Monday, January 21, 2013

Douglas A. Chalmers's "Reforming Democracies"

Douglas Chalmers has been Department Chair, Dean of the School of International Affairs, and Director of the Institute for Latin American Studies. Currently he is Executive Director of the Society of Senior Scholars at Columbia. He is author and co-editor of The New Politics of Inequality in Latin America (1997), co-edited The Right and Democracy in Latin America (1992), and articles and books about the organization and institutions that link civil society to government in Europe and Latin America.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Reforming Democracies: Six Facts About Politics That Demand a New Agenda, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Problems that demand political decisions always involve all three aspects of decision making, although often the central issue, the major conflict, is over one of them: interests, moral positions, or facts. Deliberation may be overshadowed (or taken over) by one or both of the other processes, but it is always there and is capable of having an independent impact. Debate over the facts, the explanations, and the interpretations may be undertaken to support a moral position or buttress claims on behalf of an interest, but often is much closer to the center of the process. For example, in decisions about dealing with a natural disaster, such as the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, interests came into play and moral questions involved with blame were important, but the central questions that demanded immediate attention were those of fact and the accuracy of theories about the causes of the “meltdown” of nuclear reactors. The problems of public debt, financial instability, and long-term unemployment, which dominate the news in the midst of an economic recession, engage class interests and the morality of taxes and government action, but at the center are factual questions....
This text from p. 99 (and a little of p 100) illustrates a couple of things about the book. The quote is about one of the six areas of everyday, normal politics that people often omit when they think about democracy. They are: making policies with non-citizens and foreigners as quasi-citizens, the rapid decay and rebuilding of groups, the use of personal networks, the practice of creating decision networks of stakeholders, experts and officials to deal with problems, and this one, the serious discussion to solve problems that goes by the name of ‘deliberation’. Page 99 talks about how we have to reconceptualize ‘politics’. It suggests that if we are to deal with the faults of modern democracy, gross inequality, reckless executives, corruption and grid-lock, we will have to build in reforms – in this case to provide the information and promote serious discussion, not just moral confrontation or compromise between competing interests. Reforming democracies takes a willingness to take on new aspects of politics. It demands a new agenda.
Learn more about Reforming Democracies at the Columbia University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue