Democracy in Decline: Rebuilding its Future


Philip Kotler

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    Dear Reader, I hope that whatever your nationality or political persuasion, that you read and think about your present political system and consider how it can be run better and serve and satisfy the interests of more people. Pessimism only makes you depressed and give up. I am forever the optimist, because the one thing that optimism does is make you act. —PK


    In admiration of the four Presidents celebrated at Mount Rushmore—George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt.


    I would like to acknowledge, in alphabetical order, the following individuals for their contributions that have helped me in writing this book: William Cotter for his critical reading of my chapter on the Supreme Court; Milton Kotler for his visionary book, Neighborhood Government; Nancy Kotler for her critical reading of my manuscript and insistence on balance; Larry Lessig for his powerful writings in Republic, Lost; Norman Ornstein for his brilliant observations in It’s Even Worse Than It Looks; Christian Sarkar for his excellent work on and, and Danny Stern for partnering with me in making this book possible.

    About the Author

    Philip Kotler is the S. C. Johnson & Son Distinguished Professor of International Marketing at the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University. His most recent book, Confronting Capitalism: Real Solutions for a Troubled Economic System (2015), calls for both strong economic growth and a better sharing of the gains of economic growth. Professor Kotler is the author of over 50 books on markets and marketing. Trained as an economist at the University of Chicago (under Nobel Laureate, Milton Friedman) and at M.I.T. (under Nobel Laureates, Paul Samuelson and Robert Solow), he has applied his economic knowledge to how markets and marketing works, and was an early developer of modern marketing and the emerging field of behavioral economics. As an expert on how buyers make their buying decisions, he broadened marketing to explain how buyers make their voting decisions on all kinds of issues.


    These are challenging times for democracies. Having barely survived the threat of a Greek exit in 2015, the European Union now faces the possibility of a British exit as well as the greatest refugee crisis since the Second World War. On the other side of the Atlantic, the possible impeachment of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff on embezzlement charges has led to government paralysis even as the economy confronts a dramatic downturn. Further north, drug trafficking and organized crime threaten to undermine government institutions across Central America. And in the United States, where the legislative process is increasingly characterized by gridlock and polarization, public trust in government has dropped to historic lows. According to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center, only 19 percent of Americans say they trust their government always or most of the time, and nearly 75 percent believe most elected officials put their own interests ahead of the country’s.1 These figures are not likely to improve during the 2016 presidential campaign. As the contours of a vicious general election battle come into focus, the Republican Party is facing an internal struggle over its identity, and record amounts of outside spending are pouring in to influence the results of the election.

    How should we measure the health of democracies? This is obviously a complicated question, one that can be answered in various ways but can only be credibly addressed through rigorous analysis independent of politics and ideology. Freedom House, a well-regarded non profit organization that promotes democracy across the globe, attempts to answer the question through its annual Freedom in the World report. For the 2016 edition, a team of more than 100 analysts and advisers examined a wide range of issues in 195 countries and 15 territories, and then applied a three-tiered rating system to evaluate the status of their respective political rights and civil liberties. Seventy-two countries registered a drop from the previous year, the largest decline since the beginning of a decade-long slump.2

    With his new book, Democracy in Decline, Philip Kotler brings a fresh perspective to the subject at a moment when new insights are sorely needed. Kotler, the ‘father of modern marketing’ (as he is affectionately known), has done more than anyone else in his field to revolutionize the theory and practice of marketing. His classic textbook, Marketing Management, currently in its fifteenth edition, is essential reading for business students all over the world. By applying rigorous economic analysis and methodology to the discipline, he has elevated what was once an art form (if not an afterthought) into a science – and helped to transform marketing into an indispensable pillar of corporate strategy. One of his core insights is that marketers and consumers are exchanging values, not products. The implications of this observation are profound, validated by the fact that today’s most successful companies place a higher emphasis on meeting consumers’ needs than on maximizing sales. Always attuned to the cultural trends and technological innovations that affect consumer behavior, Kotler has continued to evolve in his thinking over the years. His pioneering work on social marketing, for example, has enabled corporations to embrace social responsibility as a profitable strategy while empowering non profits and public sector professionals to apply corporate marketing strategies as a way to increase social impact.

    Most recently, Kotler has turned his eye toward the vulnerabilities in our political and economic systems. In his 2015 book, Confronting Capitalism, he explored the key factors undermining economic growth and charted a sustainable path to shared prosperity. Now, with Democracy in Decline, he aims to reinvigorate American politics with a set of clear-eyed reforms. Drawing on more than 50 years of research at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, he surveys the American political landscape with the eye of an expert marketing manager and identifies a long-cherished ‘product’ (democracy) that is no longer satisfying the needs of its ‘consumers’ (citizens). His diagnoses of the 14 interlocked challenges to U.S. democracy, and his proposals for overcoming each of them, are poised to prompt a robust debate among scholars, practitioners, and engaged citizens. Anyone concerned with the prospects for America’s future and democracy around the world would do well to take heed.

    Daniel Diermeier, PhDDean, Harris School of Public Policy, The University of Chicago

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