Yascha Mounk – The People vs. Democracy

Radhe Patel, 1L

Yascha Mounk gave a talk on Monday, April 2nd on his new book, The People vs Democracy.

His talk started out painting a picture of our current world and asking what was wrong with it: Kenya’s democratic movement is struggling while autocracies like Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, seem to be pretty stable. There was supposed to be a set of affluent countries that we could rely on to consolidate and promote democracy. What happened?

Mounk suggested that if we look towards current public opinion, people are less open to democracy now. Polls indicate folks want a strong leader that “doesn’t have to bother” with parliament, for example. Mounk’s book tries to understand the long term causes of this shift, identifying factors that come together to explain this phenomenon, including the rise of money in politics, the rise of technocrats/administrative state, and social media.

The money causation is straightforward enough: as a result of lobbying dollars, bodies like Congress really do not respond to the views of median families and people in the 50th percentile of their countries who aren’t elite donors. The second issue, the rise of the administrative state, has led to more and more decisions being taken out of democratic conversations and into the hands of independent agencies or central banks that are not responsive to a constituency in the same way. Finally, social media has made the spread of fake news easier, consequently making it easier for extremists with unpopular opinions to organize more effectively. Mounk also discussed the effect of stagnated living standards and cultural dislocation (through immigration patterns that have changed the status of native born individuals) on this shift, all coming together to explain the baseline loss of trust in the political system and a loss of responsiveness of that system to the needs of citizens.

Mounk’s recommendations for moving forward included reinvigorating civics curriculums in primary and and secondary schools to teach the importance of civic engagement, and putting pressure on social media companies to enforce their community guidelines.






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