Law professor’s new book examines technology’s role in government

NU Law Prof. John McGinnis is the author of a new book called Accelerated Democracy: Transforming Governance through Technology about the importance of using data to fix U.S. politics.

Courtesy of John McGinnis

NU Law Prof. John McGinnis is the author of a new book called “Accelerated Democracy: Transforming Governance through Technology” about the importance of using data to fix U.S. politics.

Zack Harris, Reporter

As the 113th United States Congress prepares to tackle government spending, taxes, education and immigration, only 14 percent of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing, according to a recent Gallup poll. With so many Americans expressing frustration, a new book by Northwestern Law Prof. John McGinnis proposes new ways to improve the country’s political system.

In his new book, “Accelerating Democracy: Transforming Governance Through Technology,” to be published Jan. 21, McGinnis argues the same modern technology that has been used to improve medicine and business can also be applied to politics.

“Technologists have failed to talk about politics and how big data can be used to improve policy,” McGinnis said.

With large strides in technological advancements in the past decade, there is now the computational power to look at enormous amounts of data that can help policy makers with their decisions. These computations can then be leveraged to increase political proactivity, he said.

“We can now use past data to help predict the future,” McGinnis said. “When applied to politics, data can help answer the question, ‘What will be the outcome of enacting this policy?’”

According to McGinnis, politicians should use modern data to look at why past policies have failed or succeeded. By examining this data, the conversation will shift from political rhetoric to a “greater focus on the factual consequences of policy,” he said.

In the book, McGinnis advocates for more political use of prediction markets — a simulation of a market where people buy and sell based on events’ probable outcomes.

Although for-profit prediction markets are illegal under current U.S. law, McGinnis writes that politicians should embrace the markets as one way to improve public policy.

“Prediction markets have proven very accurate in elections,” he said. “You can view them as one way to organize the data.”

“Accelerating Democracy” looks at how this modern data can be used to help fix politics in the U.S.

“Only a democracy capable of assimilating facts will be able to navigate the policy rapids ahead,” McGinnis wrote. “A society’s capacity for learning must match its capacity for change.”

McGinnis, who teaches constitutional and international law, is also the co-author of “Originalism and the Good Constitution,” which will be published later this year.