“Representation and Randomness,” Part One

I finally got around to reading “Representation and Randomness,” a collection of papers that appeared in the most recent issue of the journal Constellations (volume 17, number 3, September 2010). One paper in that collection, by Alex Zakaras, has already gotten some attention here, but I thought it worth adding some comments on the entire collection.

Philip Pettit’s “Representation, Responsive and Indicative” distinguishes (obviously) between responsive and indicative representation. A responsive representative does what I want because I can direct the representative to do what I want. An indicative representative does what I want because the representative is chosen in such a way that the representative does what I would have done were I present. In Pettit’s words, “In responsive representation, the fact that I am of a certain mind offers reason for expecting that my deputy will be of the same mind…In indicative representation things are exactly the other way around. The fact that my proxy is of a certain mind offers reason for expecting that I will be of the same mind…” (p. 427). Sortition can select indicative representatives, whereas election is supposed to select responsive representatives. But both are legitimate forms of representation, and we might find appropriate uses for each of them.

The distinction Pettit draws makes a lot of sense. He makes two rather odd moves, however. First, he insists that one person represents another only if the latter has in some way authorized or given permission for the former to do so. It’s understandable why he would make this move; we don’t want to think that just anyone on the street who resembles me can claim to be “representing” me just because they are like me in many respects. But this causes a major problem for sortition. After all, I don’t get to authorize randomly-selected officials, because nobody does. Pettit tries to get around this by claiming that I can authorize the random selection process itself, but this just brings up all the bizarre and tortured arguments that plague the social contract tradition (tacit consent, etc.). Let’s face it—most of the time, most people haven’t authorized a darn thing about our political system, and they never will. And so any theory that requires them to do so before you can have legitimate representation is just a non-starter. This is not to say there aren’t good reasons to have the kind of authorization that results via elections, at least some of the time; it’s just a mistake to act, as Pettit does, like consent is the sin qua non of representation.

Second, Pettit argues that “once we have the notion of indicative representation on hand, we can see familiar, unelected bodies and authorities as indicatively representative and so possessing, democratic credentials in their own right” (p. 431). Pettit apparently thinks that electoral commissioners, federal reserve bankers, and even whistle-blowers ought to be regarded as indicative representatives of the public. This seems completely unjustified on Pettit’s own argument. These various “representatives” are not descriptively representative at all. Indeed, there’s absolutely no reason to think that the Federal Reserve does, or is supposed to do, what “the public” would do if it made the decision directly. Pettit tries to defend this idea by pointing out that such bureaucratic officials are supposed to represent the “public interest”—that is, that such officials are supposed to make the kind of decisions we’d like to make were we making the decision directly (p. 431). But if that’s all it takes to be an indicative representative, then it seems vacuously true that all representatives should be indicative.

I can’t see any advantage to working so hard to make Alan Greenspan et al. into representatives of the people comparable to juries in terms of the functions they serve. Pettit has sometimes been accused of being a rousing and militant civic republican whose institutional proposals are barely distinguishable from those of run-of-the-mill liberal thinkers. I fear that something like that may be taking place here.

Hmmm…it turns out that I have much more to say about the Constellations papers than I initially thought. And so I’m going to break up my comments into a few postings. Keep an eye out for the others.

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48 Responses

  1. In my mind the only representation that is of intrinsic value is representation of interests (RoI). Other varieties of representation are only of value if they provide some approximation to RoI. Similarly, “consent” or “authorization” are only interesting if they are embodied in some mechanisms that promote RoI.

    A democratic system of government aims at achieving legitimacy – i.e., substantial rather than formal “consent” – through an informed recognition by the population that its interests are being served by the public policy. Not surprisingly, congress clearly fails to achieve such legitimacy, but it somewhat surprising that non-elected institutions, such as the military and the courts, do manage to garner generally positive regard by the public. It is possible that the mantle of professionalism serves as a strong source of legitimacy. I am not sure if the federal reserve enjoys similar status.

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  2. (difficult for me to comment because of the paywall around Constellations; they do allow a free look at a 3-mth old version, so maybe we’ll all be able to look soon!)

    Meanwhile, I like concrete examples. Here’s one about the new Rail Station in Stuttgart (Germany) which seemed to have passed all the democratic hurdles of consultation, yet is now causing a huge row, and may bring down the government:

    http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/50497584-d30d-11df-9ae9-00144feabdc0.html

    So where were the indicictive or responsive representatives in all this? Why has a well-functioning democracy so signally failed to discover public sentiment?

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  3. Although it’s probably fair to say that the policies of the majority party/parties in an election have received the “consent” of more electors than the losing party/ies this is at the very best an unconsidered endorsement. And in an age of “audience democracy” voters are equally likely to be “consenting” to be ruled by a certain type of person. Elections are the only way of establishing this form of “responsive” consent and the response is a two-way process.

    Sortition is the best way of subjecting these initial raw preferences to proper scrutiny and it strikes me that its just as plausible to say that I “consent” to the considered judgment of someone like me (my proxy) as it is to say that I consented to the policies of a manifesto that I didn’t read or a party that I didn’t vote for. So indicative representation is the best way of scrutinising and endorsing (or rejecting) proposals instituted by election.

    A properly-function Democracy requires both methods.

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  4. I can sort of see an argument for how central bankers would be “indicatively representative” – not that I buy it in that case myself. But if you suppose that the central banker’s mission is completely apolitical, then he can possibly be representative without any particular process to insure it.

    To take an extreme: If a public official’s only job is to roll a die every day, then it doesn’t matter how we choose him. He will do his job perfectly equivalently to the people he “represents”, even if his position is hereditary, or decided by wealthy elites, or whatever.

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  5. The technocratic view of government is promoted by the credentialed experts and the people who control them. In reality, there are very few things that are formal enough so as to prevent the possibility of promoting the interests of the person or organization in charge. Banking is certainly not one of those.

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  6. I think that the more obvious it is to tell whether a task has been completed successfully, the less it makes sense to call the person delegated to perform the task a “representative.” We wouldn’t really call someone responsible for picking up my laundry a “representative,” unless perhaps that person had some additional responsibilities (i.e., he was empowered to decided what to say if the laundry wasn’t ready–BTW, I do my own laundry). I am very wary of people who try to assimilate bank management and the like to this category. This is usually done under the banner of “technocracy” or the “end of ideology,” by which it’s pretended that we all agree on what “good government” is and how it is to be achieved. If the technocratic vision of society were at all accurate, then representation would seem to loose all relevance.

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  7. > I think that the more obvious it is to tell whether a task has been completed successfully, the less it makes sense to call the person delegated to perform the task a “representative.”

    Yes. On the other hand, it only makes sense to delegate tasks that cannot be easily carried out directly, i.e., without delegation. Therefore, “responsive representation” makes sense only in the space of tasks that are both difficult to carry out without delegation, but at the same time are such that their satisfactory completion is easy to verify.

    Elitist ideology asserts that this space is very large – indeed that it encompasses essentially the entire space of political activity. The (usually implicit) analogy is that of sports: a spectator can “easily” verify how fast the fastest runner ran even though if she tried to complete the task herself, her performance would be dramatically inferior. In the same way (elitist ideology asserts), the voters are able to judge which politician does a good job, even though they would be make a pig’s breakfast of the job if they attempted to carry it out themselves.

    The Fishkin, Leib, Sutherland, Barnett/Carty and Zakaras proposals make a similar implication – the allotted chamber would be able to make good choices among policy proposals vetted by the elites, but they would be unable to come up with good proposals themselves.

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  8. “The Fishkin, Leib, Sutherland, Barnett/Carty and Zakaras proposals make a similar implication – the allotted chamber would be able to make good choices among policy proposals vetted by the elites, but they would be unable to come up with good proposals themselves.”

    I can’t speak for my fellow villains, but my only concern is that the proposals should have some sort of popular mandate (this is what we call “democracy”), and the only way we know of doing this is via preference elections. I’m doubtful that generating proposals via the internal machinations of a small allotted group could pass as democratic, although I do consider that the considered judgment of such a group is democratic (so long as the independence, diversity and information criteria are satisfied). I’ve explained why this is the case to Yoram at length elsewhere — the dynamics of small group interactions privileges vocal, articulate, organised and radicalised activists over the silent majority (whereas everyone has only one vote in a deliberative poll). Without independent advocacy/agendas such a group can easily become polarised (Sunstein etc.).

    The relevant distinction is between the active and passive role of representatives (Pitkin), c.f. Madison’s distinction between advocacy and judgment; Pettit’s distinction between responsive and indicative representation etc. The list of people making this distinction is a long and distinguished one but Yoram rejects it a priori — I suspect because his prime motive is the radical reorganisation of society and democracy takes second place to this.

    Yoram will no doubt retort that mine is an inherently conservative position and I would agree, but then most people are conservative and this is a natural disposition rather than the result of a process of indoctrination by sinister media barons and power elites.

    Keith

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  9. > my only concern is that the proposals should have some sort of popular mandate

    So let me get this straight: you are not doubting the competence of the allotted chamber (i.e., you think it would actually do a good job of writing legislation proposals), but are concerned that despite the successful policy-making the process would lack popular support?

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  10. The issue is not a technical one, as its the job of the professional civil service to produce parliamentary bills. My concern is the lack of a democratic mandate and this requires the competitive process of preference elections.

    Keith

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  11. Is that a “yes”?

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  12. Yes to the question that a competent civil service should be able to frame legislative proposals irrespective of their source. “Successful policy making” is another matter because success depends (in a democracy) on a mandate and also the process of competitive elections will (in theory) lead to the adoption of the “best” policies, albeit that they have not at that stage benefited from proper scrutiny. The other aspect of successful policy making is that the elites that put forward policies have to ensure that the policies will be aggreeable to the majority of the members of the sortition house. So, in short, the answer is yes to the technical issue and no to the broader issue.

    Keith

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  13. > success depends (in a democracy) on a mandate

    So, in your view, a policy that serves the interests of the people (say effective and efficient healthcare) would be unsuccessful if it were proposed and approved by an allotted chamber, but a policy that is mainly aimed at lining the pockets of the rich (say, Bush’s Medicare part D or Obama’s health care plan) would be successful if it was proposed by an elected chamber and approved by an allotted chamber.

    The magic of elections is extremely powerful, it seems. Maybe it can be used to transmute lead into gold as well.

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  14. How best to provide effective healthcare is a contested issue. Many of us living in a country with a tax-funded healthcare monopoly, look admiringly to the European insurance-based model, especially as the doubling of funding over the last decade has led to only a 10% improvement in outcomes. Britain still has the longest waiting lists and the worse outcome over a range of clinical ailments. But the NHS is still the nearest thing we have to a national religion, hence the difficulty in turning it into an effective healthcare system.

    The very fact that activists like you make the simplistic distinction between policies that serve the interests of the people and those aimed at lining the pockets of the rich shows why policy initiation cannot be left in the hands of activists in an allotted assembly. Contested issues need to benefit from a) competitive elections followed by b) scrutiny by an allotted chamber benefiting from balanced advocacy rather than those who still believe that everything is black and white.

    Keith

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  15. > Contested issues need to benefit from a) competitive elections

    This is the main way in which elections “benefit” contested issues is by guaranteeing that some popular points of view are excluded.

    During the recent healthcare legislation process in the US, for example, the possibility of universal healthcare funded by the state with costs controlled by the state (also known as “medicare for all”) was off the table from get go. Even the much more diluted “public option” was eliminated despite being a major promise of candidate Obama. Both of those proposals enjoy widespread support in the public, but are opposed by elites.

    The Obama proposal is such that it is very difficult to determine whether its advantages outweigh its disadvantages, but even if an allotted chamber was somehow able to make that determination accurately, it would matter little, since it is at best a marginal improvement over the status quo (in which it is estimated that tens of thousands of people are dying every year in the US due to poor healthcare).

    One can argue about the details of a good system, but your complaints about waiting lists or increasing costs are ridiculous considering the excellent outcomes and much lower costs of the British system when compared to the US system.

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  16. This forum is not the place to debate substantive issues. Contested issues need to be subject to a competitive process. If the process is flawed then you should focus your efforts on improving it (I’ve made a number of suggestions to you how this might be possible, but you just throw your hands in the air and say it won’t work because of all these evil elites). You’ve used the “e” word so often that you must have worn out the relevant keys on your computer.

    Keith

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  17. >This forum is not the place to debate substantive issues

    So, you argue, we must limit ourselves to the rarified realms of formalisms and talk about “consent”, “competition” and “mandates”.

    > If the [competitive] process is flawed then you should focus your efforts on improving it

    Tweaking the electoral system (I assumed that is your meaning) has been a constant pastime of reformers since the American revolution. This process, that has had little promise to begin with, has clearly run out of steam over the last four decades.

    On the other hand, an open competition between ideas is exactly what a sortition-based system offers. An electoral system limits the range of competing ideas to those that are agreeable to the elites to whom the elected officials belong and depend upon.

    > You’ve used the “e” word so often that you must have worn out the relevant keys on your computer.

    One writes about what is in one’s environment. Pretending that elites do not exist or that they are not the major force in Western politics may be considered polite in civilized society, but it does not, unfortunately, reflect the facts.

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  18. “On the other hand, an open competition between ideas is exactly what a sortition-based system offers.”

    It isn’t open, it’s restricted to the allotted members and the dynamics of small groups would suggest that it would be dominated by the most vocal members who would form their own elite. Most importantly the policy proposals generated by it would be seen (by the electorate) as illegitimate in the representative sense.

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  19. > Most importantly the policy proposals generated by it would be seen (by the electorate) as illegitimate in the representative sense.

    Here there are two different possibilities: That they are in fact illegitimate (by which I mean: systematically different from what the people would have wanted if they could all have an equal say in an idealised deliberation) – or that it is legitimate, but you don’t trust the people to understand that it is. I don’t understand which of these you believe.

    > the dynamics of small groups would suggest that it would be dominated by the most vocal members who would form their own elite.

    You think so? Couldn’t you equally well be worried that quiet majorities would cooperate to spite loudmouthed, passionate, but well-informed members? My limited experience with small group dynamics suggests that conformist pressure from people who don’t say much can nonetheless be quite strong.

    Either way, the case you need to make is that whatever deviations from the ideal we have, it would be worse than in an elected assembly. You haven’t convinced me of that yet.

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  20. It would surely be useful here to distinguish between 1) the need for government to make policies in a way that serve well the interests of everyone, and 2) the need for government to make policies legitimately. This is a very old distinction. A benevolent dictator might make policies that are very good for ordinary citizens, but those decisions would nonetheless be illegitimate if he denied anyone any right to criticize or change them. He might, of course, make lousy decisions, and a democracy might lead to better decisions (i.e., more in line with the common good). But that just means that there is an instrumental and an intrinsic value to democracy. We cannot eliminate one or the other.

    And so I think it would surely be useful to remember that there are intrinsic and instrumental arguments for sortition, just as there might be intrinsic and instrumental arguments against it. I take Keith to be raising caution flags about careless use of the lot on intrinsic grounds (i.e., would the system be legitimate with no elections or other checks on randomly-selected decision-makers) and on instrumental grounds (i.e., would randomly-selected decision-makers screw things up).

    And above all, let’s recognize there is a lot of space for reasonable disagreement here. Sortition has never been used in a central way in any modern industrial nation-state. Anyone who offers you firm guarantees about how well it would work is treating hypotheses (perhaps well-informed ones) like gospel truths.

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  21. Harald, I confess I’m sceptical about the notion of policy originating out of “idealised deliberation”. Leaving aside the fact that most legislation is originated by government officials, most people would agree with the claim “I don’t know what art is but I know what I like”. By that I mean that the average joe is more suited to judge between policies than to dream them up ex nihilo (or ex deliberatio).

    I’m really seeking to ensure that the votes of inarticulate people count as much as those of the chattering classes. Most deliberative democrats are more concerned about the quality of the chattering, and don’t mind much who chatters so long as the rules of the ideal speech situation are observed. Ensuring that the role of the allotted chamber is primarily judgment rather than chattering is a radically egalitarian move.

    I agree with Peter that there are intrinsic and instrumental objections to privileging an allotted body in the way that Yoram is suggesting.

    Keith

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  22. PS also on Peter’s point of testing hypotheses, the sort of model that I am advocating has been tested by Fishkin for the last twenty years and has demonstrated its modest goals convincingly. Given the success of Fishkin’s work there is a good argument for building on it as a model for the introduction of sortition, even if that would disappoint those with a more radical agenda.

    I’m not aware of any similar social science experiments to test the competing hypothesis.

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  23. > It isn’t open, it’s restricted to the allotted members

    Which guarantees that all opinions that are not restricted to a negligible minority of the population are represented.

    > the dynamics of small groups would suggest that it would be dominated by the most vocal members who would form their own elite

    First, this is exactly a competence concern that you claimed before not to have. Substantially – just like Harald, my experience with “small group dynamics” is opposite: in a group of equals, the vocal members become viewed as self-aggrandizers and are ignored. Besides, the electoral system has a much more extreme version of this problem built into the system: the chamber is made exclusively of members of a vocal elite. It seems rather clear that your concerns are therefore not so much about elite domination as much as they are about making sure that your favorite elite is dominant.

    > Most importantly the policy proposals generated by it would be seen (by the electorate) as illegitimate in the representative sense.

    It seems that in your mind elections are the only way to have a legitimate government. This is pure dogma. It is wrong both theoretically (the theoretical justifications for elections are somewhere between weak and non-existent) and empirically (people have been viewing many forms of government other than electoral as legitimate).

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  24. > 1) the need for government to make policies in a way that serve well the interests of everyone, and 2) the need for government to make policies legitimately.

    This distinction, I believe, is greatly over-valued. People are quite willing to see any government that produces good policy as legitimate and no government that consistently produces poor policy would remain legitimate. The idea that elections are inherently legitimate is no more than dogma which is convenient to the powerful – the Athenians, for example, were happily unencumbered by this dogma.

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  25. > I’m really seeking to ensure that the votes of inarticulate people count as much as those of the chattering classes.

    And you propose to do so by making sure that only the chattering classes (elected officials being certainly members of this set) can propose legislation?

    > Leaving aside the fact that most legislation is originated by government officials, most people would agree with the claim “I don’t know what art is but I know what I like”. By that I mean that the average joe is more suited to judge between policies than to dream them up ex nihilo (or ex deliberatio).

    So, if we now accept both your premises (both of which, by the way, are of doubtful validity) then why should we not bypass the middle man (i.e., the elected officials) and let the average joes choose between the proposals drafted by the unelected officials?

    > Ensuring that the role of the allotted chamber is primarily judgment rather than chattering is a radically egalitarian move.

    It surely ensures that all the members of the allotted chambers have the same amount of power – very little. It leaves untouched the present power inequalities between the electoral elite (together with their allies) and the masses.

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  26. My concern over the dominance of small-group discussions by the opinionated has nothing to do with competence, only with equality. This issue will not be resolved here; if you think that an allotted group is the best way to generate policy then you need to put your money where your mouth is and do the experiments to prove it.

    I have never advocated elections as the best way of establishing governments; to my mind:

    1) government ministers should be appointed on ability alone

    2) policy innovations should be generated by competitive elections

    3) policies should become law iff they are approved by an allotted assembly after a balanced and well-informed debate (cf Fishkin/Harrington).

    Regarding your proposal that policy should be proposed by unelected officials this would be the case with minor “technical” bills originating from government ministers (a good proportion of the everyday business of government); but in a democracy major policy changes first need to pass the test of competitive elections.

    Keith

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  27. Keith Sutherland: I absolutely respect Fishkin’s work, and I can see pragmatic arguments for going first purely advisory bodies first, followed by judging bodies.

    But Peter Stone does not make a pragmatic argument, rather he says an allotted legislation drafting body would be inherently illegitimate (or at least less legitimate than an elected one). This is what I disagree with.

    If you act as a faithful agent for me, and I approved the procedure that appointed you as an agent, I really can’t see what I should have to complain about.

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  28. I wasn’t aware I’d made any argument. I thought I was just distinguishing the intrinsic and the instrumental cases for voting (and for sortition, for that matter). It is true that I don’t think that legitimacy of all social decisions in a society can be based upon consent. Lots of decisions get made without me being asked. And I wasn’t asked to approve the institutions that make those decisions. I can’t imagine any society that changes these basic facts.

    That said, I do think there is the need for a theory of democratic legitimacy that says when consent–actual consent, not hypothetical or “reasonable” consent–is needed and when it is not. Only such a theory could tell us when we should be bothered by the lack of elections.

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  29. Fishkin offers a very subtle argument in his last book as to why (allotted) consent-by-proxy is better than the approximate consent offered by elections. He doesn’t enter into the whole social contract morass but the implication is that Lockeian notions of consent don’t really cut the mustard. This is partly on account of the common perception that politicians are venal and “only in it for themselves”. Fishkin refers to cases where officials argue that the DP verdict provides “legitimacy” to their policies, which clearly has implications for the notion of consent, as the consent of the proxy is taken to represent the consent of the whole community.

    Of course Yoram might well claim that consent-by-proxy would also apply to his allotted body with full powers, but Fishkin does not argue that theoretically and his social science research has not put that to the test. The best we can say is that Fishkin is some way towards developing a theory of consent-by-proxy for a DP-style and this is a step in the right direction (especially considering the dire state of the competition).

    Perhaps we might find some clues for a theory of consent-by-proxy in the Philosophy of Right. Hegel argued at $311 that “representation cannot now be taken to mean the substitution of one man for another; the point is rather that the interest is actually present in its representative” (Burke had a similar view). In a liberal democracy we put too much focus on the individual will, so perhaps the notion of consent is starting from the wrong conceptual foundation. To Hegel it didn’t matter much who the representatives were so long as they embodied the interests of the various estates, a similar argument to all of us who advocate representation by sortition.

    Harald: I was making the case for an allotted assembly with full judging powers, not an advisory body.

    Keith

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  30. > the success of Fishkin’s work

    What success? What are even the criteria for success?

    At best Fishkin can show that members of the sample changed their minds during deliberations, or that they came to accept a set of claims that are also accepted by the organizers, or that they were happy about the idea or about the process, or that the discussions were not clearly dominated by a certain subset of the sample members, or some such meaningless statistics. All those have very little bearing on the value of the process for generating better public policy, which is the only outcome that is of interest.

    Again, I think there is a case to be made that his work has negative value for the progress of democracy, and at the very least it is quite clear that with his status and resources he could easily have done more for the cause of democracy by sortition than he has.

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  31. Yoram, I’m genuinely saddened that you fail to acknowledge the significance of Fishkin’s work just because he fails to show the ideological purity required by revolutionaries like yourself. Unfortunately, as Kant pointed out in his commentaries on the French Revolution, evolution is the only effective show in town. Progress is the result of steady plodding, boring as that may sound. It’s better to engage with the real world than just circling the wagons and preaching to the converted (forgive the mixed metaphors), and Fishkin has done more than anyone else in this endeavour.

    But why am I bothering repeating myself as you’re clearly impervious to any view other than your own?

    Keith

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  32. Boy, I never expected my review to garner this much interest. I’m still planning to post on the other CONSTELLATIONS articles, so maybe that will contribute to the discussion.

    Yoram, I’m not sure how you can say that Fishkin established nothing, or that he only established that participants can be manipulated by the organizers. His deliberative polls often show an extremely weak grasp of basic, indisputable facts. In one poll, for example, a large percentage thought that foreign aid was the largest item in the U.S. federal budget. That was at the start–at the end, an even larger percentage knew the truth–that it’s pretty small. A majority favored cutting foreign aid when so many people were misinformed; a majority favored increasing foreign aid once people knew more. Surely any reasonable democratic theory would say that the latter opinion is more valuable than the first?

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  33. Keith,

    > evolution is the only effective show in town

    Like so many of your sweeping historical assertions, this is a truly doubtful statement (Was the American revolution evolutionary? Was the throwing of the British out of India evolutionary? Was the American Civil War evolutionary? etc., etc., etc.). But, of course, that is beside the point, since I am not arguing against evolution. My point about Fishkin’s work is that it is neither evolutionary nor revolutionary – it is reactionary.

    It is unfortunate that you do not even bother to try to understand the positions of people with whom you are ostensibly conversing.

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  34. Peter,

    > A majority favored cutting foreign aid when so many people were misinformed; a majority favored increasing foreign aid once people knew more. Surely any reasonable democratic theory would say that the latter opinion is more valuable than the first?

    But you know that this view of things is too simplistic to be of any service. Just to point one obvious point, the way you phrased things (and I think I can be fairly confident that this is the way things were phrased by Fishkin and his team) U.S. foreign aid is beneficial to the recipient country, so the more the better (if “we” can afford it). Of course, it is very far from clear that this is the case. Much of U.S. aid is nothing more than assistance to various oppressive unpopular regimes worldwide. Did the DP material discuss that? Could such a notion even be assessed in a day or two by members of a public that has never been exposed to such notions?

    In short, to reiterate an analogy that I have already used, a DP is like an illusionist’s show in which members of the crowd are called onto the stage to take part in the show in order to lend credibility to certain stunts. The illusionist is still running the show and all the outcomes are very much pre-determined even if the audience members on the stage feel that they have been taking an active part and had a say in what was going on.

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  35. The American “Revolution” was decidedly evolutionary, as it was fought “in defence of the English constitution” (Wood, 1969). That’s why it led to two centuries of comparative stability, unlike its French and Russian cognates. The American Civil War was also evolutionary as it entrenched the Federalist victory, and Indian independence led to to a Westminster-style system of government.

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  36. Yoram, I don’t doubt that Fishkin’s deliberative opinion polls did not consider every possible serious question you can ask, even about the issues within their purview. There is an insane amount of possible relevant information about even limited policy issues. Even members of Congress don’t know that much about policy matters outside the committees upon which they sit. that’s why the deliberative opinion polls that have been conducted so far have relatively specific assigned tasks–like selecting public works projects from a list of proposals (as in China and in some parts of Europe)..

    You might think that expanding these agendas, or allowing the randomly-selected groups to set their own, would naturally be more empowering. That’s not obvious to me. It might–it might not. You fear that the officials controlling the polls might manipulate the juries. That’s a valid concern. It’s equally valid to fear that a jury completely on its own, with no agenda other than what it formulates itself and no information other than what it requests, could be easily manipulated by special interests with tons of experts and propaganda to direct their way. Which effect would be dominant? I don’t know, but given past experience I would hope we could all agree it’s hard to predict the effects. You like revolutionary change. I don’t object to it, but let’s face it–most revolutions don’t turn out the way their initiators expected. Getting a revolution right is hard.

    One more pojnt. I’m not sure why you think that having randomly-selected groups with limited agendas is inherently undemocratic. All of Athens’ randomly-selected boards had limited well-specified agendas, as did the juries and the Nomothetai. The democratic potential of the system surely depends on more than just sortition, just as Athens needed more than just sortition to make the whole system work.

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  37. > There is an insane amount of possible relevant information about even limited policy issues.

    Exactly. The elite managing the DPs could not avoid making selective presentations of information even if it tried, and there is no reason to assume it would try.

    > that’s why the deliberative opinion polls that have been conducted so far have relatively specific assigned tasks

    This does not really resolve the information issue – it does, however, make sure that the juries are constrained to work within a very limited decision space.

    > It’s equally valid to fear that a jury completely on its own, with no agenda other than what it formulates itself and no information other than what it requests, could be easily manipulated by special interests with tons of experts and propaganda to direct their way.

    That is indeed a valid concern – and it calls for care when designing the setting within which the allotted chamber makes its decisions. However, the suggestion to address this concern by letting an elected chamber to set the agenda is not a valid solution. Putting an elite group in charge of agenda setting is an odd medicine for the disease of elite influence.

    > You like revolutionary change.

    I am not sure what you mean by that. For example, as I wrote before, following the cautionary principle, I do support the C&P proposal of having (at least at first) a two chamber system in which one is elected and one is allotted. I think there is very little reason to expect dramatic changes under this arrangement which preserves a significant part of the established power.

    > I’m not sure why you think that having randomly-selected groups with limited agendas is inherently undemocratic.

    I don’t – I don’t think I ever wrote that. What is inherently anti-democratic is allowing an elite group to set the agenda. An arrangement in which an allotted body sets the agenda, but policy proposals and decisions are made by issue specific bodies has a lot of promise in my mind. As always, much would depend on the details – how long would the bodies serve, how much resources they would have, etc. We have actually had a discussion regarding this matter before.

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  38. Yoram, I think you owe it to us all to be clear about your own agenda. Although you say you are only interested in political (as opposed to economic) equality it’s hard to distinguish your position from Marxism. The distinction between the undifferentiated masses with a common interest and the plural interests of civil society is pretty well orthodox Marxism; also the notion that universal suffrage has not led to heaven on earth on account of the domination of the political process by party and plutocratic media elites. It would be a perfectly rational Marxist position to view sortition as a way of by-passing the pluralism and elitism of liberal society, and a way of imposing socialism.

    I’m sure I’m wrong on some of the details but if I’m right on the general thrust then you should acknowledge it. I’ve got a lot of time for Marxian sociology (although I have issues with the teleology) but I think we should all nail our colours to the mast.

    Keith

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  39. Keith,

    I am not sure what you mean by saying I “owe you all [who is that?] to be clear about my agenda”. I think what I argue for is clear enough, and my arguments speak for themselves and can be judged on their own merits. The fact that you suspect the existence of hidden agenda may reflect more on your own tactics than on mine.

    I am certainly not hiding the fact that I see the major conflict in current society as being between elites and the large majority of the population. In a society, such as the USA, in which 50% of income is controlled by 10% of the population, and 25% of income is controlled by 1%, it is hard to avoid this point of view.

    As I said before, I do hope and expect that a democratic system would reduce such inequalities significantly, but I realize that this is not an inevitability, and to what extent this will happen is unclear. I think that it is possible to have a society with significant economic inequalities but which is at the same time politically egalitarian. Ancient Athens serves as an example for such an arrangement. Political equality should result in improved policy outcomes on many levels and does not need to result in economic equality in order to be worth pursuing.

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  40. When I said “owe us all” to be clear about your agenda I was referring to the standard Trotskyist entryist strategy — ie the French Turn or the tactics of the Militant Tendency during the 1980s. The sort of policy-making forum that you are proposing would be vulnerable to this sort of tactic, due to the lack of plural constraints (dismissed by you as Madisonian reaction). Most of us on this forum see sortition as an essential component in a constitutional settlement whereas you are probably alone in viewing C&P’s bicameral proposal as a stepping stone to the eventual (unicameral) dictatorship of the proletariat and the coming of heaven on earth.

    Keith

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  41. I don’t think that Yoram is a Marxist–that term gets bandied about entirely too often, IMHO. I seem to recall Bertrand Russell defined a Bolshevik as “Anyone whose opinions I disagree with.” Certainly, Marx and Yoram would agree that the western democracies have highly concentrated sources of economic and political power, and the people who control all that power use the system to benefit themselves at the expense of everyone else. But that seems to be something most people on the Left (and many on the Center and Right) would accept as well. One doesn’t need to believe in dialectical materialism to agree with this.

    Yoram, would it be fair to say that your position is 1) you don’t mind a randomly-selected decision-making body having a carefully-defined problem set for them, but 2) you want that body to be able to select any solution they like to that problem, and obtain any information they like that might be relevant to devising a solution? That would be compatible with a group being presented with some proposed solutions and information by an expert body, so long as the group can demand other information, alternative opinions, etc. Wouldn’t it?

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  42. Keith Sutherland, I fail to see how an allotted body can be vulnerable to Troskyist-style infiltration. How can you join to take over, when you can’t join at all?

    Also, on the crazy unlikely chance Yoram Gat is a Trotskyist infiltrating sortition activists, he does a bad job of it – you need many people to pull such a thing off.

    This thread has pretty much outlived its usefulness when it has degraded to accusations of entryism. How about we talk about developments in Ireland instead, I sent Yoram the link.

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  43. Keith,

    Your suspicions about me are too silly to address.

    On the other hand, if you would write a post describing why you think an allotted chamber is more vulnerable to manipulation by covert means than an elected chamber is, I would be interested. A relevant case to consider in such an exposition would the one of the Koch brothers.

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  44. Peter,

    In terms of elite control, having a carefully defined problem is less of an issue than who does the defining. Since the definition itself is a political act with significant influence on the possible policy outcomes, letting an elite group control that part of the decision process cedes substantial political power to that group.

    The same is true for other factors affecting the decision process: the set of potential solutions offered (or suggested), the resources made available (or made easily accessible), the information offered (or presented), etc., all affect the likely outcomes of the decision making process. Thus, allowing elite control of any of those factors opens the door to corruption of the decision process by the interests of the elite.

    So, in your example, allowing the decision makers to seek new information and opinions and to formulate new solutions would likely give better expression to informed popular opinion. However, it is still important to ask who controlled the problem definition and the makeup of the expert body, whose privileged position would surely lend the opinions and information they provide non-negligible influence. If those are controlled by elite groups then those groups have unrepresentative impact on the decision making.

    On the other hand, if those factors are controlled by a representative body (which in most cases means an allotted body) then the mere fact that they are controlled is not in itself a problem. Consider a situation in which one allotted body sets the agenda, another is charged with collecting relevant information and opinions, a third one comes up with policy proposals, and finally a fourth allotted body can either ratify or veto those proposals. Such a system could very well be an effective representative system, despite the fact that in it no single body has complete control of the process. It would be difficult to determine a-priori, in our present situation in which we lack any experience with such systems, whether this arrangement would be superior or inferior to the single consolidated allotted body, parliament-like, arrangement (although, of course, one could make various conjectures about the strengths and weaknesses of each of those arrangements).

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  45. Peter: I’m glad to see Yoram confirm that he wishes to allocate all power to the randomly-chosen microcosm(s).

    Harald: I did myself a disservice by expressing a general point in Trotskyite terminology. The point I wanted to make (again) was that most people have no particular views when it comes to policy proposals, so the agenda will inevitably be set by those who have, and strong convictions tend not to correlate with the centre ground. Thus there is an equal chance that an agenda-setting body will be dominated by the Tea Party and the hard left. This is why agendas need to be put to the electoral test before undergoing deliberative scrutiny. The latter should be the job of parliamentarians but they have become corrupted by partisan forces, hence the case for an allotted chamber of scrutiny.

    Yoram: You’ve never really specified what constitutes an elite, but I imagine the Tea Party would be included in their ranks.

    Keith

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  46. > You’ve never really specified what constitutes an elite, but I imagine the Tea Party would be included in their ranks.

    I never knew you had doubts about what this term means. I think the standard definitions capture the meaning fairly well.

    The Tea Party is not a well defined term. If you mean by that all those who self-identify as supporters, then surely there are too many of those for them to form an elite, and most of those people are no more distinctive or powerful than the average non-sympathizer. If, however, you mean the people with influence within that group, then you are certainly correct.

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  47. […] return to commenting on Constellations’ recent symposium on “Representation and Randomness.” (See part one of this review.) To take up where I left […]

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  48. […] parts one and two in Peter Stone’s […]

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