Vol. 15 No.4 (April 2005), pp.274-276

THE DEMOCRACY DEFICIT:  TAMING GLOBALIZATION THROUGH LAW REFORM, by Alfred C. Aman, Jr.  New York and London:  New York University Press, 2004.  288pp.  Cloth.  $45.00.  ISBN:  0-8147-0700-9.

Reviewed by Michael C. Tolley, Department of Political Science, Northeastern University.  Email:  m.tolley@neu.edu

Alfred Aman begins THE DEMOCRACY DEFICIT: TAMING GLOBALIZATION THROUGH LAW REFORM by asking the following question:  “Can citizens govern globalization” (p.1)?  By “globalization” he means the “pluralistic, multicentered and dynamic processes involving interrelationships among states and nonstate entities across national boundaries” (p.1). Believing that these processes can be governed, he goes on to show how law, specifically domestic administrative law, may be used to curb some of globalization’s anti-democratic features.

Aman is the former dean of the Indiana University School of Law and currently director of Indiana University’s Institute for Advanced Study.  He is author of ADMINISTRATIVE LAW IN A GLOBAL ERA (1992) and co-author with William Mayton of ADMINISTRATIVE LAW (2001).  In his new book, Aman addresses many of the contested issues related to law and governance in the new global economy:  To what extent are the powers of these new global institutions legitimate?  How might these new forms of power be subjected to democratic control?  His assumption is that legitimacy and democratic accountability are matters of law as well as politics and political theory.  But what distinguishes Aman’s project from others concerned about the legitimacy and accountability of global institutions, such as the World Trade Organization, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund, is his focus on globalization from a domestic perspective.  He calls this “the domestic ‘face’ of globalization” (p.7).  Aman writes:

The primary purpose of this book is to develop an analysis of globalization from the domestic side.  By turning the lens to globalization’s domestic side, we can both advance understanding of the contemporary world and, within the United States, develop approaches to reforms that would expand and strengthen democracy in the various governmental and nongovernmental settings where policy is made and applied today (p.6).

As a result, THE DEMOCRACY DEFICIT fills an important gap in the literature that has focused for the most part on the international “face” of globalization.

To compete in the new global economy, nations have been pressured to move away from traditional forms of regulation.  “The principal hallmark of regulation in the global era,” Aman writes, “has thus been the shift from state-centered, command-control regulation to deregulation, privatization, and market forms of regulation” (p.32).  Deregulation, privatization, and market-based regulation are the manifestations of globalization within nations which raise questions of “democratic deficit.”  [*275] For example, what happens to transparency in decision making when states deregulate and entrust the markets and private actors to achieve public goals?  How will citizens in a globalized state maintain meaningful control over matters that affect them but are ultimately determined by private actors, the market, or international organizations?  The solutions, Aman argues, are to be found in law, specifically the reform of domestic administrative law “to provide the infrastructure necessary for the exercise of participatory rights by citizens” (p.14) and to manage privatization and the dynamic nature of public-private partnerships.

THE DEMOCRACY DEFICIT includes a preface, an introduction, four chapters, and endnotes with extensive references to the leading works in this field.  After the introduction, where the anti-democratic features of globalization in the United States are described, Aman traces in Chapter 1 the development of administrative law from the New Deal to the present day.  The historical perspective is effective in showing how administrative law had been employed to meet the challenges of governance at other times and in laying the foundation for the administrative law reforms he is proposing to resolve democratic deficits in globalized states.

Examined in Chapter 2 are what Aman calls the “vertical dimensions of globalization,” or the effects on nation states of delegating power upward to transnational organizations.  “Organizations such as the WTO,” Aman writes, “are not mere extensions of the states that have created them—agents, if you will, that are legitimate solely by virtue of their statecentric beginnings and the participation of national representatives” (p.82).  Their power, he argues, “depends less on hierarchy and more on the inclusion of the relevant networks of actors involved” (p.84).  The key to understanding the vertical dimensions of globalization is to move away from “a federalist analogy to the relationship of international organizations to domestic law toward the more pragmatic, pluralist, and flexible arrangements by which national and international legitimacy and democracy might be strengthened simultaneously” (p.85).

Chapter 3 considers privatization and deregulation, what Aman calls “the horizontal dimensions of globalization.” The main example Aman develops is the privatization of prisons but there are passing references to other examples of the new public-private partnerships in the delivery of social services, such as education and welfare.  Delegations of domestic public power to private actors raise the same issues of democratic legitimacy and accountability as delegations of power by nations to transnational organizations.  Thus, the problem of democratic deficits today results from both the vertical and horizontal dimensions of globalization.

Chapter 4 is where Aman proposes and develops the administrative law reforms he believes would begin to tame some of globalization’s democracy problems in the United States.  Though his reforms are based on U.S. administrative law, comparative public law scholars might be encouraged to test whether the legal prescriptions are general enough to apply in other settings. [*276]

The aim is to restore the values of openness and due process in decisions on matters of public consequence.  “[W]hat is needed,” Aman writes, “is the democratization of embedded globalization at the domestic level” (p.177).  His reform proposals are designed to improve transparency in decision making and to achieve greater democratic accountability.

Aman’s first proposed reform calls for the move away from the traditional public-private distinction.  “A twenty-first-century APA should apply to some private actors, as well as the state,” Aman recommends, “particularly when private actors have significant power over the constituents with whom they deal and when they are engaged in public functions” (p.150).  His second proposed reform is to amend the “contracting out” provisions of the Administrative Procedure Act (Section 553).  “Contracts used to outsource social services to the poor or to manage private prisons should be viewed as rules, subject to notice and comment, and as the beginning of a process, not the end of a private negotiation” (p.150).  His third proposal is to make informal rulemaking more cognizant of global considerations.  “Administrative rule-making processes,” Aman suggests, “should include an explicit direction to consider seriously the global implications of proposed rules” (p.150).  These reforms flow logically from his careful analysis of the domestic face of globalization and would go a long way toward restoring democracy to the globalizing state.

THE DEMOCRACY DEFICIT is a book that both political scientists and administrative law specialists will find of tremendous value.  Political scientists interested, for example, in globalization and its effect on national democratic institutions, would appreciate the author’s care in describing the various dimensions of the democratic deficit.   Administrative law specialists would certainly be interested in how their subject might be enlisted to meet the new challenges of globalization.  Indeed, the most valuable contribution of this book may be in showing how law might be used to ensure transparency, accountability, and meaningful citizen participation in today’s globalized state.

As for use in the classroom, THE DEMOCRACY DEFICIT would be an ideal supplementary text for graduate and advanced undergraduate courses in administrative law.  Professors may find, as I did, that this book raises questions particularly well suited for the final weeks of courses in administrative law—what are the challenges facing administrative law in the 21st century, and can administrative law save democracy from the threats of globalization?  And students will appreciate, as mine did, the chance to get away from the cases and read a well-written, thought-provoking text that shows the continued relevance of administrative law in today’s society.


Aman, Jr., Alfred C. 1992. ADMINISTRATIVE LAW IN A GLOBAL ERA.  Ithaca, NY:  Cornell University Press.

Aman, Jr., Alfred C., and William T. Mayton. 2001. ADMINISTRATIVE LAW, 2nd ed.  St. Paul, MN:  West Group.


© Copyright 2005 by the author, Michael C. Tolley.