Boston’s Remarkable Experiment with Youth Engagement through Participatory Budgeting

Peter Levine reports:

On Friday, I had the opportunity to observe about 50 Boston young people at work on the city’s youth Participatory Budgeting initiative. I will write the whole story for GOOD Magazine, so this is just a teaser. In essence, volunteer young people (ages 12-25) have brainstormed more than 400 projects that the city could support out of its capital budget. I watched committees of youth come together to study, refine, and screen these proposals. In June, as many youth as possible will be recruited to vote for their favorite proposals at meetings across the city. The city will then allocate $1 million of its capital budget to fund the top-scoring projects.

This is an example of Participatory Budgeting, a process that began in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 1989 and has since spread to 1,500 locations in many countries, according to the Participatory Budgeting Project. It bears some resemblance to other processes, including the New England town meetings that began in the 1600s and still survive in some towns in our region, not to mention the 265,000 village councils of India and other participatory government mechanisms around the world. It is nevertheless an innovation. . . . (Keep Reading)

When / Why do People Choose to Contribute to Public Goods?

Are people mostly self-interested egoists who are unlikely to help achieve common goals unless somehow forced or induced to do so by government or other powerful agencies?  Although a lot of people (and the assumptions of traditional economics) suggest the answer is yes, there is reason to doubt this is so. Or, to be more precise, there is good reason to doubt it is true of all or even most people. For example, why does anyone voluntarily vote when there is essentially zero chance that doing so will promote the individual voter’s narrow self-interest? And why do people voluntarily recycle or work with others to help out a neighbor in need? At least some people seem to be motivated by a sense of social obligation or some motive(s) other than narrow egoistic self-interest.

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Does it Matter that Congress is a Millionaire’s Club? Does it Have to Be that Way?

Political scientist Nicolas Carnes answers “yes” and “no”. I highly recommend reading both posts, but here’s a taste:

[L]awmakers from different classes bring different perspectives with them: how they think, how they vote, and the kinds of bills they introduce often depend on the classes they came from. The shortage of lawmakers from the working class tilts decisions about the distribution of economic resources, protections, and burdens in favor of the more conservative policies that affluent Americans tend to prefer. Social safety net programs are stingier, business regulations are flimsier, and the tax code is more regressive because working-class Americans are all but absent from our political institutions. . . .

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Sixteen-Year-Olds Vote in Maryland Election

Governing magazine reports:

Takoma Park[, Maryland] recently became the first city in the nation to lower the voting age for local elections to 16. Since the law change in May, 134 voters, ages 16 and 17, registered to vote in municipal elections, and 59 cast ballots in November. That means that roughly 44 percent of registered voters in the under-18 voting bloc participated in the city election.

That’s good news for long-term civic engagement, says . . . [Peter Levine, a professor of citizenship and public affairs at Tufts University], because academic research shows that “voting is habit forming. If you voted in a past election, you tend to vote again.” The question going forward, Levine says, is whether the under-18 voters continue to vote at the same level, or if participation was abnormally high because this was the first time a 16-year-old could vote. When Congress lowered the voting age to 18 in 1972 for federal elections, turnout reached 52 percent for 18-to-24-year-olds, higher than in any year since. Another possibility, Levine says, is that parents and school teachers helped teenagers understand how voting works and what elected city leaders do, which motivated teenagers to vote. [Keep reading]

The ReDistricting Game

The Annenberg Center and Game Innovation Law at the University of Southern California have produced a nifty game for exploring redistricting and gerrymandering. According to their About Page:

The Redistricting Game is designed to educate, engage, and empower citizens around the issue of political redistricting. . . . By exploring how the system works, as well as how open it is to abuse, The Redistricting Game allows players to experience the realities of one of the most important (yet least understood) aspects of our political system. The game provides a basic introduction to the redistricting system, allows players to explore the ways in which abuses can undermine the system, and provides info about reform initiatives – including a playable version of the Tanner Reform bill to demonstrate the ways that the system might be made more consistent with tenets of good governance. Beyond playing the game, the web site for The Redistricting Game provides a wealth of information about redistricting in every state as well as providing hands-on opportunities for civic engagement and political action.