Sunday, October 29, 2017

Federalism by mistake?

Political scientist Daniel Tresiman argues in a new academic article that in transitions to democracy "influential theories contend that incumbents deliberately choose to share or surrender power. They do so to prevent revolution, motivate citizens to fight wars, incentivize governments to provide public goods, outbid elite rivals, or limit factional violence." Examining the history of all democratizations since 1800, however, he shows that such deliberate choice arguments may help explain only up to one third of cases. "In about two thirds, democratization occurred not because incumbent elites chose it but because, in trying to prevent it, they made mistakes that weakened their hold on power. Common mistakes include: calling elections or starting military conflicts, only to lose them; ignoring popular unrest and being overthrown; initiating limited reforms that get out of hand; and selecting a covert democrat as leader. These mistakes reflect well-known cognitive biases such as overconfidence and the illusion of control." Although the methodology used by Treisman is open to discussion (trying to put into conceptual boxes more than one hundred stories), the conclusions are suggestive and surely at least part of the explanation. The same explanations might be applied to attempts to change the course of history through sovereignty conflicts. Both in the Brexit process and in the Catalan independence movement we have seen a lot of hubrys from leaders. Overconfidence and the illusion of control from David Cameron or Artur Mas have led their societies to be guided by movements that escaped from their hands. They called referenda or elections that went not as expected. Other leaders or the same ones made overoptimistic claims (from their perspective) that were not confirmed by experience. Nationalist leaders claimed that they would take back control (what better example of the "illusion of control"). The book "The Ostrich Paradox" explains how badly we are prepared for disasters due to among other psychological biases, overoptimism. Many that are not nationalists (myself included) have also behaved like ostriches, by not acknowledging the seriousness of what was happening around us. However, the world, or at least Europe, will evolve with all our mistakes in a reality that is globalized and interconnected. This world will select those governing institutions that are fitter for survival. Will we stumble into federalism?

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