2.9 Organizing Society for the 21st Century. Is Democracy the Right Model? (Round Table)
The rising strength of populist movements across Europe and the United States might be the early manifestation of a broader and more structural long-term transformation taking place within western democracies.
Unprecedented complexity, interconnectivity and uncertainty are impacting the suitability of the current model of social organization. Two major forces seem to be catalysing this process. On the one hand, the increasing pace of technological development and adoption, including artificial intelligence technologies and widespread adoption of high-speed computing and automation, which are driving a major transformation of the model of economic growth, labour markets and wealth creation. While the overall level of economic prosperity has increased significantly over the last few decades, the level of inequality is reaching record levels in recent human history. On the other hand, the rapid expansion of decentralized communication platforms, such as Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube and WeChat, are posing significant pressure on the democratic political process and on the diffusion of ideas, with impact on the public perception of science and the debate on human values.
These trends highlight the importance of empowering citizens and enhancing critical thinking, but also the potential reformulation of the models of democratic participation. Both could become the most relevant levers to ensure viable economic growth while preserving social and political stability.
Building upon our debates in October 2019 at Oxford, we will explore to what extent the current system of western democratic participation is suitable for coping with the aforementioned challenges. Will it require a radical redesign, or could a gradual improvement suffice? Is it possible to moderate extreme aberrations resulting from the perverse use of social power? What fundamental changes are needed to develop more effective systems of governance capable of dealing with the increasing complexity while addressing the aspirations of humanity, maximizing the equity and effectiveness of social institutions and supporting the future evolution of global society?