Tag Archives: Government

The Dictators’ Last Stand

differencebetween.netWhy the New Autocrats Are Weaker Than They Look
By Yascha Mounk – It has been a good decade for dictatorship. The global influence of the world’s most powerful authoritarian countries, China and Russia, has grown rapidly.

For the first time since the late nineteenth century, the cumulative GDP of autocracies now equals or exceeds that of Western liberal democracies. Even ideologically, autocrats appear to be on the offensive: at the G-20 summit in June, for instance, President Vladimir Putin dropped his normal pretense that Russia is living up to liberal democratic standards, declaring instead that “modern liberalism” has become “obsolete.”

Conversely, it has been a terrible decade for democracy. According to Freedom House, the world is now in the 13th consecutive year of a global democratic recession. Democracies have collapsed or eroded in every region, from Burundi to Hungary, Thailand to Venezuela. Most troubling of all, democratic institutions have proved to be surprisingly brittle in countries where they once seemed stable and secure.

In 2014, I suggested in these pages that a rising tide of populist parties and candidates could inflict serious damage on democratic institutions. At the time, my argument was widely contested. The scholarly consensus held that demagogues would never win power in the long-established democracies of North America and western Europe. And even if they did, they would be constrained by those countries’ strong institutions and vibrant civil societies.

Today, that old consensus is dead. The ascent of Donald Trump in the United States, Matteo Salvini in Italy, and Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil has demonstrated that populists can indeed win power in some of the most affluent and long-established democracies in the world. And the rapid erosion of democracy in countries such as Hungary and Venezuela has shown that populists really can turn their countries into competitive authoritarian regimes or outright dictatorships. The controversial argument I made five years ago has become the conventional wisdom.

But this new consensus is now in danger of hardening into an equally misguided orthodoxy. Whereas scholars used to hope that it was only a matter of time until some of the world’s most powerful autocracies would be forced to democratize, they now concede too readily that these regimes have permanently solved the challenge of sustaining their legitimacy.

The new orthodoxy is especially misleading about the long-term future of governments that promise to return power to the people but instead erode democratic institutions. These populist dictatorships, in countries such as Hungary, Turkey, and Venezuela, share two important features: first, their rulers came to power by winning free and fair elections with an anti-elitist and anti-pluralist message. Second, these leaders subsequently used those victories to concentrate power in their own hands by weakening the independence of key institutions, such as the judiciary; curtailing the ability of opposition parties to organize; or undermining critical media outlets.

It is too early to conclude that the populist dictatorships that have arisen in many parts of the world in recent years will be able to sustain themselves in power forever. In the end, those who are subject to these oppressive regimes will likely grow determined to win back their freedom. more>

Anatomy of an oversight investigation: White House security clearances

By Isabella Gelfand and Jackson Gode – Since regaining the majority in January, House Democrats have been conducting oversight of the Trump administration on issues ranging from family separation at the border to the rollback of environmental regulations. While the policy areas addressed by these investigations are diverse, House committees often apply the same tools to perform oversight. As Congress attempts to exert influence on the White House in hopes of obtaining information, Trump administration officials continue to utilize several tactics of their own to stall the process.

As part of its mandate to conduct oversight of “the operation of Government activities at all levels,” the House Oversight and Reform Committee is frequently engaged in conflicts with the executive branch over information access. One such clash during the 116th Congress has involved the White House security clearance process, which came under fire when media reports indicated that the administration allowed individuals to operate under interim security clearances for extended periods and ignored concerns raised by intelligence officials. Here, we outline the ongoing security clearance investigation and use it to highlight a set of common steps in the oversight process.

When conducting oversight, members of Congress have several tools at their disposal. Most notably, they can request documents, call witnesses to testify, issue subpoenas, and hold individuals in contempt of Congress for noncompliance. Oversight investigations are often initiated by an official request for information, usually in the form of a letter written by a committee chair to an executive branch official. The chair uses this correspondence to ask for documents and/or to invite a witness to give testimony before the committee. more>

Exporting digital authoritarianism

By Alina Polyakova and Chris Meserole – Digital authoritarianism — the use of digital information technology by authoritarian regimes to surveil, repress, and manipulate domestic and foreign populations — is reshaping the power balance between democracies and autocracies.

At the forefront of this phenomenon, China and Russia have developed and exported distinct technology-driven playbooks for authoritarian rule. Beijing’s experience using digital tools for domestic censorship and surveillance has made it the supplier of choice for illiberal regimes looking to deploy their own surveillance systems, while Moscow’s lower-cost digital disinformation tools have proven effective in repressing potential opposition at home and undermining democracies abroad.

This policy brief examines the development and export of both the Chinese and Russian models.

China pioneered digital age censorship with its “Great Firewall” of a state-controlled Internet and unprecedented high-tech repression deployed in Xinjiang in recent years, and has exported surveillance and monitoring systems to at least 18 countries.

Russia relies less on filtering information and more on a repressive legal regime and intimidation of key companies and civil society, a lower-cost ad hoc model more easily transferable to most countries. The Russian government has made recent legal and technical moves which further tighten control, including legislation passed this year to establish a “sovereign Russian internet.”

The authors recommend that the United States and other democracies should tighten export controls on technologies that advance digital authoritarianism, sanction regimes engaging in digital authoritarianism and firms that supply them, develop a competitive democratic model of digital governance with a code of conduct, and increase public awareness around information manipulation, including funding educational programs to build digital critical thinking skills among youth. more>

A radical legal ideology nurtured our era of economic inequality

By Sanjukta Paul – Where does economic power come from? Does it exist independently of the law?

It seems obvious, even undeniable, that the answer is no. Law creates, defines and enforces property rights. Law enforces private contracts. It charters corporations and shields investors from liability. Law declares illegal certain contracts of economic cooperation between separate individuals – which it calls ‘price-fixing’ – but declares economically equivalent activity legal when it takes place within a business firm or is controlled by one.

Each one of these is a choice made by the law, on behalf of the public as a whole. Each of them creates or maintains someone’s economic power, and often undermines someone else’s. Each also plays a role in maintaining a particular distribution of economic power across society.

Yet generations of lawyers and judges educated at law schools in the United States have been taught to ignore this essential role of law in creating and sustaining economic power.

Instead, we are taught that the social process of economic competition results in certain outcomes that are ‘efficient’ – and that anything the law does to alter those outcomes is its only intervention.

These peculiar presumptions flow from the enormously powerful and influential ‘law and economics’ movement that dominates thinking in most areas of US law considered to be within the ‘economic’ sphere.

Bruce Ackerman, professor of law and political science at Yale University, recently called law and economics the most influential thing in legal education since the founding of Harvard Law School.

The Economics Institute for Federal Judges, founded by the legal scholar Henry Manne, has been a hugely influential training program in the law and economics approach. more>

Re-made in China

By Amy Hawkins and Jeffrey Wasserstrom – The dominant image of China in the West is of a closed, dark place; a country where what reigns supreme is an authoritarianism based on an ancient imperial past that today’s leaders claim to have renounced, while simultaneously extolling China’s 5,000-year history.

It’s not a wholly false perception, but the notion of China as a fortress state, impervious to foreign influence, is something of a smokescreen. So too – as the opposite but equally flawed assumption goes – is the perception of China as forever on the brink of being Westernized by the liberalizing forces of globalization and the free market, as if, whenever the fortress gates are opened, the country were barely capable of withstanding the influx of ‘contaminating’ or ‘corrupting’ ideas.

This idea of China received a powerful boost from Francis Fukuyama’s ‘End of History’ fantasy that the civilized world would converge around liberal democratic norms, leading many Western observers to believe that China’s economic boom and flirtation with freemarket forces was both inevitable, and would transform it completely.

In reality, China’s longstanding suspicion of foreign influence has not prevented the government or the people from becoming remarkably adept at marshalling the flow of overseas cultural touchstones into the country’s borders, remoulding them into something that isn’t entirely Chinese, but is also totally different from its original form.

Like authoritarian leaders everywhere, China’s are anxious about the population’s interaction with foreign ideas, and the state tries to police this closely, adapting cultural imports to fit national and regional needs. Still, the various ways that the government, villagers and city dwellers of different social classes and generations handle these mutations demonstrate that Chinese concepts of national identity are much more flexible than first impressions suggest.

Appreciating this is especially important now, as tensions between China and the United States rise. A strident form of Chinese nationalism is gaining ground. more>

The world is running out of time

By Bertrand Badré – In 2015, the international community launched a renewed effort to tackle collective global challenges under the auspices of the United Nations Sustainable Development Agenda and the Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21). But after an initial flurry of interest, the progress that has been made toward achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and tackling climate change has tapered off. Around the world, many seem to have developed an allergy to increasingly stark warnings from the UN and other bodies about accelerating species extinctions, ecosystem collapse, and global warming.

Now is not the time to debate whether progress toward global goals is a matter of the glass being half-full or half-empty. Soon, there will no longer even be a glass to worry about. Despite global news coverage of civic and political action to address our mounting crises, the underlying trends are extremely frightening.

For decades, most of the major economies have relied on a form of capitalism that delivered considerable benefits. But we are now witnessing the implications of the Nobel laureate economist Milton Friedman’s famous mantra: “the social responsibility of business is to increase its profits.”

A corporate-governance model based on maximizing shareholder value has long dominated our economic system, shaping our accounting frameworks, tax regimes, and business-school curricula.

But we have now reached a point where leading economic thinkers are questioning the fundamentals of the prevailing system. Paul Collier’s The Future of CapitalismJoseph E. Stiglitz’s People, Power, and Profits, and Raghuram G. Rajan’s The Third Pillar all offer comprehensive assessments of the problem.

A capitalist system that is disconnected from most people and unmoored from the territories in which it operates is no longer acceptable. Systems do not work in isolation. Eventually, reality asserts itself: global trade tensions reemerge, populist nationalists win power, and natural disasters grow in frequency and intensity.

Simply put, our approach to capitalism has exacerbated previously manageable social and environmental problems and sowed deep social divisions. The explosion in inequality and the laser focus on short-term results (that is, quarterly earnings) are just two symptoms of a broken system. more>

Globalization’s Wrong Turn

And How It Hurt America
By Dani Rodrik – Globalization is in trouble. A populist backlash, personified by U.S. President Donald Trump, is in full swing. A simmering trade war between China and the United States could easily boil over. Countries across Europe are shutting their borders to immigrants. Even globalization’s biggest boosters now concede that it has produced lopsided benefits and that something will have to change.

Today’s woes have their roots in the 1990s, when policymakers set the world on its current, hyperglobalist path, requiring domestic economies to be put in the service of the world economy instead of the other way around. In trade, the transformation was signaled by the creation of the World Trade Organization, in 1995. The WTO not only made it harder for countries to shield themselves from international competition but also reached into policy areas that international trade rules had not previously touched: agriculture, services, intellectual property, industrial policy, and health and sanitary regulations. Even more ambitious regional trade deals, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement, took off around the same time.

In finance, the change was marked by a fundamental shift in governments’ attitudes away from managing capital flows and toward liberalization. Pushed by the United States and global organizations such as the International Monetary Fund and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, countries freed up vast quantities of short-term finance to slosh across borders in search of higher returns. more>

Transatlantic Relations: Difficult Decisions Ahead

By Gordon D. Sondland – The EU often espouses the rhetoric of supporting free trade, while simultaneously employing numerous non-tariff barriers to its markets. While these NTBs take many forms, prominent among them are the EU’s unjustified and trade restrictive policies with respect to agricultural and food products, notably unwarranted bans not based on science or actual risk.

It is not a coincidence that the United States has an agricultural trade surplus with the world of $22 billion and a deficit with the EU of $15 billion. The EU’s tariffs are also higher than the United States.

Historically, the United States has been there for Europe for more than seven decades. Our commitment to a free, prosperous and secure Europe has come in many forms, from American dollars to American lives. The United States decided to make a strategic, long-term investment in this transatlantic relationship.

Hundreds of billions of dollars have flowed into Europe, along with the incalculable investment into Europe’s security via non-obligatory defense spending. At the same time, we have opened our lucrative markets and welcomed European trade and investment throughout our economy.

Against this backdrop, I arrived in Brussels last July highly optimistic.

Fast-forward six months. I am deeply disappointed we have not seen faster, deeper progress on the wide number of areas where European rules prevent U.S. firms from fair access to European markets. This lack of demonstrable progress on real and tangible U.S. concerns presents a serious challenge to the transatlantic relationship at a time when it is more important than ever that we be working together.

Rest assured, President Trump is committed to fixing the imbalance in our trade relationship so it will not burden yet another American administration. more>

Climate change is becoming a defining issue of 2020

Democratic voters actually care about climate change. 2020 candidates are responding.
By Ella Nilsen – Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez thinks former Vice President Joe Biden’s $5 trillion climate plan — one of the first major policies his campaign has released — is a “start,” albeit one that needs to be scaled up dramatically.

“I think what that has shown is a dramatic shift in the right direction, but we need to keep pushing for a plan that is at the scale of the problem,” Ocasio-Cortez, progressive superstar and co-sponsor of the Green New Deal, told reporters on Tuesday. (For the record, she thinks the plan that gets closest is Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s, which she called the “gold standard.”)

But the very fact that Biden felt the need to release a climate plan near the start of his policy rollout shows the influence and success of Ocasio-Cortez and her allies in the climate movement.

Five candidates, including Biden, Inslee, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and former Reps. Beto O’Rourke and John Delaney have all released massive plans to combat climate change, ranging from $1.5 trillion to $3 trillion in federal investment over a decade. Candidates are factoring in the spur of private investments as well, hence the jump to $5 trillion in Biden’s plan.

“It’s a recognition of where the electorate is,” Monmouth University polling director Patrick Murray told Vox. “This popped out from the very beginning. Climate change and the environment in general was the No. 2 issue after health care for Democratic voters.

“I think it’s just becoming a zeitgeist for Democrats,” Murray added.

Over the past eight months, climate change has shot up as a core Democratic issue in polls. more>

A primer on how Chinese law might enforce a US-China trade deal

By Jamie P. Horsley – As recently as early May, optimism ran high that the United States and China were nearing an agreement to resolve their escalating trade dispute. But talks have hit an impasse, with both sides announcing new rounds of tariffs over the past few days.

In an interview on Fox News Sunday, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow explained that a key point of contention is U.S. insistence that Chinese commitments be “codified by law in China, not just a State Council announcement.” According to Kudlow, the U.S. seeks “very strong enforcement provisions” to correct past Chinese behavior on trade, which he characterized as unfair, nonreciprocal, and sometimes unlawful.

Various U.S. media reported that the Chinese side was averse to the idea of a foreign country dictating Chinese law. Instead, negotiators from Beijing reportedly offered to codify the agreement through regulatory and administrative actions. The standoff raises an important question: If the other substantive issues can be resolved, would an agreement be enforceable even if it falls short of being codified in national laws?

National laws, local regulations, State Council regulations, and rules are all part of what is collectively called “legislation” (lifa). National laws (falü) are adopted by China’s National People’s Congress (NPC) and the NPC Standing Committee pursuant to formal procedures—including public notice and comment—set forth in the Legislation Law.

Similarly, local regulations (difangxing fagui) are adopted by the people’s congress operating in a particular province or autonomous region. State Council regulations (xingzheng fagui), which are legally binding and enforceable, are also governed by the Legislation Law and subject to public comment and other procedures stipulated in State Council implementing regulations (colloquially, the “Rulemaking Regulations”).

The same applies to rules (guizhang), which are promulgated by central departments and local governments. more>