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Linker: An absolute democracy would assign political offices by lot

Damon Linker’s argument against compulsory voting weaves in Plato and the Socratic argument for aristocracy. His reasoning is an interesting modernization of the classical aristocratic mindset. His point about the contestability of excellence is good, and he makes use of it as a justification of electoralism.

A democracy gives every adult citizen a very small say in who rules. An individual doesn’t have to prove that he’s thoughtful or informed to exercise that right. As Plato argued 2,300 years ago, this makes democratic politics exceedingly peculiar. We don’t take a vote to determine the medical treatments that doctors prescribe, and neither do we ask for a show of hands about how to construct a bridge or a building. And yet we think it’s perfectly reasonable to ask for everyone’s opinion about what policies our country should pursue at home and abroad.

That’s because in politics, unlike in medicine and engineering, the act of determining who does and does not possess knowledge and wisdom is exceedingly contentious. (One might say it’s a political act in itself.) So we solve — or rather, we sidestep — the problem by letting everyone have a say.

That persuasive juror may just be the one who is in no hurry to go home

The persuasive juror who manages to sway the majority through his passion, eloquence and irresistible logic is part of Western cultural lore. It appears that one commenter on this blog even perceives himself as having played that very role.

The following exchange raises the possibility that the ability of a single juror to sway a whole jury is attributable to much more mundane dynamics – dynamics that are put in place by the unanimity rule. The key paragraph is the last one.

Israel’s gas wealth should be managed by a citizens’ jury

An English version of an op-ed piece I wrote recently. I am still looking for an Israeli mass media venue that would publish it.

Another round in the long struggle over the way Israel’s gas fields are to be exploited is upon us. Like most of Israel’s citizens, my understanding of the technical and economic details associated with this matter is sketchy. It is clear to me that a very lucrative resource is involved and that there are various proposals about how to deal with it – proposals which will see the value of this resource divided in different ways among different groups. Beyond that things are rather murky as far as I know. It seems that politically powerful people are exerting political pressure to obtain parts of the value of the gas wealth and that at least some of these people have personal, business or political connections to government officials. Like a large majority in the Israeli public I suspect that the balance of powers in the government serves primarily narrow interests (“the tycoons”) rather than serving the general public. Having said that, I have not followed the details and I cannot confidently say who is associated with whom and whose interests are served by each proposal.

An artist’s conception of the business-electoral complex

Nicholas Reece: The momentous success of radical democracy

Nicholas Reece writes in The Age:

Experiment pays off: Melbourne People’s Panel produces quality policy

Citizen juries are one of the most promising innovations to emerge in the conversation about democratic renewal.

Melbourne’s radical experiment in democracy has reached a momentous conclusion, with the City Council announcing on Friday it will accept nearly all the recommendations of a 10-year financial plan developed by a citizens’ jury. That a group of 43 randomly selected Melburnians meeting over six weekends developed sound policy that is now being implemented is a profound result for anyone despairing at the state of our democracy. And it invites the exciting question, what’s next?

It turns out that having a plan “developed” over 6 weekends to guide the expenditure of billions of dollars over 10 years is considered a momentous success of radical democracy. What’s next, indeed.

Op-ed piece calling for a sortitioned Canadian Senate

Claudia Chwalisz writes in The Globe and Mail:

Replace this archaic institution with a citizens’ senate

While calling for unicameralism would be a mistake – it would reduce the government’s legitimacy due to lack of oversight – the more radical proposal of “abolition” leaves the path clearer toward true structural change that moves beyond tinkering at the edges (such as elected senators).

Why not replace the archaic institution with a citizens’ senate – a rotating group of randomly selected citizens that serve as a house of review? The random group could be stratified, to ensure representativeness of sex, age, race, socio-economic status and regional diversity, matching the makeup of Canadian society.

Granted that this is only an op-ed piece, but I have to admit I am rather amazed that the idea of a sortitionally-selected federal legislature is making it so rapidly into the mainstream.

The Irish vote for marriage equality was set up by the sortition-selected Constitutional Convention

Three Irish political scientists, David Farrell, Clodagh Harris and Jane Suiter, write in the Washington Post:

On May 22, Ireland became the first country in the world to introduce marriage equality through a national referendum to change the country’s constitution.

The vote was a world first in one other sense: Never before has a country changed its constitution as a result of deliberation involving a random selection of ordinary citizens. The government’s decision to call the referendum came because of a recommendation from the Irish Constitutional Convention, which had been asked to consider a range of possible constitutional reform questions.

July 2015
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