Smart Ideas: The Perils of Too Much Democracy

Russian President Vladimir Putin listens to a speech during the Dialogue of Emerging Market and Developing Countries in Xiamen in southeastern China's Fujian Province on Sept. 5.
AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, Pool
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Oct. 12, 2017, 8 p.m.

To maintain his popularity, Putin shifts his image

Leon Aron, writing for the Journal of Democracy

Two years ago, a Russian political sociologist observed that Vladimir Putin’s approval ratings correlate “positively with the public’s view” of economic performance. More respondents approved of Putin “than believed the nation and its economy were doing well.” But “most intriguingly,” his ratings occasionally increased when people’s view of the country decreased. “On average, 76 percent of respondents approved of Putin’s performance as president, while only 42 percent said that the country was moving in the right direction.” The gap comes from a supermajority that not only supports Putin’s polices, but support the “‘values’ associated with the president.” They view him as a driver of the country’s wealth, a nation protector, and a savior. Around 2013­ to 2014, though, Putin needed “to revitalize his support” and so he “sharply shifted the basis of his popularity—and thus his regime’s legitimacy—from economic growth to patriotic mobilization.” This was a move from wealth manager to protector and savior. “Putinism will go on so long as it bears Putin’s face. But that face is in periodic need of a lift.” The supermajority needs another regeneration before the 2018 election and this win needs to be big.

There's such a thing as too much politics

Robert B. Talisse, writing for Aeon

There’s a paradox at the heart of concepts like fun and friendship. Try to hard to achieve them, and your pursuit becomes self defeating. So it is with democracy. “The very idea of collective self-government tempts us into thinking that citizens must be perpetually fixated on the task of ruling themselves.” Indeed, of late our “entire social worlds are shaped by the travails of contemporary politics. To put it dramatically, our social lives are tyrannised by democracy.” It informs where we shop, and with whom we interact. “As democracy rests on civic friendship, it is perhaps no surprise that in order to practise better democracy, we need to engage with each other on matters that are not political. Our civic lives must be structured around shared activities and common experiences that do not have politics at their core, arenas of social engagement that are not already structured and plagued by political categories.”

Historic tax credit should be expanded

Warren Ross, writing for RealClearPolicy

Tax reform must focus some of its efforts on “capital investments in our nation’s communities,” which is why the nearly 40-year-old Federal Historic Tax Credit should be strengthened. The program, which provides credits of up to 20 percent for rehabilitation of historic buildings like “vacant schools, warehouses, factories, retail stores, apartments, hotels, and office buildings” is crucial to strengthening communities “both in terms of providing needed economic development and revitalizing valued historical buildings.” It’s actually a revenue booster, as “the government receives $1.20–$1.25 in tax revenue for every dollar invested.” Critics who say private investment in rehabilitation would occur even without the credit are mistaken, as it “is an essential financial component in determining where investment dollars are driven. There is no doubt that without the HTC, many restoration projects of older, historic buildings … would not be economically feasible.”

The Litchfield Judicial District Courthouse in Litchfield, Conn. AP Photo/Dave Collins
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