By Fareed Zakaria, CNN
This past week, New York might have seemed to be the center of the world. But the political story that struck me came not from the corridors of the United Nations but thousands of miles away in the city-state of Berlin, Germany. You might have heard about the group called "The Pirate Party" that has burst on to Germany's political scene. The Economist magazine jokingly writes that it sounds like a party whose name was dreamed up at Octoberfest, Germany's annual beer festival.
Actually, its ideology centers around internet freedom. Its members are tech-savvy youngsters who wear hooded sweatshirts, throw cool parties and play up their group's name with pirate boats. But don't let the cool facade fool you. They won 9 percent of the vote in Berlin's parliamentary elections. That puts them well ahead of the laissez-faire Free Democratic Party, a long-established party and part of Angela Merkel's established coalition. So what is going on?
Well, it turns out their movement was founded in Sweden five years ago with a focus on copyright and patent law. It has since spread to a number of European countries and even the United States. But the German offshoot is broadening its focus and says it is about bringing politics back to the people.
"Liquid feedback" is a phrase that struck a chord. It's designed to empower citizens to use quick polls on the internet to shape how their representatives vote on a given issue. You might think the last thing we need is more political pandering, but the Pirate Party is one more manifestation of the despair of the average citizen with government and large institutions more generally.
A new World Economic Forum poll of experts from a range of fields finds that less than 10 percent have confidence in the state of global governance. If you put the same question to the world's unemployed youth, you'd probably get an even more depressing response.
We've all heard so much about the Arab Spring this year, but there is a malaise that's affecting the already democratized world, as well. People feel disillusioned, disconnected, disenfranchised. From the anti-corruption movement in India to similar protests that are now brewing in Brazil; from an outbreak of anger and rioting in London to demonstrations over a lack of housing in Jerusalem. These protests are all local, but they are all about a similar set of frustrations. Governments around the world need to take notice and respond. India's prime minister, for example, has posted the tax returns of his entire cabinet on the Internet (although many commentators look at the documents of some famously corrupt ministers as evidence of how cleverly they have hidden their wealth). Brazil's president has fired five ministers this year on charges of theft. The United Kingdom has announced it will make government openness criteria when choosing, which nations to give aid. And the Obama Administration has an open government initiative to increase transparency.
But these are small steps and they're unlikely to address a basic mismatch. On one hand, you have the aspirations of the young and new technologies that are empowering them - the world of the Internet and Google and Facebook. These people are used to a world of transparency, individual empowerment and immediacy. On the other hand, you have government - big, bureaucratic, hierarchical and secretive. This tension will persist, and the split between the world of open and closed will probably keep showing up in various ways, in various countries around the globe.