The tired democracy

A discussion with Etienne Chouard and David Van Reybrouck under the title “The tired democracy – what are the solutions?” was held in Brussels in April. A video of part of the meeting is available. Unfortunately, the audio quality is rather poor.

If any French speaker is up to it, I would greatly appreciate an English synopsis for the benefit of those of us who don’t speak French. In particular, if I understand correctly, about 12 minutes into the video Chouard goes into an explanation of what he sees as the uses of sortition. A translation of his thoughts on this matter would be very interesting.

Impact of money raising considerations on campaign rhetoric

The virtue-based justification of electoralism implies an indirect connection between public opinion and policy. According to this justification, the public identifies people it trusts and puts them in office. Those people then determine policy as they see fit. According to this theory, then, the connection between policy and popular opinion is mediated by character judgments.

The rewards-based justification, on the other hand, implies a direct connection: elected officials wish to please the public in order to be re-elected and thus pursue policy that matches public opinion (in the sense that if they pursue policy X, then there exists no alternative policy which would win higher approval ratings).

The rewards-based theory suffers from two fundamental defects:

  1. It ignores the epistemic difficulties facing voters. In reality voters’ ability to determine the effects of government policy is very limited. They are therefore unable to tell whether government policy matches their world view and promotes their interests.
  2. It assumes that politicians lack policy preferences of their own. The theory assumes that politicians want to be elected simply and solely for pleasure of being in office rather than to promote any specific policy.

Those defects indicate why the rewards-based theory cannot be expected to explain policy setting by elected government. However, those defects do not apply to the rewards-based theory in the limited context of campaign rhetoric. Continue reading

A democratic republic

This essay was originally publish in 2008 in the Australian e-journal ON LINE opinion.

My fellow Australians,

You know that the question of whether Australia should become a republic has been as yet unresolved. The motivations for becoming a republic are many, but the most important has always seemed to be that Australian culture and politics are, at their best, democratic and egalitarian, while monarchy is not. Why is our head of state chosen by accident of birth? And, why can’t the head of state be someone born poor, or Catholic, or black or even Tasmanian?

Australia has a history of leading the way in being the most democratic, free, and equal society in the world.

We, along with New Zealand were the first to achieve women’s voting rights. We insisted, when it was unheard of anywhere in the world, that a man should be able to vote no matter how much he earned or owned. We have always been inclined to greater democracy and fairness. So, we are embarrassed by the institution of monarchy, and most of us wish to abolish it.
Continue reading

A proposal to solve a very urgent problem – part 2 of 2

The first part is here.

There are very many matters that need to be regulated by independent international authorities, most obviously the international movement of money. Trafficking in money is worth more than the sum of all other international trading. Money makes money without being involved in any productive process. Many economists believe that some of the worst features of this situation could be removed by imposing a very small tax on such transactions. But it is difficult for any state to do so in the absence of any international authority in the matter. Choosing the personnel of a competent, independent and recognised authority by lot from a pool of nominees, subject to appropriate conditions and safeguards, is a key element in setting up the required kind of body. However, different procedures will be needed in different contexts.

One problem with simple sortition is that in situations where a large relatively homogeneous majority is accompanied by a number of differing minorities a sample that simply reproduces their numerical distribution may lead to a decision pattern that is very unfair to the minorities. The problem is distressingly familiar. Ultimately, reducing its salience is a matter of breaking up totalizing communities, not to destroy them as communities, but to enrich them by emphasising the variety of people within any community and their multiple connections to similar people in other groups. Community is never reducible to uniformity or to any single objective.
Continue reading

A proposal to solve a very urgent problem – part 1 of 2

Global action on the global problem of human-induced climate change is stalled. In most countries action has become a victim to internal politics and also to the absence of any international authority capable of organising a concerted response. Everybody waits for others to do something.

The politics involved in the workings of the UN prevent it from providing a solution to the absence of an international authority, and attempts to get one set up by treaty seem hopeless.

In this situation even the scientific authority of the IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change) has come into question. It is alleged to be biased and complicit in the attempts of certain vested interests to exploit fear of catastrophe. Also it is not effectively answerable to anybody. There is obviously not just some plausibility but some substance in these accusations.

There is no doubt that everybody who works for the IPCC is already convinced that climate change is dangerous and that it is at least exacerbated by our use of fossil fuels. They want to find more evidence for their view. They may be nominally responsible to the UN, but in practice that is illusory.
Continue reading

Americans don’t like the Congresspeople of their own districts

Approval ratings of U.S. congress have been stuck at single digits or low double digits for years. However, Americans tend to like Congresspeople elected in their own districts and states more than they like Congress as a whole.

A recent Rasmussen poll found that that Congresspeople are quite unpopular even in their own districts:

[O]nly 25% of voters think their representative in Congress deserves reelection [...]. Forty-one percent (41%) now say that representative does not deserve to be reelected, but 34% are undecided.

(This is still much better than Congress as a whole whose approval ratings are at 8%.)

Other findings from the poll:

70% think most [incumbents] get reelected because election rules are rigged in their favor, not because they do a good job representing their constituents.

[O]nly 14% of voters think most members of Congress care what their constituents think, and only slightly more (21%) believe their congressional representative cares what they think. These numbers, too, have been trending down over the last four-and-a-half years and are now at new lows.

Sixty-nine percent (69%) think most members of Congress don’t care what their constituents think, while 17% are not sure. Fifty-three percent (53%) say their representative doesn’t care what they think, but 26% are undecided.

Kleristocracy and Neoconservatism: Spot the Difference

Kleristocracy is a term, coined by Jon Roland, for the concentration of political power in sortition-based systems, and has been advocated by a number of commentators on this blog. It’s struck me recently that this has a lot in common with the neoconservative worldview that has led to such disastrous outcomes in (for example) Iraq and Libya and I want to use this post to explore the parallels.

Neoconservatives argue that the goal of foreign policy is the liberation of oppressed nations from tyranny – ideally through their own efforts, if not then with a bit of help from the “forces of freedom” – followed by the institution/imposition of democracy, enabling the self-organising powers of “the people” to operate in an unfettered manner. Kleristocrats also argue that “the people” should be liberated from tyranny (of the rich and powerful) and empowered by “real” democracy – the only difference between kleristocrats and neoconservatives being the use of an alternative balloting method.
Continue reading


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