Democracy Is Not Magic

By Kindred Winecoff

Besir Ceka, a former grad student colleague of two Jilters, has a post at the European Politics and Policy blog of the London School of Economics and Political Science describing some of his research. The key thing is this:

However what’s most fascinating is that, when compared to national governments, the EU is the more trusted level of government by Europeans, and by a long stretch (see Figure 3). This has been the case for a while and it is a fact which has largely been ignored by Eurosceptics. Despite much debate about the democratic deficit in the EU, the legitimacy deficit of national governments, as measured by the level of trust that citizens put in them, is far more acute than that of the EU. Over the last decade, the “trustworthiness gap” between the EU and national governments has been as high as 25 per cent.

Bold added.

For a long time the bulk of political scientists, theorists, and many in the commentariat have associated “democracy” with “good governance”. There have always been major problems with the causal mechanism, but the European Union is a salient example: the least-democratic governance structures also enjoy the most public trust. Meanwhile, in the US public trust in the government is near its all-time low of 17%. What does that mean? If democracy aggregates the sum of private wills and the sum of private wills doesn’t care much for democratic outcomes, then… well, you tell me.

For a somewhat different (and even more skeptical) take on this dynamic see Henry Farrell in Aeon a few months back.

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