What Should Democracies Know? What Democrats Should Know

By Jane Mansbridge

The looming reality

The reality we all must face is that we are going to need more and more state coercion into the future to solve the free-rider problems created by our growing interdependence and the new need for human provision of resources formerly provided by “nature.”

Coercion is a bad; it means getting someone to do something they would otherwise not do through the threat of sanction and the use of force. State coercion is another bad, particularly as the state grows larger, because it is hard to get under citizen control.

Nevertheless, we are going to need increasing amounts of state coercion into the future. Democrats should therefore be concerned not only with how to resist it but also with how to legitimate it in order to use it well. Increasing inequality and increasing polarization in the US make legitimacy harder and harder to achieve. Just as we have dramatically increasing need for legitimate coercion, the supply of legitimate coercion is shrinking, making every ounce of legitimacy even more precious.

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New Tech Only Benefits the Elite Until the People Demand More

By Christopher Jones

The United States faces an infrastructure crisis. Report after report warns that the nation’s networks are old, brittle and vulnerable. Systems that were once the envy of the world now suffer from chronic underfunding and neglect. If you’ve travelled in western Europe or parts of China recently, you probably noticed the unfavourable comparison between roads and subways in the US and those abroad. A culture enthralled with disruptive innovation has ignored the fundamental importance of maintaining its technological backbones.

The need for infrastructure revitalisation is so pressing that, despite today’s polarised politics, it actually draws bipartisan agreement. President Barack Obama’s 2015 State of the Union address called for ‘rebuild[ing] our infrastructure’. The Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has argued that ‘we have to rebuild our infrastructure: our bridges, our roadways, our airports’, and his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton has pledged $275 billion in additional spending for infrastructure upgrades.

Can we make US infrastructure great again? Yes, and clearly financial investment is essential. But that is not all. Infrastructure is not, and never has been, simply a collection of material objects. The secret of the country’s infrastructure success lies in a forgotten political history: the demands by millions of Americans over time for fairer and more equitable access to rails, pipes, wires, roads and more. The wondrous US infrastructure achievements happened when citizens participated in infrastructure decisions. One can even propose a rule: the better the democracy, the better the infrastructure.

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