Roger D. Hodge: “Speak, Money”

The October issue of Harper’s Magazine has an excerpt from Roger D. Hodge’s upcoming book, The Mendacity of Hope: Barack Obama and the Betrayal of American Liberalism. [Copy of the excerpt is here.]

Hodge seems to have read John P. McCormick’s paper “Contain the Wealthy and Patrol the Magistrates: Restoring Elite Accountability to Popular Government“. He writes:

In an ideal system of public campaign financing, in which all political speech has been equalized by law, in which political advertising is banned and persuasion stripped of its commercial aspect—the corporate businessman and the millionaire (not to mention the billionaire) would still stand taller than the common citizen. In fact, as the political theorist John P. McCormick has argued, the wealthy are likely to dominate any political regime that chooses its magistrates and lawmakers solely by means of election.

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The elected legislator’s burden

In his recent article “Lot and Democratic Representation”, Alex Zakaras proposes introducing a sortition-based element into the US government. His proposal is similar to the one made by Anthony Barnett and Peter Carty in the UK (The Athenian Option). The new body proposed, with its veto power over legislation and term of service of one year, would wield moderate power – it lies somewhere on the spectrum between a full-fledged parliamentary body, as proposed by Cellenbach and Phillips, and the weak ad-hoc policy juries of James Fishkin and Ethan Leib.

Zakaras emphasizes the democratic advantages of sortition over elections – primarily equality in the representation of interests. He challenges opponents of sortition (quoting Robert Paul Wolff) to reflect on what their opposition “reveals about their real attitude toward democracy”. It is natural, then, to turn the tables and challenge Zakaras as to what his reluctance to grant the allotted body full parliamentary powers – to set its own agenda, initiate legislation and draft its own legislative proposals – reveals about his own attitude toward democracy.

In one brief passage Zakaras explains that the reason for “not burdening” the allotted body with the tasks of initiating and writing legislation is that its members would lack the expertise of career politicians and “would have virtually no experience assessing the likely consequences of different policy alternatives.”

Quite a few unexamined – and, in fact, unlikely – assumptions are packed into this brief argument. Each of the several counter-arguments below is, by itself, in my mind, enough to counter the reasoning given, or, at least, grounds for a thorough examination of its logic.

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Yet another kleroterion reference in mass media

This is becoming so commonplace that it may be time to launch a “sortition media index” instead of having separate posts. But, for now, here is another mass media reference to sortition, this time from the Arizona Daily Star. The two-paragraph pro and con analysis is pretty perceptive, I think:

to heck with voting

History magazine had a recent piece about an ancient Greek machine that was an early forerunner to the lottery system.

A kleroterion ensured absolute randomness in picking men to sit on juries and to perform other civic duties.

Presumably, a council of 500 would serve for precisely one term, ferreting out the answers to sticky problems.

Huh. A lottery instead of elections. Less posturing for the next race could spell less gridlock. There could be less likelihood of ingrained corruption. There might be a greater cross-section of the community instead of picks made by a fraction of voting-age people.

There could be downsides, too. Less institutional memory might strengthen the role of lobbyists or tempt those seated to reinvent the wheel every year.

The reference to History magazine is apparently with regard to an item which Google Alerts caught back in July.

Bert Olivier reads Joe Klein

Bert Olivier, Professor of Philosophy at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, read Joe Klein’s recent post supporting Deliberative Polling®, and found it interesting.

Following up on Klein’s suggestion regarding the kleroterion, that opportunities for “deliberative democracy” be created on a larger scale along this avenue, could lead in the direction of greater democratic participation in the Arendtian sense of “action”. Such a process could only be salutary for democracy, as long as it is not restricted to matters economical, but expanded to include really tough political issues as well — starting at a local level, and then slowly broadening it to regional and national levels. Perhaps this way the meaning of “democracy” could be recuperated.

Another movie about school lotteries!

First we had the movie by Madeleine Sackler The Lottery. Now along comes another one

 Waiting for “Superman,” in theaters this fall, offers the best evidence to date that charter schools are no longer a reform sought by conservatives alone: the film was directed by Davis Guggenheim of An Inconvenient Truth fame.

 You can read more about this movie (including a trailer which includes an actual lottery draw!) at

 http://www.firstshowing.net/2010/05/08/watch-this-davis-guggenheims-waiting-for-superman-trailer/

 I found out about this from reading an article about New York charter schools by Marcus A. Winters (a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute ) called ‘The Life-Changing Lottery’ in City Journal

 http://www.city-journal.org/2010/20_3_democracy-prep.html

(Winters accepts uncritically the pro-charter research by economist Caroline Hoxby of Stanford U. Others doubt the efficacy of charters, notably Steven Levitt of Chicago and ‘Freakonomics’ fame. Both rely on the ‘natural scientific experiment thrown up by lottery choosing. Details in my new book ‘Lotteries for Education’)

Stephen James Kerr: ‘Against Proportional Representation’

‘Dissident writer and independent scholar’ Stephen James Kerr writes Against Proportional Representation:

The result of such a radical constitutional change [i.e., a switch to sortition based representation] would be a complete transformation of the relationships between citizens and their representatives.

Citizens chosen for office by sortition would not be chosen for office by anything other than chance. They would therefore not “represent” a voter or a constituent in the way that persons elected to office can claim to represent others by virtue of their being chosen by the votes of citizens. Likewise, no representative chosen by lot would have a basis to exclude or ignore a certain section of the citizenry “because they’ll never vote for me.” Representatives would merely be statistically representative of the community from which they come, as they would be selected out of that community. Hence the relationship between representative and constituency would be fundamentally different under a sortition system from the current system of relations. The representative would remain an indivisible part of the whole.

Between the representative and the other citizens there would be no faithless promises to be made, no manipulative relationship to be established. Holding political office would be like performing volunteer work in the community, with nothing to be gained privately thereby. This is supposed to be the essence of civics in western liberal states, but the domination of politics by private interests has perverted it into a laughable cartoon. Nobody in western liberal states takes the ideal of “public service” seriously any longer. Politics is merely self-advancement wearing public drag.

The use of sortition would prevent the ambitious and self-seeking from gaining control over our institutions for purposes against the public interest. Nothing could be gained, and there would be no institutional framework to allow the self-seeking to take over our institutions for their own ends. Statistically, MPs would be representative of the whole society, just as a random sample used for polling purposes is judged to be today. Lawyers could go back to practicing law in the courts. Business people could go back to minding their own business.

Michael Phillips

Michael Phillips, who coauthored with Ernest Callenbach the book A Citizen Legislature (2nd ed., Imprint Academic, 2008), recently posted on his blog about selection by lot. (In A Citizen Legislature, he and Callenbach propose the selection of the U.S. House of Representatives by lot.) The posting can be found at

http://phillips.blogs.com/goc/2010/09/random-in-politics.html?cid=6a00d834515c6d69e2013486af5914970c

The posting provides some useful context regarding the book. I had thought that Phillips might no longer endorse the ideas in the book, and so it is interesting to see that he does.

I do, however, sincerely hope that the opening line is meant to be tongue-in-cheek:

“I know that among the many many contributions to human thought for which I will get credit long after I die, the use of random selection for political bodies will be one for which I will get credit.”