information, it could be darkness as well, because it's too much information. It's hard to distinguish. But individuals sometimes.
DARON ACEMOGLU: So, before Donald Trump's presidency started, I wrote an article in Foreign Policy, in which I argued that we were fooling ourselves when we felt that the US had strong checks and balances that would protect democracy. They are not that strong, and they weren't designed to protect democracy in the first place.
And as with all other countries, the only defense of democracy is really society itself. Civil society people, organizations of civil society. In the United States, the President has sweeping powers over the bureaucracy. So the bureaucratic checks that might exist in some other countries are absent.
The separation of powers is not really designed to check the President in a very effective way-- especially as we have seen with the current presidency-- that it's very easy for the President to buy off Congress, especially when they are from the same party. And separation of powers between federal and state in the US, was designed not for checking this type of thing, but was designed for cementing in the privileges of the Southern elite, especially, over their slave populations, mostly.
So I think the same situation really continues. The reason why today, perhaps, American democracy is standing, is because people have actually mobilized via media, via various different organizations, and people's general willingness to go and vote, and put pressure on their representatives.
I think there is some chance for that to continue, and the US democracy to actually come out of this very dark chapter stronger than ever. But we have so many examples where this hasn't happened, because societal mobilization is not easy to maintain. It's not that effective when various different methods can be used.
I think nobody foresaw how badly Venezuelan system would go. Nobody foresaw how quickly Turkey would completely surrender any sort of pretension to freedom of expression, checks over presidential power, criminal behavior in the highest levels, complete control of the bureaucracy. Russia, the same thing. And what's going on in the Philippines at the moment.
So of course US starts with stronger societal mobilization-- in some dimensions in which its judiciary is more independent-- but we cannot take any of that for granted.
MELISSA NOBLES: Great. Thank you. So we have about 25 minutes, and I think it's probably best opening up to you all. There are microphones on both ends. May I ask the questions, not comments? You all are laughing. You know what I mean. And we're going to alternate on each side. So, you first.
AUDIENCE: So with the caveat that tactics aren't as effective as strategic change, do you think the adoption of rank choice voting would be an effective tactic in increasing faith in the democratic system?
YASCHA MOUNK: So I'm going to throw down here, because he's really one of the great contemporary theorists of the importance of institutions. And what strikes me about the rise of populism over the past 25 or 30 years, is how little it seems to have to do with institutions.
Now, it's true that the form that populism takes in different countries is shaped by institutions. So you see a slow rise of populist parties in proportional representation systems, which now really become dominant in many countries.
In the next state elections in Germany and Saxony, it's unlikely that the democratic forces are going to have a majority. So it can really ruin political systems in that way. But of course, systems of [INAUDIBLE], which for a long time, people thought were more resistant to a populist rise. Because there's a wasted vote problem, and it's very difficult to-- they were the ones that actually gave way first. Both in the United States-- where basically a populist takeover of the Republican Party-- and in Britain for a referendum, and so on.
So I think ranked choice voting makes a ton of sense. I'm absolutely in favor of it. But when I look around the world, I think ultimately, institutional solutions aren't going to work. It has to be about making the deeper economic and societal changes that recommit people to democracy, because there is no institutional firewall that's going to work when people lose their trust in the system.
AUDIENCE: Mr. Mounk, you mentioned Donald Trump saying during the campaign that he would accept the election results if he won, implying that he wouldn't if he did not. Now, presumably if there were any directions or understanding between him and Russians, it would have been, don't concede whatever. And now he will be up for re-election, and it may very well be that if he loses, he does not concede, and that he appeals even for military support.
He is planning this large military parade, and presumably, he will ask for direct loyalty of the military rank and file addressing it. What do you think popular mobilization can do facing these threats?
YASCHA MOUNK: I mean it's difficult to speculate about what would have happened in 2016 if Trump had lost. I think the possibility that he would have cast serious doubt on the legitimacy of the outcome is real, especially since he actually cast doubt on the legitimacy of the outcome, even though he won. And isn't it frightening to think about what might happen in 2020?
So there's two things that could, in principle, happen. One is prior, which is that if he manages to establish political control over the FBI, he could not only avoid prosecution of people on his own side, but encourage prosecution of people on the other side, which could be quite destructive. And absolutely, it's imaginable that he would end up saying that the election is not legitimate.
Now, I don't think that by 2020-- even if it's a close run election-- he would have enough control of the media, of the Supreme Court, and thereby also of opinion the armed forces-- which are very conscious of a duty to the Constitution-- to make people follow that.
What he could do is to turn 20- 25% of Americans into a position where they don't think the new President is legitimate, and they are in open rebellion against-- not open rebellion in terms of civil war-- but street protests, and some amount of chaos against the new government. I don't think that he would be able to keep his adversary from being seated as President of United States. He would actually have to cede power.
But what you see when you look around the world is that one electoral cycle in the opposition nearly always retains its power of ousting strongman leaders. Two election cycles in, three electoral cycles in-- that's no longer possible. In the case of Venezuela, probably if the opposition had won the first electoral contest after he took power, they would have been able to oust him. At this point, it's very clear that that's no longer possible.
So I think that to preserve democracy it's crucial to rid people who don't accept the basic rules and norms from power. I think he will retain an ability to do that in 2020. If populists like Trump, or of Trump's stripe, remained in power for 8 to 12 or 16 years, then I would very much worry about our ability to do that.
DARON ACEMOGLU: I don't disagree with any of that. But Chavez did lose a referendum very badly, but then still went about doing exactly the same things he wanted to do in the referendum
YASCHA MOUNK: Hmm. That's a good point.
AUDIENCE: So democracy is dying, or on the decline. But it seems to me like it wasn't all that strong to begin with-- typical state power with a thin democratic mask. But I do think that there are some ways to strengthen it. I think of fix gerrymandering, expand voting rights, ballot initiatives. So my question is-- you touched on this a bit pessimistically-- do you think there are policy solutions? And what do you think the most likely to pass are?
DARON ACEMOGLU: Actually, I don't know which ones are more likely to pass. I think that's a very complex thing, because it depends on the judiciary as well. But you've already pointed out. I would have selected three things for the US.
One is reverse gerrymandering. I think the checks and balances would definitely work much better without that. Limit money in politics. Not just campaign contributions, which I think is the tip of the iceberg, but really lobbying. And then third is actually reduce political appointments in civil service. I think there has to be a balance between not letting the bureaucracy go run amok but the US system-- and I think that's exactly what we are seeing a lot of the damage being done in the Trump presidency, is because the President has too much power in making appointments many, many of the top jobs in civil service.
AUDIENCE: Professor Acemoglu, you were speaking near the end of your talk about how the decline of manufacturing, and the simultaneous decline of trade unions is something that is causing democracy to decline. And you left us with the question of, what coalitions and groups are going to support democracy now? And I was wondering if you have some kind of answer to that?
DARON ACEMOGLU: That's a great question. Unfortunately, I don't have a very clear answer. But what's distinctive, in my opinion, about trade unions, wasn't so much that they had an ideological bent, which they did for most of the 20th century-- that actually sometimes worked against them. And it's not that they had sometimes a very narrow economic interest. That also sometimes complicated things within the US business unions. It's just that they created a natural organizational nexus.
And I think what needs to be created is a natural organizational nexus. And what was great about trade unions is that people came together for other things, like their economic interests, or their more narrow interests. But that then acted as a forum for broader political participation. So how can you create something such that Uber drivers, and people who are operating phones, and who are writing software-- all of them could come together in a natural forum, and that would easily translate into a political voice.
So one view that comes from political scientists is about these associations. That's what, for instance, the Bowling Alone book of Putnam claimed-- that bowling clubs and chess clubs, and they're going to naturally do it. But I think if you look at history, it doesn't seem that easy.
Germany, when it fell to the Nazi party, had the most vibrant clubs ever. But they were very polarized. So they did not bring different people together to create some sort of front to defend democratic institutions. On the contrary, many of those went hook, line, and sinker to the Nazi side. So I think it's a complex question, but those are questions we need to contemplate. Thank you.
AUDIENCE: Thank you.
AUDIENCE: Hi. In terms of journalism, my question has to do with the fact that I honestly have to watch five different national news organizations just to figure out what I think is the truth. So you mentioned how there is progress in terms of lawmakers with Twitter, Facebook, all those, but what is being done in journalism schools, and perhaps lawmakers as well, to clean up everything from CNN, to Fox News, to the whole national gamut-- because my concern is, when I watch any of them, I'm not getting an objective, "These are the facts on both sides."
I get certain facts, and then the commentator's perspective. And I can appreciate it's for sound bites-- get your audience in, make your money from your dollars, but a democracy works when people are educated. And we need the media. So how do we make that more robust?
MARÍA RAMÍREZ: Yeah. Thank you. Well, I think you have to distinguish maybe between 24-hour cable news-- which, as you say, unfortunately is mostly sound bites and commentary, usually, more than facts-- because they have to fill 24 hours of entertainment. In the end, TV's a lot about entertainment.
But I think that's different from the newspapers, or other ways to tell stories, that are more focused on news. So I really would say, if you read The New York Times or The Washington Post, or you listen to podcasts, you could probably have very clear picture of what's going on. Because they have at least a clear distinction, that's as it should be, between opinion and news. And I feel that TV is a lot about opinion. So obviously, with opinion you get lost.
AUDIENCE: I appreciate what you're saying. Somebody once told me, it's all about entertainment in America. We've got a reality show President, because it's all about entertainment. And once we get media to clean up their entertainment, maybe we'll get some real decisions, so--
AUDIENCE: Good evening. So a lot of our media is coming through our new high tech-- the Google, and Facebook, and Twitter. And what worries me is you look at a lot of the high-tech world, and it's leaning more and more towards libertarianism. And I'm not exactly sure how that plays into democracy. Is that a populism movement? Is it a variation of democracy? Or is it something that is a corrupting factor?
MARÍA RAMÍREZ: Well, I think the relationship with the platforms is probably going to change for news outlets. And Facebook, particularly, has seen a very open and strong campaign to try to show that they are OK, they're still worried about democracy. And it's a challenge for them, because obviously they've been a platform for propaganda. And they way the platform works, it really awards the more extreme content-- sometimes really lies, inventions-- and sometimes very extreme views, that may be based on facts, but they just spur controversy.
So I think probably there's going to be regulation for them. Something is coming, and they are particularly worried about the backlash, too. So yeah, I guess them dream with this libertarian world where there are no rules, they can just be outside any control, and some how thing would work. And obviously it hasn't. So they are worried, because in the end, Facebook and other platforms really depend on the network effect, just everyone using the thing. So if there is really a backlash, they are going to suffer.
In Europe, there's been regulation already, and there's going to be more. And well, we'll see what happens here. But also Congress is looking into it. It's even looking into ways maybe of allowing the media companies to come together without violating the anti-trust laws, and really dealing with Facebook as a blog. So I think that something is going to change.
MELISSA NOBLES: So we've got about nine minutes or so. In the interest of time, we'll collect your three questions, and then we'll leave it to the panelists.
AUDIENCE: OK. So my question is, we're in a big election year really this year. Every seat in the House of Representatives is up. And there is a lot of unrest in the country, and a lot of different directions. Do you think it's possible that there could be a change this year if both the House and the Senate come really close to equality on both sides, and decisions actually have to be discussed?
AUDIENCE: So my question is, you discussed a number of the problems that I've observed related to this. So we have seen a decrease in popularity of democracy, and support for democracy. We have seen reduced trust in the population about news media. It would be interesting if you could talk-- because we have not discussed this-- as to why is this happening? What are the underlying conditions that are causing this decrease in trust in democracy, decrease in trust of news media?
Because what you describe are essentially the symptoms of the disease. As long as we don't understand what are the underlying causes, I feel like there is no hope of fixing those, right? So I'd be very interested to hear your opinions.
AUDIENCE: So to kind of return to the question that you just answered, what do you think is the role of algorithms that are serving you this news? Because you've been saying, oh, be careful what you share-- which I completely agree with. But when so many people are sharing so much, and the incentive for something like Facebook is to keep you reading, how do you balance that with high quality journalism?
MELISSA NOBLES: Thank you. So the three questions are-- Is change possible this year in the coming up Senatorial and House of Representatives elections? What explains the decrease in trust in both media and democracy? And, what is the role of algorithms? So have at it folks.
DARON ACEMOGLU: I can say something to the first two. On the first, I think this is really about societal mobilization. If you look at the numbers-- if young people turned out for the election at the same rate as older Americans had done, then the election outcome would have been very different. So given that midterm elections are not a very high turnout time, this really is whether society feels mobilized enough to turn out, or whether the same outcome is going to occur.
Of course, if the balance of power in Congress changes, that will have very transformative effects. Then people who say that, we never were worried about democracy dying, we'll say, you see? We were right. But I think it will be because of the interaction, the interplay of institutions, and societal mobilization.
In terms of the factors, I would say, really there are three things that are going on. One is economic trends. The other is a juxtaposition of that with the racial and other problems of US society. And then the third is, as Yascha also mentioned, is a general decline in trust in institutions.
Just to illustrate that, let me mention two pieces of work. There's a very interesting dissertation from one of my students in economics. And he looks at the effects of immigration changes in the first half of the 20th century in the United States, with World War I and the quota system.
And his results suggest that immigrants really benefited Native Americans, because they really affected what types of jobs were available to Americans, and that lead to higher employment and wages. But despite that, there was a huge backlash-- especially against Catholic, southern European, and different immigrants-- which fueled the Ku Klux Klan, fueled a much stronger rise of the Republican-- sometimes Republican, sometimes Democrat-- extremist candidates. Huge declines in redistribution in cities-- So a big political response, despite the fact that people were economically benefiting. So I think in the US context, without understanding grace, without understanding attitudes to immigration, we cannot put all of this together.
And then the final one is about trust in government. The inequality trends that I've been talking about-- the destruction of employment-- that has been going on for two and a half decades before the financial crisis. But it really exploded with the Tea Party and it's aftermath-- after the financial crisis. Because the financial crisis crystallized people's distrust of government in a very sharp way. So I think it's interaction of these things that's really creating the fault lines for the US.
MELISSA NOBLES: Great. You all want to add anything or answer any of the questions? The three?
MARÍA RAMÍREZ: I can talk about algorithms.
MELISSA NOBLES: OK.
MARÍA RAMÍREZ: Actually talking to Facebook engineerings, they have trouble with their own algorithm, because the way they are built now, they don't know exactly what happened when you just launched the thing. So it is clearly very tricky. And maybe because of that, they are trying to build a new system of what they called trusted outlets, where it's going to be probably legacy media and local outlets that they consider especially valuable. And they're going to try to promote those.
Still it's not clear how are they going to choose those outlets, and I'm sure it's going to be controversial, because most of those outlets are going to be mainstream media. But that's their response, about an algorithm that is just impossible even for them to actually figure out. So they say that what you read is what you get. If you read better things, you would get better things. So I would say read great things, and also outside Facebook. Because that's the only way that you are just by yourself, out of control of this algorithm.
YASCHA MOUNK: So I'd like to just add a couple of things. And the first is that I do think there's a very real chance of a democratic wave in the midterm elections. There is, thankfully, a lot of energy. Daron is absolutely right to say that constitutions can't defend themselves, but people can defend them.
And so I think it's absolutely crucial that at least the House or the Senate-- ideally both, but at least one of the two-- flips back, so that we have some real control. It's become very clear that congressional GOP is not willing to exercise that control, so we need the Democratic Party to win back one of the houses of Congress, and that would do a lot to check the authoritarian tendencies in the administration.
I think more broadly, if you look at the 2016 election, one way of understanding it was as a competition between radical extremist politics of change, and the moderate politics of the status quo. And what you saw is that under those circumstances some people-- a lot of people-- are willing to go for the extremist politics of change. You can conclude from that that all Americans are extremists-- or at least 50% of them, or 47%.
I don't think that's the right conclusion. I think the right conclusion is that they really want the change, and they really want the promise of a better system. And so what you have to do, if you want more moderate politics to succeed, is to show how it can actually deliver for people. And that speaks a little bit to the question about the causes. People don't feel like the government is delivering for them at the moment. Because, frankly, it's not delivering very well for them.
And you can have solutions to that that are not extremist ideologically, but that would actually work. And I think, not just in the United States, but also in a lot of European countries, that's what moderate parties need to do.
But in the meanwhile, there's a lot for individuals to do. Because I know that the question was how democracies die-- I'm sorry the question was--
MELISSA NOBLES: Is Democracy dying.
YASCHA MOUNK: This is a very good book by some colleagues of mine. Is Democracy Dying? And we had one semi-optimistic and two very pessimistic answers. So I want to say something optimistic, which is that it is up to us to make sure that democracy doesn't die. And there are things we can do. And I think if you listen carefully today, you'll have a whole bunch of ideas about what you can do. And if you disagree with all of us, then you have your own ideas about what we can do.
And I went to a talk a few months ago by Amos Oz-- the great novelist-- and he had this very nice metaphor, where he said that it was a huge fire that's burning. And it can feel very hopeless. Because all we do is we have a little glass of water in our hand, and that glass of water sure isn't going to extinguish that huge fire. But there's a lot of us in this room. And if we all take our own glass of water-- or our own bottles of water that I see lying around this room-- and we go to the fire, then together we might just be able to extinguish it.
So I think that if this event has helped in anything, it's hopefully to have made people reflect a little bit about what you yourself can actually do. And there are a ton of things that we can cumulatively do. So I can't tell you whether or not democracy is dying. I can tell you that there's a real risk that it might be. But thankfully, we retain some agency. And we especially retain collective agency. We still retain freedoms that people in Russia, and Turkey, and Venezuela no longer have.
So let's use it. And if we do, then I'm pretty optimistic.
MELISSA NOBLES: That's a perfect way to end. It really is. Thank you.