Graham Smith is currently a Senior Visiting Scholar at the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, Harvard Kennedy School. With colleagues on the democracy programme, he has organised a workshop on (re)designing democracy for the long term on 3 December 2013.
Many of our most pressing political problems involve long-term issues such as environmental degradation, debt accumulation, education spending, or the viability of social policies such as public pension plans. Short electoral cycles create strong incentives for politicians to adopt policies that produce near-term net benefits. Moreover, individuals are often more concerned about their own immediate interests, than they are about long-term collective problems. For example, environmental concerns have consistently ranked far behind immediate economic concerns in almost all democracies since the start of the 'great recession' in 2008. But is this a structural problem with democracies? Are democracies inherently vulnerable to fall prey to the concerns of the present?
While there are features of democratic systems that create and nurture short-term imperatives, democracies are not without resources for overcoming these challenges. Democracies have the capacity to be dynamic and can, at least in principle, remain responsive to both short and long term concerns.
If democratic regimes are to overcome their own susceptibilities to short-termism, they need to be equipped to do so.
The workshop will focus on the central question: how can we (re)design democracy for the long term? More specifically, are there institutions and practices – constitutional protections, new forms of citizen engagement, alternative metrics and indicators, etc. – that can help produce a better balance between the interests of the present and those of the future?
Other speakers include: Éloi Laurent, Senior Economist at OFCE (Sciences Po Centre for Economic Research in Paris), France and Visiting Scholar, Center for European Studies / Visiting Professor, Environmental Science and Public Policy; Michael MacKenzie, Democracy Fellow, Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, Harvard Kennedy School.