DEMOCRACY’S TECHNOLOGY DILEMMA

With the midterms now over, it shouldn’t take long for partisans on both sides of the aisle to return to what they do best—partisanship. The next two years will be full of important policy debates, from whether America should continue to acceptance migrants to the merits of free trade.


There’s one issue, though, that won’t garner as many headlines, but is more important than any other for determining America’s long-term international position: the struggle between democracy and technology.

The growing challenge for America and other democracies is that the technologies increasingly responsible for driving economic prosperity are simultaneously stoking social divisions, undermining trust in institutions, and concentrating power in the hands of a few select private sector firms. Spurred by recent privacy scandals and the use of social media and internet search to spread disinformation, the US looks likely to pursue some form of digital of privacy reform next year. At the same time, the Washington is pursuing a strategy of confrontation over Beijing’s ambitions in artificial intelligence and other advanced technologies that is pushing the two countries’ tech sectors apart – increasing the risk that they end up locked in a zero-sum, Cold War-like contest for technology dominance.

As a recent story in Wired points out (co-authored, we must point out, by our good friend Ian Bremmer), this presents a dilemma: making the digital revolution safe for democracy could also stifle innovation. The tighter the regulatory vise closes, the greater the risk that firms in Silicon Valley – arguably the most strategically economic engine for the US in the 21st century – end up at a disadvantage to Chinese competitors who are unlikely to face the same constraints on gathering and exploiting huge amounts of data. As Bremmer and Thompson point out in their piece, “there is nothing close to a serious debate about how to address this dilemma.”

How do you think democratic governments can strike the right balance?

Brazil's governors take on Bolsonaro: We've previously written about the tensions between local and national governments over coronavirus response, but few places have had it as bad as Brazil. As COVID-19 infections surged in Brazil, the country's governors quickly mobilized – often with scarce resources – to enforce citywide lockdowns. Brazil's gangs have even risen to the occasion, enforcing strict curfews to limit the virus' spread in Rio de Janeiro. But Brazil's president, Jair Bolsonaro, has mocked the seriousness of the disease and urged states to loosen quarantines in order to get the economy up and running again. "Put the people to work," he said this week, "Preserve the elderly; preserve those who have health problems. But nothing more than that." In response, governors around the country – including some of his allies – issued a joint letter to the president, begging him to listen to health experts and help states contain the virus. The governor of Sao Paulo, Brazil's economic powerhouse, has even threatened to sue the federal government if Bolsonaro continues to undermine his efforts to combat the virus' spread.

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Governments of the developed world are finally responding with due sense of urgency, individually in 3 different ways.

1st, stand health care systems up so they won't get overwhelmed (late responses). The private & public sector together, building additional ICU beds, supply capacity and production of medical equipment and surge medical personnel in the US, Canada, across Europe & the UK. Unclear if we avoid a Northern Italy scenario. A couple days ago, Dr. Fauci from the NIH said he was hopeful. Epidemiologists and critical care doctors don't feel comfortable. Not in New York, Chicago, LA, Boston, Philadelphia, New Orleans. In Europe, particularly London, Madrid, Catalonia, Barcelona, might be significantly short.

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The major outbreaks of coronavirus in China, Europe, and the United States have garnered the most Western media attention in recent weeks. Yesterday, we went behind the headlines to see how Mexico and Russia are faring. Today, we'll look at three other potential hotspots where authorities and citizens are now contending with the worst global pandemic in a century.

Start with India. For weeks, coronavirus questions hovered above that other country with a billion-plus people, a famously chaotic democracy where the central government can't simply order a Chinese-scale public lockdown with confidence that it will be respected. It's a country where 90 percent of people work off the books— without a minimum wage, a pension, a strong national healthcare system, or a way to work from home.

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In the end, it took the coronavirus to break the year-long deadlock in Israeli politics. Prime Minister Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu will still face corruption charges, but he has yet another new lease on political life, as he and political rival Benny Gantz cut a deal yesterday: Bibi will continue as prime minister, with Gantz serving as Speaker of the Knesset, Israel's parliament. After 18 months, Gantz will take over as prime minister, but many doubt that will ever happen.

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