How to Write a Paper about the Crisis of Democracy?

Cheerful reception of the “How to Write a Law and Technology Paper?” convinced me that the format has comedy potential. The same disclaimer as previously applies here: this post is for laughs. Of course, I am worried about the state of democracy. But I am also skeptical of the value of repeating the same diagnosis and analysis over and over again. On a theoretical level, a question is crystalizing in my mind: “what is the value of repeating stuff that everyone in a community already knows?” There must be some, otherwise, why do we keep doing it? One day I will attempt an answer. After a few more “ten steps” is suppose. Today, however, enjoy the Friday piece of sit-down-comedy:

Are you concerned about the course that local and global politics have taken lately? Would you like to be remembered as someone who was not indifferent, and tried to have an impact? Does the prospect of actually going to the streets to talk to people and maybe help someone scare you as too much movement and effort? If the answer to all these questions is “yes”, you probably should write a paper about the crisis of democracy. A perfect way to feel like you’re doing something good for society, without actually having to do much.

“But I am no political theorist / constitutional lawyer! what do I know?” – is the thought that might pop up in your head, but be sure to disregard it. Unlike with natural (real) sciences, everyone is an expert on politics, constitution, and democracy.  After a couple of beers especially. Plus, you can use our instruction: How to write a paper about the crisis of democracy (in ten steps):

  1. Start by saying that it seemed in 1989 that it’s the end of history. Cite Fukuyama (and call him a “Neo-Con”. Mention he seems to have changed his mind. Make a little joke about that).
  2. Say that now, however, there are problems all around the world. Be sure to mention Russia, Trump, Turkey, Poland, Brexit, Philipinnes, Brazil and Hungary in the same sentence.
  3. Cite some numbers about how inequality is rising, growth stagnating, whatever, you need numbers (quote Piketty). Say that people nowadays will not be richer than their parents. Call them “losers of globalization”.
  4. Mention China and that maybe actually there is no necessary connection between democracy and market economy. Remind people that Hayek was friends with Pinochet.
  5. Be sure to include that democracy in the West might not be that democratic at all – refer to Citizens United and money in politics in general.
  6. Indicate that causes are actually even more complicated: economy, culture, ideology all play some role.
  7. Say that we are probably doomed. Add an analogy between today and the 1930s. Then say that we do not really know how it’s gonna go. Say that you predict that democracy will go down, or not, or maybe it will change.
  8. Add a splash here and there of buzzwords like “democratic backsliding”, “populism”, “illiberal”, “losers of globalization”. DO NOT ever explain what you mean by democracy or crisis. You must use the term “rule of law” very abundantly and make sure you conflate it with democracy.
  9. Propose to solve the problem by something that sounds simple but is actually very unclear: education, inclusion, regulation of social media. If you want to call your work “interdisciplinary”, mention blockchain.
  10. Say that of course more research is needed, but you wanted to just “start a debate” which is very important.

Congratulations! You just landed on a good side of history! If everything indeed goes down, you will be able to demonstrate that you cared. And if not, one of your predictions materialized, and you were a part of the movement! win-win.

Thanks to Nik and Fil for their comments about the “first draft”, haha.

How to Write a Law and Technology Paper?

This post is for laughs, a piece of a sit-down comedy. Admittedly, it’s making fun of some things I have written in the past. I wrote it a while ago, on a plane from law&tech conference to another. I wanted to pair it with a serious part: a reflection on what is it that we do, what we should do, what’s the point etc. Somehow, however, I never managed. On the same time, I keep showing this to people on my phone during conferences and they laugh. And laughing is good for you! Hence, I thought I’ll share it, so you can smirk, and maybe someone wiser than me will come up with a serious comment on what is behind this. Ready? Let’s go!

How to write a generic law and technology paper

So, you have given a lecture using the speech generator and now they asked you to write a paper. Worried? No need! The instruction below will help you develop a state-of-the-art contribution in ten steps.

  1. Start with a story. Write a couple-paragraph-long horrifying/utopian story about how a technology you are talking about will soon completely change the world, and undermine one of the legally protected values: property, freedom, equality, transparency, non-discrimination, safety, privacy, anything. Don’t explain what you mean by “technology”, but be sure to mention that it is “disruptive”. If you can find some data (numbers are always impressive), cite it; even better if you can find someone (anyone, really) who has published a prediction that in 5 years everyone will be using this. You can also start with some inspirational quote.
  2. Name the technology: robotics, AI, internet of things, big data, blockchain, algorithms, platforms, sharing economy, wearables, again anything. Say that there is no agreed upon definition of it, then define it anyhow, give a few more examples. If you write about IoT, make sure your example is a fridge ordering milk when you are out of it.
  3. Indicate what are some laws that could apply to this technology – cite some statues, some cases, no need to be comprehensive – just have one that would be unclear in application. Alternatively, take some established concept: liability, personality, accountability etc. and show how this new technology makes its application complicated. This will make everyone think that this is a legal paper. Lawyers usually don’t know much about tech, and non-lawyers seldom read cases – this will make you seem like an expert in the other area than the reader comes from.
  4. State that we need to regulate, in a way that will “mitigate the risks, without impeding the benefits”.
  5. Say that obviously there are some benefits, and list them: pay special attention to how this could be used in education, or medicine, or for any type of empowerment (no need to define).
  6. Say that, however, there are of course also some risks/challenges, and list them. No need to indicate what the criteria of distinction was, also don’t worry about explaining your normative theory (just say “criminal law”, or “consumer law”, or “privacy” etc.). Just list the problems.
  7. Now it’s time to solve a problem: throw around one/three/five ideas on what to do. If you are creative here that’s ok, but you can also go for some safe bets: create a new administrative agency (“FDA for algorithms/robots/databases etc.), incentivize self-regulation and creation of codes of conduct, and education – education is the most important.
  8. (Optional: write a couple of paras explaining why your solutions are better than what other people proposed, or what is already in place. This takes more time, because you actually need to read something. But will make you look like an expert. If you treat people nicely, you might even become a member of a #citationCartel).
  9. Mention blockchain. You can just literally put the word “blockchain” in a random place somewhere in the solution section.
  10. Finish by saying that the issue is obviously complex, so more interdisciplinary perspectives are needed, and that you know you might be wrong, but your first ambition was to draw attention to the problem and start a discussion.

There you go! The paper is essentially ready. You just became an expert in something new, congratulations!!!

Law & economics against property and for central planning

I just had a wonderful Italian-stylrice-pastae lunch, which made me too sleepy to read, and so I wrote this post. The post itself is a joke. Or is it?

Grant property rights on this! seems to be a remedy for all evil according to some Chicago style law&economics utilitarians. In consequence, law&economics pretending-to-be-analytic-while-actually-being-polital-activists scholars often go hand in hand with the prophets and proponents of neoliberalism. But this will soon end.

Property theories (like all normative theories) could be roughly divided into deontological and consequentialist. The previous say: there is a reason to grant property rights to people (flourishing, natural law etc.) and so they should be granted, regardless of whether this will lead to the most efficient outcome. The latter, on the other hand, claim that we should grant property rights (or not) to people, because in consequence they will be better off; or rather: the total utility will be the highest and division the fairest if we grant subjects property rights.

Proponents of l&e, often considering themselves intellectual heirs of Hume (reason! and there’s no God!), will however evenly often start with from-was-to-ought argument: radio spectrum has been distributed more efficiently since property rights were granted in place of administrative distribution; capitalist states where better off than communist, because they had clear and working property rights system; Moscow streets in 90s were ruled by gangs, because there was no such system; and so it means that property rights and market are better than their lack and/or central planing, so let’s grant them.

(This is pasta, sometimes formaggio of Hayek-and-local-knowldge and Akerlof-market-for-lemons gets added).

However, even if we derive ‘ought to’ from ‘to be’, the direction of time arrow makes a difference. Just because some social ordering was less efficient in the past, it does not mean that it will be less efficient in the future. The world is changing.

What is the problem of central planning?
1. There is super a lot of data;
2. This data in not agreeable because it’s spread everywhere, and people’s preferences happen to change;
3. Since there is so much data and we also don’t have it, we can’t really build a proper equation;
4. Even if we had such an equation, and managed to collect the data to insert, we wouldn’t have computing power to count it;
5. And even if we did, we wouldn’t be able to keep distributing the goods fast enough.

Oh, wait: that was the problem of central planning in 70s. Or maybe even late 90s. Or maybe it still is one, hard to tell, quite a while since some government really tried for the last time.

So let’s jump to the future: 2050, everyone has a Google (or whatever will replace it) account, info about all our preferences, purchases, searches and actions is collected, BigData and stuff; we also have some chips in our veins scanning our blood, DNA and sending the data to the super computer, which will be 262144 times faster than current one (Moore’s law; and even if not, way faster); and drones fly around bringing you stuff. So our problems are solved by:
1. Google&BigData
2. Google&BigData
3. Google people
4. Super-supercomputer (probably owned by Google)
5. Drones (Amazon, I guess)

Suddenly it will turn out that having all this property, contracts, bargaining, market and stuff leads to a less efficient outcome, both for you and society; and it will be Google algorithm, knowing your skills and talents, telling you what work to do and giving you the best possible stuff in exchange. (‘Wow, I didn’t even know that I really wanted to have salmon for dinner, thx Google and Amazon!’). Or taking it away, when someone will have more fun with it.
In short.
Public/private; government/corporations and other details are insignificant here.

What matters is: if you believe in freedom and you think it’s cool that you can buy sth and it’s yours, stop being a consequentialist-utilitarian neoliberal, or otherwise your grandchildren will live in a Google dystopia.
So what should you be?
Repent and believe in Gospel!
(joking)
(not really, but I sort have to pretend I am)
(so: joking! haha..)
So: read some Locke or Kant or this third guy, what’s his name…? The one who ruined all meaningful moral philosophy..? The one who invented veil of ignorance, google him.

 

Ah, digested. Now I feel much better, can get back to work. And you should do the same!