The Almanac of Democracy endeavors to be a resource for citizens of the United States by providing them with clear, logical, engaging, factual information about important philosophical, cultural, political and economic choices they face in a democratic society.
This statement of purpose may at first reading sound unexceptional. Like many such statements it is full of pleasant words presented in a bland, institutional fashion. And, like many such statements, it may engender skepticism because in a modern society we so often experience smoothly crafted phrases being used to convey partisan arguments.
But, in fact, we think the Almanac of Democracy is something exceptional.
. Focus: It is exceptional in that the Almanac tries to bring an array of facts together that help citizens judge what issues are large and what issues are small in our society.
. It is exceptional in that the Almanac recognizes that there are tradeoffs in accomplishing goals, and that choices often are choices among tradeoffs.
. It is exceptional in that the Almanac assumes that readers can understand the logic behind different propositions
One essential aspect of democracy, perhaps the essential aspect, is that democracy is a social system that by design distributes power to individuals. Of course, we know from revolutionary moments in time that individuals always have some, often surprising, degree of power. What is unique in modern, full-fledged democracies is the idea that all the power starts in the hands of individuals, and from there flows to such other elements in a society as those individuals, together, create and empower.
The attraction of the democratic idea, when stripped of its historical narrative glow, lies in this granting of power to every human being in an endeavor to allow each person to realize his or her possibly unique life vision to the degree possible. Ideally this happens only with natural human, physical, moral and temporal constraints, but not with additional constraints imposed arbitrarily by others. We may, and do, use the term “freedom” as shorthand to describe this situation, though in the context of an effective democracy it is important to note that it has the more specific meaning described here.
This system of democratic freedom is not the only possible approach to building a good society, though it is abstractly attractive. And, because any other system must concentrate more power in the hands of fewer people, societies operating on different bases have frequently run into problems. Because of this, the Almanac of Democracy takes democracy to be an ideal and asks how it could be more closely realized.
When freedom is offered in a society, the quality of life is fundamentally driven by the choices of individuals. That is, choice is how people exercise the condition of freedom. Individual choices shape every aspect of the society – its culture, its institutions, its goals, its power structures, its social life, its private life, its economy.
For freedom to be realized effectively through choices, democratic societies – that is individuals in a democracy – need properly functioning democratic systems. While we often think of this in terms of governmental systems, in reality this is true for all aspects of a society — including health, education, culture, and work — because those, and other areas, are the domains where we make choices.
While it may not be fashionable to articulate it this way, a key to properly functioning democratic systems is that they must be based on well-functioning markets. That is, the choices that individuals make in a democracy only work toward a good society when product innovation, healthy supply (including labor), free consumer demand and open, quick information flow happen. We want those attributes in the development of culture, in education, in philanthropy, in government and in business. We want market characteristics in all those places, and more, because market characteristics empower individual choice. Markets are simply the idea of democracy brought down to specific choices.
Markets do not automatically run perfectly. While there are many critiques possible for the societal markets enumerated above, we think a fundamental issue exists in the information market. We analyze this in depth elsewhere, but basically many societal markets lack the competitive impetus and the economic wherewithal to frame choices for citizens. This is the problem the Almanac of Democracy is designed to address.
Our project is founded on the democratic principle that all citizens should be allowed the opportunity to arrive at well-reasoned conclusions with access to good information regarding the choices and trade-offs they are asked to make as citizens and as individuals. Often, good information is difficult to find, and sometimes even more challenging to analyze or apply to one’s life. The Almanac of Democracy sets itself the lofty goal of finding good information
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