The forecast of good governance on this page, the first one ever of its kind (hence it should be seen as work in progress), has come out at the very beginnings of an unprecedented destabilizing crisis for this century. It is fair to ask oneself therefore how the prognoses here will be affected.
Many positive things exist in crises such as the current one. Among others, we can count more global solidarity, more understanding of inequities of globalization and structural inequalities, and more acknowledgment of insufficient progress in recent years in delivering equal treatment and opportunity. Ethical universalism is an unfinished business even in the most advanced democracies, and there is more awareness of that than before. However, violence and anarchy are on the rise mostly in free societies, which have done the most to enable ethical universalism, and where democratic avenues to solve grievances do exist. Partisanship has crossed any limits of acceptable behavior and has become really problematic sectarianism. The center is squeezed, and civilization and civility with it.
What our science tells us is that political instability does not breed good governance, however: it’s not merit which triumphs when violence is on the rise.
It is perhaps more likely that Mr. Trump will lose elections: however, the reform-minded President Macron may also go, too, as it showed in local elections this year, and the main profiteer is the right-wing party of Madame Le Pen. The Chinese whistleblowers of the Coronavirus have not been promoted to top party hierarchy in the ministry of health: instead, they are dead and China represses Hong Kong freedom fighters with little hindrance from the international community. This is not surprising, as on some days it seems that the countries where democracy has been born and evolved ever since, even if not to perfection- US and UK- are more problematic than Russia, China, Turkey and North Korea. In the latter countries, where there is no consultation at all, nobody storms public buildings and statues whose fate should be decided by all inhabitants of a city after debate, not just angry groups. The very essential feature enabling such behavior in democratic countries- freedom and the consequent lack of fear from repression- is taken for granted increasingly. In previous times when this happened, the rights of citizenry suffered, because the absence of violence of every kind is indispensable for liberal democracies to be able to ensure rights. Populists will have an easier time rallying people around law and order if equality promoters equally promote violence and unilateralism. The most productive approach to fighting corruption as a main curtailer of individual rights might suffer in such a context.
The first amendment to the forecast is that the more political violence grows, the less positive predictions come true and more countries come under threat of losing what they have acquired, the good governance fundamentals: freedom of thought, equality before the law and the capacity to mediate between different interests through debate and limited terms popularly elected office.
The second amendment refers to the important role of technology. While in recent years we have seen intense mobilization against social media because it enables the worst social groups’ instincts- groupthink, mobbing, selective exposure, scapegoating, trolling and harassment- our research group has continued to defend it as a force for good. Social media enable people to monitor their government, to rally and protest, and such collective action is indispensable for good governance. Research has shown, however, that social media algorithms promote aggressivity online because it sells more advertising, and groups such as the Yellow Vest are profiting from it. While we are very proud to live in an era on unprecedented technological development we see daily that this does little to deter people from endorsing identity politics, and the resulting collectivism and intergroup conflict. None of these help ethical universalism, a society where everybody is treated fairly and equally, with no difference due to particular characteristics of ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation, or any other difference. Technology helps only if it remains a force for enlightenment- hence our component of public integrity index, enlightened citizens, those endowed with Internet household connections and associated with others through social media. We still have a strong association between their numbers and the quality of governance. But will this correlation hold if trolls and mobs become stronger than ethical universalism promoters on the Internet? In our forecast we have seen progress over the last ten years on both sides- governments have become more digital, and citizens have become better at participating. This development has resulted in mostly incremental progress so far- indeed, there is no substantial case based on digital progress alone, not even Estonia, although the progress of cases like Brazil or North Macedonia is based in part on digitalization. While we are still believers in what technology can do for good governance and solving collective action problems, technology has to stay a force for civilization and dialogue if it is to fulfill its potential.
So far, threats for good governance overshadow opportunities from the current crisis. But this Is not over and the jury is out still.