With his 75,000 Twitter followers and his many television appearances and newspaper columns, Soli Ozel is one of Turkey’s best known and most illustrious political commentators. But Ozel, who is currently a fellow at Yale Law School, is more than just an expert on Turkish domestic politics. So, when we talked last week, I began by asking him whether he believed that democracy around the world was in crisis.
Soli Ozel laid out the twin challenges facing all democracies in the early 21st century. Firstly, we have to figure out how to regulate big tech. Secondly, we need to reform capitalism to reduce the chasm between the rich and poor. So the challenge is fixing Wall Street and Silicon Valley. Simple, eh?
Like so many other people who’ve appeared on this show, Ozil stresses the need to regulate Silicon Valley – to protect us from both surveillance & fake news. It’s amazing really. From Pirate Bay co-founder Peter Sunde to Financial Times columnists Rana Faroohar and Martin Wolf to venture capitalist John Borthwick to best selling author Shushana Zuboff, the message is always the same. It’s the one thing that unites American capitalists, Turkish critics of neo-liberalism, Nordic libertarians & British conservatives. Regulate, regulate, regulate. Big tech better be listening. The storm is get closer and closer to Silicon Valley.
Ozel’s second point is equally important. As he notes, the unwritten post second world war social contract that the economy should work for everyone has been shattered. That’s the reason for the explosion of angry populism. That’s why there is so much cultural resentment now between global elites and the middle classes, between the city and countryside, between cosmopolitans and nativists. Indeed, fueled by the algorithmic mirror of social media, this gulf has become so wide – Ozel warns - that it has degenerated into an “us and them” shouting match in which neither side accepts the credibility of the other.
But Ozel, who divides his time between Turkey, Western Europe and the United States, does see significant differences between the developed and developing world. In the United States and Western Europe, he says, authoritarian populism is fueled by a middle class in decline. Whereas in Brazil, India, the Philippines and Turkey, it’s fueled by a rising middle class. A populism mostly triggered by fear of outsiders and immigrants, then, can succeed in any financial climate. Culture, he suggests, competes with economics in undermining democracy.
Ozil also has some encouraging news for democrats. Firstly, democracy still matters – even for what he dubs “competitive authoritarian” regimes in Turkey, Brazil and India. Leaders like Erdogan in Turkey or Modi in India need the legitimacy of elections to maintain their power. And that’s why the recent municipal elections in Turkey, in which power changed hands in Istanbul and other major Turkish cities, are such a big deal. “The ballot box still works,” Ozel triumphantly says about these elections. They might even suggest that Erdogen’s authoritarianism is now in decline in Turkey.
Finally, it’s worth reiterating Ozil’s global perspective of democracy’s fate in the 21st century. China’s digital totalitarianism, he warns, offers a chillingly efficient model for authoritarian leaders in developing countries like Turkey. Putin’s Russia, he reminds us – with its growing international influence – offers an equally cynical model of politics that replaces with democracy with kleptocracy. And that’s why, Ozil argues, the fate of American democracy matters so much.
The outside world – particularly developing countries like Turkey – look to America as a model of a working democracy. So America better fix Wall Street and fix Silicon Valley. That’s Soli Ozel’s challenge to America.
Hope you enjoyed this week’s episode with Soli Ozel, you can find out more about him here:
Soli wrote an afterword in this book.
Winning Turkey - How America, Europe, and Turkey Can Revive a Fading Partnership by Philip H. Gordon & Ömer Taspinar
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Produced by Jason Sanderson - Podcast Tech
[00:00:01] I often mentioned Turkey as an example of a country where democracy is in trouble in crisis may not even exist anymore but we'd never really addressed the issue. One of the world's leading authorities on Turkish politics is an old friend of mine. Guy actually I went to grad school with many years ago. Soli Ozel he's currently a fellow at Yale Law School. He's as I said one of the world's leading authorities on Turkish politics. So Soli welcome to keen on democracy.
[00:00:29] Hi Andrew good to be with you on this show. So before we get to Turkey.
[00:00:35] I know you're also a very keen observer of politics globally. Is democracy broadly in global terms. Is it in crisis in your view.
[00:00:45] It certainly looks that way. And in a complicated fashion as well in the sense that. Nobody's really coming out straight and saying we should not hold elections. But of course our understanding of democracy particularly after the Second World War was liberal democracy that is rule of law yes majority rules but minority rights are protected. That there should be a balance of power between different branches of government. And rule of law is extraordinarily important. And I guess especially in the last 30 years or so particularly after the Cold War was over the economic dimension of the Liberal Party of that definition has taken over almost everything else. And one of the things that make democracy functional or at least function smoothly. Which is by and large equality among citizens and the fact that the citizens should feel cared for by their rulers by those who govern the country. That has been shaken particularly in developed countries where. A bargain at the end of the Second World War that the economy should actually work for a much larger segment of the population than was to the case. And that the state also should take. Responsibilities in terms of public services and what have you. But this kind of neo liberal view which suggests that. Because of the complete dominance of the market we've undermined democracy it doesn't always work does it because in countries like Poland and Hungary.
[00:02:22] The economy is actually doing pretty well in spite of their dissent. If that's the right word into kind of a liberal democracy that is definitely a dimension of it. And the second dimension which I don't think is totally unrelated to the economic one. Is of course the cultural resentment or something more that had emerged.
[00:02:44] Because of the growing gap between the urban especially urban educated elites and the rest of society who feel themselves not only just left behind but also that they have been condescended upon by the liberal elites both economic and cultural elites. And it is not a coincidence I think that most of the right wing movements is in developed countries happen to come from areas where there used to be good economic activity and there isn't now. And it is then related to this fundamental clash between prospering areas and not prospering areas rural versus urban. And the ideology ideologically in a way it's the clash between. Cosmopolitans or more cosmopolitan oriented. Segments of the population and more nativist ones and the Nativism is precisely what the rising populist movements which have an authoritarian bent actually work with.
[00:03:47] Last week solely on the show we had Claire Fox I don't know if you know her she's a London based political pundit and quite sympathetic actually to Brexit. She argues that. Something like Brexit actually is a manifestation of democracy working. But what do you make of that. Yeah okay that is a big debate in the literature concerning populism. And obviously populism to the extent that it expresses the discontent.
[00:04:13] Of a white segment of the population is their way of expressing or using their democratic rights and expressing their displeasure and their protest about the way things are set up. When you go further down the road in trying to analyse such things. The important thing is when the populist talk about we. Instead of talking about the weed that encompasses the entire society with of course all the conflicts that may exist in that society. They only think that those who vote for them or support them. Are the constitutive element of the nation or of society and the others really are not in that sense. Not only do they not have much room for the Liberal attributes of see but it is questionable that they themselves are democratic in the sense of understanding and accepting the plurality of society. And we've seen that in Turkey as well. I mean our president for a long time has used the dichotomous language basically saying we and then. OK. And there's always at them that are not necessarily and that then may depend on the circumstance under which he speaks. They don't belong to the nation or they don't define the nation. We see that not even more spectacularly. In Trump. I mean for Trump the only legitimate part of society is his electorate. The rest are basically out to get him. And that actually renders them automatically illegitimate. Or about you mentioned or by Auburn does the same thing as does the Kozinski and what goes on in Poland. And by the way I mean Poland and Hungary I think we have. I suppose we have to distinguish between the two. I mean Hungary lost about an eighth of its population. Whether or not the U.S. economy is functioning well and the weight of the rural areas is high and those who would actually defend the more rule based order are actually outside the country. I mean Austria where populist party is a right wing. High right nationalist party is in a coalition partner. Obviously is an extraordinarily prosperous country so we cannot really explain the rise of such sentiment by economic circumstances.
[00:06:28] So Soner you describe this descent into what we might call echo chamber politics. Can we blame all this on Facebook and Twitter and Google. Is this driven by the Internet. This descent into echo chamber politics.
[00:06:44] I think it's exacerbated by the not just the existence obviously but the way we choose to use the social media. Remember that. And of course this is your expertise. Social media was supposed to render the world a global village. Instead it actually put more and more distance between different groups and it's much more comfortable I suppose to live. In an echo chamber and actually be reassured over the rightness of your positions. By the way in the European case obviously the presence of immigrants. And the fact that in an understanding I mean in a very liberal approach to immigration problem. Not enough care was taken to either explain or to generate a consent from the rest of society for the arrival of immigrants. That absence actually also led to the use of immigrants and then refugees potential refugees or actual refugees as the concrete manifestation of a system that was actually not working for the common man quote unquote. So the immigrants have become the symbol if you will of the discontent that exists in many developed societies. And that's why I also distinguish between rising populism is in developing countries versus those in developed countries. In the sense that they both emanate from middle classes. But in one case it's the middle class on the losing end of things or one that feels threatened and on the other in developing countries is really the middle classes that are rising and that are far more nativist. Oriented. Than their former secular establishments.
[00:08:35] Are you placing Turkey in the developed or the developing world or is it the country that sits between the two.
[00:08:42] The thing is I mean to our west that are also underdeveloped countries whether or not they're members of the European Union does not change the fact that they are under development as well. But of course Turkey is I consider Turkey as a developing country and obviously the current ruling party of Turkey represented and also created a rising middle class particularly in provincial cities. And those guys have culturally had the views that were not necessarily the views of the founding generation of the Republic their relation to religion their relation to the west. Their value system their principles were actually very different. As I said more nativist oriented and that space was open politically to them. After sociological developments in the country. I mean. 40 years ago about 62 percent of Turkish population lived in rural areas today about 15 percent do. And so there's been incredible migration from. Villages to cities and then from provincial cities to major cities mostly located in the coastal provinces of Turkey where most of the Turkish modern Turkish economy actually takes.
[00:09:53] How extensive is Internet penetration in Turkey or is it 80 90 percent. It's pretty high I think it's in the 70s maybe even 80s.
[00:10:01] So give us a snapshot. Sorry not everyone here. We'll be obviously as familiar as you with the politics of Turkey. Give us a brief snapshot of where we're at in Turkish politics who's running the country and the brief history of this.
[00:10:18] Turkey has recently changed its governing system from a parliamentary one to a presidential one. And those of us who are not really happy with that transition argue that the proposed system and not the actual system did not have checks and balances separation of powers and that therefore it was leading to an incredible monopolization of power in the hands of not just the presidency but the president himself. So the ruling party because we still have a parliament is the Justice and Development Party. It emanates from Turkey's Islamist movement. It is the successor to. A number of Islamist parties that were first created in 1970. And then a lot of them were slow or closed down and then reopened. And in 2010 to the new generation of Islamists have come to power promising the country promising the electorate that they would deepen Turkey's democratization by first. Demilitarizing Turkish politics.
[00:11:22] And they came to power. Sorry to interrupt. They came to power legitimately are less than democratic. They were voted in.
[00:11:29] Yeah they came to power in 2002 after the entire Turkish system had collapsed following a major economic crisis in 2001 which is very similar to the 2008 crisis in developed countries in the West. And they also promised the country as the insurance policy if you will that they would pursue Turkey's European Union membership bid very seriously. And indeed they did that. And they have broken a lot of taboos but also. By using the necessary reforms that the EU demanded for Turkey. To first become a candidate and then to actually proceed with negotiations which are currently in deep coma. They also changed the Turkish system and they managed to weaken the political grip of the military which had been pretty high for quite some time in Turkish politics. Once that was done and once the demilitarisation process was by and large over. And in that Turkey running for elections they received 50 percent of the vote. Things began to change. And that trend towards more authoritarian understanding standing over politics had become better established and in fact some of the higher ups in the ruling party said in 2012 I think. That until then they did cooperate with liberals. And this was if you will to level the field to move away from these old system and that the stage now we were it was the construction stage and that they would do on their own with their own belief systems and they did not need the Liberal and other collaborators if you will since then we have moved in a direction whereby. Essential elements of the liberal aspects of Turkish democracy were removed. However we just recently had about three weeks ago municipal elections. What the municipal elections have shown was. That the country is divided almost equally 50 50. On the one hand the ruling AKP with its Coalition partner associates the image the international this party in Turkey basically holds 50 percent of the vote. And the liberals seculars and the Kurdish nationalist party I would say are the other 50 percent and by the way that. More disparate coalition that is not very open society. Has managed to take away from the ruling AKP their most important assets and that is the mayor of keys of Istanbul and Ankara. And Mr. Daggett ones rise had begun when he was elected in ninety four exactly quarter of a century ago the mayor of Istanbul.
[00:14:18] And that's what started his ascent as a national politician. That democracy is working men in Turkey these guys who have been in power for 20 years and now getting voted out is that one interpretation. We can say much more comfortably what I would say is that our electoral system. Despite the fact that the campaigns were extremely unfair unjust not level that old that.
[00:14:42] Actually worked at least in these local elections. They work an immense potential power has passed into the hands of the opposition. Istanbul by itself makes up 31 percent of Turkish GDP. The major cities that the position one and took away from it either a keep your image peace coalition partner. Represent over 62 percent of the Turkish economy. Aren't if you will the throbbing pulses of Turkey. And I must also say that these elections have taken place under circumstances or with deep recession which led them to about an unemployment rate of 14 percent and rising youth unemployment probably around 25 26 percent. An inflation rate of about 20 percent. So these were not the ideal circumstances for the ruling party to take us to local elections and I think that played an important role. But in other part was again the resistance on the part of close to 50 percent of the population. To the policies pursued with increasing vehemence by the ruling party.
[00:15:52] So the divisions in Turkey sound in some ways not unlike the United States a kind of a coastal elite team and iron with ethnic minorities against a kind of a nativist 50 percent of the population is that fair.
[00:16:07] Yeah. But I think both of those groups contain within themselves elements of the other and. AKP when it first came to power was more representative of the dynamism of the coastal cities. Certainly of Istanbul than it is today. And of course you know when you've been in power for 17 years invariably corruption sits and. Then is Turkish economy doesn't function as well it is less to distribute. So corruption becomes much more self serving or serving private interests rather than public interests and all that. So all of those things are working in Turkey and I think we've been one of the most important examples of how a democratic system could deteriorate. But we have I think with the local elections. I think the country has also shown that it's the more vibrant elements within society are really really fighting the good fight and that is something that I think Turkey's allies in the West have not really paid much attention to for quite a long time. What's the likelihood.
[00:17:13] If they continue to lose elections of the AKP calling for a national emergency and closing the whole system down.
[00:17:20] I mean those are all speculative things that have been talked about but that didn't happen it could have happened before the before.
[00:17:28] I mean they could have done it with a girl and this coup. I mean we did have a coup attempt in 2006 which of course facilitated the establishment of emergency rule and many measures had been taken.
[00:17:41] Through the legitimating framework of emergency rule fighting the goodness. There were also other elements within society that the rulers did not particularly like. We have also been expelled from academia expelled from their jobs can not find employment in newspapers. The media is almost totally dominated by the ones in power. The open secret is that. The country was offered a choice between moving to this new presidential system or keeping the parliamentary system. We didn't have a referendum. There were lots of questionable things about the referendum including its result. The promise on the part of those who supported the new system was that with the presidential systems we would be able to take care of all our problems immediately and with greater competence. That didn't happen. The system is not functioning. There is great disillusion with that as well so again with the municipal elections somehow life was injected not only to the opposition. And they will have much many more resources now that they will control but also to the fact that yes indeed the ballot box still works. With the response of the ruling party to the loss of major cities particularly stumble was undermining their own claim that they deserve to rule the country because they come out of the ballot box and this is the first time with the tiniest of difference by the way I think the AKP m HB Alliance lost stumbled by zero point zero three percent. I mean now over eight point seven million votes. The difference was about fourteen thousand between their candidate and the candidate that one. Mr. Emmanuel which incidentally. Also finally presented after 17 years to the country. A political figure that appeared to have the potential to challenge Mr Erdogan is somebody that can actually unite disparate groups within the country as a political leader. Those were really all positive results of the municipal elections. We'll see how it will continue. Your comparative political scientist.
[00:19:54] Is there a country in the world that sort of equivalent to what's happening in Turkey. Might it be Brazil.
[00:20:00] Brazil is one. India. I mean there to the founding party Congress fights against a very nativist BJP group. And Mr. Modi's campaign has even more nativist elements today than it did before. If that's possible. And I'd probably do that in the Philippines before that. In Thailand the tax issue now what threat.
[00:20:24] So what's going on. Sorry. We have this. Cult of. Sort of neo authoritarian charismatic leaders. Again both scenario. Modi in India. What do you make of that. Can you have the. Sort of semi authoritarian cult leader work within democracy.
[00:20:46] Whether it will be a limited democracy because you still have the ballot box as I said I think at the beginning nobody among those authoritarian far right parties actually denounced the ballot box. They need the legitimacy of the ballot box. But then it becomes what in the literature nowadays is being called competitive authoritarianism or creeping authoritarianism.
[00:21:09] What your friend Moises Naim called creeping authoritarianism.
[00:21:13] I mean obviously Venezuela was also in there your example is creeping authoritarianism and if you maintain the ballot box option it becomes competitive authoritarianism. You keep on having elections but the election results. OK. That's why I think what we had in Turkey was pretty important. And then of course what happens in the United States it's an extraordinarily bad example for the rest of the world. If this in the sense that remember that the Mr. Trump before he was elected said. That if he lost he would not necessarily recognize the legitimacy of the elections. That's a very dangerous path to follow if you will. But that is the kind of leaderships we have. In many democratic countries these days and even in Europe all those euro skeptic or anti European ultranationalist parties are not beginning to say they dropped that onto European ism and they're going to try to change the European Union from within and they may have a good chance of getting a much larger number of seats in the European Parliament. I mean we've seen Brexit I mean lies did work but the societies are also beginning to respond. Those who are too complacent are not beginning to fight for their beliefs and their values and whatever we're going to go through a pretty rough patch. But I think at the end of the day we may be able to get through this.
[00:22:37] One thing you haven't mentioned is the emergence of another kind of more efficient. You might call it authoritarianism or maybe even near totalitarian model in China. Built around data that the Chinese social credit system. Is this something that some Turkish supporters of authoritarianism are looking at sympathetically and saying well why don't we just adopt the Chinese model.
[00:23:01] So far we only discuss the Chinese model in terms of its economic success.
[00:23:06] Isn't that the point that it works therefore you can let it.
[00:23:10] I mean I'm not saying it's right but I don't think Turkey is alone either admiring or envying the Chinese model. But of course. And that's precisely what I was going to get to. The new technologies enable China or Xi Jinping. To actually put away 20 years of understanding in China that you had limited terms to serve. And now he's going to be there like a second Mao in power for life as he expects whether or not that will materialize. We will see. The new technologies. And the fact that. Capitalism which under girds this democratic system. Has become dysfunctional for a majority of the situation. Those two aspects the technologies that enabled royalist control societies to misinform them and actually reinforce. Authoritarian tendencies by actually taking away from the citizenry the consciousness of citizenship on the one end. And second the fact that capital is not interested in their redistributive organisation of the economy. Those work for in favor of authoritarianism so are two challenges are. How do we actually regulate technology companies that have become. Fiefdoms or kingdoms of their own number one and number two how are we going to create a capitalism that is going to pay more attention as it did before after the Second World War to do redistributive aspects of wealth generation. On this we take care of these two problems. I think we will end up having. A mixture of Orwellian and Huxley and dystopia. I mean 1984 combined with Brave New World.
[00:24:54] So briefly Soli let's end on those two notes. What your recipe for regulating big tech. How do we begin this. Do we have models or are we starting from the beginning.
[00:25:07] I think the European Union is trying to do something about it in the United States to the extent that I'm following it. The debate has begun but the threshold of the population for rebelling against the impact of technological companies on their lives has been disappointing to say the least. I mean you would expect that after Cambridge analytics scandal and the fact that your private data is up for grabs and you're being actually manipulated and all that there would be an uproar that hasn't been. I don't know whether there will ever be a point when the population will say enough is enough. You know we don't want this. Maybe with the new generation that was actually born with these technologies. Every action will grow. So so far it can only be governments that are going to be regulating. Some are talking about breaking these companies like AT&T was broken in I think late 1970s early 1980s. The debate has begun whether or not the political system will respond to this debate in the way that I would like to see it respond. Actually that remains to be seen.
[00:26:13] And then the second issue you brought up is an even bigger challenge the reform of capitalism it's I know it's always been a subject which you've given a lot of thought to. Very briefly where do we begin here.
[00:26:26] Increasingly without political mobilization I don't think we can get anywhere. If you speak specifically about the American system you have to be able to stop the corroding effect of big money. Because it really both legitimizes the legislature and also. It makes it open to the impact of big corporations and whoever is the strongest lobbyist on the amount of money spent on lobbying is just immense. And the United States for better or worse whether we like it or not does set an example and does set the trend. It is slightly optimistic that in certain American states really efforts are being made to reconfigure the politics at least at the state level. If this can be moved to the federal level we'll have some hope I think. And again in Europe we'll have to find some juice if you will in it. To actually come up with ideas and the political will to actually implement those. I'm not terribly optimistic. But. You've got to keep on hoping that political mobilization will ultimately deliver what I personally think would be a better way to go about how we organize our politics and economics.
[00:27:36] Last question sorry. Another day I'm going to ask you a big big juicy question. I know you and I lived through the end of history period where everyone thought that the world was becoming democratic and that there was no longer a debate. What is or what will be the debate in the 21st century. The great debate in the 20th century is between a Soviet form of communism or socialism and Western liberal market democracy. What's the debate in the 21st century. Particularly a debate that will.
[00:28:05] Sort of be played out in developing countries like Turkey.
[00:28:10] I think globally the big question is going to be equality. This is how you're going to be organizing opposition. Now that opposition may demand the safety of authoritarian rulers that will then deliver the goods.
[00:28:24] I think that's an illusion or that demand may actually imply again political mobilization and reorganizing the way we structure our economy and how the political system response to the demands of the many elements so which by the way may be redundant or dysfunctional in a new economy that can be dominated by robots and stuff. So we really have to rethink the relation between the economy and society.
[00:28:53] In global terms in terms of power relations. I think we will probably have a dual system on the one hand we'll have a rising China. That will increasingly obviously put its weight on the global scene. And whether or not there will be a balancer in the West for that will depend on how the United States is going to shape its relations with Europe. If you leave it to Trump obviously doesn't want Europe and America by itself may not be able to be that counterweight. And Europe will have to be far more resourceful if you will if it wants to remain relevant. And that leaves a big chunk of territory dominated by Russia. It may very well be that geopolitically which way the world is going to go how its new balances are going to be set will be determined by the choices that Russia will make. And that of course is a challenge for the Western world which has now rather bad relations with Russia. Russia is a lot closer to China today than it is to the Europeans and to the Americans. Can we get out of that trap is in my judgment one of the most geopolitical questions for the future.