Sunday, February 07, 2021

Data Driven Democracy (In the West): "Democracy Index 2020: In Sickness and in Health? (The Economist Intelligence Unit 2021).


 Like Marxist-Leninist systems in the 21st century, private organizations that believe themselves a necessary component of markets driven vanguards are working toward the implementation of comprehensive data driven systems of punishments and rewards grounded in assessments measured against a preferred ideal.  Chinese Social Credit systems, the term generally used by Western people to reference the constellation of Marxist Leninist projects,  tend to be demonized and condemned by the very actors in Western liberal democratic systems who then seek the benefits and structures of those very forms of popular management but now tilted toward their own ends (e.g. here). 

This reminder of hypocrisy across "competing" systems, however, is not meant to condemn (or laud) either expression of control through data driven metrics based systems or the ideologies from out of which ti is made to seem natural that the politics of such control are expressed through markets, vanguard parties, or elites formed on the basis of technocratic or wealth based private collectives (foundations, non governmental organization, and the like).  Nor is it meant to assess the "value" of the ideal around which these metrics based systems are constructed, which themselves are meant to reduce the normative core premises of a political society to its quantitative "essence."  Neither is it necessary to condemn or praise the forms that rewards and punishments take.  The reminder of hypocrisy across the political control spectrum, and the pious catechisms that its leadership cores naturalize within its populations through "statistics"  is merely to note a certain convergence between data driven governance in the liberal democratic camp (through markets and private actors deeply embedded in public organs) and those in the Marxist Leninist camp (through state direction or coordination and in partnership with state managed or directed enterprises and other organs). 

(Pix Credit: Global democracy has a very bad year).
This post considers one such effort, the Economist Intelligence Unit's Democracy Index 2020: In Sickness and in Health? (released 2021).  The Economist Intelligence Unit, established in 1946 under conditions of conflict with Soviet Imperial and ideological threat  serves as the research and analysis division of The Economist Group. The 2020 Index suggests the working style of markets driven and privatized discipline of the core ideologies of the liberal democratic camp through a cultivation of disciplined approaches by its research and academic arms. The ideology of democracy is not driven by normative principles, but increasingly by indicators that reduce those norms to quite specific markers of conduct, of polling results, and of conditions that together are meant to incarnate the ideal operation of a democratic state. Unlike normative markers, the reduction of democratic ideology to a set of indicators also makes it possible to fine tune the process of identifying and correcting defects, of monitoring, and of disciplining deviance among states. It also suggests the growing authority of data driven ratings systems on the disciplining of ideology and its application in public organs. This year, the report noted a quantitative decline, it "finds that just 8.4% of the world’s population live in a full democracy while more than a third live under authoritarian rule. The global score of 5.37 out of ten is the lowest recorded since the index began in 2006." (Global democracy has a very bad year). The big loser, of course, was the United States, now rated a flawed democracy because of the quantitative effects of Mr. Trump's supporters to accept the results of the election. Ibid. In the end, it now appears, democracy is a matter of data driven metrics overseen by members of the

Systems of data driven governance--again built on the construction of an "ideal" type against which  the conduct of a group can be measured, and once measured, judged and corrected through systems of punishment and reward--tend to focus on sub-national systems, or on international private actors. Yet there is nothing in the form or methods of such approaches that suggest any limitation on its use.  Indeed, one is now beginning to see that way that private actors are attempting to use the methods of data driven governance to hold state and state systems accountable.  This is particularly interesting when these private actors seek to undertake the role reserved to the political vanguard (Communist) party in Marxist Leninist systems through the development of such data based accountability systems through private markets that are meant to target (and manage) the responses of the democratic masses in liberal democratic states.

That, of course, is precisely what is at play when private organs seek, for example, to construct an ideal of a liberal democratic state, and then to subject a group of target governments to measurement against that ideal (on this structuring framework see HERE). The process involves  the determination, by that group, of the constituent parts of the ideal liberal democratic state, the transformation of those ideals into measurable objects, and the valuation of those objects (in themselves) and within  an aggregated set of relationships (the quantitative analytics) that then permit two forms of ranking.  The first is as against the ideal type against which all are measures.  The second is against each other through the development of hierarchies of rank that can then be grouped for judgment (for example as "full" and "flawed" democracies and beneath them (as measured against the liberal democratic ideal) as "hybrid" or "authoritarian" regimes.

In effect, one engages here is the fundamental work of democratic politics--one works on the construction and maintenance of the the fundamental ideological line of a political-economic system.  In Marxist-Leninist states that is a responsibility of the vanguard party and essential to the exercise of its political power--autonomously or through the administrative organs of state (see, e.g., HERE and HERE). In liberal democratic states that function is dis aggregated  and devolved among the people who, it might be assumed, have some control over the construction and application of the ruling ideologies against which their own behaviors must be judges and to which they must conform to remain loyal participants in the polity. Over the last several centuries, however, the effective management of founding ideology has been exercised much more decisively by those groups near the top of the organizational hierarchies of liberal democratic states. In the 18th century it might have been vested in large landowners and business elements (United States) or in leading elements of the aristocracy (UK and Europe). 

By the 20th century, in line with the consequences of industrialization, effective management became more widely shared among leading groups (as measured by their control over the levers of politics, economic, religion, and societal organization). These included in addition to the remnants of old aristocracies and the early generation owners of the great institutions of industrialization, commerce, and finance a rising group of professionals now essential to the operation of the political and social order.  These included bureaucrats (the managers of people and processes); academics (both in and out of the academy), and technicians (those who could rationalize operations as a function of norm-objectives). The professionalization of the management of ideology became more pronounced after 1945 when it appears to have been thought to be too dangerous to leave this to the masses--rather the structures of democratic "engagement" were developed to provide the masses a means of participation, but under well controlled conditions.  There are lots of examples of this sort of management by professional bureaucrats throughout the organization of liberal democratic society (for a mundane example HERE).  

This exercise of the liberal democratic "mass line"(群众路线) (eg here) approach (from the people to the people) has become an important element in the disciplining and advancement of the liberal democratic model. Traditionally the working stye of this management was inherently qualitative--through the development of norms and its application to (or against) the leading elements of elected government and the administrative apparatus over which they managed political affairs. Voting served in part to ensure rewarding those who remained at least officially aligned with the core ideology (eg it is difficult for a socialist to win an election in the United States at least for the moment given the nature of US underlying ideologies of democracy and its ties to forms of economic organization). 

Increasingly though, and in line with developments elsewhere quantitative measures have appeared to become more useful and perhaps eventually more important in the development (and disciplining) both of the character of the ruling ideologies in liberal democratic states and their assessment as practiced by those states whole political economic models are built on (and legitimated through) this ideology. But the effective control over that disciplining remains held by the core influencers that emerged after the Second World War: bureaucrats, technocrats, and academics who together constituted a techno-ideological complex responsible for the care and maintenance  (and refinement) of the ruling ideology.  

(Pix credit: Global democracy has a very bad year).
That positioning is what makes the Economist Intelligence Unit's Democracy Index 2020: In Sickness and in Health? (released 2021) both fascinating and important.  It is fascinating for the way in which it reveals (at least in part) the quantification of ideology as well as the ideal against which it is measured.   It is important because of the way in which its output reinforces the power of the techno-ideological complex and its influence on the operations of the state. That power reinforcement is inherent in its methods--a quantification of normative expectations  is a function of the application of a new language, one that is much more difficult for elements of the masses to engage with at a fundamental level.  It permits assessment that can be challenged only by other elements of the techno-ideological complex or those trained well enough in its methods. 

Given that perspective I am much less concerned about the results of the ratings--tough that will be its greatest impact--to provide a basis for political reform in the United States having been reduced from full to flawed democracy as a punishment for  the politics of 2016-2020. In this sense it well serves its disciplinary function. As well it provides a nice quantifiable basis for distinguishing between the characteristics shared in common among the liberal democratic camp and those that identify a political ideology as hybrid or authoritarian--including the vastly incompatible ideological systems of Marxist Leninism. 

Yet for students of ideology and its governance, it is the materials on pages  54-68 of the report that serves as its most important element.  Here one finds expressed in quantitative terms both the core memorialization of the ideology of democracy, and its transposition first into a quantitatively expressed ideal form, and then into the data components that when amalgamated through proprietary analytics produces a score that can be used to measure individual assessments against the ideal and against another states that are being rated. 

The remarkable thing, of course, is that this is all undertaken from a quite curious starting point: "There is no consensus on how to measure democracy. Definitions of democracy are contested, and there is a lively debate on the subject" (Economist Intelligence Unit's Democracy Index 2020: In Sickness and in Health? (p. 54).And they cannot resist a sneer at the political authorities to which they are bound: "there is no consensus within the US government as to what constitutes a democracy. As one observer put it: “The world’s only superpower is rhetorically and militarily promoting a political system that remains undefined—and it is staking its credibility and treasure on that pursuit,” (Horowitz, 2006, p. 114) (Ibid.). The sneer is of course strategically necessary--it helps position this group as a site of authority for the definition on which they will base their ratings because they must. To that end they rely on their own circle of  the a techno-ideological complex. 

Pix credit: Global democracy has a very bad year

Our Democracy Index is based on five categories: electoral process and pluralism; civil liberties; the functioning of government; political participation; and political culture. The five categories are interrelated and form a coherent conceptual whole. The condition of holding free and fair competitive elections, and satisfying related aspects of political freedom, is clearly the sine qua non of all definitions. (Ibid.,  55; generally pp. 55-56).



This is a definition that is authoritative by its pedigree; it is touched by the work of the academic wing of the techno-ideological complex--at least as read by this group (Ibid., p. 55) and related to efforts by competitor members of this group though these (naturally) are found wanting (Ibid., pp. 54-56).  

Having described the normative premises of the ideal democracy t is then time to transpose it into quantitative form.

The Economist Intelligence Unit’s index of democracy, on a 0 to 10 scale, is based on the ratings for 60 indicators, grouped into five categories: electoral process and pluralism; civil liberties; the functioning of government; political participation; and political culture. Each category has a rating on a 0 to 10 scale, and the overall Index is the simple average of the five category indexes.

The category indexes are based on the sum of the indicator scores in the category, converted to a 0 to 10 scale. Adjustments to the category scores are made if countries do not score a 1 in the following critical areas for democracy:

  1. Whether national elections are free and fair.

  2. The security of voters.

  3. The influence of foreign powers on government.

  4. The capability of the civil service to implement policies.

If the scores for the first three questions are 0 (or 0.5), one point (0.5 point) is deducted from the index

in the relevant category (either the electoral process and pluralism or the functioning of government). If the score for 4 is 0, one point is deducted from the functioning of government category index. 

The index values are used to place countries within one of four types of regime:

  1. Full democracies: scores greater than 8

  2. Flawed democracies: scores greater than 6, and less than or equal to 8

  3. Hybrid regimes: scores greater than 4, and less than or equal to 6

  4. Authoritarian regimes: scores less than or equal to 4.  (Ibid., pp. 56-57

And here is where the real ideological work begins--not in the normative framing--a study in righteous ambiguity, but rather in the quantification of those ambiguities into something solid, into the quantified conception of the ideal liberal democratic state. From there it follows that a system of judgment can d¡be developed to rate those liberal democracies that do not measure up. (Ibid., 57).  It is the scoring system, then, that serves as the disciplinary mechanism, and as justification for the judgment in the form of labels ("full", "flawed" etc.) which themselves describe the ideal types of non-ideal democratic.  

If the scoring system provides the basis for judgment, and its nudging effects, then the 60 indicators serve as the laundry list of behaviors that contribute toward the construction of the ideal democracy.  It is in the choosing of those indicators--the data that is to be harvested to feed the analytics producing the ratings judgments, that the real work of instructing states in the behaviors that together constitute the  operation of an ideal democracy, are revealed.  Those behaviors and expectations, then, are the key to the entire exercise--and the lesson that  the good people at the Economist Intelligence Unit seek to embed in  those to whom the mechanisms of the state are entrusted (Ibid., pp. 59-68). And it is ere that there is something that troubles.  The behaviors  tend to align but are sometimes quite disconnected from the realities of state practice in the age of globalization (foreign powers and organizational influence on government functions or policies are of course, for example, the essence f multilateralism inherent in globalized governance) One could g through the list but the point is a simple one--taking the aggregate of these sixty indicators as the basis for the ideal state would produce a form of democratic organization that some might view as far from an ideal democratic state  (especially under conditions of globalization) that one might (eventually) hope to achieve.  Some questions suggested the unease among this group about the trajectories of democracy in the period after 2016. And yet it is in the data set production rather than in the normative discussion or in the evaluation, that the guts of the normative discussion of the granular practice of ideal democracy occurs. 

I Electoral process and pluralism

Are elections for the national legislature and head of government free?

Are elections for the national legislature and head of government fair?

Are municipal elections both free and fair?

Is there universal suffrage for all adults?

Can citizens cast their vote free of significant threats to their security from state or non-state bodies?

Do laws provide for broadly equal campaigning opportunities?

Is the process of financing political parties transparent and generally accepted?

Following elections, are the constitutional mechanisms for the orderly transfer of power from one government to another clear, established and accepted?

Are citizens free to form political parties that are independent of the government? 
Do opposition parties have a realistic prospect of achieving government?
Is potential access to public office open to all citizens? 
Are citizens allowed to form political and civic organisations, free of state interference and surveillance? 

II Functioning of government

Do freely elected representatives determine government policy?

Is the legislature the supreme political body, with a clear supremacy over other branches of government? 

Is there an effective system of checks and balances on the exercise of government authority? 

Government is free of undue influence by the military or the security services

Foreign powers and organizations do not determine important government functions or policies.

Do special economic, religious or other powerful domestic groups exercise significant political power, parallel to democratic institutions?

Are sufficient mechanisms and institutions in place for ensuring government accountability to the electorate in between elections?

Does the government’s authority extend over the full territory of the country?

Is the functioning of government open and transparent, with sufficient public access to information? 

How pervasive is corruption?

Is the civil service willing and capable fo implementing government policy? 

Popular perceptions of the extent to which citizens have free choice and control over their lives? 

Popular confidence in government? 

Public confidence in political parties?


III Political participation 

Voter participation/turn out for national elections?

Do ethnic, religious and other minorities have a reasonable degree of autonomy and voice in the political process?

Women in parliament? 

Extent of political participation. Membership of political parties and political non-government organizations.

Citizens' engagement in politics?

The preparedness of population to take part in lawful demonstrations?

Adult literacy?

Extent to which adult population shows an interest in and follows politics in the news?

The authorities make a serious effort to promote political participation?


IV Democratic political culture

Is there a sufficient degree of societal consensus and cohesion to underpin a stable, functioning democracy?

Perceptions of leadership; proportion of the population that desires a strong leader who bypasses parliament and elections.

Perceptions of military rule; proportion of the population that would prefer military rule.

Perceptions of rule by experts or technocratic government; proportion of the population that would prefer rule by experts or technocrats.

Perception of democracy ad public order; proportion of the population that believes that democracies are not good at maintaining public order?

Perceptions of democracy and the economic system; proportion fo the population that believes that democracy benefits economic performance?

Degree of popular support for democracy?

There is a strong tradition of separation of Church and State  


V Civil liberties

 Is there a free electronic edia?

Is there a free print ledia?

Id there freedom of expression and protest (bar only generally acceptable restrictions, such as banning advocacy of violence)?

Is media coverage robust?Is there open and free discusison fo public issues, with reasonable diversity of opinions?

Are there political restrictions on access ot the Internet?

Are citizens free to form professional organizations and trade unions?

Do institutions provide citizens with the opportunity to petition government to redress grievances?

The use of torture by the state?

The degree to which the judiciary is independent of government influence. The degree of religious tolerance and freedom of religious expression.

The degree to which citizens are treated equally under the law.

Do citizens enjoy basic security?

The extent to which private property rights are protected and private business is free from undue government influence.

The extent to which citizens enjoy personal freedoms.

Popular perceptions on protection fo human rights; proportion of the population that think that basic human rights are well protected.

There is no significant discrimination on the basis of people's race, color, or religious beliefs.

Extent to which the government invokes new risks and threats as an excuse for curbing civil liberties. 

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