Democracy pays

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Tax evasion infographic (Photo credit: European Parliament)

Majority wants both punishment for tax evaders and things to go fine for themselves
In relatively large communities, individuals do not always obey the rules and often exploit the willingness of others to cooperate. Institutions such as the police are there to provide protection from misconduct such as tax fraud. But such institutions don’t just come about spontaneously because they cost money which each individual must contribute. An interdisciplinary team of researchers led by Manfred Milinski from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology in Plön has now used an experimental game to investigate the conditions under which institutions of this kind can nevertheless arise. The study shows that a group of players does particularly well if it has first used its own “tax money” to set up a central institution which punishes both free riders and tax evaders. However, the groups only set up institutions to penalise tax evasion if they have decided to do so by a democratic majority decision. Democracy thus enables the creation of rules and institutions which, while demanding individual sacrifice, are best for the group. The chances of agreeing on common climate protection measures around the globe are thus greater under democratic conditions.

In most modern states, central institutions are funded by public taxation. This means, however, that tax evaders must also be punished. Once such a system has been established, it is also good for the community: it makes co-existence easier and it helps maintain common standards. However, such advantageous institutions do not come about by themselves. The community must first agree that such a common punishment authority makes sense and decide what powers it should be given. Climate protection is a case in point, demonstrating that this cannot always be achieved. But how can a community agree on sensible institutions and self-limitations?

The Max Planck researchers allowed participants in a modified public goods game to decide whether to pay taxes towards a policing institution with their starting capital. They were additionally able to pay money into a common pot. The total paid in was then tripled and paid out to all participants. If taxes had been paid beforehand, free riders who did not contribute to the group pot were punished by the police. In the absence of taxation, however, there would be no police and the group would run the risk that no-one would pay into the common pot.

Police punishment of both free riders and tax evaders quickly established cooperative behaviour in the experiment. If, however, tax evaders were not punished, the opposite happened and the participants avoided paying taxes. Without policing, there was no longer any incentive to pay into the group pot, so reducing the profits for the group members. Ultimately, each individual thus benefits if tax evaders are punished.

But can participants foresee this development? To find out, the scientists gave the participants a choice: they were now able to choose individually whether they joined a group in which the police also punish tax evaders. Alternatively, they could choose a group in which only those participants who did not pay into the common pot were penalised. Faced with this choice, the majority preferred a community without punishment for tax evaders – with the result that virtually no taxes were paid and, subsequently, that contributions to the group pot also fell.

In a second experimental scenario, the players were instead able to decide by democratic vote whether, for all subsequent rounds, the police should be authorised to punish tax evaders as well as free riders or only free riders. In this case, the players clearly voted for institutions in which tax evaders were also punished. “People are often prepared to impose rules on themselves, but only if they know that these rules apply to everyone,” summarises Christian Hilbe, the lead author of the study. A majority decision ensures that all participants are equally affected by the outcome of the vote. This makes it easier to introduce rules and institutions which, while demanding individual sacrifice, are best for the group.

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VIDEO: Eric X. Li: A tale of two political systems

It’s a standard assumption in the West: As a society progresses, it eventually becomes a capitalist, multi-party democracy. Right?

Eric X. Li, a Chinese investor and political scientist, begs to differ. In this provocative, boundary-pushing talk, he asks his audience to consider that there’s more than one way to run a successful modern nation.

A venture capitalist and political scientist, Eric X Li argues that the universality claim of Western democratic systems is going to be “morally challenged” by China.

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Do Drones Undermine Democracy?

Ryan Firebee was a series of target drones/unm...

Image via Wikipedia

A new technology is short-circuiting the decision-making process

 
IN democracies like ours, there have always been deep bonds between the public and its wars. Citizens have historically participated in decisions to take military action, through their elected representatives, helping to ensure broad support for wars and a willingness to share the costs, both human and economic, of enduring them.

In America, our Constitution explicitly divided the president’s role as commander in chief in war from Congress’s role in declaring war. Yet these links and this division of labor are now under siege as a result of a technology that our founding fathers never could have imagined.

Just 10 years ago, the idea of using armed robots in war was the stuff of Hollywood fantasy. Today, the United States military has more than 7,000 unmanned aerial systems, popularly called drones. There are 12,000 more on the ground. Last year, they carried out hundreds of strikes — both covert and overt — in six countries, transforming the way our democracy deliberates and engages in what we used to think of as war.

We don’t have a draft anymore; less than 0.5 percent of Americans over 18 serve in the active-duty military. We do not declare war anymore; the last time Congress actually did so was in 1942 — against Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania. We don’t buy war bonds or pay war taxes anymore. During World War II, 85 million Americans purchased war bonds that brought the government $185 billion; in the last decade, we bought none and instead gave the richest 5 percent of Americans a tax break.

And now we possess a technology that removes the last political barriers to war. The strongest appeal of unmanned systems is that we don’t have to send someone’s son or daughter into harm’s way. But when politicians can avoid the political consequences of the condolence letter — and the impact that military casualties have on voters and on the news media — they no longer treat the previously weighty matters of war and peace the same way.

For the first 200 years of American democracy, engaging in combat and bearing risk — both personal and political — went hand in hand. In the age of drones, that is no longer the case.

Today’s unmanned systems are only the beginning. The original Predator, which went into service in 1995, lacked even GPS and was initially unarmed; newer models can take off and land on their own, and carry smart sensors that can detect a disruption in the dirt a mile below the plane and trace footprints back to an enemy hide-out.

There is not a single new manned combat aircraft under research and development at any major Western aerospace company, and the Air Force is training more operators of unmanned aerial systems than fighter and bomber pilots combined. In 2011, unmanned systems carried out strikes from Afghanistan to Yemen. The most notable of these continuing operations is the not-so-covert war in Pakistan, where the United States has carried out more than 300 drone strikes since 2004.

Yet this operation has never been debated in Congress; more than seven years after it began, there has not even been a single vote for or against it. This campaign is not carried out by the Air Force; it is being conducted by the C.I.A. This shift affects everything from the strategy that guides it to the individuals who oversee it (civilian political appointees) and the lawyers who advise them (civilians rather than military officers).

It also affects how we and our politicians view such operations. President Obama’s decision to send a small, brave Navy Seal team into Pakistan for 40 minutes was described by one of his advisers as “the gutsiest call of any president in recent history.” Yet few even talk about the decision to carry out more than 300 drone strikes in the very same country.

I do not condemn these strikes; I support most of them. What troubles me, though, is how a new technology is short-circuiting the decision-making process for what used to be the most important choice a democracy could make. Something that would have previously been viewed as a war is simply not being treated like a war.

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The Public Domain Manifesto

Preamble

“Le livre, comme livre, appartient à l’auteur, mais comme pensée, il appartient—le mot n’est pas trop vaste—au genre humain. Toutes les intelligences y ont droit. Si l’un des deux droits, le droit de l’écrivain et le droit de l’esprit humain, devait être sacrifié, ce serait, certes, le droit de l’écrivain, car l’intérêt public est notre préoccupation unique, et tous, je le déclare, doivent passer avant nous.” (Victor Hugo, Discours d’ouverture du Congrès littéraire international de 1878, 1878)

“Our markets, our democracy, our science, our traditions of free speech, and our art all depend more heavily on a Public Domain of freely available material than they do on the informational material that is covered by property rights. The Public Domain is not some gummy residue left behind when all the good stuff has been covered by property law. The Public Domain is the place we quarry the building blocks of our culture. It is, in fact, the majority of our culture.” (James Boyle, The Public Domain, p.40f, 2008)

The public domain, as we understand it, is the wealth of information that is free from the barriers to access or reuse usually associated with copyright protection, either because it is free from any copyright protection or because the right holders have decided to remove these barriers. It is the basis of our self-understanding as expressed by our shared knowledge and culture. It is the raw material from which new knowledge is derived and new cultural works are created. The Public Domain acts as a protective mechanism that ensures that this raw material is available at its cost of reproduction – close to zero – and that all members of society can build upon it. Having a healthy and thriving Public Domain is essential to the social and economic well-being of our societies. The Public Domain plays a capital role in the fields of education, science, cultural heritage and public sector information. A healthy and thriving Public Domain is one of the prerequisites for ensuring that the principles of Article 27 (1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (‘Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.’) can be enjoyed by everyone around the world.

The digital networked information society has brought the issue of the Public Domain to the foreground of copyright discussions. In order to preserve and strengthen the Public Domain we need a robust and up-to-date understanding of the nature and role of this essential resource. This Public Domain Manifesto defines the Public Domain and outlines the necessary principles and guidelines for a healthy Public Domain at the beginning of the 21st century. The Public Domain is considered here in its relation to copyright law, to the exclusion of other intellectual property rights (like patents and trademarks), and where copyright law is to be understood in its broadest sense to include economic and moral rights under copyright and related rights (inclusive of neighboring rights and database rights). In the remainder of this document copyright is therefore used as a catch-all term for these rights. Moreover, the term ‘works’ includes all subject-matter protected by copyright so defined, thus including databases, performances and recordings. Likewise, the term ‘authors’ includes photographers, producers, broadcasters, painters and performers.

The Public Domain in the 21st Century

The Public Domain as aspired to in this Manifesto is defined as cultural material that can be used without restriction, absent copyright protection. In addition to works that are formally in the public domain, there are also lots of valuable works that individuals have voluntarily shared under generous terms creating a privately constructed commons that functions in many ways like the public domain Moreover, individuals can also make use of many protected works through exceptions and limitations to copyright, fair use and fair dealing. All of these sources that allow for increased access to our  culture and heritage are important and all need to be actively maintained in order for society to reap the full benefit of our shared knowledge and culture.

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