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How to Prevent Winner-Takes-All Democracy

Across advanced democracies, digital technologies and other developments have created structural incentives for corporations and political parties to win at any cost. But ordinary citizens can counter this tendency by exercising the moral options that are still available to them.

NEW DELHI – Democracy is in crisis. Fake news – and fake allegations of fake news – now plagues civil discourse, and political parties have proved increasingly willing to use xenophobia and other malign strategies to win elections. At the same time, revisionist powers like Vladimir Putin’s Russia have been stepping up their efforts to interfere in elections across the West. Rarely has the United States witnessed such brazen attacks on its political system; and rarely has the world seen such lows during peacetime.

And yet, democracy’s crisis is not completely new. When I was a student in Delhi in the early 1970s, it was commonly assumed that the US “participated” in Indian elections. Then as now, rumors circulating through informal communication channels made it hard for ordinary citizens to tell fact from fiction. The joke – which was not always a joke – was that if you suspected someone of being a CIA agent, you should immediately phone the local Indian intelligence office, but you should not be surprised if the same person answered the phone.

That said, events today have risen to a different level. The United Kingdom will soon leave the European Union, with or without a formal exit agreement. And the US is waging an escalating trade war, which could be followed by a debilitating currency war. How can all of this be happening in democracies, and what can be done about it?