Accelerating Democracy: Transforming Governance through Technology

Accelerating Democracy: Transforming Governance through Technology

Accelerating Democracy: Transforming Governance through Technology

Accelerating Democracy: Transforming Governance through Technology


Successful democracies throughout history--from ancient Athens to Britain on the cusp of the industrial age--have used the technology of their time to gather information for better governance. Our challenge is no different today, but it is more urgent because the accelerating pace of technological change creates potentially enormous dangers as well as benefits. Accelerating Democracy shows how to adapt democracy to new information technologies that can enhance political decision making and enable us to navigate the social rapids ahead.

John O. McGinnis demonstrates how these new technologies combine to address a problem as old as democracy itself--how to help citizens better evaluate the consequences of their political choices. As society became more complex in the nineteenth century, social planning became a top-down enterprise delegated to experts and bureaucrats. Today, technology increasingly permits information to bubble up from below and filter through more dispersed and competitive sources. McGinnis explains how to use fast-evolving information technologies to more effectively analyze past public policy, bring unprecedented intensity of scrutiny to current policy proposals, and more accurately predict the results of future policy. But he argues that we can do so only if government keeps pace with technological change. For instance, it must revive federalism to permit different jurisdictions to test different policies so that their results can be evaluated, and it must legalize information markets to permit people to bet on what the consequences of a policy will be even before that policy is implemented.

Accelerating Democracy reveals how we can achieve a democracy that is informed by expertise and social-scientific knowledge while shedding the arrogance and insularity of a technocracy.


Most of us are caught up in the quickening whirl of technological change. As consumers we can readily recognize the benefits created by the quicker technological tempo—ever smarter phones, more effective medicines, and faster connections to those around us. We thrive as companies leapfrog one another to create the next new thing. We rarely pause, however, to consider what such technological progression means for our lives as citizens.

Yet the central political problem of our time is how to adapt our venerable democracy to the acceleration of the information age. Modern technology creates a supply of new tools for improved governance, but it also creates an urgent demand for putting these tools to use. We need better policies to obtain the benefits of innovation as quickly as possible and to manage the social problems that speedier innovation will inevitably create—from pollution to weapons of mass destruction.

Exponential growth in computation is driving today’s social change. The key advantage for politics is that increases in computational power dramatically improve information technology. Thus, unlike most technological innovations of the past, many innovations today directly supply new mechanisms for evaluating the consequences of social policies. Our task is to place politics progressively within the domain of information technology—to use its new or enhanced tools, such as empiricism, information markets, dispersed media, and artificial intelligence, to reinvent governance.

For instance, the Internet greatly facilitates betting pools called information or prediction markets that permit people to bet on the occurrence of future events. Such markets already gauge election results more accurately than polls do. If legalized and modestly subsidized, they could also foretell many policy results better than politicians or experts alone. We could then better predict the consequences of changes in educational policy on educational outcomes or a stimulus program on economic growth. In short, prediction markets would provide a visible hand to help guide policy choices.

The Internet today also encourages dispersed media like blogs to intensify confrontations about contending policy claims. Previously a less diverse mainstream media tended to settle for received wisdom. Our more competitive media culture permits the rapid recombination of innovative . . .

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