ASSIGNMENT 7 W 2021 – Questions
All fact situations take place in Ontario with non-unionized workers.
1) Rina worked for McCain Foods for 12 years when she was fired, along with a couple of other employees, including her boss, Guido, who has been working for the company for 4 years. Provide statutory support for your answers (i.e. what statute/regulation section provides the answer)?
a) Can they try and get BOTH ESA statutory notice AND Common Law Reasonable Notice?
b) Can they get their jobs back under the ESA?
c) Is there a time limit on when they can file their complaint? Or get a remedy?
2. Does the ESA deal with discrimination? If so, which groups does it prohibit discrimination against?
3. What three safety rights do workers have under the internal responsibility system? And which of these rights do you think is the most important?
4. Why might workers be reluctant to exercise their right to refuse unsafe work?
5. What have workers given up and gained under workers’ compensation? Why might workers prefer to receive workers’ compensation instead of seeking redress under the common law?
6. What test do WCBs use to determine whether an injury is compensable? Using this test, would a bee sting injury incurred by a worker whose job is outdoors be compensable?
7. Go online to access the OHSA and the Guide to the OHSA (links to both provided on the e-class site) (or use the CanLII website (\<www.canlii.org\>), to find any jurisdiction’s occupational health and safety statute). Locate the provisions regarding workers’ right to refuse unsafe work. The legal rules may also be found in a regulation that was passed pursuant to the OHSA statute. If you have difficulty finding the section, try searching “right to refuse unsafe work” and Ontario and see if the government has prepared an information website that explains the legal rules (and perhaps links to the legislation).
What section states when a worker can refuse unsafe work?
What section sets out test(s) must be met for work to be considered unsafe?
What section states what an employer must do when a worker refuses unsafe work?
What section states what happens if a worker believes the work remains unsafe?
What section of the legislation prohibits retaliation against workers for exercising their OHS rights?
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By Yascha Mounk
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How the United States lost the faith of its citizens—and what it can do to win them back
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theory predicts that business groups such as the Independent Insur ance Agents and Brokers of America and the Nation al Beer Wholesalers Association carry the day. A fourth theory holds that policy reflects the views of the economic elite.
Gilens and Page tested those theories by tracking how well the preferences of various groups predicted the way that Congress and the executive branch would act on 1,779 policy issues over a span of two decades. The results were shock- ing. Economic elites and narrow interest groups were very influ ential: They suc- ceeded in getting their favored policies adopted about half of the time, and in stopping legislation to which they were opposed nearly all of the time. Mass- based interest groups, meanwhile, had lit- tle effect on public policy. As for the views of ordinary citizens, they had virtually
“The preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.”
mounted a last-ditch effort to take a sec- ond vote, but before it could be organized, a lobbyist for Aquarion pulled a fire alarm. The building had to be evacuated, and the meeting adjourned. Aquarion retains con- trol of Oxford’s water system to this day.
The company denied that the lobbyist was acting on its behalf when he pulled the alarm; it also denies that its rates were abnormally high or that it provides poor service. Some Oxford residents sup- ported Aquarion, and others opposed the buyout because they feared the cost and complication of the town running its own water company. But many residents, lib- eral and conservative, were frustrated by the process. The vote, they felt, hadn’t taken place on a level playing field.
“It was a violation of the sanctity of our local government by big money,” Jen Caissie, a former chairman of the board of selectmen in Oxford, told me. “Their messiah is their bottom line, not the health of the local community. And I say that as a Republican, someone who is in favor of local business.”
A New England town meeting would seem to be one of the oldest and purest expressions of the American style of government. Yet even in this bastion of delibera tion and direct democracy, a nasty suspicion had taken hold: that the levers of power are not controlled by the people.
It’s a suspicion stoked by the fact that, across a range of issues, public policy does not reflect the preferences of the majority of Americans. If it did, the country would look radically different: Marijuana would be legal and campaign contributions more tightly regulated; paid parental leave would be the law of the land and public colleges free; the minimum wage would be higher and gun control much stricter; abortions would be more acces- sible in the early stages of pregnancy and illegal in the third trimester.
The subversion of the people’s pref- erences in our supposedly democratic system was explored in a 2014 study by the political scientists Martin Gilens of Princeton and Benjamin I. Page of North- western. Four broad theories have long sought to answer a fundamental question about our government: Who rules? One theory, the one we teach our children in civics classes, holds that the views of aver- age people are decisive. Another theory suggests that mass-based inter est groups such as the AARP have the power. A third
Massachusetts, seethed with anger at the company that controlled the local water supply. The company, locals complained, charged inflated prices and provided ter- rible service. But unless the town’s resi- dents wanted to get by without running water, they had to pay up, again and again.
The people of Oxford resolved to buy the company out. At a town meet- ing in the local high-school auditorium, an overwhelming majority of residents voted to raise the millions of dollars that would be required for the purchase. It took years, but in May 2014, the deal was nearly done: One last vote stood between the small town and its long-awaited goal.
The company, however, was not going down without a fight. It mounted a cam- paign against the buyout. On the day of the crucial vote, the high-school audi- torium swelled to capacity. Locals who had toiled on the issue for years noticed many newcomers—residents who hadn’t showed up to previous town meetings about the buyout. When the vote was called, the measure failed—the company, called Aquarion, would remain the town’s water supplier. Supporters of the buyout
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no independent effect at all. “When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non- significant impact upon public policy,” Gilens and Page wrote.
Outlets from The Washington Post to Breitbart News cited this explosive find- ing as evidence of what overeager head- line writers called American oligarchy. Subsequent studies critiqued some of the authors’ assumptions and questioned whether the political system is quite as insulated from the views of ordinary peo- ple as Gilens and Page found. The most breathless claims made on the basis of their study were clearly exaggerations. Yet their work is another serious indica- tion of a creeping democratic deficit in the land of liberty.
To some degree, of course, the unre- sponsiveness of America’s political system is by design. The United States was founded as a republic, not a democ- racy. As Alexander Hamilton and James Madison made clear in the Federal- ist Papers, the essence of this republic would consist— their emphasis—“IN THE TOTAL EXCLU SION OF THE PEOPLE, IN THEIR COLLECTIVE CAPA CITY, from any share” in the gov- ernment. Instead, popular views would be translated into public policy through the election of representatives “whose wisdom may,” in Madison’s words, “best discern the true interest of their country.” That this radically curtailed the degree to which the people could directly influ ence the government was no accident.
Only over the course of the 19th century did a set of entrepreneurial thinkers begin to dress an ideologically self- conscious republic up in the unaccus- tomed robes of a democ racy. Throughout America, the old social hierarchies were being upended by rapid industrialization, mass immigration, westward expansion, and civil war. Egalitarian sentiment was rising. The idea that the people should rule came to seem appealing and even natural. The same institutions that had once been designed to exclude the people from government were now commended for facilitating government “of the people, by the people, for the people.”
The shifting justification for our polit- ical system inspired important reforms.
as dis enchanted with democracy as the people of Oxford, Massachusetts, did.
The politician who best intuited this discontent—and most loudly promised to remedy it—is Donald Trump. The claim that he would channel the voice of the peo- ple to combat a corrupt and unresponsive elite was at the very core of his candidacy.
“I am your voice,” Trump promised as he accepted his party’s nomination at the Republican National Convention. “Today, we are not merely transferring power from one administration to another or from one party to another,” he proclaimed in his inaugural address, “but we are transfer- ring power from Washington, D.C., and giving it back to you, the people.”
Donald Trump won the presidency for many reasons, including racial animus, concerns over immigration, and a widen- ing divide between urban and rural areas. But public- opinion data suggest that a deep feeling of powerlessness among vot- ers was also important. I analyzed 2016 data from the American National Elec- tion Studies. Those who voted for Trump in the Republican primaries, more than those who supported his competition, said that they “don’t have any say about what the government does,” that “pub- lic officials don’t care much what people like me think,” and that “most politicians care only about the interests of the rich and powerful.”
Trump has no real intention of devolv- ing power back to the people. He’s filled his administration with members of the same elite he disparaged on the campaign trail. His biggest legislative success, the tax bill, has handed gifts to corporations and the donor class. A little more than a year after America rebelled against politi- cal elites by electing a self-proclaimed champion of the people, its government is more deeply in the pockets of lobbyists and billionaires than ever before.
It would be easy to draw the wrong lesson from this: If the American elector- ate can be duped by a figure like Trump, it can’t be trusted with whatever power it does retain. To avoid further damage to the rule of law and the rights of the most- vulnerable Americans, traditional elites should appropriate even more power for themselves. But that response plays into the populist narrative: The political class dislikes Trump because he threatens to take its power away. It also refuses to rec- ognize that the people have a point.
In 1913, the Seventeenth Amendment stipulated that senators had to be elected directly by the people, not by state legis- latures. In 1920, the Nineteenth Amend- ment gave women the vote. In 1965, the Voting Rights Act, drawing on the Fif- teenth Amendment, set out to protect the vote of black Americans. The once- peculiar claim that the United States was a democ racy slowly came to have some basis in reality.
That basis is now crumbling, and the people have taken notice. In no small part that’s because the long era during which average Americans grew more wealthy has come to a sputtering stop. People who are asked how well they are doing eco- nomically frequently compare their own standard of living with that of their par- ents. Until recently, this comparison was heartening. At the age of 30, more than nine in 10 Americans born in 1940 were earning more than their parents had at the same stage of their lives. But accord- ing to eye- popping research led by the economist Raj Chetty and his co-authors, many Millennials do not share in this age- old American experience of improving fortunes. Among those Americans born in the early 1980s, only half earn more than their parents did at a similar age.
Americans have never loved their politicians or thought of Washington as a repository of moral virtue. But so long as the system worked for them—so long as they were wealthier than their parents had been and could expect that their kids would be better off than them—people trusted that politicians were ultimately on their side. Not anymore.
The rise of digital media, meanwhile, has given ordinary Americans, especially younger ones, an instinctive feel for direct democracy. Whether they’re stuffing the electronic ballot boxes of The Voice and Dancing With the Stars, liking a post on Facebook, or up-voting a comment on Reddit, they are seeing what it looks like when their vote makes an immediate difference. Compared with these digital plebiscites, the work of the United States government seems sluggish, outmoded, and shockingly unresponsive.
As a result, average voters feel more alienated from traditional political insti- tutions than perhaps ever before. When they look at decisions made by politicians, they don’t see their preferences reflected in them. For good reason, they are growing
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America does have a democracy prob- lem. If we want to address the root causes of populism, we need to start by taking an honest accounting of the ways in which power has slipped out of the people’s hands, and think more honestly about the ways in which we can—and cannot—put the people back in control.
of the Mexican–American War, Nicholas Trist traveled to Mexico and negotiated the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the hostilities between the two nations and helped delineate America’s southern bor- der. Two decades later, the U.S. govern- ment still hadn’t paid him for his services. Too old and weak to travel to Washington to collect the money himself, Trist hired a prominent lawyer by the name of Linus Child to act on his behalf, promising him 25 percent of his recovered earnings.
Congress finally appropriated the money to settle its debt. But now it was Trist who refused to pay up, even after his lawyer sued for his share. Though the contract between Trist and Child hardly seems untoward by today’s standards, the Supreme Court refused to uphold it out of fear that it might provide a legal basis for the activities of lobbyists:
If any of the great corporations of the country were to hire adventurers who make market of themselves in this way, to procure the passage of a general law with a view to the promotion of their pri- vate interests, the moral sense of every right-minded man would instinctively denounce the employ er and employed as steeped in corruption.
Extreme as this case may appear, it was far from idio syncratic. In her book Corruption in America, the legal scholar Zephyr Teachout notes that the institu- tions of the United States were explicitly designed to counter the myriad ways in
which people might seek to sway polit- ical decisions for their own personal gain. Many forms of lobbying were banned throughout the 19th century. In Georgia, the state constitution at one time read that “lobbying is declared to be a crime.” In California, it was a felony.
Over the course of the 20th century, lobbying gradually lost the stench of the illicit. But even once the activity became normalized, businesses remained reluc- tant to exert their infl uence. As late as the 1960s, major corporations did not lobby directly on their own behalf. Instead, they relied on collectives such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which had a weaker voice in Washington than labor unions or public- interest groups. “As every business executive knows,” the future Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. complained in 1971, “few ele ments of American society today have as little infl uence in government as the American businessman.”
All of this began to change in the early 1970s. Determined to fi ght rising wages and stricter labor and environmental standards, which would bring higher costs, CEOs of companies like General Electric and General Motors banded together to
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expand their power on Capitol Hill. At first, their activities were mostly defen- sive: The goal was to stop legislation that might harm their interests. But as the political influence of big corporations grew, and their profi ts soared, a new class of professional lobby ists managed to con- vince the nation’s CEOs that, in the words of Lee Drutman, the author of the 2015 book The Business of America Is Lobbying, their activity “was not just about keeping the government far away—it could also be about drawing government close.”
Today, corporations wield immense power in Washington: “For every dollar spent on lobbying by labor unions and public-interest groups,” Drutman shows,
“large corporations and their associations now spend $34. Of the 100 organiza- tions that spend the most on lobbying, 95 consistently represent business.” (Read about a principal architect of the lobbying industry—Paul Manafort—on page 62.)
The work of K Street lobbyists, and the violation of our government by big money, has fundamentally transformed the work— and the lives—of the people’s supposed representatives. Steve Israel, a Demo- cratic congressman from Long Island, was a consummate moneyman. Over the and General Motors banded together to was a consummate moneyman. Over the
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that money yields in Washington is hardly a secret. But another, equally important development has largely gone ignored: More and more issues have simply been taken out of democratic contestation.
In many policy areas, the job of legis- lating has been supplanted by so-called independent agencies such as the Fed- eral Communications Commission, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Once they are founded by Con- gress, these organizations can formulate policy on their own. In fact, they are free from legislative oversight to a remark- able degree, even though they are often charged with settling issues that are not just technically complicated but politi- cally controversial.
The range of crucial issues that these agencies have taken on testifies to their importance. From banning the use of the insecticide DDT to ensuring the quality of drinking water, for example, the EPA has been a key player in fights about environ- mental policy for almost 50 years; more recently, it has also made itself central to the American response to climate change, regulating pollutants and proposing lim- its on carbon-dioxide emissions from new power plants.
While independent agencies occa- sionally generate big headlines, they often wield their real power in more obscure policy areas. They are now responsible for the vast majority of new federal regulations. A 2008 article in the California Law Review noted that, during the previous year, Congress had enacted 138 public laws. In the same year, federal agencies had finalized 2,926 rules. Such rules run the gamut from technical stipu- lations that affect only a few specialized businesses to substantial reforms that have a direct impact on the lives of mil- lions. In Octo ber 2017, for example, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
“I always knew the system was dysfunctional,” said Congressman Steve Israel. “Now it is beyond broken.”
course of his 16 years on Capitol Hill, he arranged 1,600 fund-raisers for himself, averaging one every four days. Israel cited fund-raising as one of the main reasons he decided to retire from Congress, in 2016: “I don’t think I can spend another day in another call room making another call begging for money,” he told The New York Times. “I always knew the system was dysfunctional. Now it is beyond broken.”
A model schedule for freshman mem- bers of Congress prepared a few years ago by the Democratic Congressional Cam- paign Committee instructs them to spend about four hours every day cold-calling donors for cash. The party encourages so many phone calls because the phone calls work. Total spending on American elec- tions has grown to unprecedented levels. From 2000 to 2012, reported federal cam- paign spending doubled. It’s no surprise, then, that a majority of Americans now believe Congress to be corrupt, according to a 2015 Gallup poll. As Israel memora- bly put it to HBO’s John Oliver, the hours he had spent raising money had been “a form of torture—and the real victims of this torture have become the American people, because they believe that they don’t have a voice in this system.”
Big donors and large corporations use their largesse to sway political decisions. But their influence goes far beyond those instances in which legislators knowingly sacrifice their constituents’ interests to stay on the right side of their financial backers. The people we spend time with day in and day out shape our tastes, our assumptions, and our values. The impera- tive to raise so much money means that members of Congress log more time with donors and lobbyists and less time with their constituents. Often, when faced with a vote on a bill of concern to their well-heeled backers, legislators don’t have to compromise their ideals— because they spend so much of their lives around donors and lobbyists, they have long ago come to share their views.
The problem goes even deeper than that. In America’s imagined past, mem- bers of Congress had a strong sense of place. Democrats might have risen through the ranks of local trade unions or schoolhouses. Repub licans might have been local business or community leaders. Members of both parties lived lives intertwined with those of their con- stituents. But spend some time reading the biographies of your representatives in Congress, and you’ll notice, as I did, that by the time they reach office, many politicians have already been social- ized into a cultural, educational, and financial elite that sets them apart from average Americans. While some repre- sentatives do have strong roots in their district, for many others the connection is tenuous at best. Even for those mem- bers who were born and raised in the part of the country they represent, that place is for many of them not their true home. Educated at expensive colleges, likely on the coasts, they spend their 20s and 30s in the nation’s great metropolitan centers. After stints in law, business, or finance, or on Capitol Hill, they move to the hinterlands out of poli tical ambition. Once they retire from Congress, even if they retain some kind of home in their district, few make it the center of their lives: They seem much more likely than their predecessors to pursue lucrative opportunities in cities such as New York, San Francisco, and, of course, Washing- ton. By just about every metric—from life experience to education to net worth— these politicians are thoroughly discon- nected from the rest of the population.
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passed a rule that would require provid- ers of payday loans to determine whether customers would actually be able to pay them back—potentially saving millions of people from exploitative fees, but also making it more difficult for them to access cash in an emergency.
The rise of independent agencies such as the EPA is only a small piece of a larger trend in which government has grown less accountable to the people. In the latter half of the 20th century, the Federal Reserve won much greater inde- pendence from elected politicians and began to deploy far more powerful mon- etary tools. Trade treaties, from nafta to more-recent agreements with countries such as Australia, Morocco, and South Korea, have restricted Congress’s ability to set tariffs, subsidize domestic indus- tries, and halt the inflow of certain cate- gories of migrant workers. At one point I planned to count the number of treaties to which the United States is subject; I gave up when I realized that the State Department’s “List of Treaties and Other Inter national Agreements of the United States” runs to 551 pages.
Most of these treaties and agreements offer real benefits or help us confront urgent challenges. Whatever your view of their merit, however, there is no denying that they curtail the power of Congress in ways that also disempower Ameri- can voters. Trade treaties, for example, can include obscure provisions about
“investor– state dispute settlements,” which give inter national arbitration courts the right to award huge sums of money to corporations if they are harmed by labor or environmental standards— potentially making it riskier for Congress to pass such measures.
This same tension between popular sovereignty and good governance is also evident in the debates over the power of the nine unelected justices of the Supreme Court. Since the early 1950s, the Supreme Court has ended legal seg- regation in schools and universities. It has ended and then reintroduced the death penalty. It has legalized abortion. It has limited censor ship on television and the radio. It has decriminalized homo- sexuality and allowed same-sex marriage. It has struck down campaign-finance regulations and gun-control measures. It has deter mined whether millions of people get health insur ance and whether
millions of undocumented immigrants need to live in fear of being deported.
Whether you see judicial review as inter preting the law or usurping the peo- ple’s power probably depends on your view of the outcome. The American right has long railed against “activ ist judges” while the American left, which enjoyed a majority on the Court for a long stretch during the postwar era, has claimed that justices were merely doing their job. Now that the Court has started to lean further right, these views are rapidly reversing. But regardless of your politics, there’s no question that the justices frequently play an outsize role in settling major political conflicts— and that many of their deci- sions serve to amplify undemocratic ele- ments of the system.
Take Citizens United. By overturn- ing legislation that restrict ed campaign spending by corporations and other pri- vate groups, the Supreme Court issued a decision that was unpopular at the time and has remained unpopular since. (In a 2015 poll by Bloomberg, 78 percent of respondents disapproved of the ruling.) It also massively amplified the voice of moneyed interest groups, making it easier for the economic elite to override the pref- erences of the population for years to come.
is the first president in the history of the United States to have served in no pub- lic capacity before entering to the White House. He belittles experts, seems to lack the most basic grasp of public policy, and loves to indulge the worst whims of his supporters. In all things, personal and political, Plato’s disdainful description of the “democratic man” fits the 45th president like a glove: Given to “false and braggart words and opinions,” he consid- ers “insolence ‘good breeding,’ license
‘liberty,’ prodigality ‘magnificence,’ and shamelessness ‘manly spirit.’ ”
It is little wonder, then, that Plato’s haughty complaint about democracy— its primary ill, he claimed, consists in
“assign ing a kind of equality indiscrimi- nately to equals and unequals alike”—has made a remarkable comeback. As early as 2003, the journalist Fareed Zakaria argued, “There can be such a thing as too much democ racy.” In the years since, many scholars have built this case: The polit ical scientist Larry Bartels pain- stakingly demonstrated just how irra- tional ordinary voters are; the political philosopher Jason Brennan turned the premise that irrational or partisan vot- ers are terrible decision makers into a book titled Against Democracy; and Parag Khanna, an inveterate defend er of glo- balization, argued for a techno cracy in which many decisions are made by “com- mittees of accountable experts.” Writing near the end of the 2016 primary season, when Trump’s ascent to the Republican nomination already looked unstoppable, Andrew Sullivan offered the most forceful distillation of this line of antidemocratic laments: “Democ racies end when they are too democratic,” the headline of his essay announced. “And right now, Amer- ica is a breeding ground for tyranny.”
The antidemocratic view gets at something real. What makes our politi- cal system uniquely legitimate, at least when it functions well, is that it manages to deliver on two key values at once: lib- eralism (the rule of law) and democracy (the rule of the people). With liberal- ism now under concerted attack from the Trump administration, which has declared war on independent institu- tions such as the FBI and has used the president’s pulpit to bully ethnic and religious minorities, it’s perhaps under- standable that many thinkers are willing to give up a modicum of democ racy to protect the rule of law and the country’s most vulnerable groups.
If only it were that easy. As we saw in 2016, the feeling that power is slipping out of their hands makes citizens more, not less, likely to entrust their fate to a strongman leader who promises to smash the system. And as the examples of Egypt, Thailand, and other countries have dem- onstrated again and again, a political elite with less and less backing from the people ultimately has to resort to more and more repressive steps to hold on to its power; in the end, any serious attempt to sacrifice democ racy in order to safeguard liberty is likely to culminate in an end to the rule of law as well as the rule of the people.
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carbon emissions and contain the spread of nucle ar weapons, regulate banks and enforce consumer-safety standards. All of these tasks require a tremendous amount of expertise and a great degree of coordi- nation. It’s unrealistic to think that ordi- nary voters or even their representatives in Congress might become experts in what makes for a safe power plant, or that the world could find an effective response to climate change without entering cumber some international agreements. If we simply abolish technocratic institu- tions, the future for most Americans will look more rather than less dangerous, and less rather than more affluent.
It is true that to recover its citizens’ loyalty, our democracy needs to curb the power of unelected elites who seek only to pad their influence and line their pockets. But it is also true that to protect its citizens’ lives and promote their prosperity, our democ racy needs institutions that are, by their nature, deeply elitist. This, to my mind, is the great dilemma that the United States—and other democracies around the world—will have to resolve if they wish to survive in the coming decades.
We don’t need to abolish all techno- cratic institutions or merely save the ones that exist. We need to build a new set of poli tical institutions that are both more responsive to the views and interests of ordinary people, and better able to solve the immense problems that our society will face in the decades to come.
Writing about the dawn of democ- racy in his native Italy, the great novelist Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa has Tan- credi, a young aristocrat, recognize that he will have to let go of some of his most cherished habits to rescue what is most valuable in the old order: “If everything is to stay the same,” Tancredi says, “every- thing has to change.” The United States is now at an inflection point of its own. If we rigidly hold on to the status quo, we will lose what is most valuable in the world we know, and find ourselves cast as bit play- ers in the fading age of liberal democracy. Only by embarking on bold and imagina- tive reform can we recover a democracy worthy of the name.
Yascha Mounk is a lecturer on government at Harvard and the author of The People vs. Democracy: Why Our Freedom Is in Danger and How to Save It, from which this essay is adapted.
The easy alternative is to lean in the other direction, to call for as much direct democracy as possible. The origins of the people’s displacement, the thinking goes, lie in a cynical power grab by financial and political elites. Large corporations and the super rich advocated independent central banks and business- friendly trade treaties to score big windfalls. Politicians, academics, and journalists favor a tech- nocratic mode of governance because they think they know what’s best and don’t want the people to meddle. All of this selfishness is effectively cloaked in a pro-market ideology propagated by think tanks and research outfits that are funded by rich donors. Since the roots of the cur- rent situation are straightforwardly sinis- ter, the solutions to it are equally simple: The people need to reclaim their power— and abolish technocratic institutions.
This antitechnocratic view has cur- rency on both ends of the political spec- trum. On the far left, the late political scientist Peter Mair, writing about Europe, lamented the decline in “popular” democ- racy, which he contrasted with a more top-down “constitutional” democracy. The English sociologist Colin Crouch has argued that even anarchy and violence can serve a useful purpose if they seek to vanquish what he calls “post-democracy.”
The far right puts more emphasis on nationalism, but other wise agrees with this basic analysis. In the inaugural issue of the journal American Affairs, the self-styled intellectual home of the Trump move- ment, its founder Julius Krein decried “the existence of a transpartisan elite,” which sustains a pernicious “mana gerial con- sensus.” Steve Bannon, the former White House chief strategist, said his chief politi- cal objective was to return power to the people and advocated for the “deconstruc- tion of the administrative state.”
Mair and Crouch, Krein and Bannon are right to recognize that the people have less and less hold over the political system, an insight that can point the way to genu- ine reforms that would make our political system both more democratic and better functioning. One of the reasons well- intentioned politicians are so easily swayed by lobbyists, for example, is that their staffs lack the skills and experience to draft leg- islation or to understand highly complex policy issues. This could be addressed by boosting the woefully inadequate fund- ing of Congress: If representatives and
senators were able to attract— and retain— more knowledgeable and experienced staffers, they might be less tempted to let K Street lobbyists write their bills for them.
Similarly, the rules that currently gov- ern conflicts of interest are far too weak. There is no reason members of Congress should be allowed to lobby for the com- panies they were supposed to regulate so soon after they step down from office. It is time to jam the revolving door between politics and industry.
Real change will also require an ambi tious reform of campaign finance. Because of Citizens United, this is going to be extreme ly difficult. But the Supreme Court has had a change of heart in the past. As evidence that the current system threatens American democracy keeps piling up, the Court might finally rec- ognize that stricter limits on campaign spending are desperately needed.
For all that the enemies of technocracy get right, though, their view is ultimately as simplistic as the anti democratic one. The world we now inhabit is extremely complex. We need to monitor hurricanes and inspect power plants, reduce global
In 2007, Congress enacted 138 public laws. In the same year, independent federal agencies finalized 2,926 rules.
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