Democracy's Impact

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Class Name:
Economic, Environmental and Health Challenges: The Impact of Democracy

Taught in the spring by:
Kelly McMann, PhD, professor of political science and director of the International Studies Program, in collaboration with faculty from other schools and departments.*

What makes this class intriguing:
This new interdisciplinary course for undergraduate and graduate students investigates the benefits of democracy on seemingly intractable global problems, with data and optimism.

The problems involve economic inequality, economic growth, global warming, air pollution, infectious and chronic diseases, and worker health and safety.

Faculty and students investigate to what extent democratic processes are more effective than autocratic practices in addressing these issuesa timely subject, said McMann, "considering the global erosion of confidence in democracy."

In class research projects, students use a data set of more than 400 measures of democracy that was assembled and is regularly updated by Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem), an international, independent consortium of researchers. McMann is on V-Dem’s leadership team.

Students present research findings in infographics, a form that McMann said encourages succinct communication and creativity. Final projects are presented virtually to experts who promote and help develop democracies across the globe.

"Looking at data on subjects like the effect of media censorship on public health crises or the economic impact of gender inequality makes the benefits of democracy tangible," McMann said. "A lot of these students will go on to work on these problems after college. This deeper data analysis will help them become aware of how politics and political institutions play a role in mitigating global problems."

*Co-instructors are: Earth, Environmental, and Planetary Sciences Professor Peter McCall, PhD, JD; Population and Quantitative Health Sciences Associate Professors Karen Mulloy, DO, and Daniel Tisch, PhD; and Economics Associate Professor Roman Sheremeta, PhD. A new College of Arts and Sciences "silo-busting" grant for faculty to create interdisciplinary courses helped fund development of this course.

— Jo Steigerwald