Does the state of public opinion on a public policy issue create obligations for political leaders, obligations they ignore at their peril? This is an issue being debated in the United States right now about a specific public policy controversy – gun control – but the core issue applies everywhere. In the specific case of the United States, many readers will know that there was an attempt to pass legislation requiring background checks before you can buy guns online or at gun shows. The legislation was blocked in the US Senate in spite of the fact that opinion polls say again and again that 90 per cent of Americans polled support the measure. So, the question is being asked and debated: how can 90% of the people support a measure and it does not become law? Very often the question is asked with real heat. Now, we are not going to get into the Byzantine complexities of American politics. What I am interested in is bringing to your attention what professional political scientists who blog have been saying about the core, universally relevant issue: does the state of public opinion create unavoidable obligations for political leaders?
In a previous blog post, I wrote about a small airfare tax that’s been implemented in a number of countries to help fight three of the world’s deadliest diseases. The idea behind the initiative (UNITAID) is to raise funds by applying a small levy on domestic and international flights; a levy so small that most people do not even take notice. It’s interesting what the success of this method says about us and human behavior. Let’s say, had a traveler been given the option to donate $1 before purchasing the air ticket, the outcome of UNITAID would probably have been very different. While studies show that there’s a strong connection between giving and the level of happiness, most people opt out. Why?
David Brooks of The New York Times points out that “we spend trillions of dollars putting policies and practices into place, but most of these efforts are based on the crudest possible psychological guesswork.” Understanding behavioral sciences is important. As he points out, sometimes “behavioral research leads us to completely change how we think about an issue,” and result in new policy approaches. He’s referring to one well-known example, which has to do with default settings: “Roughly 98 percent of people take part in organ donor programs in European countries where you have to check a box to opt out. Only 10 percent or 20 percent take part in neighboring countries where you have to check a box to opt in.” There’s something magical about the check box!
My neighbor, who is 44, just suffered a heart attack and underwent triple bypass surgery. His wife, with two young children, was understandably in a state of shock. We rallied around with home-cooked heart-healthy meals and helped with exercise. My family stepped up because we knew that our neighbors, without close relatives locally, could use our help and support.
So I felt a sense of connection when I read Mark Hyman’s recent article in the Huffington Post on how communities are often the best medicine for change. He pointed out that the secret of an effective model for treating drug resistant TB and AIDS in Haiti lay not in new drugs or medical centers, but in the community. He notes, “Recruiting and training over 11,000 community health workers across the world…proved that the sickest, poorest patients with the most difficult to treat diseases in the world could be successfully treated. The community was the treatment…”
In a Washington Post article that Dr. Qasem and I wrote entitled “The Arab Spring of Higher Education,” we spoke of the Amazon model and the eBay model of higher education. Here we elaborate on these two models and talk about what education will look like in the future.
First, let’s look at some US trends in higher education:
- Tuition costs are becoming increasingly unaffordable for college students. President Obama in his Michigan address asked colleges to think of ways to make education cheaper and more accessible. Large capital investments and fixed costs make it difficult for colleges to cut their expenses drastically
- College degrees are unaffordable for many and even so, do not guarantee a job. There is a demand for many prospective students is to learn materials and skills that would help them get a job
- Free availability of multimedia tools, broadband access, differentiated student base, demand for flexibility and modularized education, and technologically empowered end-users has created an environment where a demand for 24/7 education can be fulfilled by individuals or groups of individuals
A few weeks ago, the Economist provided an interesting take on social media, the Arab Spring, and the Reformation era. The article, How Luther Went Viral, claims that centuries before Facebook and the Arab Spring, social media helped bring about the Reformation era. Led by Martin Luther, the Reformation was a period of religious revolt that led to the division of Western Christianity and the start of Protestantism. The developments of this period were propelled by the advent of the printing press, which the article describes in rich detail. But it begins by making an interesting claim about how Luther and his allies promoted the message of religious reform with the social media of their day—pamphlets, ballads and woodcuts. So basically, the central argument of the piece states that what happened in the Arab Spring is what happened in the Reformation era: a new form of media provided the opponents of an authoritarian regime an opportunity to voice their concerns, affirm their discontent, and mobilize their actions.
Our Top Ten Blog Posts by Readership in 2011
Originally published on September 6, 2011
Most of those who have been riveted to the breaking news in North Africa and the Middle East during the so-called “Arab Spring” and the recent grimmer months this summer have been focused on predicting the actions of the various heads of state—of Hosni Mubarak, Muammar Gaddafi, Bashar Assad. But many academics have been trying to figure out who have been the prime movers of the grassroots unrest sweeping the region.
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
Daily News and Analysis India
Join the Fight Against Corruption
"'Today, I take oath that if unfortunately my father is corrupt, I will see that he comes out of corruption by way of life.' This was the oath taken by hundreds of school and college students as former president Dr APJ Abdul Kalam prepared the young minds to tackle one of the grim issues facing India today _ corruption. Kalam was speaking at a ceremony to give away awards to winners of IGNITE-11 atRJ Mathai Auditorium of IIMA. In all, 21 young innovators were awarded at the function.
Kalam urged students to fight corruption by adopting the mantra of giving. "You should go to your father and say, 'Dear Father, if this car is purchased with corruption money, I shall not drive it'," he told kids present in the hall. He said that all kids are ambassadors in the fight against corruption." READ MORE
Social networks have been a hot topic in the past year, not least because of the buzz around the Oscar-winning film about the founding of Facebook. Even in countries with relatively low internet connectivity, use of social networking sites is on the rise – just ask Timor-Leste’s President José Ramos Horta and his 378 Facebook friends. But even before the internet empowered us to connect and communicate at the speed of a whim, we have all lived fully immersed in social networks. Social networks are the links between family and friends, classmates and teammates, coworkers and colleagues, enemies and ‘frenemies’. They are the relationships – around 150 meaningful ones, according to Dunbar’s number – that feed and bound our choices and actions, provide us with emotional sustenance and sounding boards, and provide structure to our lives. But beyond their intrinsic value, what do these connections mean – for individuals, for communities, and for development?
A lesson in coalition building comes to us from Egypt via the New York Times. In an analysis of the build-up to the Egyptian Revolution, two NYT reporters show us how careful planning of events and allies led to one of the most important political events of our time in the region. The coalition that made such an impact consists of young people from Serbia, Tunisia, and Egypt, American and Russian intellectuals (some of them dead), Facebook groups, marketing specialists - and hooligans.
- Egypt, Arab Republic of
- Middle East and North Africa
- Wael Ghonim
- social networks
- social media
- New York Times
- Muslim Brotherhood
- Information and Communication Technologies
- Gene Sharp
- Egyptian Revolution
- David Sanger
- David Kirkpatrick
- Coalition Building
When it comes to use of social media in development, development institutions remind me of lumbering elephants walking down the autobahn. In any other sphere, development organizations would not be at such a disadvantage. We have been building roads for ever. There has not been any fundamental change in the technology of building roads. Development organizations learnt slowly but well about development challenges in various sectors and are now legitimate experts in these areas. All the same the title of “knowledge institutions” is a bit hard to swallow. The reason, probably somewhat unfair, is that knowledge today, for most people is intimately tied to technology, social media too is viewed as a medium for knowledge, much like the network of roads and highways are a medium for commerce.
A vital part of daily life is changing fundamentally all over the world, including how innovative ideas spread.
Is social networking an enabler in international development?
As a follow up to my last post on educational games, I wanted to provide an update on EVOKE – nearly two weeks into the game. For those of you who missed my last post, Evoke is a social networking game that is free to play and open to anyone, anywhere. The "text book" for this course is an online graphic novel. Set in the year 2020, the graphic novel follows the efforts of a mysterious network of Africa’s best problem-solvers. Each week, as players unravel the mystery of the Evoke network, they will form their own innovation networks: brainstorming creative solutions to real-world development challenges, learning more about what it takes to be a successful social innovator, and finding ways to make a difference in the world.
A promising web find that should catch the attention of our resident biodiversity expert, Tony, if it hasn't already: scientists from around the world are gathering this week in London for the e-Biosphere Conference, where they'll present and discuss a project to create a "macroscopic observatory" of biodiversity that
I came across a small, but interesting online effort to raise donations for an organization that works to improve child literacy in Laos. Called Library for Laos, the effort aims to raise $5,000 by May 1– just five days after it started. The money raised is intended to go to Big Brother Mouse, a neat, Laos-based project that publishes, teaches and distributes books to children in a country they say desperately needs it.
It's a nice concept for a good cause, but what sticks out to me are the coordinators' clear attempts to use social media to spread the word about their effort. On their website, they bank on the ease of PayPal for donating money and the viral nature of social media: "How many people follow you on Twitter? How many friends do you have on Facebook? Let's see how valuable they are!" It's early to tell if they're succeeding. After the first day, they had apparently raised $500 dollars.
Either way, the endeavor highlights how social sites like Facebook, which permeates everyday life for many of us, can serve the world's poor. For example, you have the option to join various "causes" on Facebook. And on Twitter, information can spread like wildfire through retweets (rebroadcasting content to your own set of followers). What do you think? Would you ask your online friends and/or followers to donate money to a good cause?
(Found via: Escape the Cube). Image credit: rustystewart at Flickr under a Creative Commons license.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has joined the ranks of politicians in Facebook, the social networking site --and has quickly jumped to the 8th position in number of followers (almost 30,000), as of early Friday in the US Eastern time zone.