In the Journal

The future of open access publishing is in our hands

I have been thinking about open access publication ever since I became interested in intellectual property rights twenty five years ago. There are all sorts of issues with the current standard system of academic publishing, not least of all that an oligopoly of journal publishers have maintained a system (albeit that has changed in its details) that sees them effectively profit from free inputs which are sold (or now, often digitally rented) back to universities. Academic institutions pay twice for research: once for it to be done and again to access the results through authorised publication.

This system is neither inevitable nor (now) universal; the hard sciences are perhaps furthest along a route out of this situation and have developed a number of strategies collectively and individually to free access from the formal constraints of copyright. In Politics and International Relations (PIR) we have been much more reticent in embracing open access, with still around 80% of our publications appearing in (access controlled) proprietary outlets.

One way of understanding this lack of use of open access alternatives is to focus on our academic literacies. Decisions about choosing forms of outputs and (publishing) locations are driven by a range of factors including the desire to share work, and the development or maintenance of a researcher/author’s reputation or profile. While the acceptability of open access publications may be growing, the reputational benefits claimed by the major publishers still factor into too many decisions about where to publish. When citation is a key metric (including specifically, impact factors for journals), and where managerialism foregrounds such research productivity measures, movement away from the major journals is likely to be slow. It is only when our assessment of research clearly favours open access that more work will be published this way. It is only when the shape of academic literacies shifts profoundly that we will see a significant move in publishing. It is not so much an issue of the availability of open access platforms, journals and opportunities but rather how they fit into (y)our own understanding of our academic lives.

So, to effect a change:

  • Senior colleagues who sit on appointments and promotions committees need to work to normalise open access publication as conveying recognisable and valued academic achievement;
  • We need to continue to expand our use of alternative (open access) communication routes and early non-formalised publication such a blogs;
  • Institutions using & publishing open access work need to offer clearer guidance about their quality assurance for content and process of review;
  • We also need to see the appearance of similar work, research or analysis in multiple locations (with different access protocols) not as ‘salami slicing’ of research but the recognition of the variegated ecology of publishing.

The future of academic publishing is in the hands of the academic communities it serves and if we in PIR are saddled with high subscription prices and/or constrained access, then in the end we only have ourselves to blame, as we have not done enough to change a system which remains in our control even if those who profit from it have done their best to obscure this fact. The scientific community has recognised this and acted and so should we!

Simulations as reality check for students?

A range of academic literature (for instance here, here, here, and here) has investigated the importance of games, simulations, and alternative teaching methods in the international relations (IR) field. Among many role-playing experiences, the Model United Nations (MUN) is and one of the most popular IR simulations around the world.

In a recent article in Politics we examine how students have modified their own views, interpretations and expectations after participating in the MUN. This article, based on a survey of students (N=218) participating in two MUNs held in Spring 2018, answers the following research questions: How is the MUN perceived as an experience that helps improve personal skills (such as language ability, negotiation skills, and knowledge)? How and to what extent do perceptions vary on selected IR issues before and after the MUN? How and to what extent do views on future university enrolment or future work and career vary before and after the MUN? By answering these questions, we make three innovative contributions to the current scholarly debate.

First, we analyse the evolution of students’ perceived skills before and after the simulation, confirming – thanks to a sample larger than the vast majority of studies in the field – that students consider the MUN experience as ‘increasing’ their personal skills. In this way, the manuscript aims at addressing one of the shortcomings acknowledged in the literature (here and here): the lack of empirical studies on simulations based on large samples.

Second, we investigate students’ perspectives on selected IR issues (such as conflict and cooperation), corroborating the findings of the very few studies (here and here) that have stressed a (counter-intuitive) ‘reality check effect’ of simulations in tempering the idealism of participants. In fact, students tend to conceive conflict in IR as more salient than they had thought it was before the MUNs—and, vice versa, they see cooperation in IR as less important than they had assumed it to be beforehand. Students consider International Organisations (IOs), cooperation, and diplomacy in IR to be highly relevant, but this perceived importance decreases after the MUN. Students who attend MUNs tend to view IOs with less idealism, according them importance but not as much as before the experience.

Third, we focus on another underestimated issue in the literature on IR and role-playing: how student’s viewpoints on future university enrolment or career vary after the simulation. Our analysis reveals that, after the MUN, students are less doubtful about their future university and career aspirations, and more willing to enrol in curricula that are consistent with an international orientation. In other words, their perspectives on future careers become less uncertain and more oriented towards curricula that are somehow related to the world of IR.

Finally, the variance of students’ sample, which is differentiated by age, level of education (high school or university, MA, BA, years of enrolment, etc.), gender, and the kind of MUN attended, allows us to employ a OLS multivariate regression analysis. All in all, the empirical findings of the research underscore the conclusion that simulations are a valid and enriching experience for both high school and university students.

Further research could try to confirm and generalise our findings with even larger samples, especially concerning our preliminary analysis of the influence of simulations on student’s views about future studies and career. For instance, a cross-national comparative study might confront different national samples emphasising recurrent patterns, regularities and differences, and their main drivers. Further studies could test our hypotheses through an experimental design, i.e., submitting the same survey to students not participating in a simulation and learning through seminars and reading only. Finally, a more detailed gender-based approach could also represent a fruitful avenue for further research.

Governing migration in the UK after Brexit

Despite the ongoing division and debate over the UK’s future relationship with the EU, the Government is currently working on the assumption that exit will take place by 31st October 2019. Key to their ongoing preparations, driven by a view that migration was central to the Leave campaign’s success, is the development of a future migration policy.

The clearest indications so far of what this policy might look like come from two documents: the Government-commissioned report by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) on the impact of migration to the UK from the European Economic Area (that is, the EU28 plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway, citizens of which all enjoy reciprocal freedom of movement), published in September 2018; and the Government White Paper on immigration, published in December 2018.

Taking on board the MAC’s recommendation to remove preference for EU citizens, this latter document announced an intention to move to a single points-based migration system after the transition period, which will give “access to highly skilled and skilled workers from all countries” (p. 15). However, the Government parted from the MAC by also proposing to institute, as a transitional measure, “a time-limited route for temporary short-term workers”, which “will allow people to come for a maximum of 12 months” (p. 16).

How can we understand this proposed system, and what might its effects be? In a recent article in Politics, I examined the current UK visa regime for non-EU migrants, which will form the basis of the proposed ‘post-Brexit’ regime. The most popular categories in the ‘points-based system’ that applies to most non-EU migrants in recent years have been the Tier 2 and Tier 5 visas. These offer temporary residence for periods of between one and nine years, with the length of stay granted depending on factors such as age, wealth, and the type of work undertaken.

I noted how the explicit references in the visa guidelines to indicators such as salary and savings tie this regime into much wider class, racial, and gender dynamics, by ignoring how access to high earnings or cash reserves are often influenced by nationality or family background, or by promoting a gender-blind notion of ‘minimum salary’ that does not take into account well-documented gender pay gaps. For those employed in less desirable occupations, or who cannot meet stringent conditions such as earning at least £35,000 per year, the end of the visa period will mean moving on to a third country, or remaining  in the UK but crossing from a legitimate residence status to an irregular one, and from the open economy to the shadows.

My main argument was that this migration system acts to encourage non-EU migrants in the UK to remain mobile through its temporary nature. I noted how this operates as a bar on integration, as temporary migrants are denied sufficient time to gain the language skills or make the connections needed for social and economic integration. I also argued that it operates as a method of control, by making immigration status always conditional, and at the whim of political decision-makers. The temporary nature of the UK visa regime thus makes certain migrants easier to govern, as they are always mobile and movable, if permanent residence status is not forthcoming.

The Government White Paper on immigration suggests a simultaneous expansion of these logics, and an important modification to them. In moving to a single system for all persons not granted entry rights under the Common Travel Area agreement (that is, citizens of the UK, Ireland, and the Crown Dependencies), the system for non-EU migrants that I analysed will become the basis for the new regime.

However, in instigating a formal two-tier system, with a main route “for skilled workers entitled to stay longer periods, to bring dependants and in some cases to settle permanently”, and another “for temporary short-term workers at all skills levels… subject to tightly defined conditions” (p. 44 of the White Paper), the proposed system marks an even clearer hierarchy between those on a pathway to permanent status and citizenship, and those governed by logics of mobility.

So, what does my analysis suggest for the UK’s ‘post-Brexit’ migration policy? If modelled on the White Paper, future policy will further entrench the two-tier system already emerging through the current regime. While the wealthiest and most privileged will be attracted with clear routes to permanent residence and citizenship, the lower-skilled will be welcomed on a temporary basis only. It is therefore likely that any ‘post-Brexit’ migration system will fit into the longer-term trends of UK migration policy that I identified, where a system of ‘mobile migrants’ is slowly replacing the ‘permanent settler’ model of immigration.

The influence of various measures of health on different types of political participation

The question of why, when, and how individuals participate in the political process is probably one of the most important questions in Political Science. Alongside more traditional reasons, such as money, time and civic skills, an individual’s health has become a prominent explanation for voting. There is near consensus in the literature that poor health hampers an individual’s likelihood to vote.  Yet, the influence of poor health on other forms of political action seems to be more complex.

In a recent article in Politics, we try to disentangle if it matters how we measure poor health. In detail, we ask the following research question: does the relationship between individual health and political involvement depend on how we assess poor health?

To answer this question, we distinguish two health indicators – self reported health and being hampered by illness in daily activity – and test both indicators’ relationship with different forms of political engagement. Using data from the European Social Survey (ESS) (2014; N=35000), we receive a nuanced picture about the relationship between different health indicators and different forms of political participation.

When it comes to voting, things are quite straightforward – regardless how we measure health, individuals in poor health are less likely to vote. In contrast, the effect of either of the two health measures on the six other types of political participation – contacting a politician, signing a petition, participating in a boycott, wearing a campaign badge, being a member of a political party and contacting a politician – is more nuanced. For one, self-reported health does not have any relevant relationship with any of these types of political activities. However, the second health indicator, being hampered by illness in daily activity shows a positive, albeit small, relationship with most of these forms of political participation: individuals, who feel hampered by illness in daily activity have a slightly higher likelihood to contact a politician, sign a petition, wearing a campaign badge and boycotting.

Conceptually, this implies that we have to be explicit in what health indicator we use and justify it. It might be possible that individuals with an objective physical or mental ailment vote less, because they think that they cannot achieve anything through voting. However, they might think that they could achieve some of their goals such as an appropriate health care and social protection system through other means of political participation such as boycotting. Future studies should confirm this conjecture.

‘Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Who Is the Ugliest of Them All?’: Othering as Soft Power Strategy

China’s global media expansion is one of the latest signs of the continued rise of the Middle Kingdom. As the tentacles of Chinese media expand far and wide, there is now a debate on whether Beijing’s global media reach has helped China spread its influence and boost its soft power abroad. For many observers, the answer is yes: the media equal influence and soft power, by means of effectively channelling and broadcasting a country’s soft power to the wider world.

And yet, China’s soft power clearly has not increased in proportion to the spatial expansion of Chinese media or the growth of Chinese investment in this realm. While some scholars attribute this discrepancy to the fact that China, being an authoritarian state, has limited soft power resources to begin with, in a recent article in Politics we argue that the more complex relationship between the media and soft power cannot be fully understood from the dominant resource-cum-transmission approach to soft power and the media. Instead of defining soft power as resources and treating the media as primarily a transmission vehicle for such resources, we argue that soft power should be seen as an effect of discursive construct, in which media discourse plays an instrumental role. This brings media discursive strategies and their effect to the centre of the study of soft power.

Thus far, we still know little about what strategies exist in media discursive repertoire, and how such discursive strategies contribute to the construction of soft power. In our article, we respond to these rarely-asked questions by looking at Chinese media discursive practices in the context of Beijing’s soft power push. We identify a typology of soft-power discursive practices: charm offensive, defensive denial and Othering offensive.

By charm offensive, we mean a discursive practice of constructing the self in a positive light. Notable examples of this practice include discourses of the ‘manifest destiny’ (the United States), ‘normative power Europe’ (Europe), a ‘Russian world’, and ‘Peaceful Rise’ (China). Othering offensive, on the other hand, is an indirect discursive practice of soft power: it relies on the construction of a negative and repulsive Other so as to create, implicitly but no less powerfully, a positive and attractive self-identity. Defensive denial is a largely reactive strategy of resisting or denying negative discourses about the self, often as a response to an Othering offensive by other actors.

While these are not an exhaustive list of the soft-power discursive repertoire, they are the most commonly deployed practices in the construction of soft power in global politics. Their deployment and effectiveness as discursive practices, among other things, contribute to the overall soft power dynamics. In this sense, understanding Chinese soft power requires not only looking at the spatial reach of Chinese media, but also probing into the soft-power discursive practices found in Chinese media.

As we show in the article, one such soft-power discursive practice—Othering offensive—was clearly at work in China Daily’s coverage of Donald Trump and the United States in general during the 2016 presidential election. In the Othering strategy deployed by China Daily, three framing themes stand out: the depiction of Trump as a problematic and irrational candidate, the focus on the tensions and division within US society and the dysfunctionality of US political system, and the portrayal of the US as a waning and irresponsible global power.

All the negative framings of Trump and the US, we argue, aim to convey a sense of what China is not. In other words, these Othering discourses of the US are in effect implicit soft-power messages about a more ‘stable’, ‘harmonious’, ‘open’, and ‘responsible’ China. Whether such messages have indeed convinced an international audience of China’s attractiveness requires further research on audience reception, but it is clear that in order to understand Chinese soft power diplomacy, we need to pay more attention to its media discursive practices.

More importantly, such soft-power discursive practices are not unique to Chinese media. Indeed, it can be said that Western media have long plied their trade in soft-power discursive practice, and in the process, China is more often than not the target of their Othering offensive. In this sense, a country’s soft power is not just a matter of how many soft-power resources it has, how far-reaching its media expansion is, or even what discursive strategies its media have deployed in the soft power push, but also a reflection of the international balance of soft-power discursive strategies and their respective audience receptions.

Becoming better listeners: democracy and meta-deliberation

If you’ve ever tried to interrupt or pause an ongoing conversation to make a comment about the way people discuss an issue – how they miss important aspects, ignore valid points of view, or exclude people who might have something to contribute – you have been part of what theorists of democracy call “meta-deliberation.” Simply put, the term refers to the act of addressing problems with how discussions proceed.

Meta-deliberation concerns a critical aspect of democracy – how to make room in our conversations for all citizens affected by the issues and all the perspectives relevant to make well-informed decisions. For instance, have debates about climate change failed to involve young people, who will be most affected by its consequences? Such discussions concern our rights and responsibilities as citizens. While political equality may be most concretely expressed through the equal right to vote, citizens exercise power also by debating and reasoning together. Thus, when people cannot be part of discussions that affect them, or when discussions are shaped by preconceptions that make it hard to consider all relevant perspectives, we have a democratic problem.

Until now, theorists of democracy have seen this as their problem to solve. They have asked themselves: how can we create better forums for public discussion so that everyone can participate on fair terms? It now appears, however, that the question itself might be misguided.

Whatever solutions theorists come up with, they will never be able to guarantee that people have equal chances to speak and be heard. After all, societies are not theirs to shape and manipulate as they wish. Real-world citizens need to know, instead, how to deal with the problems they will face. This includes how to bring attention to failures to include all relevant aspects or views.

In a recent article in Politics, I describe this democratic challenge and highlight three issues that we need to keep in mind when discussing meta-deliberation.

First, meta-deliberation often occurs in the most everyday situations. Whenever a person says “I think we have not considered all relevant aspects of this issue,” or asks “should we not also ask other people what they think about this?” they are contributing to meta-deliberation. Thus, while we usually associate democracy with specific political institutions (the parliament, public referenda, and so on), meta-deliberation takes place as ordinary citizens engage in ordinary discussions.

Second, meta-deliberation often has the same problems as other kinds of conversation. When people talk about how we talk, they are not necessarily any more open to considering all relevant aspects and views than people are in other types of discussion. This makes things more complicated, because not only do we need to talk about the way we talk, we also need to examine, and talk about, the way people talk about how they talk. We could go on, in an endless regression, to examine issues that are even more “meta” (talk about talk about talk about talk, and so on). The point is, to be reflective of how we interact does not stop at any particular level – it’s reflection all the way down!

Third, these issues may seem very philosophical, or even silly. Why do we need meta-deliberation in the first place? Can’t we just go on like we do? After all, isn’t it working pretty well anyways? We could perhaps do so, and maybe just deal with specific problems as they arise instead of thinking that people should be constantly engaged in discussions about democracy. But the thing is, how do we know a problem when we see one, and how do I know that what seems like a small problem to me isn’t a big problem for you? Without an ambition to make public conversations open to all citizens and open to all relevant points of view, we might miss issues that need to be addressed, or we might address them when it’s already too late. A well-functioning democracy must give citizens possibilities to address a wide range of problems, not just the ones that seem most urgent at the moment, and to consider various perspectives and forms of knowledge, not just the familiar ones. That’s why we need to talk not just about the problems we see at the moment but also about the way we discuss them.

Voting Pirate Parties: Program or Protest?

Pirate parties appear to be on the decline. These parties were successful in winning representation in Sweden (European Parliament) and in Germany (State Parliaments) but have since disappeared from these parliaments. Yet recently, they have recently won seats in national parliaments in Iceland, the Czech Republic and Luxembourg.

Given the great differences in electoral results of Pirate parties, two questions arise: who votes for these parties? And whether these patterns are consistent between countries? While there has been research about in which countries pirate parties are stronger, there has not been comparative research looking at which voters vote for pirate parties. In a recent article in Politics, I investigated this, pooling six different election surveys to examine who voted for these parties in eleven different countries.

The first pirate party was founded in Sweden in 2006, by founders who were particularly upset with new copyright regulations. The formation of this party sparked the formation of more than fifty parties all over the world. The Swedish Pirate Party won seats in the European Parliament in 2009. The German Pirate Party won seats in the European Parliament in 2014 and also a number of state parliaments. Pirate parties have entered in elections in 18 countries in Europe since 2006: they became the third party in the Czech Parliament, they have become a stable feature of the Icelandic party system and they have recently won seats in the Luxembourg parliament.

I looked at two factors that may structure voting for these parties: programmatic agreement with these parties and political dissatisfaction. First, voters may vote for pirate parties because they agree with the ‘cyberlibertarian’ program of these parties. Pirate parties have libertarian views on issues like file-sharing, but also online and offline privacy. The surveys used have items on general attitudes towards privacy, law enforcement and authoritarianism, but no specific item on file-sharing. This means that these measuring the general attitudes that one would expect pirate party supporters to have and not the specific concerns that motivate the formation of these parties originally.

Second, voters may vote for these parties as a protest vote. In that case, voters who trust politicians less, in general, may vote for pirate parties.  It is reasonable to expect that pirate parties attract protest voters. Not just because new and third parties in general attract voters that are cynical about politics, but because they themselves often emphasize that they favour alternatives to the existing representative democracy, such as direct participation of citizens in decision-making.

My article shows that both factors matter for the support of Pirate parties, but that political dissatisfaction is a more important driver of support for these parties than concerns about privacy. In each analysis political distrust was a strong and significant predictor of voting for these parties. Libertarian attitudes are less important and in some analysis do not significantly affect the likelihood of voting for them. However, more than these two factors, age plays a crucial role in voting for these parties: virtually all voters of Pirate parties are born after 1985. Pirate parties are parties of digital natives: for this generation online activities form a major part of their life.

So, what do these results tell us about the volatility of the support for Pirate parties? If voting for these parties is driven more by political dissatisfaction than by their program, we can understand why these parties also decline. If other parties rise that give a more articulate voice to political dissatisfaction, voters may turn away from Pirate parties and to these alternatives. Yet if they are able to capitalize on dissatisfaction with established politics, like they have in Iceland, they may become a more stable feature of the system.

Teaching ‘The Professional Political Scientist’ to prepare students for life outside academia

What happens to students after they leave academia is often a blind spot, both for teachers and students of political science. This uncertainty can often be a source of and stress for the latter group. As a result of repeated requests from the student body to address such issues, we created “the Professional Political Scientist,” a module that has been given three times until this date.

Offered as an elective module at the end of the Bachelors program and spanning fifteen credits, it is devised to aid students’ knowledge about how individuals with political science degrees find jobs, situate and translate what they have learned at the University into work-life skills, as well as introducing them to practical skills conventional political science educations often do not offer.

The course is centered around three main themes: working in public service, writing and communication in professional life, and introduction to project management. As much of this competence is lacking within a regular political science department, we use lecturers from several departments across the University along with, critically, a number of professionals coming in from working life.

Although it is too soon to say whether the course has aided their careers, the general sentiment from students has been highly positive. They consistently report satisfaction with learning “new” types of skills and knowledge, like presentation technique, different types of writing, and dealing with deadlines foreign to those set up in the classroom.

Our article in Politics provides thorough description of the course itself, the work involved with its preparation, as well as a number of pieces of advice for colleagues interested in offering similar career preparation efforts at their home departments.


Rasmus Broms is a researcher at the Department of Political Science, University of Gothenburg. His research focuses on public finance and institutional quality from a comparative perspective.

Jenny de Fine Licht is a researcher and lecturer at the School of Public Administration, University of Gothenburg. Her main research interests are transparency, auditing, and public acceptance of hard decisions

Welfare or Politics?

Would you support a policy you like, but proposed by someone you don’t? The answer to this question is complex as it depends on several factors such as the policy design in question. What is more, the spillover from politics to policy is difficult to be identified as they are intertwined: even an honest respondent might not actually know the extent to which his/her preferences are influenced by feelings towards the political actor.

In a recent article, I attempt to tackle this question by a survey experiment in Hong Kong, which is notorious for its skyrocketing housing prices and income inequality. As the most expensive and least affordable housing market in the world since 2010, Hong Kong’s median home price is 18.1 times the median household annual income, higher than all other metropolitans. Most young people in Hong Kong, university graduates included, face much difficulties in buying an apartment. As such, it should be expected that they would benefit from an active government housing policy — even if they do not apply for public housing, an increased supply would lower the cost of private housing units as well, making them more affordable.

On the other hand, CY Leung, the Chief Executive of Hong Kong from 2012-17, was a highly controversial figure. When he ran for office (although the election was not a universal suffrage), he made housing policy his key platform, which initially brought him much support among some intellectuals and professionals. However, he would perhaps be better remembered by his divisive governance, as the Umbrella Movement and the “localism” movement both originated during his term in office. Thus this provides an interesting contrast between the supposedly popular housing policy and his personal character.

The research team successfully surveyed over 1200 respondents. The “experimental” component randomly divided them into three groups. The first group received an information about housing concerns among the youth; the second received the same information plus a cue that housing policy was the priority for Leung’s government; the third group’s cue linked housing policy with the oppositions.

The findings show that politics indeed spills over into support for welfare policies, even one that should be beneficial. Respondents expressed less support for public housing if they were dissatisfied with the political leadership and received the cue that the policy was associated with the government. The support level would be higher if the cue was absent. Before politicians or policymakers initiate “good” policies, perhaps they wish to reconsider their strategies and first cultivate personal support (or at least reduce the level of dislike).


Mathew YH Wong is Assistant Professor at the Department of Social Sciences at the Education University of Hong Kong. His research interests center on income inequality, democracy, and politics of Asia.

What’s Wrong with Expert Policy Making?

Many people doubt the wisdom of the many and believe that experts, or some people distinguishing themselves by their wisdom, should play a more important role in shaping public policy. The motivation is that most lay people are ignorant about politics – and rationally so, because the impact of their vote is not worth the investment of time necessary to acquire the relevant knowledge – and may even be systematically biased (against markets, foreigners and future generations, for example).

Isn’t it possible to imagine better decision-making mechanisms than giving everyone equal electoral power? The merit of Jason Brennan’s recent contribution to these debates is to offer several possible alternatives. Among those, one is particularly interesting, because it doesn’t entail disenfranchising some citizens, and because it bears similarity to the practice of judicial review: an “epistocratic council”, either with legislative or review and veto power (Brennan’s favoured option). Members of this council would be selected on a meritocratic basis, passing a competency exam. And in order to minimize the risks of a biased test, all citizens could have a say and an equal vote in the determination of the required competencies.

Some degree of popular participation and political equality would thus be maintained in the determination of the required competencies. There would also be formal equality of opportunities to access political power. Differences in skills would of course translate into unequal real opportunities, but this is also the case with elections. Hence, the main difference with electoral representation is that there would be no institutionalized democratic accountability: during their mandate, these technocrats would have free rein vis-à-vis public opinion.

In a recent article in Politics, I argue that granting political power (either legislative or vetoing) to such council would generate increased risks of misrule or biases, risks that egalitarian inclusion and democratic accountability help minimize – albeit imperfectly. The risks of misrule stem from the independence from public opinion. Elected representatives do enjoy an important degree of independence in existing democracies. Mandates are not imperative, and citizens being poorly informed have troubles identifying their representatives’ responsibility. Hence, the accountability mechanism offered by elections is poor. Yet poor doesn’t mean useless. Elected representatives’ independence is not total; they still have to anticipate voters’ judgment and worry about their popularity. This can have negative consequences when voters are xenophobic or discount the future, but it is still an important safeguard against misrule. And we do need such safeguard, because a person selected through a competency exam cannot be trusted to behave morally. A person’s morality cannot be tested, for it can be feigned and unchecked power is corrupting.

Furthermore, even the best intentioned technocrats run the risk of being biased. Due to their social position, they might not know what it means to live specific experiences such as being a proletarian, a woman or an immigrant. And deprived from the electoral incentive to gather information from citizens, they risk acting on these biases.

In sum, a council of experts making decisions for the whole is not appealing. Expertise does have a role to play in politics, but in informing deliberations, not in making decisions. Whether this argument applies similarly to judicial review is an open debate.


Pierre-Étienne Vandamme

KU Leuven, Center for Ethics, Social and Political Philosophy

Pierre-Étienne Vandamme is a postdoctoral researcher at the KU Leuven Center for Ethics, Social and Political Philosophy, Belgium.