To ease political polarization, more free-use goods must be offered, says scholar

Posted on : 2023-09-26 16:39 KST Modified on : 2023-09-26 16:39 KST
Jane Mansbridge will give a keynote presentation at the 14th Asia Future Forum, held on Oct. 11 at the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry
Jane Mansbridge, an emeritus professor at Harvard University. (courtesy of the Harvard Kennedy School)
Jane Mansbridge, an emeritus professor at Harvard University. (courtesy of the Harvard Kennedy School)

Jane Mansbridge, an emeritus professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, was honored six years ago with the Johan Skytte Prize, which has been called the “Nobel Prize of political science.” Every year since 1995, the prize has been given to the scholar judged to have made the most valuable contributions to political science.

In awarding the prize to Mansbridge, the Johan Skytte Foundation said that with her “sharpness, deep involvement and feminist theory,” she had “shaped our understanding of democracy in its direct and representative forms.”

Various other awards also testify to Mansbridge’s stellar academic achievements. Last year, she received the Benjamin E. Lippincott Award from the American Political Science Association; two years ago, she was given the Karl Deutsch Award by the International Political Science Association.

Her books include “Beyond Adversary Democracy,” which has not yet been published in Korean translation. She also served as president of the American Political Science Association from 2012 to 2013.

All around the world, people are voicing concerns that democracy is in crisis. Because of this, more and more are turning their attention once again to Mansbridge’s lessons as a leading theorist of democracy in the hopes of finding an escape from the current climate of “adversary democracy” characterized by intensifying conflict, antagonism and demonization.

On Oct. 11, Mansbridge will be taking part as a speaker at Keynote Session 1 of the 14th Asia Future Forum, organized by the Hankyoreh. The topic of her talk is to be “The deepest foundations of our democratic crisis.”

Mansbridge has observed that the current political polarization is plunging democracy into a severe crisis — a crisis that could bring out bigger disasters than in the past, including potential nuclear war.

Through in-person and email interviews with the Hankyoreh earlier this month, she stressed the need for more “free-use goods” to relieve political polarization, referring to concepts such as free riding, regulation, and national enforcement capabilities as an explanatory framework.

According to her explanation, political polarization can only be reduced through the promise of more free-use goods that are available to all at no cost, including roads, ports, security, laws, and order. Achieving this will require capabilities for national enforcement (including taxation) and the legal legitimacy to enable fines to be assessed for violations.

Underlying her perspective were her reflections on the expansion of market ideology and the dominance of ideologies that seek deregulation.

In her classes at the Kennedy School in Cambridge, Mansbridge starts off each year in an unusual way. She gives the students fake $100 bills and tells them to “donate” an amount between $0 and $100.

Meanwhile, she places herself in the role of a “doubling machine”: if everyone donates $100, the machine doubles the amount and gives $200 to everyone. Even if some people donate $0, everyone still receives the doubled amount of $200 as long as the others donate $100.

From the perspective of any one individual, donating $0 seems to be the rational choice — but if everyone gives $0, the machine doesn’t give anything to anyone.

This lesson is Mansbridge’s tool for explaining the relationship and issues between free-use goods and free riders. When a society has many free riders, it will be unable to produce many — if any — of the free-use goods that it needs.

It is at this point that the government resorts to enforcement by fining the free riders. Mansbridge repeatedly stressed that she hopes more people can gain an accurate understanding of the meaning of free-use goods — a potentially difficult issue related to the legitimacy of regulatory democracy.

While she did not name any particular country as offering an alternative model, she did focus on welfare states such as Denmark. In particular, she shared a story about a taxi driver she met in the country.

The driver, whom she met on the way to the airport, said they paid over half their income in taxes. They also said that their tax money was being applied toward the free-use goods that made possible all the progress they could see around them, and that they understood and felt happy to be a contributor, she recalled.

She went on to say that people could not experience such happiness in corrupt societies — that it is impossible in polarized societies where members view others as truly depraved individuals and cheats. Since people cannot be left to simply be ripped off, more regulations are necessary, and justification becomes increasingly more difficult, she added, describing this as a “scary” reality.

Those interested in hearing Mansbridge discuss the causes and solutions to the democracy crisis can do so at Keynote Session 1, which takes place on the morning of Oct. 11 in the Grand Hall on the second basement level of the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Visit the Asia Future Forum website ( to register.

By Ryu Yi-geun, staff reporter

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