Tag Archives: government

Peace and Prosperity: What Will It Take?

We know what brings peace and prosperity. The Institute  for Economics and Peace has been studying that for 13 years, publishing annual “Global Peace Index” and “Positive Peace Index” reports.

The Global Peace Index looks at the presence (or absence) of violence and the threat of violence. The United States is in the bottom half of nations in the GPI.  Our North American neighbor, Canada, is by contrast in the top 10 most peaceful countries. The US score has been declining in the last few years, and in the 2020 report, the US is ranked 121 out of 163 countries. You can explore current and past rankings for the US and other countries here.

The lack of peace has a cost.  Overall economic losses related to violence or the threat of violence include direct costs to people and property and also losses related to productivity shortfalls and adverse effects on consumption and spending patterns. As the 2020 GPI report states, “Expenditures on preventing and dealing with the consequences of violence divert public and private resources away from productive activities and towards protective measures.” The Institute estimates the economic cost of violence in the United States at 8% of GDP. 

More peace means more money for a country’s citizens to flourish.  The Institute also studies the factors that lead to greater peace, referring to these as “positive peace.”  Key factors of a peaceful and prosperous society include: equal distribution of resources, free flow and quality of information, low levels of corruption, a sound business environment and well-functioning governments.

High levels of Positive Peace strengthen a country’s resilience “to absorb, adapt and recover from shocks, such as COVID-19 and the ensuing recession.” (GPI 2020 Report, p. 4).  Here the US scores higher, ranking 26 out of 163 (PPI Report 2019, 26-27) — although its scores are declining here as well.  Attention to and strengthening our performance on the positive peace factors could enhance our recovery. 

The US is often said to be the wealthiest country in the world, so it’s not our lack of natural assets that contribute to our lower rankings on the peace indices (or other indices of social well-being such as the Social Progress Index).

As our country starts to recover from the pandemic, we have an opportunity to build a more peaceful and prosperous country.  This will require taking a hard look at how we allocate our resources, particularly between production and protection, and rebuilding trust between citizens and their government.

We know what to do. Will we?

*Thank you to Vincent Leloux, a Rotary Youth Exchange student from Germany who interned with us in Spring, 2020 before returning home, for his help with this post.

Independence/Interdependence 2020

On this Independence Day, we invite you to think about our interdependence. As the pledge of allegiance recognizes, the two go hand in hand. We can’t maintain liberty if we don’t have justice for all. We are interdependent.

It was interdependence that secured our freedoms. It was interdependence – reflected in the design of our financial and transportation systems — that helped build our economy. It was by recognizing our interdependence that we got through past epidemics and economic crises.

Without acknowledging our interdependence and thinking about the common good, we can’t secure the physical, economic, or political health of our communities. Both citizens and their government play important roles in protecting both our freedoms and the public health and welfare.

As a people, we are fond of saying “Freedom isn’t free.” There is a cost even in our daily lives to maintaining that freedom – a cost in terms of self-control, respect for others, and putting in the time and effort to understand our economic and political systems so that we can make informed decisions. It’s hard work, and worth committing to on this Independence Day. Are we willing to do our part?

“A true patriot salutes the flag but always also makes sure it’s flying over a nation that’s not only free but fair, not only strong but just.  History and reason summon us to embrace love and loyalty – to a citizenship that seeks a better world, calls on those better angels, and fights for better days. What, really, could be more patriotic than that?  What, in the end, could be more American?” 


John Meachem and Tim McGraw, Songs of America, (Penquin Random House, 2019)

Lessons From Germany

The Federal Republic of Germany was formed in the wake of one of the most infamous dictatorships in history – the Third Reich. That dictatorship was made possible when leaders in the Weimar Republic effectively eliminated legislative oversight of the Executive Branch. Without such oversight, Hitler acted quickly to consolidate his power and limit civil liberties, leading to the death of millions.

Given this history, it is not surprising that a key focus of the German post-war constitution was ensuring sufficient and ongoing oversight of the Executive Branch. The Bundestag – which is analogous to the United States House of Representatives – exercises this oversight power. As is stated in its public relations guide, Facts: The Bundestag at a glance, the Bundestag “exercises an important power of scrutiny over the Government. No Chancellor or government minister can escape this scrutiny.” Specifically,

  • The executive branch is “required to keep the Bundestag regularly informed of its plans and intentions.”

  • The Bundestag also has the right to appoint committees of inquiry, and it is required to do so if one quarter of its members request it.  The role of these committees is to “investigate possible abuses in government and administration and possible misconduct on the part of politicians. “

  • The committees of inquiry can order the executive branch to submit files, and call government representatives as witnesses.

  • Other parliamentary groups can also demand written information on particular issues, and these can lead to “parliamentary debates in which the Government is required to present its case and answer questions.”

  • Even individual members “can submit written questions to the Government, and government representatives are required to give direct answers to those questions” at question and answer sessions with ministers at scheduled times.

Germany is not the only country that has experienced a struggle between its democracy and a leader who resists oversight.  The book How Democracies Die, details multiple instances of democracies in both Europe and South America that were undermined and diminished by autocratic leaders who rejected legislative oversight and denied the legitimacy of their political opponents.  It is not uncommon for an autocratic leader to dismiss oversight efforts as subversive, criminal, disloyal, or opposed to constitutional order.  Legislative oversight is not, however, a departure from our constitutional order.  Legislative oversight is one of the foundations of a democratic government.

How robust is our democracy? That depends on us. As the authors of How Democracies Die point out, “Democratic institutions depend crucially on the willingness of governing parties to defend them – even against their own leaders.”  That means speaking up for democratic values and democratic institutions.  Critical thinking, independent judgment, a willingness to review information from many different sources, the ability to defuse appeals to hate and fear, and dialogue across partisan lines both by citizens and parties,  are all important tools for strengthening our democracy. If you care about your freedom and your democracy, use them, and request that your elected representatives do so as well.

Teaching Democracy Depends on Us

“Democracy must be reborn in each generation and education is its midwife.” (John Dewey)

How do we teach engaged citizenship and the kind of deliberative dialogue that can lead to wise public judgments?  We can’t leave it to to schools, and we certainly can’t leave it to political parties who promote factionalism and hyper-partisanship.  Each generation must teach democratic values and practices to the next.  My generation (Boomers) hasn’t done the best job.

As one small effort to remedy this deficit, we have written several e-books designed to help citizens and community organizations plan and host public dialogues. These books are relatively short and provide pragmatic advice related to planning, hosting, and facilitating dialogue in your community.  In honor of Law Day and last week’s National Week of Conversation we have discounted the prices by 50% and the discounted prices will stay in effect until May 21 when the higher prices return.   Following is a short description and link to each book.  We would welcome your feedback!

Understanding the Facilitation Cycle  For busy people about to engage a tough crowd on challenging issues. A quick, 20 page read. There are eight phases in the Facilitation Cycle. The first phase, Greeting, starts even before your meeting begins and before your participants come into the room. The last, Send Forth, magnifies the impact of your successful event for days and weeks after it has concluded. Current discounted price $3.99 (normally $7.99).
Dealing With Disruptors  What if you could make that disruptive energy productive? What if you could work with disruptors to increase understanding, broaden support, and build trust in your community? Dealing with Disruptors provides tools and a framework to make that happen. Current discounted price $4.99  (normally $10.99).
Navigating With 3D Evaluation: Public Dialogue for Results – Public engagement and dialogue can achieve valuable, lasting outcomes, but only when supported by ongoing, systematic analysis. This book shows you how to work with participants to set goals, engage everyone through a shared vision, maintain trust through common priorities and interim targets, navigate around obstacles like budget cutbacks and changes in political leadership, determine who is responsible for honoring the commitments made around the dialogue process, and demonstrate the value of your work.  Current discounted price $4.99 (normally $9.99).

Harvesting (From A Midwest Metaphor)

from A Midwest Metaphor

harvesting-metaphor-6

We reap what we sow. The seeds of hate, factionalism, and greed that affect our current politics were planted and allowed to grow, diminishing our hopes for peace and prosperity.

But we can weed, and we can nurture the growth of the seeds that promote community. We can use dialogue to change our harvest.

What could our democracy look like if we as citizens did listen to each other? Or if we demanded more accountability from our public officials in terms of problem solving, fairness, or accuracy of information provided? What if more of us had the courage to speak up and to ask hard questions? Or made the effort to think critically and consider differences in data and interests and values, and struggle with the tensions between those?

If we welcomed a range of voices, moved past either/or narratives, and explored the common good, would we make wiser decisions? Would we be able to find some bounds that defined civility and common sense?

In 1835, Alexis de Tocqueville studying democracy in America wrote:

Democracy does not give the people the most skillful government, but it produces what the ablest governments are frequently unable to create, namely an all-pervading and restless activity; a superabundant force, and an energy which is inseparable from it and which may, however unfavorable the circumstances may be, produce wonders. These are the true advantages of democracy.

But energy, unharnessed, can become destructive rather than productive. We need to reconsider how we engage with each other. Dialogue provides a channel that can help us to harness our energies towards finding and pursuing common goals. Rather than continuing in partisan battle, we can choose to begin to work together, much as gears engage to move a process forward.

Dialogue serves best when we as a people are confronted with equally legitimate but one-sided visions of the future and asked to choose between them. If they are truly one-sided, being forced to make a choice leads to a dead end. Sustained, hardheaded dialogue can help us to avoid making that false choice and forge a new vision that transcends the limits of each.” (Daniel Yankelovich, The Magic of Dialogue.)

The role of the citizen can be more than just voter, spectator, or recipient of information packaged by others.  Citizens, who are willing to work together to make wise decisions about their future, are essential to a good harvest. Acting as a guardian of democratic values requires vision, effort, and active engagement.  Moving forward means working together.

There is no “them” – only us. Our lives are intertwined. What kind of us do we want to be?