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The deepest foundation of our democratic crisis is our increasing human interdependence. That interdependence creates increasing needs for ‘free-use goods’: goods that, once produced, anyone can use without paying (other names: “public goods,” “non-excludable goods”). Such goods produce the classic “free-rider” problems to which the most efficient solution in societies of strangers is usually government provision through taxes or regulation, both of which depend on a combination of voluntarism (based on duty and solidarity) and legitimate coercion. More interdependence creates more free-rider problems, which require more government intervention/coercion. Our eighteenth-century democratic mechanisms were not designed to legitimate the amount of state coercion we now need. To bolster legitimacy, we need to embrace the logic of free-use goods and replace one-way with recursive representation, the principle of distinction with more descriptive representation, corruption with clean institutions, and legislative-centric democracy with a full representative system approach, all drawing on our collective intelligence.


Mansbridge, Jane. "The deepest foundation of our democratic crisis." International Political Science Review (December 21, 2023).