Click for next page ( 75


The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement



Below are the first 10 and last 10 pages of uncorrected machine-read text (when available) of this chapter, followed by the top 30 algorithmically extracted key phrases from the chapter as a whole.
Intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text on the opening pages of each chapter. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

Do not use for reproduction, copying, pasting, or reading; exclusively for search engines.

OCR for page 74
4 Democracy and Political Institutions 4.1 DEMOCRACY, POLITICAL INSTITUTIONS, AND POWER For those worried about the impact of global networks on local val- ues, political institutions are a tool for coping with the problem. But the existing political institutions are themselves affected by the networks. Understanding how and why this is so is the aim of this chapter. Some definitions are useful as a starting point. Power is the ability to impose a solution on others. It applies both within and outside existing political institutions, with or without a legitimate basis and balanced or not by the power of other actors or interests. By contrast, a political insti- tution is an instrumental notion. The creation of political institutions pre- sumes that there are problems to be solved by a consciously created gov- ernment a polity rather than by social institutions or processes. And it further presumes that the institutions act as agents for a collective entity with defined geographical and subject-matter jurisdiction. In this con- text, democracy comprises a specific set of publicly determined political institutions, in contrast to technocratic government or despotism. Democracy can also be understood as a normative indicator of the political legitimacy of a system or process. But legitimacy is a complex concept that requires a balance between effectiveness and openness of governance. This balance depends on the size and shape of the polity and on the character of the political problems to be solved. Because any given iSeyla Benhabib, ed. 1996. "Toward a Deliberative Model of Democratic Legitimacy," Democracy and Difference. Contesting the Boundaries of the Political, 68-94, 69. Princeton, N.J. 74 04GN_73-104 74 312615, 7:20 PM

OCR for page 74
DEMOCRACY AND POLITICAL INSTITUTIONS 75 arrangement of political institutions has implications for power and de- mocracy, this chapter addresses the three notions jointly. 4.2 THE IMPACT OF THE INTERNET ON DEMOCRACY, POLITICAL INSTITUTIONS, AND POWER The impact of the Internet on democracy, political institutions, and power is complex. Moreover, it is a work in progress. Clearly, global networks have the potential to change political arenas, the actors within them, the processes of politics, and the tools of governance. They may even change the character of political conflicts and the cognitive frame- works or normative beliefs that drive those conflicts. To be sure, not all institutions, actors, and processes are equally affected, but that fact in it- self is a motivation for examining the nature of these impacts in some detail. 4.2.1 Complexity and Uncertainty As discussed in Chapter 2, global networks are themselves still in a state of continual development. In addition, a variety of organizations are experimenting with different ways of interacting through networks and exploring a variety of (as yet unproven) business models. Many Internet services are still struggling to achieve profitable status, so their future is uncertain. The optimal technical and economic strategies for broadband transmissions at the local level the so-called "last mile" prob- lem are also unsettled.2 Such dynamism and uncertainty make large- scale outcomes difficult to predict. For example, how completely will the Internet penetrate each society? At what points will e-commerce activi- ties saturate their U.S. markets? How quickly will Germany catch up to the United States? These factors, in turn, will affect how political institu- tions and power relationships evolve. There are larger issues and conflicts as well, as evidenced by the con- tinuing battle between those who believe the Internet should be priva- tized and those who believe it should be managed in an open and egali- tarian manner. Furthermore, it is hard to predict whether the attempts to re-nationalize the Internet that is, to reverse the globalizing trend using technical or legal tools in order to serve national cultural, social, and eco- nomic needs will succeed in some or any countries. It is reasonable to expect, however, that political actors will try to influence Internet devel- opmentprecisely because political institutions are affected by it. 2See for example, Computer Science and Telecommunications Board, National Research Council, 2002, Broadband: Bringing Home the Bits, in press. 04G N_73-104 75 312615, 7:20 PM

OCR for page 74
76 GLOBAL NETWORKS AND LOCAL VALUES These reciprocal influences are clearly very important, as pointed out in Chapter 1. Global networks create and constrain opportunities for policymakers, who respond by trying to shape the changes to their ad- vantage. In the United States and Germany, the historical and technologi- cal starting points are very different, so global networks can easily trigger very different structural change in each of the two countries. An analysis is useful here not so much as a way of predicting the outcome in either country but as a way of describing the potential of global networks to change the political process in any polity (while acknowledging the unique characteristics of the United States and Germany). 4.2.2 Political Arenas The term "political arena" refers to a set of formal and informal institu- tions that serves as a framework for policymaking and to which bow public and private actors have access. The traditional political arena is Me nation state, which can be affected by many characteristics of me Internet. Because the Internet is global in reach, it can bring citizens of many nations into contact with one another. Because the costs of Internet access are low (and getting lower over time), more people within each nation have access to it. Because its architecture supports a myriad of applications, there are strong incentives for many parties to access it. Because its management is decen- tralized, operational control from a central organization is essentially im- possible to achieve. And because of technical advances, Internet communi- cations can be conducted in ways that are more secure, secret, and anonymous man other communications have been in the past. Individually and jointly, these characteristics challenge some of the traditional roles and powers of the nation state. Global networks are a medium for and a factor in globalization. They induce change in the po- litical arena, and can bring it about as well. If the changes render a particular political arena a locality, region, or even a nation-state less able to deal with some issues, policymakers may choose to transfer those issues to another political arena that seems better adapted to the task. The development of public international law is an early example of this kind of globalization of the political arena. Sov- ereign states react to a new challenge by negotiating an international treaty or setting up an international organization, thereby creating at least for the issues at hand a global political arena.3 In fact, there are a number of 3Klaus W. Grewlich. 2000. "Conflict and Good Governance in 'Cyberspace,"' in Christoph Engel and Kenneth Keller, eds., Governance of Global Networks in the Light of Differing Local Values, Law and Economics of International Telecommunications, Vol. 43. Baden-Baden: Nomos, 237-264, 239. 04GN_73-104 76 312615, 7:20 PM

OCR for page 74
DEMOCRACY AND POLITICAL INSTITUTIONS 77 examples of global institutions created in the past, under somewhat dif- ferent stimuli, that can be adapted to address some of the current prob- lems arising from global networks. As early as 1910, for example, a treaty was concluded to combat the distribution of "illicit papers, drawings, pic- tures or objects that have an international character";4 today the treaty applies to electronic dissemination as well. International treaties have not generally been so readily adapted, however. The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), for ex- ample, found it necessary in 1996 to propose a new treaty that would address the special problems of protecting copyright on the Internet. In- terestingly, this was a case in which the instruments provided in the inter- national political arena effectively finessed the national political process. Those interested in extended copyright protection lost the battle in the U.S. Congress. But they basically succeeded in the WIPO, and Congress ratified the outcome when it was presented to that body in the form of an international treaty. But international political arenas encompass more than public inter- national law. Government agencies (e.g., the U.S. Trade Representative) promote international trade. The United Nations (UN) provides a forum for high-level international discussions and the application of political pressure. And non-public entities play important roles as well. For ex- ample, industry associations from many industrialized countries have ne- gotiated an international uniform commercial code for electronic trade. A second example is the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), whose role is to make decisions about top-level do- main names; this entity may become a nucleus for Internet regulation at a much broader scale in the future.5 Global networks not only spur the development of global political arenas but simultaneously give local political arenas more leverage. Local community networks, such as the Cleveland Free-Net and the Amsterdam City Web, were the forerunners of digital communities that serve local (physical) communities (Box 4.1~. 4Treaty of 04.05.1910, RGB1. 1911, 209, as well as protocol of 04.05.1949, UNTS 30, 3 con- solidated edition UNTS 47, 159. The Federal Republic has not yet signed the changed treaty, however. 5For details, see Klaus W. Grewlich, 1999, "Governance in Cyberspace. Access and Public Interest in Global Communications," Law and Electronic Commerce 9: 193-216, The Hague; and, critically, Milton Mueller, 1999, "ICANN and Internet Governance. Sorting Through the Debris of Self-Regulation," Info 1:497-520; and Laurence R. Heifer and Graeme B. Dinwoodie, 2001, "Designing Non-National Systems: The Case of the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy," William ~ Mary Law Review 43, October. 04G N_73-104 77 312615, 7:20 PM

OCR for page 74
78 GLOBAL NETWORKS AND LOCAL VALUES 04GN_73-104 78 312615, 7:20 PM

OCR for page 74
DEMOCRACY AND POLITICAL INSTITUTIONS 79 Moreover, the easy and inexpensive price of entry into the Internet allows community without propinquity.6 It has become easier to create political groupings political arenas along substantive rather than geo- graphical lines. What has generally been available for professional groups is now spreading into other kinds of affinity groups based on particular political issues, ethnic identities, avocations, and casual interests or hob- bies. USENET newsgroups were the first manifestation of this trend, and the proliferation of such groups continues unabated. This trend raises some concerns, however: if these groups isolate them- selves from the larger community, the domain of traditional politics might shrink drastically; or, if the groups become dominant actors In the national political arena, the political process could be reduced to little more man a battle of single interests. A furler concern is that these groups, by Weir reach and technical capacity to gamer, organize, and use information, may create de facto challenges to government by assuming some roles mat are usually associated with government actors. For example, organizations like the Cyber Angels function as a kind of private attorney general. Credit- card organizations replace legal consumer protection Trough Weir com- mercial charge-back systems. Credit-rating agencies assume de facto regu- latory power over We management of credit risk. Sometimes the nation-state has found it wise to ignore these develop- ments or, more to We point, has allowed them to take over the roles Hey have assumed by not challenging ~em. Yet typically these groups do not entirely replace exishng institutions. Together Hey create a fractionated system that provides neither equal protection nor efficient service; In some instances, when several such groups emerge simultaneously, they present competitive structures whose authority and responsibility are not well de- fined. A challenge for He future will be to sort out these relationships In much the same way as He member states of He European Community, and the state and federal governments in the United States, have had to do. 4.2.3 Political Actors Political arenas are populated by political actors who may function in several arenas at the same timed and global networks have made such multiple opportunities increasingly possible. But the networks have also expanded the opportunities for new political actors. They have made it 6Michael Thompson. 2000. "Global Networks and Local Cultures: What Are the Mis- matches and What Can Be Done about Them?," in Christoph Engel and Kenneth H. Keller, eds., Understanding the Impact of Global Networks on Local Social, Political and Cultural Values, 2000, 113-129, 123. 7Fritz W. Scharpf. 1997. "Games Real Actors Play." Actor-Centered Institutionalism in Policy Research 51. 04G N_73-104 79 312615, 7:20 PM

OCR for page 74
80 GLOBAL NETWORKS AND LOCAL VALUES more productive for organizations such as the currently ubiquitous "nongovernmental organizations" to participate as well. Thus, the term "actors" encompasses both individuals citizens, members of organiza- tions, ad hoc participants in movements and organizations that promote an agenda or participate in a political process as a coherent entity. Like Russian matryoshka dolls-within-dolls, these organizational actors can function as whole entities or as a collection of constituents individual actors each potentially acting as they see fit. These organizations political parties, trade unions, and more loosely tied collectives such as issue-based movements must now deal win ~ndi- vidual-member actors who are increasingly empowered by technology. Since it is technically and economically so easy, constituencies of various organizations can insist on being better and more quickly informed, and then use Mat information to increase Weir influence in We management of the organization. On the over hand, We very same information technolo- gies mat increase We effective power of an organization's membership also make it easier for members to leave me organization and re-form around more narrowly defined issues and interests; ironically, however, me more credible me threat to exit, the more influential one's voice may become within the organization.8 Individuals, whether members or not, can also refocus the strength of me large group by forming ad hoc coalitions or loosely knit networks of actors. (See, for example, Box 4.2.) Of course, the leaders of either traditional organizations or the newer Internet-spawned groups (whether part of formal management structures or an informal leadership hierarchy) need not be passive either. The new technologies give them more ways to respond to their constituencies by allowing voices to be heard and to earn credibility with their constituen- cies through better communication of their positions and ideas. How these factors ultimately play out, and whether they lead to a strengthen- ing or weakening of established organizations, is likely to be determined on a case-by-case basis. For example, established organizations tend to have easier access to power and money. On the other hand, they are frequently less flexible in addressing new challenges. Which of these two factors dominates will vary from one situation to another. The number of organizations that count as new political actors is also growing.9 Once global networks spread over a country, the transaction costs for setting up any new group fall dramatically. A mailing list is Gilbert O. Hirschman. 1970. Exit, Voice, and Loyalty. Responses to Decline in Firms, Orga- nizations, and States. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 9Klaus W. Grewlich. 2000. "Conflict and Good Governance in 'Cyberspace," in Christoph Engel and Kenneth Keller, eds., Governance of Global Networks in the Light of Differing Local Values, Baden-Baden: Nomos, 237-264, 251. 04GN_73-104 80 312615, 7:20 PM

OCR for page 74
DEMOCRACY AND POLITICAL INSTITUTIONS 8 04G N_73-104 81 312615, 7:20 PM

OCR for page 74
82 GLOBAL NETWORKS AND LOCAL VALUES enough for a start, and a quite-professional home page can be prepared on a personal computer. The political effectiveness of even the most mod- est effort can be impressive, as evidenced by the successful International Campaign to Ban Landmines, a project organized almost entirely through the Internet and spearheaded by an individual without a power base in established organizations. Until relatively recent times, the difference between political actors and the public in representative democracies has been fairly well understood and accepted. Political actors made decisions for He general public. Gov- ernment officials or members of parliament were, of course, directly or ~n- directly elected by the public. However, between elections these officials relied, for the most part, on intermediaries He media, political organ~za- tions, even spokespersons and publicists to keep In touch with the public. In an information age, global networks have the potential to reduce (or at least change) the role of intermediaries in the political arena.~ Broadcasting is being supplemented and sometimes replaced by narrowcasting. Networks make it easier to access information directly and can also make available tailor-made tools for selecting and interpret- ing information. Thus, with respect to both the provision and the inter- pretation of information, the trend appears to be one in which traditional intermediaries are becoming less important. As a result, people will be less willing to pay for their services, with the consequence that they will be less visible and used still less. On the other hand, networks also facilitate the creation of new inter- mediaries to help people find and evaluate information or express politi- cal preferences. Therefore, at the same time, technology creates the po- tential for direct action (plebiscites) and for new brokers or new political intermediaries (and the bypassing of old ones) in the political arena. In a world of enormous information surplus, finding reliable infor- mation that is directly related to one's interests presents huge difficulties for an individual. Today's search engines (e.g., Google, Yahoo!) are one obvious manifestation of new intermediaries that help people find infor- mation. But there is every reason to expect that more sophisticated search engines and other intermediary services will help people identify the kinds of information they need and to evaluate the quality of information iChristoph Engel. 2000. "The Internet and the Nation State," in Christoph Engel and Kenneth H. Keller, eds., Understanding the Impact of Global Networks on Local Social, Political and Cultural Values, 201-260, 222. Note also that the situation is quite different in e-com- merce, where the Internet, and information technology more generally, are increasing the opportunities for intermediation. See Chapter 7 of this volume. iiStephen Coleman. 1999. "Cutting Out the Middle Man: From Virtual Representation to Direct Deliberation," in Barry N. Hague and Brian D. Loader, eds., Digital Democracy, 195-210. 04GN_73-104 82 312615, 7:20 PM

OCR for page 74
DEMOCRACY AND POLITICAL INSTITUTIONS 83 that they receive. This should not be surprising, given that these editorial functions are being performed today by the editors of newspapers and magazines and books. (Of course, new information intermediaries have an important commercial dimension as well, and to the extent that new intermediaries are used to support political activity, politics and com- merce are not mutually exclusive.) The emergence of powerful nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) has been aided in large part by the presence of global networks. NGOs too can be viewed as a new kind of intermediary, and networks have increased their power relative to that of governments. First, networks enable NGOs to rapidly assemble large political constituencies that can bring significant pressure to bear on elected governments. And second, networks provide NGOs with rapid access to enormous amounts of rel- evant information, much of which was previously in the hands of govern- ments alone. (Some have noted that networks similarly enhance the power of governments to assemble and analyze information. But since governments had most of the power prior to the wide availability of glo- bal networks, the result is that the relative powers of governments and NGOs have shifted in favor of the latter.) As these changes occur, the public has the opportunity to become much more active, either as individuals or through NGOs. Moreover, the value of delegating authority to elected representatives or "experts" is neither as clear nor as accepted. The technical feasibility of receiving in- formation from a seemingly unlimited variety of sources in real time, and being able to express one's view on any issue, also in real time, leads an increasing number of people to believe that they can understand virtually any public-policy issue and that direct, popular decisionmaking is a real option. Whether this confidence is in fact justified is a different matter entirely, but such perceptions have a strong effect on the legitimacy granted by the public to the "experts." Changes of this magnitude can affect not only constitutional struc- tures for policymaking; they can also alter the more subtle and informal structures that are part of a nuanced and unwritten balance in society. The boundaries become blurred between public and private roles, be- tween policymaking and the accountability for policy decisions, between political and social structures. In Germany, the informal but strong cor- poratist structure of politics might certainly be affected, as has the cohe- sion of party politics in the United States. The question, difficult to answer at this time, is whether the disap- pearance of traditional intermediaries will lead to the kind of populist, or direct, democracy described above, or whether it will instead give rise to different kinds of intermediation more appropriate to a networked world. One vision of the future is described in Box 4.3. 04G N_73-104 83 312615, 7:20 PM

OCR for page 74
84 GLOBAL NETWORKS AND LOCAL VALUES 04GN_73-104 84 312615, 7:20 PM

OCR for page 74
DEMOCRACY AND POLITICAL INSTITUTIONS 95 organized private actors. All of these German political practices have come under pressure from global networks. By contrast, the United States has a much stronger tradition of freedom of information, makes more extensive use of public referenda, and negotiates policy with a wide vari- ety of interest groups. Thus the pressures on the U.S. political system for change are, in this respect, considerably less. The willingness of nations to respond to pressures created by increas- ing internationalization also varies. Germany, under these kinds of pres- sures, has had some success in moving beyond its traditional command- and-control regulation. The United States, on the other hand, is more resistant to international pressures generally; its unwillingness to adapt to global standards when, for example, its social and religious values are involved may prove to be problematical. The dispute between the United States and the European Union over privacy regulations, now resolved in principle, is a case in point. (See Chapter 6 in this report for more detailed discussion.) All democracies balance individualism, hierarchy, and egalitarian beliefs in some fashion.24 Normally, political actors take these compro- mises as a given; indeed, they are embedded in political institutions that restrict the strategy space for political action. The stronger these institu- tions are, the more difficult it is to challenge the underlying compromises. When global networks do challenge them, the reaction is a confrontational rather than an adaptive process. How fast change occurs depends on how well the political system is prepared to accommodate it. Neither the United States nor Germany has a formal parliamentary system. In the United States, the President and his administration, and in Germany, the ministerial administration (as well as powerful social actors like the unions), have either de lure or de facto veto power. This makes it somewhat more difficult to coalesce around a strategy for change. On the other hand, both are federations (Germany, in fact, has three levels of governance, if one includes the European Union), which has given them some experience in coordinating governance across political arenas. Both countries also have powerful and independent constitutional courts, which can enable change by preventing a tyranny of the majority and protecting diverse views and life styles. The courts can also break political deadlocks in which a legislative body is unwilling or unable to act when action is needed. 24Michael Thompson, Richard Ellis, and Aaron Wildavsky. 1990. Basic Cultural Theory. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press. 04G N_73-104 95 312615, 7:20 PM

OCR for page 74
96 GLOBAL NETWORKS AND LOCAL VALUES 4.2.10 Degree of International Conflict Over Democratic Values The significant differences in the structure of democracy among coun- tries may lead to differences in the reactions of these nations to the pres- sures for change posed by global networks. For example, nations have different perspectives on how best to ensure order and propriety on the Internet (Box 4.8~. However, in contrast to the reaction where issues such as pornography, hate speech, or religious tolerance are concerned,25 the different forms that democracy takes are not, in themselves, a source of conflict as long as there is little or no overlap in political constituencies. 25Grewlich (supra note 9) 241-246. 04GN_73-104 96 312615, 7:20 PM

OCR for page 74
DEMOCRACY AND POLITICAL INSTITUTIONS 97 Those differences result from the fact that nation-states are sovereign and therefore free to choose their own political institutions; inevitably, they will make different choices in implementing democratic values. Be- cause there is little or no overlap in political constituencies, most people do not find their own form of democracy threatened merely because it differs from that of another nation-state. Transnational political arenas would seem to represent a very differ- ent case. Here there is very clearly an overlap of constituencies and a possibility for conflict among competing political systems. Fortunately, at least for the issues of concern here, international institutions and gover- nance structures are generally so weak, and so limited in their capacity to compel actions in the member states, that confrontation between national systems seldom occurs. More serious conflicts arise, however, when political systems become "missionary." For example, those concerned about human rights want to see human rights protected everywhere. In order to join the Council of Europe or the European Community, Eastern European countries have to prove that their constitutions conform to democratic standards in protect- ing individual rights. For many nations, such an evangelical perspective raises the concern that hegemonic intentions rather than humanitarian considerations may be the real driving force. Some observers question, for instance, the U.S. government's position that the Internet should not be regulated. They wonder whether it is less a manifestation of a First Amendment principle than it is covert industrial policy, aimed at ensur- ing unconditional access by American e-business to other countries.26 This leads to a final concern. Although different national concepts of democracy can, in principle, coexist relatively easily in the era of the Internet, the Internet itself is a global phenomenon. Thus if one nation- state attempts to protect or foster its particular national form of democ- racy by attempting to shape the Internet in a certain way, the normative differences between states may give rise to a significant international con- flict over policy regarding the Internet. Box 4.9 provides an illustration. 4.3 CONSTITUTIONAL POLICY Global networks have great potential to induce change. They can en- hance the effectiveness of some political arenas to the detriment of others, give some political actors power and take it away from others, and 26Jacques Arlandis. 2000. "The Clerk, the Merchant and the Politician," in Christoph Engel and Kenneth Keller, eds., Governance of Global Networks in the Light of Differing Local Values, 105-117, 109. 04G N_73-104 97 312615, 7:20 PM

OCR for page 74
98 GLOBAL NETWORKS AND LOCAL VALUES 04GN_73-104 98 312615, 7:20 PM

OCR for page 74
DEMOCRACY AND POLITICAL INSTITUTIONS 99 strengthen some governance tools and weaken others. They can alter po- litical processes, the character of political conflicts, or cognitive frame- works and normative beliefs. They can even change the relationship be- tween the society and the state. It would be naive to expect those who currently hold political power to just let all this happen. This sets the stage for the debates, conflicts, and structural adjustments that are part of the evolution of what might be called "constitutional policy," to which we now turn our attention. 4.3.1 Accommodating Constitutional Policy to Global Networks Political actors are likely to try to encourage or block a particular ef- fect of global networks on political structures, depending on their assess- ment of its consequences. But as a practical matter it is really quite diffi- cult to anticipate either the precise way in which the networks will affect each part of the system or all of the consequences that may result from trying to intervene. Given the complex interactions that occur between political and social subsystems,27 any intervention whether in the form of new regulations, political co-optation of networks, or even changes in the structure of political institutions can lead to reactions by each sub- group to preserve the status quo or to maintain the momentum of change. This seems particularly likely when players from the first-generation Internet communities, who tend to blend egalitarian with anarchic ele- ments, are involved. Although it is beyond the scope of this study to deal with the question of whether there is any compelling reason to encourage one form of de- mocracy over another, the question of how a constitutional change can come about under the influence of global networks is quite appropriate. Democracies deliberately make such change difficult in order to reduce the likelihood that well-organized political interest groups can effect fun- damental structural alterations merely to suit their agendas. The U.S. Supreme Court and the German Constitutional Court play key roles in guarding their respective constitutions against such political manipulation. But global networks can, in a de facto sense, alter constitu- tional protections or frustrate constitutional goals even without any for- mal change in the constitution. Given that possibility, a failure to modify the written constitution, or a failure to adjust the informal mechanisms and interpretations that supplement the written provisions of the consti- 27For the Internet as a subsystem the argument is made in Dirk Baecker, 2000, "Network- ing the Web," in Christoph Engel and Kenneth H. Keller, eds., Understanding the Impact of Global Networks on Local Social, Political and Cultural Values, 93-111, 96. 04G N_73-104 99 312615, 7:20 PM

OCR for page 74
00 GLOBAL NETWORKS AND LOCAL VALUES tution, may sometimes lead to undesirable changes in a nation's funda- mental political structure. The German constitution might be somewhat better prepared to parry such a challenge. Both countries have constitutionally protected funda- mental freedoms, and both empower their respective constitutional courts to interpret them. But the United States's interpretation relies on rights that are explicitly mentioned in or at least implied by the U.S. Constitu- tion, and the U.S. Supreme Court tends to narrow the constitutional is- sues before it as much as possible, at least by comparison to the German Constitutional Court. The German Constitutional court, on the other hand, has greater leeway for adaptation, thus allowing it to act on the basis of broader considerations. For example, although German Basic Law requires that any governmental interference with freedom or property needs a justification, almost any reasonable policy is accepted as a justifi- cation, provided that the proposed restrictions can be shown to be neces- sary to achieve the desired end. 4.3.2 Internet Policy Given the reluctance of policymakers to undertake constitutional changes to adjust to the new circumstances presented by global networks, they are likely to focus on policy instruments that would allow control, regulation, or even exclusion of the Internet for the purpose of dealing with the tensions it generates. But none of those approaches is easy to implement. Only two countries in the world have opted for a policy of completely forbidding access to the Internet: North Korea and Myanmar. Singapore and Vietnam have tried to force all Internet traffic in and out of their countries through a few tightly controlled conduits, but they pay a high price for such control: access by their citizens to worldwide informa- tion sources is sharply reduced. For countries such as the United States or Germany, such Draconian action has never been proposed. Short of actually blocking access to the Internet, countries find them- selves with options of widely different effectiveness, as illustrated by Ger- many and the United States. Because of U.S. dominance in the global information technology industry and among large-scale Internet service providers, U.S. policy actions that force change in the Internet-related products and services offered by U.S. companies are likely to affect the development path of the Internet globally. On the other hand, even though German authorities may occasionally sanction a global network (as they did in the CompuServe cases), their influence is limited and can hardly be expected to have a significant effect on the shape of the Internet. Because of the interconnectedness of the Internet infrastructure (e.g., standards and protocols), if one nation actually effects some change in the 04GN_73-104 100 312615, 7:20 PM

OCR for page 74
DEMOCRACY AND POLITICAL INSTITUTIONS 101 structure or operation of the Internet, that change will affect operations everywhere but not necessarily in the same way or with the same conse- quences. For example, if the United States forced a technological change to implement its national policy of limiting the distribution of undesirable material, it might well build into the system the technical means for an authoritarian regime to extend its censorship control (a point discussed further in Chapter 5~. It would be simplistic to view Internet policy as entirely a question of regulation or control aimed at preserving traditional political structures, given that global networks offer a new tool for achieving important and very broad political goals. Both the United States and Germany are com- mitted to a political structure that can provide for a range of views to be heard and considered and, at the same time, encourage integration of those views and the people who hold them into a coherent society. To satisfy the first goal, ideological, political, and ethnic minorities need to have access to the public forum, providing for a kind of cultural biodiversity that introduces fresh insights and makes political innovation possible. This goal has not been easy to meet through traditional elec- tronic media. The radio-frequency spectrum is limited and crowded, and cable channels are expensive, as are broadcasting facilities of significant power. Constitutional courts have tried to overcome these inherent limi- tations by instituting fairness doctrines, with mixed results.28 By contrast, the Internet and its related technologies make the goal of access much easier to attain. The spectrum is virtually unlimited, the costs are low, and public policies can easily be put in place to promote Internet literacy, wide availability of terminals in schools and libraries, and help for any group interested in setting up a Web page. The situation is reversed with respect to the goal of societal integra- tion. With traditional electronic media, the small number of program originators, the high set-up cost, the one-to-many nature of broadcasting, and the typically passive role of the message recipients are all conducive to societal integration. Moreover, the small number of programmers also makes it easy to impose and enforce policy. The Internet makes societal integration harder to achieve because in- dividuals have much greater autonomy both as transmitters and recipi- ents of messages. Indeed, the technology allows societal atomization to an unprecedented degree. Some technical approaches have been pro- posed to promote integration in the Internet context for example, "push" technologies that force users to open a publicly designed or prescribed window before they can get access to any other site. But there are obvious 28For an account, see Cass Sunstein, 1995, Democracy and the Problem of Free Speech, The Free Press. 04GN_73-104 101 312615, 7:20 PM

OCR for page 74
02 GLOBAL NETWORKS AND LOCAL VALUES objections to such an imposition on personal freedom. For the time being, therefore, it appears more feasible to depend on network-based technolo- gies to serve the goals of access and diversity, and more traditional broad- cast media to promote social and political integration. It should be noted, however, that technological convergence may re- quire a reconsideration in the future of how best to achieve a balance of diversity and integration. Technological developments are gradually blurring the distinctions between various communication media. DSL technology can increase the bandwidth of telephone lines so that they can support motion-picture transmission or other kinds of broadcasting; cable-television lines can now support Internet communication and real- time voice communications; and various kinds of compression technolo- gies are increasing broadcast-channel availability, thus allowing more customized programming. In time this may alter the view of broadcast media as passive and integrative, and Internet media as active and di- verse, but for the near and mid-term future the distinction remains useful. 4.3.3 Networks and Representative Versus Direct Democracy Democracy theorists have been attracted by one feature of global net- works in particular: the fact that it is now technically and economically possible to let people decide political issues directly. This reopens the debate over representative versus direct democracy and the desirability of a shift of law-making jurisdiction from a legislature to the electorate.29 Different countries have had different experiences with plebiscites. In Switzerland, plebiscites seem to work reasonably well. But many analysts believe that the demise of Germany's Weimar Republic was accelerated by an overly broad use of that instrument. The "electronic town hall" would appear to increase input legitimacy, because it increases participation. On the other hand, it is more difficult to ensure that voters are as fully informed about complex issues as one might hope legislators are, and so output le- gitimacy may suffer. Voters may be lured into the illusion that access to information through global networks is tantamount to complete under- standing. Moreover, legislation by referendum usually requires that the issue at hand be reduced to a simply phrased question. Experience has shown that the outcome of a referendum depends strongly on how the ques- tion is phrased,30 and most experts agree that it is all but impossible to keep a question simple and, at the same time, capture important nuances. 29See Jeffrey Abramson. 2000. "Democracy and Global Communications," in Christoph Engel and Kenneth Keller, eds., Governance of Global Networks in the Light of Differing Local Values, 119-130. 30See, for example, R. Nisbett and L. Ross, 1980, Human Inference, Prentice-Hall. 04GN_73-104 102 312615, 7:20 PM

OCR for page 74
DEMOCRACY AND POLITICAL INSTITUTIONS 103 Of course, legislative decisions may not be fully informed either, and the traditional political process does not necessarily lead to the most de- sirable outcome. For example, political actors may be motivated by con- cerns other than solving the policy problem at hand.3~ The legislative agenda can be shaped by the media, scandal, or a host of other factors rather than by substantive priority, and logrolling or political influence may determine outcomes as much as the needs of the polity. The fact is that neither popular nor legislative approaches to problem solving are free from risk or without merit. A larger role for direct de- mocracy could serve three purposes. It could increase the participation of the public in decision making, resulting in a greater sense of ownership and responsibility. It might be an important tool in promoting societal integration. And it could make those in political power more accountable to the public. If the threat of plebiscites, formal or informal, exists, it is more difficult to ignore the public will between elections. In that respect, some opportunities for direct democracy can be part of the system of checks and balances in the political structure. It may well be that the most important contribution of networks will not be to replace representative democracies with referendum/plebiscite- based direct democracies, but to offer a rich range of intermediate possi- bilities. Such options could enhance participation in governance, increase the diversity of viewpoints in public debate, and place additional pres- sure on public officials to be responsive and accountable. The mere po- tential of global networks to redistribute political power forces decision makers to explain their actions more clearly and thoroughly. Referenda can be used to express public views without actually shift- ing formal decision-making power. Even without formal referenda, the ease of network communication makes it possible for many different voices to be heard. And with broader freedom-of-information policies, the new technologies can allow the public to gain increased access to gov- ernment files.32 By shedding brighter light on the processes of govern- ment, the ability of the public to hold its elected officials accountable for their actions may thus be enhanced. 3iDaniel A. Farber and Philip P. Frickey. 1991. Law and Public Choice, 22. 32As discussed in Chapter 8, there are significant differences between the United States and Germany in this respect. Freedom of information is already a much more broadly ap- plied principle in the United States than in Germany. 04G N_73-104 1 03 312615, 7:20 PM

OCR for page 74
04 GLOBAL NETWORKS AND LOCAL VALUES 4.3.4 The Impact of Networks on the Evolution of Political Landscapes Political structures need to be open to change over time, both because new technologies introduce new issues and because the value judgements of those governed may change. Society's formal institutions and political culture need to be prepared for evolution, to be able to respond to fresh ideas and be attentive to new challenges. The healthy society develops mechanisms to adapt in much the same way an ecosystem does, encour- aging processes of variation and selection. The analogy has limitations, however. Both variation and selection have dangers for a society. The former promotes fragmentation of the body politic, the latter encourages single-issue politics. Those are dangers that societies need to be aware of but cannot easily avoid. Global networks affect variation and selection, but they do more for the former than the latter. They provide a means for giving people with new ideas wide distribution and a means for people seeking ideas to find them. In doing so, they reshape political arenas, empower political ac- tors, and reconfigure political processes. Their effect on selection is less clear. Do they lead to a more thoughtful process of weighing and imple- menting ideas, or do they provide an opportunity for special interests or single-issue groups to promote changes that do not serve the broad polity well? If the latter is the case, one might view an appropriate regulatory strategy for global networks as one that promotes globalization and plu- ralization to increase the range of ideas available, but restricts the role of the networks in the actual process of lawmaking. Central government policies undertaken to deal with social problems almost always have distributional consequences that affect one group dif- ferently than another. If a way cannot be found to compensate a constitu- ency that is negatively affected, the government stands to alienate that group. In the modern world, networking technologies provide opportu- nities for such groups to leave the polity, virtually or in reality. For single- issue constituencies, the opportunities for government to craft some kind of compensation are quite limited. Thus, the very network that increases a group's power to press its case also decreases its need or willingness to accept a negative decision to serve the greater good. Although the issues discussed in this section are exacerbated by glo- bal networks, they are really part and parcel of the modern world. Even if a country was prepared to cut its population off from global networks, it could not avoid many other forms of globalization. The nation-state is inexorably losing its traditional role as a monopolistic provider of a highly aggregated bundle of public goods. More and more, it is under competi- 04GN_73-104 104 312615, 7:20 PM

OCR for page 74
DEMOCRACY AND POLITICAL INSTITUTIONS 105 live pressure from other providers other nation-states, and different structures of formal and informal political organization.33 At the same time, national political systems continue to have signifi- cant power. The roles and services that governments provide, as well as their authority and effectiveness, may be attenuated, but they will remain vital to their constituents. In that sense, the nation-state may be altered, but it is not threatened. States will still provide social services, education, physical protection, public health, and environmental stability and will fulfill the host of functions that are associated with place and identity. This will give a state the legitimacy and power to retain certain authority and to negotiate with other nations to protect its rights and the rights of its citizens. Most international treaties are examples of the effectiveness of national systems to organize a global order, even in the modern world. One may view this as a practical and acceptable alternative to con- stitutionalizing the world order,34 and one that is perhaps more impor- tant than ever before precisely because of the advent of global networks. But given the ad hoc nature of this globalizing process, the future is quite open-ended, in both descriptive and prescriptive terms. Nation- states and their constitutional orders will certainly continue to come un- der competitive pressure. Those governed will have increasing leeway to move away from a nation-state's regulatory power and, clearly, the more credible the threat to move, the more carefully nation-states will have to listen to their demands. But because one cannot accurately predict which interest groups will mount the most credible threats at any particular time, it is difficult to know what the nature of the competitive pressures is most likely to be or how nations will respond. Will democratic institutions be harmonized? If so, will we see "a race to the bottom," a "race to the top," or an entirely changed governance structure? And if we do see the emer- gence of a significantly changed structure, on what basis should we judge it to be a good or a bad thing? 33Jean-Marie Guehenno. 1998. "From Territorial Communities to Communities of Choice: Implications for Democracy," in Wolfgang Streeck, ea., Internationale Wirtschaft, Nationale Demohratie. Herausforderungen fur die Demohratietheorie. 34Jochen A. Frowein. 2000. "Konstitutionalisierung des Volkerrechts," Berichte der Deutschen Gesellschaft fur Volkerrecht 39:427-448. 04G N_73-104 1 05 312615, 7:20 PM