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When the People Say Yes and the Leaders Say No

Sina Odugbemi's picture

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 couple of blog posts Jonathan Bernstein (he writes the excellent A Plain Blog about Politics) offers the following insights:

Tapping the Youth Bulge

Maya Brahmam's picture

At the Global Voices on Poverty discussion on ending poverty during the World Bank-Fund Spring Meetings, Muhammad Yunus talked about the pressing need to engage young people and leverage their creative capacity in order to end poverty. He noted that young people are a completely different force that could be engaged on larger social issues – e.g., reforesting a country like Haiti – and that this could be accomplished via social business funds.

Given the recent gloom on youth unemployment, could social entrepreneurship be a silver lining? Certainly the global challenges are many and large. But so are the youth populations in many countries. Instead of reaping the demographic dividends, many countries fear future instability owing to the very large youth bulge. The Economist, in a recent article “Youth unemployment: Generation jobless,” calculates that all told, almost 290,000,000 (almost a quarter of the planet’s youth) are neither working nor studying.

Post-2015 Wonkwar Continued: Claire Melamed on Why It’s a Good Thing + Your Chance to Vote

Duncan Green's picture
​​Claire Melamed responds to my ‘bah humbug’ opener on post-2015

I spend most of my working life thinking about post-2015 so this is a slightly nerve-racking experience.  What if Duncan convinces me?  Let me first respond to his arguments, then set out what I think is to be gained from the post-2015 circus… and then we’ll see if I’m still working on post-2015 at the end of it.

I’ll start with the magical thinking.  Yes a lot of what’s being said in the name of post-2015 is a bit ‘if everything was nice everything would be nice’.  But think of it this way: people everywhere, not just wonks like us – are getting involved in serious debates at national, regional and global level, about poverty, about politics, about economics and about the environment.  We don’t know where it will lead yet.  Some of it will lead nowhere.  But don’t write off all that energy and commitment because it’s a bit unfocused, rather celebrate the fact that so many people want to get involved in political debate and action (even be, um, active citizens….).

In any case, that is about the campaign and the public debate, not the goals, and the two shouldn’t be confused.   If the outcome is important, being annoyed at the tone and strategy adopted by campaigners has to be a reason to get in there and change that, not to walk away.

Weekly Wire: the Global Forum

Kalliope Kokolis's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

Global Information Society Watch
2012-The Internet and Corruption

“GISWatch 2012 explores how the internet is being used to ensure transparency and accountability, the challenges that civil society activists face in fighting corruption, and when the internet fails as an enabler of a transparent and fair society.

The eight thematic reports and 48 country reports published ask provocative questions such as: Is a surveillance society necessarily a bad thing if it fights corruption? and how successful have e-government programmes been in fighting corruption? They explore options for activism by youth and musicians online, as well as the art of using visual evidence to expose delusions of power.

By focusing on individual cases or stories of corruption, the country reports take a practical look at the role of the internet in combating corruption at all levels.”  READ MORE 
 

Anyone Fancy a Post-2015 Wonkwar? Me v Claire Melamed on the Biggest Development Circus in Town

Duncan Green's picture

I’ve been good friends with Claire Melamed for ages, but recently we’ve found ourselves on opposite sides of the post-2015 debate. As ODI’s growth and inequality supremo, Claire is deeply immersed in the ever-proliferating discussions, whereas I decided early on that I had massive reservations about the whole process. So for your amusement (and who knows, perhaps enlightenment), we’ve decided to air our differences in public. I’ll kick off,

Claire responds, and we hope that will produce a load of comments and a life and death struggle for the last word (which I shall of course win, because it’s my blog).

What’s my beef? The post-2015 discussion typifies the kind of ‘magical thinking’ that abounds in aid circles, in which well-intentioned developmentistas debate how the world should be improved. These discussions and the mountains of policy papers, blogs etc that accompany them, are often based on what I call ‘If I ruled the World’ (IRW) thinking. IRW, then I would do X, Y, Z – Rights for (disenfranchised group of your choice)! More Infrastructure! Better Data! Jobs!

Media (R)evolutions: Change in Percentage Internet Users and Democracy Scores, 2002-2011

Kalliope Kokolis's picture

New developments and curiosities from a changing global media landscape: People, Spaces, Deliberation brings trends and events to your attention that illustrate that tomorrow's media environment will look very differently from today's, and will have very little resemblance to yesterday's.

This week's Media (R)evolutions: Change in Percentage Internet Users and Democracy Scores, 2002-2011.

Note: "On the vertical axis is the change in percent of a country's population online over the last decade.  The horizontal axis reflects any change in the democratization score- any slide toward authoritarianism is represented by a negative number."

Pick Your Celebrity!

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

You know those pictures of Angelina Jolie hugging a starving child in Chad? Elton John singing at AIDS fundraisers? Bono being everywhere all over Africa in campaigns against poverty? There is a very good reason why celebrities lend their names and faces to development causes: it works. By the sheer force of their fame they draw attention to issues that would normally not be on our radar screen and they are able to mobilize parts of the population that does not always have access to information about development issues. So all you need to do is put a famous face on your cause and you’re set for success – increased awareness, increased attention, increased funding, and sometimes even behavior change? It’s not quite as easy as this. Picking the right celebrity is important, or the whole thing can backfire. Here are a few dos and don’ts when involving celebrities in a cause.

What is Social and Solidarity Economy and Why Does It Matter?

Duncan Green's picture

UNRISD Deputy Director Peter Utting introduces the theme of his organization’s big conference in May.

Having had my professional and political interests shaped during the somewhat heady days of the 1980s in Sandinista Nicaragua, I’ve long been interested in the potential and limits of collective action—of people organizing and mobilizing through associations, unions, cooperatives, community organizations, fairtrade networks and so on. The Sandinista “revolution” soon gave way to the “neoliberal” 1990s. As in much of the world, collective action went on the backburner or assumed new forms via NGO networks and identity politics. Fast forward two decades and we are witnessing a significant rebound in collective action associated with workers, producers and consumers. Whether in response to global crises (finance and food), the structural conditions of precarious employment or new opportunities for cultural expression and social interaction afforded by the internet age, old and new forms are on the rise.

The term social and solidarity economy (SSE) is increasingly being used to refer to a broad range of organizations that are distinguished from conventional for-profit enterprise, entrepreneurship and informal economy by two core features. First, they have explicit economic AND social (and often environmental) objectives. Second, they involve varying forms of co-operative, associative and solidarity relations.  They include, for example, cooperatives, mutual associations, NGOs engaged in income generating activities, women’s self-help groups, community forestry and other organizations, associations of informal sector workers, social enterprise and fair trade organizations and networks.

Is It Time for a New Paradigm for "Citizen Engagement"? The Role of Context and What the Evidence Tells Us

Simon O'Meally's picture

The meteoric rise of "citizen engagement"

Almost all development agencies promote some form of citizen engagement and accountability, often framed as 'voice', 'demand-side governance', 'demand for good governance' or 'social accountability'.   The current World Bank president, Jim Yong Kim, recently put it that, "citizen voice can be pivotal in providing the demand-side pressure on government, service providers, and organizations such as the World Bank that is needed to encourage full and swift response to citizen needs".  There has, in turn, been a mushrooming of useful operational guidance on different "tools" for social accountability - i.e. steps, inputs and methodologies - that guide discrete interventions, ranging from citizen score cards to participatory expenditure tracking.

One might, however, be forgiven for thinking that some of the debates on citizen engagement need an injection of realism; especially as contextual factors can make or break a "tool's" implementation.  A review of experience to date would be one good place to start.

Quote of the Week: Jose Manuel Barroso

Sina Odugbemi's picture

“I know that there are some technocratic advisers who tell us what the perfect model to respond to a situation is, but when we ask how we implement it, they say: ‘That is not my business.’  We need to have a policy that is right. At the same time we need to have…acceptance, political and social.”

-- José Manuel Barroso. President of the European Commission.

As quoted in the Financial Times, April 25, 2013. Global Insight: Politics draws out accidental truth on becalmed Europe, by Peter Speigel.

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