Escaping a democratic recession - RSA Journal issue 2 2024 - RSA

Escaping a democratic recession

RSA Journal Issue 2 2024

Escaping a democratic recession

CEO, RSA Andy Haldane

Is democracy experiencing a recession or a boom? The RSA’s chief executive discusses the arguments as he introduces the Journal’s ‘courageous governance’ issue in what will be a pivotal year for democracy globally.

This century has seen the world tilt away from liberal democracy and towards more authoritarian regimes. Some have called this a ‘democratic recession’. With around half the world’s population going to the polls this year, some fear a further tilt away from democracy. Indeed, could we even find ourselves in democratic depression?

One of the key reasons for failing support for democracies is that, latterly, they have not boosted the living standards of large numbers of people. As global growth has slowed, it has particularly hit the poorest and youngest. The result is rising discontent, especially among the poor and young, at the political system delivering these outcomes.

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One of the hallmarks of the RSA is its ability to take a long-term view. When it comes to political systems, that longer-lensed view is decidedly more optimistic. We are living in the first century in human history where liberal democracy is the dominant political regime globally. Viewed through the lens of history, we are close to the peak of a global democratic boom, not in recession.

We also know, looking at research over many years and many political regimes, that democracy is, on average, good for living standards. Democracies more effectivelyallocate the scarce resources that make up an economy and support its citizens. The tilt away from democracy is a recipe for slower growth, not faster. A democratic recession makes an economic one more likely.

Another lesson of history is that democracy is malleable. Given the risks facing democracy, this issue of the Journal considers some different flavours. In keeping with our theme of courage, we highlight examples of ‘courageous governance’ from around the world.

One of the hallmarks of the RSA is its ability to take a long-term view. When it comes to political systems, that longer-lensed view is decidedly more optimistic.

Audrey Tang (until recently Taiwan’s first Digital Minister) discusses the innovative ways in which Taiwan is using new technology to upgrade the democratic process. Her article demonstrates that, far from curbing agency and biasing decision-making, technology can improve the accuracy and legitimacy of the democratic process.

Jane Davidson, former Welsh Environment Minister, discusses a different type of democratic upgrade. The Well-being of Future Generations Act in Wales puts the interests of successor generations at the centre of decision-making — a bulwark against short-termism. It also gives environmental health as prominent a role as economic and social health in policy decisions.

The ‘In conversation’ interview with Eoin O’Malley and Vlad Afanasiev’s article on metrics both consider the role of community-level governance. Afanasiev’s work illustrates the added resilience and legitimacy that this can achieve. But O’Malley, who helped initiate the recent citizens’ assemblies in Ireland, offers a cautionary note. While early assemblies were successful in shaping public opinion, more recent versions have not always mirrored society and have been rejected by the public.

This is clearly a pivotal year for democracy globally. Restoring it to health will require improvements, perhaps fundamental ones. I hope this issue of the Journal inspires Fellows to think, and to act, in ways that support those improvements. The stakes could scarcely be higher.

Andy Haldane is Chief Executive Officer at the RSA.

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