Rectify Misrepresentative Democracy

Greg wrote to announce a series of articles arguing against elections and offering sortition as an alternative.

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31 Responses

  1. Greg,

    Welcome.

    I have not yet read the entire article series, but I presume I will agree with most if not all you say, including, of course, your proposed solution. The question is how can we effectively promote sortition.

    Publishing sortition advocacy on the web and having on-line discussion forums is good, but the reach of such activities is rather limited.

    One other possible activity is distributing flyers in public places. David Grant has done some of the former. I have been corresponding with a few people, drafting possible flyers. See one proposal here. Your material could be used as well.

    There is also the somewhat more expensive but less demanding possibility of placing ads on search engines. I would be willing to contribute some money towards that. We could have a pilot campaign and see how things go.

    I am not sure how effective such activities would be. I am pretty sure, however, that we would have more impact if we co-operated on such matters rather than acted individually.

    Best,
    Yoram

  2. I remember the 32 page billboards Ted Turner’s dad graciously spread around the south ostensibly as a marketing survey for Turner Advertising but in reality was subtle advertising for Ayn Rand’s book ATLAS SHRUGGED. They were in simple black and white and blared WHO IS JOHN GALT? Mr. Turner who was a great American and friend of Mr. A. G. Heinsohn proved his point. We can do the same for Election by Lot. But first we must have a book. The current post is well on its way. Monday I plan to bind and bound it at STAPLES and go from there. It will make a great “sequel” to Ward’s ELUSIVE.

  3. > We can do the same for Election by Lot. But first we must have a book.

    To me it seems that to do that first we must have a sizable advertising budget. The book is the easy part. Turner had access to mass media that most Americans do not.

  4. Great piece, agree 100%, but as always the devil is in the details. You rightly draw an analogy between sortition and the selection of juries, the only problem being that juries are only one element, albeit a crucial one, in the conduct of a trial. What would be the equivalent, in your model, of the competing advocates (defence and prosecution) and who would determine whether or not the case came to trial? (“case” in this context being a legislative bill). And who would be responsible for executing the verdict?

    Apart from that I think you mean “sow” not “sew” and “lack of interest” rather than “disinterest” in an otherwise masterfully-crafted text.

    PS In the interest of non-factional deliberation, I would suggest that Yoram, Harald and myself refrain from doing anything other than asking questions.

  5. Thanks, Keith. Concur w/your devil in the details comment. And concur that an impartially selected jury is only one crucial element of a trial case. But I don’t so much mean to suggest that a trial is perfect guide to how rectification of misrepresentative democracy might proceed. Rather I’m inferring, as many others before me, that we already make extensive use of sortition in the way we select impartial juries — which merely demonstrates that sortition is not as off-the-wall as might be thought on first examination. Thanks for the typo/editorial assists, too.

    And, Yoram, I concur that how best to promote Sortition is, indeed, a most important matter. I would not, however, minimize the importance of blogs such as this, and the excellent books by Dowlen and others , and those upcoming by Peter Stone. I tend to think David Grant is on to something important, too, by producing videos that make sortition less threatening than many, at first, seem to think it is.

  6. > In the interest of non-factional deliberation, I would suggest that Yoram, Harald and myself refrain from doing anything other than asking questions.

    You said that right after steering the discussion to your favorite topic, which you know we disagree with you strongly on? Well, we could save Gregor a great deal of time by just linking to a selection of the prior discussions:

    http://equalitybylot.wordpress.com/2011/01/16/george-tridimas-when-is-it-rational-to-give-up-rationality/#comment-752

    http://equalitybylot.wordpress.com/2010/11/11/law-in-action-2/

    http://equalitybylot.wordpress.com/2010/11/15/lecture-on-lotteries/#comments

    http://equalitybylot.wordpress.com/2010/11/03/limiting-the-allotted-chambers-powers-a-foundational-argument/#comments

    That’s the tip of the iceberg. In brief, Keith doesn’t trust an allotted assembly to seek out and evaluate their own experts/executives, and wants to keep elections for these to make sure the “right” people (as he sees it) are still in position to set the agenda. Me and Yoram don’t agree.

  7. I genuinely want to know Greg’s views on this issue. Everybody knows what you, Yoram and I think, hence my request for a self-denying ordinance.

  8. Keith, etal, as a recent comer to this forum I am not so well read in on the views of long-timer posters such as yourselves. Nor is it clear what issue you’d like my views on. I found the links Herald provided to shed some light, but they’re a pretty tough slog — what with all the embedded subtext that’s tough for me to interpret with confidence.

    That said, I’ll wade in with some pretty basic principles that guide my thinking on this matter — kinda.

    First, the matter of whether to govern democratically, or not, is both a moral issue and a practical matter. Moral in the sense that ideally nobody should have dominion over another, or let another have dominion over them. Practical in the sense that collective decisions are often better/wiser to the extent that participants in the decision process are independent of each other — NOT mindlessly wed to party, religious, or theoretical ideology, if you will.

    Second, as with Madison I believe the first purpose of government ought be to protect the public discourse from domination by partisan (factional) ideologues. Therefore, the importance not only of free speech and assembly, but of being dominated by monopolies and self-interested politicians.

    Third, as with Socrates/Plato I am very concerned about the blind cave-dweller beasts in us all controlling policy. But, so too am I concerned about a cult of faux-enlightened cave-dwellers coming to dominate policy (G. W. Bush & Co being a late example on my side of the pond). As a general rule I think the best way to safeguard against tyranny and improve the odds of making competent policy, is to insist, somehow, that all policy be formulated by a group as diverse as the population now living and yet to come.

    Fourth, the matter of factoring in the interests of those yet to come is problematic.

    Now, I suspect this might well miss the point on which you requested my views. So, if you’d clarify your question, I’d be delighted to attempt a reply.

    - Greg

  9. You asked a very loaded question, Keith: What would be the equivalent of competing advocates in a trial. Greg then ought to be informed that not all believe there has to be an equivalent (indeed, few here but you do).

  10. Thanks Greg, the problem is there is a wealth of empirical research showing that collective judgments made by a group as diverse as the whole population are at least as good as decisions made by partisan bodies (and on this forum we would argue that they are much better).

    What hasn’t been demonstrated is how a randomly-selected group would originate policy options and (more importantly) whether those options would be assumed to have received the consent of the whole citizenry. At the moment elected legislatures claim (rightly or wrongly) a mandate based on the result of the popular vote in elections under universal suffrage. If this were no longer applicable, how would the policy proposals generated by the microcosm be assumed to have received popular consent?

    Also any serious constitutional proposal would need to provide a mechanism for the appointment of government officials.

    I think your blog posting — based on the analogy of the trial jury — only deals with the first point, and I was interested in your views on the other two. These distinctions appear in all the literature, so I think we need to move beyond basic principles.

    Keith

  11. Under the US constitution each state chooses it’s federal representatives via semi-annual elections. Once elected congressmen travel to DC where they concoct procedures to handle the administration of legislative matters, hearings and the like. In the current system of two party rule, the current procedures are developed completely partisan.

    If, say, tomorrow the states began to select their representatives by state-wide lotteries, then once the selected reps arrived in DC they would, as now, still have to establish administrative rules & procedures. The process would probably be a lot messier than following the traditional partisan political approach, but from the perspective of how well they represented the public, the results couldn’t be any worse than the current system, in my view.

  12. > The process would probably be a lot messier than following the traditional partisan political approach, but from the perspective of how well they represented the public, the results couldn’t be any worse than the current system, in my view.

    Yes, Keith, yet another fundamentalist. Could you spare us your “consent of the governed”-Montesquieu-Rousseau routine this time?

  13. “from the perspective of how well they represented the public, the results couldn’t be any worse than the current system.”

    That’s certainly true at the time the representatives were allotted but, seeing as these guys will spend several years in Washington, the lobbyists will think they’ve died and gone to heaven. Not only will representatives be lobbied by all and sundry, it would also be comparatively cheap for wealthy interests to bribe a chosen representative to introduce a bill. At the moment there are two powerful constraints on the venality of representatives — the party whip (especially in UK-style parliamentary systems) and the need to face the electorate at the end of their term. Both these constraints are absent in an allotted legislature.

    Note: this is not a problem regarding the judgment role of representatives (voting on bills) as this would be by secret ballot.

    Federalist 10 does not only deal with the problem of partisan behaviour, Madison also recognises the problems inherent in mixing parties (interests) and judgment in a “single body of men”. I’m keen to hear how you would address this latter problem.

    Keith

  14. >Not only will representatives be lobbied by all and sundry, it would also be comparatively cheap for wealthy interests to bribe a chosen representative to introduce a bill.<

    And how is this different from now? In the last 30 years the number of lobbyists in the US has increased roughly 2 orders of magnitude. And party whips do little to ensure that the public's business is done — at least in the US. Rather he/she uses public funds from current and future generations to purchase compliance amongst party members to support current special (a.k.a. party) interests. And with incumbent reelections in excess of 90%, on average, there is little real accountability in the current system. Even the election of 2010, which supposedly demonstrated accountability at record levels, returned 85% of incumbent bums to office. The level of gaming in the current system can hardly be seen as delivering accountability to any public except those with the funds to buy favor.

  15. >Madison also recognises the problems inherent in mixing parties (interests) and judgment in a “single body of men”. I’m keen to hear how you would address this latter problem.<

    There can be no question, but that this is a major challenge for all forms of government. The current setup covers over the challenge, though, with special favors (in-house bribes) used to seduce compliance. It then shoves the self-induced corruption into a lead-lined closet and bars the door with threats of exposing members who accept such favors. The basis for such actions lies in the power matrix inherent in seniority systems that produce entitled-mob-boss type mentalities among party leaders operating the back room. I'm afraid, as Madison points out, that this sort of behavior is characteristic of the human animal. I think that sortition goes a long way to minimize it's influence by undermining significant accruals of seniority/power.

  16. I completely agree with you regarding the flaws in our current system of politics (if I didn’t then I wouldn’t write and publish books on sortition). But if you’re proposing a constitutional innovation then the onus is on you to demonstrate how your innovation would be a significant improvement. The problem strikes me as three fold:

    1) How would allotted members sift through the enormous volume of proposals likely to be submitted to them — from professional lobbyists, interest groups, activists and also concerned members of the public?

    2) How would you insulate allotted members from the huge pressure to take bribes from lobbyists in order to introduce their proposal?

    3) At least with the current arrangements (partisan elections) there is a formal mechanism whereby the policy proposals of the majority party receive a general mandate. There is also a formal mechanism of accountability, whereas there is none at all with allotted members.

    I’m afraid it’s not enough to criticise the faults of the present system without indicating how your constitutional innovations will overcome them. Madison was well versed in the flaws of the human animal (his tutor at Princeton was a Calvinist minister) and he attempted to design constitutional mechanisms to overcome them. We know now that he failed but you do need to at least make the attempt.

  17. I think it’s unlikely that 435 citizens drawn at random will be as ready succumb to temptation as 435 elected officials who are selected for their ability to finesse the truth at the drop of a coin. So, if correct, then the magnitude of the corruption problem is, at least, diminished — which I think this is a good start that justifies proceeding in this direction. And, I think that this group could police themselves as the current congress seems to do, with much better results since the sortites are not selected for their corruptibility as are traditional politicians. And no, I don’t have to know with perfect accuracy how this will evolve before being convinced of the likelihood that it increases the chances of improving the system by such an extent that it’s worth pursuing.

    But, if it is NOT the case that we can expect to get a less corruptible group than is provided by electing professional politicians, then it could well be that we’re at the limit of what’s achievable in this regard. If any group selected randomly from among the citizens is as corruptible as the political cast of characters that have so consistently sold out the citizenry over the last several decades (centuries?), then what hope is there?

  18. > If any group selected randomly from among the citizens is as corruptible as the political cast of characters that have so consistently sold out the citizenry over the last several decades (centuries?), then what hope is there?

    Why are you being so pessimistic? Keith knows where to find incorruptible “competent technocrats” who do their job professionally ignoring all interests. Or, if he doesn’t know, he knows of “head-hunters” who will know.

  19. Yoram, I might need to recalibrate my sarcasm meter. It’s telling me that I might no longer be the most sarcastic in the land.

  20. “then what hope is there?”

    I’m afraid that I don’t share the view that elected officials are a bunch of scumbags per se; structural factors are more to blame than inherent defects of personality (but then my background is sociology, not psychology). As for the persistence of hope I do have certain (structural) proposals that would help to insure the system against corruption, but there’s no point outlining them (again) on this forum as it will simply generate another stream of invective and sarcasm from Yoram and Harald. I was hoping that your joining the debate might raise the tone a little.

    Leaving that aside, I think that we need to adopt a different rhetorical strategy. If we are genuinely interested in constitutional change and seek to do so in a peacable manner then we do need to talk in structural terms. Badmouthing existing office holders will not endear them to our cause. From my contacts with UK parliamentarians, my impression is that they are as troubled as we are with the state of our politics.

  21. > Yoram, I might need to recalibrate my sarcasm meter. It’s telling me that I might no longer be the most sarcastic in the land.

    I can understand that this appears over-the-top to you. As you can see from the links Harald posted, we have been stuck in this loop with Keith for months. Seeing him drag you through the same nonsensical routine is rather darkly amusing. Enjoy (if you can).

  22. Keith, I didn’t use the word scumbag (at least not here). But now that you bring it up what word would you use to describe those who, while sworn to protect the rights and liberties of ALL of us not only ignore their oaths and promises, but repeatedly engage in acts that undermine and sell out the well-being of all but their fellow country-clubbers? Scumbag, I think, is much too mild a term.

    My recent former congressman, with whom I met a couple times a year with a few others to appeal for him to impeach GW Bush) gave me a late-in-life civics lesson several years ago. Just prior to announcing his retirement — he was about to escape through the revolving door after 16 years in congress for a huge payoff as a (wait for it) congressional lobbyist — he lamented (in a private meeting) that if he followed the principles that he and I shared, that he would be shunned and marginalized by party regulars and leaders alike — and therefore get little accomplished. He told me (remember this was a private conversation) that my problem was that I wanted a congress that worked to solve problems, and that was NOT what congress did. Rather members of congress have learned that it is NOT in their interest to solve problems, but rather to use problems to gain more power. This principle was popularized more recently by Rahm Immanuel (late of Obama’s chief of staff and soon to be mayor of Chicago) when his principle “never let a crisis go to waste” became public. It does not take much for “principles” such as this to this quickly translate into a congress that’s filled with members who intentionally create problems and make things worse just so they can appear to the public to be doing something important while showing-up the other side, and giving their oaths short shrift. This, I believe, characterizes the real world of politics that we must engage and defeat.

    Now, while it would be nice to take those in power at their publicly professed words that they are as aghast at how dysfunctional and corrupt politics is in the 21st century has become, and that they are simply stuck in a broken system that makes them do distasteful things just to get stuff done, but it might little more than another in a long line of sucker appeals. If I understand one fundamental principle of democracy, they are supposed to work for us. Not the other way around. And when they don’t, we’re supposed to be able to throw them out. Well, throwing out 10%, or so per election cycle simply doesn’t get it done. Especially when the replacements are chosen from a pre-conditioned pool of self-serving egomaniacs who have to cut deals with the oligarchs just to get anointed — errrrr — nominated.

    So, I’d prefer our chances with neophyte sortites to professional whatever-we-agree-to-call-them. I appreciate that you don’t share this concern quite so vigorously. OK.

    As to the matter of structural proposals, I’d find it useful to have you describe what you mean by structural before commenting in greater depth on that matter. I suspect you mean elements external to those individuals entrusted to act on behalf of the rest of us that would guide (coerce?) their behavior/choices. Is that what you mean?

  23. “What word would you use to describe those who, while sworn to protect the rights and liberties of ALL of us not only ignore their oaths and promises, but repeatedly engage in acts that undermine and sell out the well-being of all but their fellow country-clubbers?”

    The phrase that I would use is “products of the system” (as opposed to a moral or psychological explanation in terms of civic virtue). Under our current political arrangements, congressmen have to get re-elected and this requires money, grandstanding, dissembling, mendacity, backscratching, crisis-mongering and pork-trading. Dysfunctional systems have a corrupting effect on their participants, so long-serving congressmen will inevitably succumb to the cynical views that you referenced. However this is not the same thing as characterising the political class as scumbags by way of contrast to the inherent virtue of ordinary citizens. If we want to change the system then we should concentrate our analysis at the structural level rather than moralising, psychologising and indulging in ad hominems.

    I would be delighted to outline my structural proposals if Yoram and Harald will agree to abstain from responding directly, rather than recycling our tired old argument. Naturally they may respond to your comments (and those of other participants), and I will limit myself to the same self-denying ordinance (i.e. passing silently over their comments). I say this in order to ensure that no more people are driven from this blog by tedious repetition.

    “I suspect you mean elements external to those individuals entrusted to act on behalf of the rest of us that would guide (coerce?) their behavior/choices. Is that what you mean?”

    My principle is simply to take Montesquieu seriously and argue that the independence of each “power” (along with Madison’s further distinction between interests and judgments) should be protected by a unique organising principle. Sortition is just one principle (alongside election and appointment), so it will not appeal to fundamentalists like Harald and Yoram.

  24. >My principle is simply to take Montesquieu seriously and argue that the independence of each “power” (along with Madison’s further distinction between interests and judgments) should be protected by a unique organising principle. <

    I need a bit more help. Can you provide more specific references or comment(s)?

    And if EqualityByLot is not the appropriate forum/location, then perhaps we can continue on RectifyMisrepresentativeDemocracy (the posting which kicked off this recent thread of conversation) or by private emailings. Your call. I'd like to continue whether here, on my blog (Rectify), or via email.

    Thanks.

  25. I have only just now become aware of this thread.

    The issue of accountability may be the point most cumbersome to address. It seems to me that a sortitionally-chosen body — even including adjustments for volunteering and qualifying — will be much more proportional and thus much more legitimately a ‘government BY the people’. And therefore the issue of ‘accountability’ is tautological.

    About inherent ethical frailties … Without impugning the character and motivations of all politicians I had read that the per capita rate of Congressional criminal convictions was several times greater than the general public’s. I have tried to confirm that but have not been able to do so. I would not be surprised, however, given the psychologically aggressive profile that is required of those engaged in electoral battle.

    Adequate remuneration of a Citizen Legislature would also help insulate it from bribery. Say, 150% of the national median income. Given a largely proportional representation, that would mean for about 75% of the sortitioned representatives their service would be a financial a step up.

    It is likely that sortition will be experimented with and instituted in many locales and situations. The group I first introduced sortition to, in 1985, continues to use it for selecting their board (but not the President and Treasurer). These small-scale examples will increase and will build confidence among the populace.

    I am most interested in developing popular media exploring sortition. One way is Michael-Moore-type didactic video essay. Another way is fictional. In either case, remember George Bernard Shaw’s dictum: “If you propose to tell the truth, you had better make it funny—or they will stone you to death.”
    I am formerly a public television producer-director. I am seeking a business partner and a production team to take the steps towards instituting sortition within a 20-year plan.

  26. Greg: glad to oblige but this will need a separate post, which I’ll submit for moderation.

    “Adequate remuneration of a Citizen Legislature would also help insulate it from bribery. Say, 150% of the national median income.”

    I’m afraid that’s chicken-feed compared to the money the lobbyists will chuck at these guys to ensure that their bill is introduced. (Note: secret voting is the best way of insulating the legislature from corruption, but secrecy is not possible for someone acting as an advocate for a legislative proposal.)

  27. > The group I first introduced sortition to, in 1985, continues to use it for selecting their board (but not the President and Treasurer).

    Interesting – what group is that?

    > Another way is fictional.

    I understand there is at least one science fiction novel in which sortition is part of the presumption. I don’t suppose it is funny, though.

    One more idea I had regarding popularizing sortition is to take the elitist route: I suspect that a single high-profile sortition advocate (a widely-read op-ed journalist or a TV host, say) would be enough to initiate a fairly wide sortition movement. The minor splash caused by the Joe Klein post is an indication of the potential here. I have tried to write to George Monbiot (who often complains about the current system), for example, but never got a reply. These people probably get a lot of mail – more than they can go through carefully, I guess, so it may be a matter of getting someone’s attention. (I did get a semi-sympathetic reply from Josiah Ober, BTW.)

  28. I recently wrote Monbiot via his website’s contact page, and received a brief reply. Have you tried this link, Yoram?

    http://www.monbiot.com/contact/

    Concur that sortition demonstration projects at a local level are essential to introducing the matter to an indifferent public, and building a track record. I’ve attempted to introduce sortition in such organizations as homeowner’s associations and condo associations — without much success, though. It seems that most everyone over the age of consent has been brainwashed that liberal democracy just isn’t a realistic (legitimate?) way to organize modern societies.

    Another idea would be to introduce sortition at the elementary and secondary school level as a means for choosing members of the student council and/or class officers. Success here would help prepare the next generations for, at least, being better acquainted and more comfortable with sortition than most of their elders seem to be.

  29. Two comments:
    1. A book detailing the practical workings of true democracy – both participatory and direct – since ancient Greece and Rome would be a good idea. The chapter on politics in ‘Why Switzerland’ by Jonathan Steinberg should be read by anyone interested in democracy in the modern world.
    2. I think the social life, or social world, of technocrats and politicians and high-flying capitalists excludes anyone for whom morality is important by mutual consent. George Faludy’s poem ‘Monsieur Majora, Technocrat’ is a good picture of the kind of person you have to spend your life with if you want to be in that world.

  30. Citation, please, for the Faludy poem.

  31. Citation for the Faludy Poem – it’s translated as Sonnet Seventy-Nine in ‘Selected Poems 1933-1980′ ed. and tr. Robin Skelton; and included in ‘Earth Poems’, an anthology by Ivo Mosley published by HarperSanFrancisco.

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