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How healthy are our democracies?

Helmut K. Anheier and panellists discussed results of the Berggruen Governance Index, which was presented at the Hertie school for its European premiere.

Has the state of democracy improved or worsened around the globe over the last 20 years? The Berggruen Governance Index, a joint project of the Hertie School with the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and the Berggruen Institute, aims to shed light on this question. At an event organised by the Hertie School on 30 September, Helmut K. Anheier, Professor of Sociology at the Hertie School and principal investigator of the project, presented the index for the first time in Europe.

“By bringing together these different aspects – the quality of democracy, the quality of government and the quality of life – the Berggruen Governance Index 2022 is unique and allows analysing trajectories in a way that is difficult to do when you look at only one of these elements”, said President Cornelia Woll in an opening statement that kicked off the event.

Overall state capacity has improved, but results differ for various regions

After presenting the index and the methodology used, Helmut Anheier said that “Africa is a real bright spot”, noting that “only the African continent has shown an improvement in democratic accountability since 2000”, despite showing less improvement in state capacity. By contrast, both accountability and state capacity in the USA had deteriorated while public goods provision had somewhat improved, presumably because of the dollar and the country’s ability to borrow money to support its less efficient public sector. He compared the development in the USA with that of Russia, where accountability had declined dramatically, but public goods provision and life expectancy (a sub-factor in the study) had improved.

Anheier linked the index to both older and more recent attempts to understand democratic governance. In particular, he noted Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson’s book The Narrow Corridor (2019) and their analogy of “shackling the leviathan” to describe achieving good democratic governance: “We need to have a state that likes to be shackled and we need to have a society that is capable of shackling the state.”

How to measure state capacity and trust in governments?

During the following discussion Cornelia Woll, as chair of the panel, discussed the findings with Nicola Brandt, Director of the OECD Centre Berlin, Wolfgang Merkel, Director Emeritus of the Wissenschaftszentrum and Senior Fellow of Berlin Democracy Institute/Central European University, Budapest, Andrea Römmele, Professor for Communication in Politics and Civil Society, Hertie School Alina Mungiu-Pippidi, Professor of Democracy Studies, Hertie School. Markus Lang, researcher for the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and lead analyst for the index, joined virtually.

The panellists posed critical questions, including whether another index was really necessary and whether the index was not too general for usability. Anheier and co-author Markus Lang argued that while there are other indices, none of them have the global scope that theirs does. With regards to the index being too general, Anheier countered that a more specific index is less interesting for academics and might get hung up on units of measurement like the nation-state. 

The panellists also discussed the research finding that a good governance system does not necessarily correlate with trust in the government. “Trust in government is very much defined by whether or not people find their government responsive”, said Nicola Brandt, “and it also closely correlates with socio-economic position.” 

In fact, in the future Anheier and Lang aim to focus on the role of trust in good governance along with the role of democracy and autocracy. They also want to delve deeper into developments in Africa and the Middle East.

A recording of the event can be viewed here.

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