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Home / Brad Delong, Berkeley / Siegele: Can Technology Plan Economies & Destroy Democracy—Noted

Siegele: Can Technology Plan Economies & Destroy Democracy—Noted

Summary:
There was much talk two decades ago about how the high-tech information age economy would be an attention economy, in which convincing people to focus their attention on commodities and activities would be truly though. What people did not talk about but should have was that the information age was bringing an information overload attention polity as well: there in order to rift the public and the political system, you needed not cogent arguments and policies but rather to flood zone and distract with irrelevancies. The others – the Chinese communist party, for one – look at the north Atlantic‘s public sphere and conclude John Milton and Jon Stewart Mill's praise of free speech was definitely miss guided. Those of us who do still believe in free speech need to figure out answers:

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There was much talk two decades ago about how the high-tech information age economy would be an attention economy, in which convincing people to focus their attention on commodities and activities would be truly though. What people did not talk about but should have was that the information age was bringing an information overload attention polity as well: there in order to rift the public and the political system, you needed not cogent arguments and policies but rather to flood zone and distract with irrelevancies. The others – the Chinese communist party, for one – look at the north Atlantic‘s public sphere and conclude John Milton and Jon Stewart Mill's praise of free speech was definitely miss guided. Those of us who do still believe in free speech need to figure out answers:

Ludwig Siegele: Can Technology Plan Economies & Destroy Democracy? https://www.economist.com/christmas-specials/2019/12/18/can-technology-plan-economies-and-destroy-democracy: ‘Democracy, [Farrell & Shalizi] argued, has a “capacity unmatched…in solving complex problems”. To understand why this may be, consider the informational challenges faced by centralised or authoritarian regimes. They lack what Mr Shalizi calls a “feedback channel”. Just as markets generate information about what people want, so does open discussion. In autocracies, citizens have no interest in openly discussing problems or experimenting with solutions, lest they end up in jail or worse. As a result, an unelected government has a limited capacity to understand what is going on in its polity—and thus tends to make bad decisions. Dictators maintain extensive security apparatuses not just to repress the people but to understand them; they serve as the feedback channel through which dictators get the information which they need to govern. Such measures are not just an affront to human rights. They are politically destabilising. The head of an effective security service can easily become either a rival for the top spot or a self-censoring information block, neither of which bodes well for the boss.... Despite its advantages, both in terms of economic growth and problem solving, 21st-century free-market liberal democracy has not enjoyed quite the apotheosis that some expected at the beginning of the 1990s. The setbacks to democratic norms at the level of the state have been well documented. The persistence of planning goes unnoticed because it is so familiar: it is the way that companies are run.... “Internally, firms are planned economies no different to the Soviet Union: hierarchical, undemocratic planned economies,” write Leigh Phillips and Michal Rozworski, two leftist activists, in “The People’s Republic of Walmart” (2019), a highly readable romp through the history and possible futures of planning.... The Chinese Communist Party shows every sign of wanting... not the democratisation of planning, but the sort of planning that permits democracy to be minimised.... When it comes to eroding an existing democracy, rather than shoring up a dictatorship, there are somewhat similar technologies on offer. Some are destructive. Social media, driven as its commercial interests are by the desire to “go viral”, offers ways to inject the equivalent of computer viruses into the public’s political information processing, degrading and distorting its output through misinformation, emotional incontinence and cognitive sabotage...

.#noteed #2020-06-28
Bradford DeLong
J. Bradford DeLong is Professor of Economics at the University of California at Berkeley and a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. He was Deputy Assistant US Treasury Secretary during the Clinton Administration, where he was heavily involved in budget and trade negotiations. His role in designing the bailout of Mexico during the 1994 peso crisis placed him at the forefront of Latin America’s transformation into a region of open economies, and cemented his stature as a leading voice in economic-policy debates.

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