Limiting the allotted chamber’s powers – a foundational argument

In our recent exchange (1, 2), Alex Zakaras and I debated whether an allotted chamber should be given the full legislative powers now held by the elected chambers, or be limited to ratifying or rejecting legislative proposals made by an elected chamber. Two main line of arguments were brought up:

  • Most of the discussion revolved around issues of competence – can an allotted chamber be expected to be as competent in drafting legislative proposals as an elected chamber. Zakaras argued that an elected chamber can be expected to be more competent due to the experience of its members. I argued that experience is to a large extent a separate matter from the method of delegate selection.
  • Additionally, there was some discussion regarding representativity. I think that we agree that due to its statistical representativity, the outlook of an allotted chamber would be closer to that of the general population than the outlook of an elected chamber is. Zakaras, however, asserted that, due to both formal and substantial considerations, an elected chamber has the advantage of being accountable to the public while an allotted chamber is not. I argue that the electoral accountability is a purely formal (or mythical) notion, which is absent in reality and self-contradictory even in theory.

Here, instead of pursuing those same lines of argument I would like to develop a different point by arguing that, in fact, there is no situation in which the public should rationally bar the allotted chamber from initiating legislature – even if Zakaras’s arguments become accepted, and it is widely agreed that an allotted chamber should generally avoid such a role.

For ultimately, of course, Zakaras does not need to convince me that his proposed system should be adopted. If a reform is to be implemented, and if the reform is to be democratically enacted, then it is the people that would have to be convinced of its value. Now, here there are two possibilities:

  1. The informed opinion of the people is that the allotted chamber should be initiating and drafting, either regularly or on occasion, legislative proposals. In this case, of course, limiting the powers of the allotted chamber, by overriding the popular opinion in one way or another, would be undemocratic. This could easily be achieved in various ways, such as by exploiting the fact that many people are uninformed and could be swayed, under the influence of the appropriate disinformational campaign, to vote against what would have been their own informed opinion, had they had the opportunity and incentive to form such an opinion.
  2. The more interesting option for our discussion is the one in which informed public opinion is that the allotted chamber should avoid – for various reasons, such as those offered by Zakaras – initiating and drafting legislative proposals. My point is that even under such an assumption, the public has no reason to support a constitutional rule which prevents the allotted chamber from such activities, but should prefer to allow the chamber itself to decide whether to do so or not in any particular circumstance.

My argument relies on the representative outlook of the allotted chamber: if it is the informed public opinion that the allotted chamber should not initiate legislature, then the members of the allotted legislature, sharing the outlook of the public, will by necessity share this view. They would therefore generally avoid initiating legislature, even if they are formally allowed to do so. Furthermore, whenever they do choose to break this habit and initiate legislature, there is every reason to expect that it is because they consider the particular circumstances as being out-of-the-ordinary and necessitating such an action – and there is every reason to expect that in this consideration they are, again, representative of the informed public opinion.

Since, I think, it would be hard to argue – even for those who, like Zakaras, think that in general the allotted chamber should not initiate legislature – that exceptions can never occur, then it would be hard to deny the utility of leaving some possibility of such action to occur.

Two objections to the above argument come to mind:

The first is about corruption: the allotted chamber could use its proposal writing power to benefit itself. I think this argument, while carrying some weight, is ultimately unconvincing, since it would only be convincing if the allotted chamber is assumed to be more corrupt than the alternative source of legislature proposals (in Zakaras’s proposal, the elected chamber). But this is hardly the case since representativity (i.e., non-corruption) is the acknowledged strength of the allotted chamber.

I would add that corruption does seem like a reasonable possibility (for an allotted chamber as well as for an elected chamber) when it comes to matters that touch the delegates directly, such as delegate salary. With issues such as those it does seem proper to circumscribe the powers of the delegates in some ways. However, again, this applies equally to allotted and to elected delegates.

The second objection is about rashness: the allotted chamber may act rashly and decide to write legislation in response to an unexpected situation, and do a poor job of it. In doing so it would actually act in a representative manner, in the sense that it would be following informed public opinion. The chamber, as well as the public, would later regret the legislation, but the damage will have been done by then. Supposedly, due to its superior wisdom, an elected chamber would not act so rashly, and its wisdom would be later acknowledged by the public (and the allotted chamber) but, again, the damage will have been done by then.

Again, I find this objection unconvincing. It is unconvincing on a theoretical level, since a public which realizes repeatedly that its sentiments on various issues were rash, would over time learn to overcome this rashness and act in a more cautious manner, by giving more weight to the advice of the elected chamber. This would then be reflected in the actions of the allotted delegates, preventing the rash legislative activity. In addition, this argument is unconvincing empirically, since public opinion has proven to be at least as considered as elite opinion on a range of matters. Public opinion also much more willing to face reality, and effectively admit errors by making policy corrections as circumstances develop. [This is sometimes referred to in the mass media as the public’s fickleness or unwillingness to “stay the course”.]

To conclude, it seems that a rational public would always allow its allotted representatives to decide in any particular situation whether to rely on legislative proposals made by elite bodies or to initiate and draft legislative proposals independently – whether or not the public feels that, as a general rule, such activity should be pursued or avoided. As long as the allotted chamber is representative, preventing it from taking certain actions can only limit the expression of the public’s opinions.

Advertisements

40 Responses

  1. “the members of the allotted legislature, sharing the outlook of the public”

    Whilst this is true ex hypothesi, how would you operationalise it, absent a mechanism like the DP? I’ve just been reading Nadia Urbanati’s essay “Representation as Advocacy” where she claims that “In Athens, direct democracy produced an elite despite the fact that it did not elect representatives.” She bases her conclusion on M.H.Hansen’s observation that at Athens there were three kinds of citizens, 1) passive, 2) standing participants and 3) wholly active citizens (a “small group of initiative-takers, who spoke and proposed motions”). This was true of both the ekklesia and the dikasteria.

    Hence my argument that Yoram’s initiating assembly would become dominated by a natural elite whereas he seems to believe that the general will would emerge out of its deliberative activity. But remember that Rousseau himself distrusted deliberation, preferring instead individual reasoning and silent voting, as his model was Sparta rather than Athens. He also abhorred the notion (as did Mill) that the assembly should initiate legislation. Given Hansen’s observations such a mechanism would be entirely undemocratic.

    So Yoram, what authorities [oops, that sounds a bit elitist] do you want to rely on other than your flawless logic?

    Keith

    Like

  2. One can harly be a sortition advocate without accepting that Rosseau and Mill (and also Montesquieu and Madison) were wrong about important things. I don’t see what the point of referring to such “authorities” is. So what if they thought a “natural elite” would dominate? They didn’t exactly test their hypothesis by experimentation.

    Some people will be more willing to speak and make proposals than others, this I can believe. What is not obvious is that this gives them all that much more power – after all, those who do not speak up do so by their own choice. Maybe they don’t feel they need to, that they can defend their interests just as well (or even better!) by not doing it.

    It would be another matter entirely if only the small group was permitted to speak and make proposals. Yet that is what you want. Why? Why is a constructed elite superior to an emergent elite (assuming the latter can even be called an elite in this context)?

    Like

  3. Re: “Again, I find this objection unconvincing. It is unconvincing on a theoretical level, since a public which realizes repeatedly that its sentiments on various issues were rash, would over time learn to overcome this rashness and act in a more cautious manner, by giving more weight to the advice of the elected chamber.”

    One argument against a Citizen Legislature that I find of particular concern is the charge that it would lack an institutional memory.
    Assuming that a sortitionally selected chamber of qualified citizens, approaching a proportional representation of the populace, is limited to one term — and for the sake of argument, let us say it is a three-year term with staggered annual investitures — then I would ask “How would either the ‘public’ or ‘the chamber’ learn from its past mistakes?”
    Given that most of the public will not be paying all that much attention to the allotted chamber’s legislative activities (that being, in fact, one of the positive outcomes of a proportionally representative deliberative body), it would seem that ‘institutional memory’ would lodge in two places: 1.) the professional staff attendant upon the succession of representatives; 2.) the Fourth Estate in all its forms.
    Do you think that is an accurate assessment and prediction?
    And do you think those two ‘locations’ adequately provide for the benefits to be gained from an institutional memory?

    Like

  4. While I agree with you conclusions, Yoram, I think your argument is weak when you assert

    “then the members of the allotted legislature, sharing the outlook of the public, will by necessity share this view.”

    By being selected for the allotted body, it is certainly possible that the members views on the worthiness of that body may change from the outlook of the public – even a fully informed public.

    However, I see a solution. I think we need a meta-legislature chosen by sortition, which would define the “rules of the game.” This meta-legislature would make binding decisions about the powers of both the elected (if such a body is even retained) and allotted bodies. To avoid corruption, just as we don’t want a body making decisions about their own pay, we don’t want them making decisions about their own power.

    Like

  5. My opinion: The sortitioned chamber to have full powers of the second chamber.

    Why Sortition?

    First, what is sortitioned leadership?

    Sortition is where science meets politics. Sortition is a grass roots finding tool. It mathematically and scientifically duplicates, in smaller populations, the larger America. It does not discriminate, period. There is no gender, ethnic, economic, religious, or political discrimination. It goes a big step further. There is also no discrimination by “resume”, “education”, “intelligence”, “beauty”, or “charisma”. Sortition finds 100% grass roots America, the bottom line, the common sense, the no-holds-barred America.

    The primary mission of government is to set priorities. Priorities determine law, policy, and enforcement. Faulty priority creates failed law, bad policy, and misguided enforcement. Faulty priority leads to failure.

    The primary mission of sortitioned leadership is not law, policy, or enforcement. It is the input and maintenance of proper government priority and genuine grass-roots civilian culture and civility. Priority maintenance is no small task. Witness Massey and BP slide away from safety. Witness war on terror morph into nation building. Witness financial markets morph into casinos. Witness democracy warp to oligarchy. Priority maintenance is no small thing. Faulty priority leads to failure.

    The primary asset of sortitioned leadership is scientifically represented citizen life experience, knowledge, and values. “Resume”, “education”, “intelligence”, and “beauty” are “weighed in” only at existing population levels. Priority is determined by life experience, belief, and values. Priority maintenance is the specialty of sortitioned leadership.

    Sortitioned leadership is the “conscience” behind government. It is grass-roots values, beliefs, and motives empowered to guide, mentor and coach government.

    Government without “conscience” is tyranny. Sortitioned leadership provides government with both “conscience” and a “soul”.

    Step it up, America.

    Citizen is coach to team democracy. Coach is responsible for success. Check out plan-b. It’s your call, coach.
    http://coach-1640280.newsvine.com/
    http://coach-1640280.newsvine.com/_news/2010/06/04/4462088-coach-cm2-constitution
    http://constitutionm2.newsvine.com/
    Presidential Candidate (for one of 9 executive branch presidents) 2016

    Like

  6. Keith –

    I think Harald’s reply sums the situation well. For all the name dropping, you do not address the inherent contradiction in your position. I never did manage to get a straight response from you to the question that Harald now poses:

    Why is a constructed elite superior to an emergent elite (assuming the latter can even be called an elite in this context)?

    I think it is rather obvious that you are not against elite rule. In fact you wouldn’t want it any other way. You do want to make sure that it is the right elite.

    David –

    I don’t think that the institutional memory of the allotted chamber should be left in the care of people outside that chamber. Doing so would concentrate much power in the hands of those controlling that memory.

    The matter could be addressed in various ways. First, government transparency would be important. All proceedings and records of all meetings should be available for public scrutiny. This would allow the public at large, and delegates in particular, to get a much better understanding of how power really works. This should be complemented by personal accounts of those delegates who would choose to write about their time in the chamber. Another important mechanism could be mentoring of new delegates by veteran delegates.

    Terry –

    I guess I take the existence of an allotted constitutional body as a given. Someone, after all, has to make the constitutional rules and if not an allotted body, then who?

    However, it is my argument that a constitutional rule against the allotted chamber taking the political initiative is undesirable, if for no other reason then because it leaves no room for exceptions, and it is hard to imagine that one can take the position that no exceptions should ever be made. Thus, an allotted body making the determination of whether to allow another allotted body to initiate legislature would have to do it on a case by case basis rather than have a blanket policy. Thus the authorizing body would wield agenda setting power.

    You may find such a two-allotted-body arrangement as resolving the potential conflict of interests between the allotted body (or bodies) and the public at large. Others may argue that the conflict of interests persists even with this arrangement. (One could also argue that separating agenda setting from legislation decisions is problematic.)

    Personally, I don’t find the conflict-of-interests argument on this matter very convincing. One could claim the existence of an inherent conflict of interests regarding any power granted to any body. The fixation on this particular power – and only in the context this particular body – seems like the product of bias more than the product of a rational analysis. Doesn’t the elected body have an identical conflict of interests? Should the elected body also need an authorization in order to initiate legislation?

    Like

  7. Yoram: “Why is a constructed elite superior to an emergent elite (assuming the latter can even be called an elite in this context)?”

    Because the policy proposals of the former (assuming “constructed elites” are political parties) would have to overcome two democratic hurdles: 1) competitive preference elections and 2) the scrutiny of an allotted chamber.

    Harald: “I don’t see what the point of referring to such “authorities” is. So what if they thought a “natural elite” would dominate? They didn’t exactly test their hypothesis by experimentation.”

    My principle authority is Hansen, who is the leading authority on Athenian democracy. He is a historian and his job is explaining how Greek democracy actually worked, rather than indulging in thought experiments. But I do agree with you that Yoram should test his hypothesis (as Fishkin has done repeatedly for 25 years) rather than just repeating his own thought experiment.

    Regarding small group dynamics, your argument is akin to saying that if everyone were free to take on Rafael Nadal or Serena Williams in a game of tennis, then we would all be equal. That’s pushing negative liberty to the point that it’s no longer compatible with any reasonable theory of justice. Those who take on the design of political institutions need to be aware how they will work in practice rather than just relying on a positivistic emphasis on rules.

    David: Regarding the problem of institutional memory, clearly this hasn’t been a problem with the DP, hence my advocacy of this as the appropriate role for the allotted assembly. Continuity, consistency (and fiscal prudence) are the responsibility of the executive, not allotted members — so if a proposal came to the assembly that failed to meet these criteria it is the role of government ministers and other advocates to point this out. The organising principle of the allotted chamber is that it is amateur and time-limited so we need to look elsewhere for consistency and continuity, rather than the emergent elite of Yoram’s “veteran delegates”.

    Keith

    Like

  8. Are you sure Hansen supports your assertion that Athens was ruled by an elite? I’m no scholar, but from what I’ve read we have very little information on the day to day activities of Athenian democracy.
    About your 1): Competitive preference elections introduces distortions from the ideal, don’t you agree? You get a body biased towards the wealthy, the eloquent, and the influential. We don’t need to argue about that, do we? Isn’t that why you want sortition in the first place? Even if the emergent elite in an allotted body causes distortions as well, at least it will only be towards eloquence.

    Your point 2), you would get from an allotted assembly as well.

    I don’t think voting and arguing in an assembly is much like a tennis match. I don’t play tennis, but I do play games involving negotiation. I know that if I were to enter a tournament of Diplomacy, Monopoly or Settlers of Catan, the last thing I would want was for my opponents to think I was good at it. From what I’ve read of Athens, it seems it applied there, too: being known as an influental orator seems to have had significant risks.

    Now if I was in an allotted assembly, I could “ostracize” eloquent speakers who got too fond of their agenda-setting power: I would be in a very good position to judge. But if the speaker-proposers were in a separate, privileged body, they would probably all be of that type, and there would be preciously little I could do about it. The voters in theory could, but our experience with electoral systems suggests they are bad at recognizing and restraining the power-hungry.

    As to institutional memory, Athens can be an inspiration there as well: the Aeropagus. A “senate” of former allotted legislators, with a strictly advisory role, could probably be useful. Exactly who would be invited to sit on it, and for how long, or whether there would be any need for it at all, are questions that are best answered after sortition has been tried a bit.

    Like

  9. H: “Are you sure Hansen supports your assertion that Athens was ruled by an elite?”

    K: You need to break the word “rule” into its component elements. What Hansen argues in Athenian Democracy in the Age of Demosthenes is that legislative proposals were initiated and advocated by a small minority. Most citizens were happy just to turn up and vote.

    H: “Competitive preference elections introduces distortions from the ideal, don’t you agree?”

    K: Like Aristotle, I would prefer a working system to the ideal, so I’ve always argued for a pluralistic mixed constitution in which (elite) advocacy and expertise have their own role to play, but the final decisions are in the hands of an allotted assembly.

    H: “Your point 2), you would get from an allotted assembly as well.”

    K: Not sure what you mean here — the domination by a small vocal elite? Fishkin’s DPs are designed to make sure that this doesn’t happen and this has been confirmed by a number of empirical studies. Yoram’s claim that an allotted agenda-setting assembly would not be dominated by ubiquitous small-group effects needs to be tested. He needs to do the social science experiments to back up his claim.

    H: “Now if I was in an allotted assembly, I could “ostracize” eloquent speakers who got too fond of their agenda-setting power: I would be in a very good position to judge.”

    K: Perhaps, but you need to prove your intuition true in the general case. In my experience most people belong to the silent majority and I don’t agree that this is just the result of a socialisation process. I’m also sceptical that an agenda set by a vocal subset of a small allotted body would be perceived as legitimate by all citizens.

    H: “But if the speaker-proposers were in a separate, privileged body, they would probably all be of that type, and there would be preciously little I could do about it.”

    K: That is why the proposals of the victorious advocates in an election (first test) would have to undergo the further scrutiny of an allotted chamber (second test). In addition vigorous steps could be taken to ensure that as many people/groups as possible could offer policy options for the initial preference elections. Given that we are not dealing with elections for a legislature and/or government there is no reason to prevent *anyone* putting a policy proposal before the electorate. A minimum threshold of support would be needed (online signatures?) to get on the ballot paper and restrictions could be placed on campaign funding. The internet is real equaliser in this respect.

    Bear in mind also that the allotted debate over the winning proposals (second stage) would be in the public domain and under the full glare of the media (both conventional and open-access).

    The dual form of trial that I am proposing would offer the best of both worlds (active and descriptive representation) and would fulfil both meanings of the word “ballot”, whereas what you are proposing is simply to replace active (elective) representation by descriptive (allotted). I’m genuinely puzzled as to why anyone would object to a proposal that allows you to have your cake and eat it. BOGOF (buy one and get one free) as they like to say in the supermarket.

    Keith

    Like

  10. I really think that we need to be careful when using the word “elite.” I think it’s getting used all kinds of ways in this debate. If by “elite” one means a group of people who possess much more wealth and power than the majority–and I think this is what Yoram means–then surely none of us like the idea of rule by elites. But if one simply means people who are better able to influence public deliberation due to superior knowledge and articulateness, I would hope nobody would object. This is, I think, what Hansen meant by “elite;” while this “elite” was also an elite in Yoram’s sense (much richer than average), it did not wield additional power by any means except the ability of its members to sway public opinion with argument. Moreover, it was not a group that worked together to rule–quite the contrary, the various orators competed with each other for popular approval.

    I would hope that if I participated in a randomly-selected policymaking body, I would wield more influence on that body’s deliberation than the average Christine O’Donnell voter. To insist that democracy requires everyone to have an absolutely equal influence on the process, regardless of ability, inclination, or intelligence, would be a caricature of egalitarianism.

    Like

  11. “K: Like Aristotle, I would prefer a working system to the ideal, so I’ve always argued for a pluralistic mixed constitution in which (elite) advocacy and expertise have their own role to play, but the final decisions are in the hands of an allotted assembly. ”

    But you don’t argue pragmatically. You don’t merely say this system would be easier to implement”, you say “this system is in fact better.” Pragmatically, I’m all for a mixed constitution – people need to get used to the idea. Also, I am rather more optimistic about good electoral systems than Yoram. I just don’t think we should sell the compromise as better than the real stuff.

    “K: I’m also sceptical that an agenda set by a vocal subset of a small allotted body would be perceived as legitimate by all citizens.”

    If the public feels the loudmouths decide too much, most of the allotted body will feel the same way, right? so why would the allotted sit back and let it happen?

    My guess is they’re going to ignore Mr. Talkative Lawyer’s tenth proposal, and support the one by Quiet Old Granny who spoke for the first time today – even if it wasn’t the best one. If the people are sufficiently concerned about demagogues, and jealous about guarding their institution (as the Athenians were!) they would pay that price. They aren’t obliged to be reasonable about it. I fully expect the allotted assembly to reflect people’s pettiness as well as their virtues.

    “K: I’m genuinely puzzled as to why anyone would object to a proposal that allows you to have your cake and eat it.”

    Because I don’t quite see it this way. What you see as the cake, I guess I just see as an approximation to eating it.

    I have more issues with your proposed system of competitive preference elections, which I think maybe I understand a little more clearly now, but I have to take that later.

    Like

  12. Keith –

    > the policy proposals of […] political parties […] would have to overcome two democratic hurdles: 1) competitive preference elections and 2) the scrutiny of an allotted chamber.

    Clearly (for reasons discussed here over and over), both the competition and the scrutiny are much more effective in curbing in-chamber would-be elites than electoral elites.

    > What Hansen argues in Athenian Democracy in the Age of Demosthenes is that legislative proposals were initiated and advocated by a small minority. Most citizens were happy just to turn up and vote.

    This is both wrong and irrelevant. The relevant points are (i) that there is no evidence at all that elites dominated the Boule and (ii) that the political power of the elites flowed primarily from the Assembly – which, being a large scale body, functioned by necessity like the modern electorate. Thus, far from being a point against sortition, the Athenian experience is evidence about the inherent elitism of mass-scale politics.

    > Rafael Nadal or Serena Williams

    Again, you have things completely reversed. Clearly it is the electoral process that pits the average citizen against the extremely advantaged elites in a formally equal game that is in reality completely tilted. In the allotted chamber everybody really is essentially equal, and those few who do have some minor advantages can be effectively restrained by the majority if they try to use those advantages for a power grab.

    Like

  13. Harald –

    I am fascinated by the Jante Law story. Is this story well known in Scandinavia? Do people regard Jante Law as expressing pettiness, or as a legitimate egalitarian resistence to upstarts? For I find this type of behavior compeletely logical. It is a natural mechanism to suppress people with a tendency toward domination. Like everything, of course, this line of thought and behavior could easily be taken too far and into intolerance toward any deviation, but it is important to realize that the opposite – tolerance toward domineering attitudes and actions – is just as bad.

    I may have mentioned before Christopher Boehm’s book “Hierarchy in the Forest”. In the book Boehm describes what he calls “reverse dominance hierarchy” – exactly the Jante Law behavior. According to him it is a behavior pattern that is typical of primitive human societies, and is present to some extent in chimpanzee and bonobo groups.

    Like

  14. Peter –

    Isn’t your picture of the orators too good to be true? Surely, the fact that they were rich and well known gave them some common interests that they all promoted even while they were competing on other issues. In that sense (and in the sense of participating in a competition for support among the masses) they were very much like the electoral elites. Their power in the Assembly was anti-democratic – but it was countered, quite effectively apparently, by the power of the allotted bodies.

    > I would hope that if I participated in a randomly-selected policymaking body, I would wield more influence on that body’s deliberation than the average Christine O’Donnell voter. To insist that democracy requires everyone to have an absolutely equal influence on the process, regardless of ability, inclination, or intelligence, would be a caricature of egalitarianism.

    I think that it is beyond dispute that what should be equal is the representation of interests. If your position or abilities allow you to promote your own interests over those of others, then the process is not democratic.

    I assume that given the opportunity and motivation to understand and promote one’s interests, most people would do more or less as good a job in doing so. I believe that sortition would play an important part in making sure political opportunities and motivations are equalized.

    Keith apparently believes that even when people are given equal opportunity, some would be political Nadals and would be able to promote their own interests much better than others at the expense of those others. Of course, even if he is correct – and I find his position quite implausible – he doesn’t explain how allowing explicit advantages to some addresses this problem.

    As for tea partiers – they owe much of their bigoted world view to the elitism of our society. There is reason to hope that such ideas would have much weaker hold on a more democratic society.

    Like

  15. Peter: “[The Athenian elite] was not a group that worked together to rule–quite the contrary, the various orators competed with each other for popular approval.”

    Reply: This is the sort of elite competition that would be generated by preference elections (stage 1 of the binary constitution). It would also be characteristic of the competitive elite advocacy that would be required for stage 2 (allotted scrutiny). Where I think most of us differ from Yoram is his view of “the elite” as a unified and homogeneous entity, distinct from the (equally homogeneous) “masses”. [You’ve castigated me for referring to this analysis as Marxian so I won’t use that word any more.]

    Keith to Harald — The only way to find out whose intuition is correct regarding the dynamics of small groups is to do the experiments. Fishkin’s policy for factoring out the loudmouth effect is a) careful moderation and b) externally imposed agenda/advocacy so his experiments tell us nothing of how Yoram’s proposal would work.

    There must be existing social psychology experiments on blue-skies thinking in unstructured groups, but it might be hard to find one where the members are chosen by lot. And I think the problem may well be one of getting the quiet old granny to open her mouth in the first place — one of my son’s teachers told me that he wished my son would participate more in class discussions as he always knew the right answers (unlike the usual loudmouths), but was too shy to speak. This is the real problem with allotted bodies with an agenda-setting role.

    Keith to Yoram — Hansen claims that the three types of citizen were just as typical of the dikasteria as the ecclesia. If you disagree then you should take it up with him.

    Keith

    Like

  16. Experimentation is good, I’m all for it. But they don’t all have to be super-realistic. I think a lot can be learned from carefully designed games – that is also a lot easier than giving real people real power (which, arguably, even Fishkin hasn’t succeeded very much at).

    But while experimentation would be good, we can’t ignore the data from “natural experiments”. To sum them up:

    1. Anti-hierarchial action can be observed in hunter-gatherer societies. It is also a potent explanation for human behavior (such as our tendency towards monogamy and altruism).

    2. The Athenians were aggressively anti-hierarchical. The institution of ostracism was made for it. You could be ostracised for being a demagogue, and you could be ostractised for calling for someone else’s ostracism – does Hansen disagree?

    3. Anti-hierarchical action undeniably exists many other small, tightly connected societies today, such as in Scandinavian small-town life.

    Like

  17. Evolutionary psychology is very specific — certain cognitive models have adapted for specific adaptive reasons — and should not be used as a catch-all explanation. What is at issue is specific behaviours in specific social situations and it’s not enough to say that as anti-hierarchy is present in the EEA [along with the opposite characteristics] therefore it will predominate in small group behaviour.

    If, as you say, anti-hierarchical behaviour will predominate for evolutionary reasons then there would have been no need for the Athenians to have such draconian sanctions to protect it.

    But you don’t need any of the above to understand that some people are more shy and reticent than others, and that some people are more opinionated than others.

    Keith

    Like

  18. > If, as you say, anti-hierarchical behaviour will predominate for evolutionary reasons then there would have been no need for the Athenians to have such draconian sanctions to protect it.

    Behavior is dependent on circumstances. The natural anti-hierarchical mechanisms developed, and are therefore most effective, in small groups. Mass scale politics, on the other hand, is inherently elitist, rendering those anti-hierarchical mechanisms completely ineffective. The power of sortition is in transforming the mass-scale situation back into a small-scale situation.

    > But you don’t need any of the above to understand that some people are more shy and reticent than others, and that some people are more opinionated than others.

    Let’s accept for the sake of argument that some people are so shy they cannot hold their end of a discussion under any circumstance. Again: how would introducing explicit inequalities into the systems – as the electoral system does – help to better represent such people?

    > Hansen claims that the three types of citizen were just as typical of the dikasteria as the ecclesia. If you disagree then you should take it up with him.

    I don’t think this is true – I would like to see your citation for this claim. In fact, this claim doesn’t even make sense, since there were no discussions among the jurors (Hansen, Athenian Democracy in the Age of Demosthenes, p. 202). In that sense the courts functioned much like you would like the allotted chamber to function – passive selectors between options dictated to them by others.

    The rich and politically active did find themselves in the courts more often, both for personal reasons and for political maneuvering, but even in the latter case the courts were not a source of political power but a hurdle those vying for political power had to overcome.

    Like

  19. “Let’s accept for the sake of argument that some people are so shy they cannot hold their end of a discussion under any circumstance. Again: how would introducing explicit inequalities into the systems – as the electoral system does – help to better represent such people?”

    Because they could choose from a wider range of alternatives, as a small allotted assembly would be unlikely to generate such a range of policy options as an open competitive election (or would become too large to enable fruitful deliberation — Fishkin found the max effective size for a small group to be around 20).

    Regarding Hansen and the dikasteria I can’t find the quote, so I’m probably wrong and apologise accordingly. But Hansen does claim that most of the people taking up jurors’s pay were either old, poor or both. And he is adamant that only a tiny minority spoke at the ecclesia. Iris Marion Young (following Dahl, Democracy and its Critics, p. 225-31)) maintains that “in assemblies of a few hundred people, most people will be passive participants who listen to a few people speak for a few positions, then think and vote (Young, Deferring Group Representation, 352-3). This is standard social psychology — uncontroversial — and I’m surprised that we’re still arguing about it. If, as you claim, this was not true of the Boule, then that is truly remarkable.

    Keith

    Like

  20. > they [the extremely shy] could choose from a wider range of alternatives, as a small allotted assembly would be unlikely to generate such a range of policy options as an open competitive election

    In reality, competitive elections offer an extremely narrow set of alternatives. Besides, the situation that you are hypothesizing is extremely unlikely: this is a situation in which the extremely shy form a majority in the population and at the same time they support a policy that garners the support of only a negligible minority among the non-shy. Having to resort to such extreme scenarios to justify your proposals really makes the case against them.

    > (or would become too large to enable fruitful deliberation — Fishkin found the max effective size for a small group to be around 20).

    I don’t understand this. How do elections provide more intimate chances for deliberations than sortition?

    > But Hansen does claim that most of the people taking up jurors’s pay were either old, poor or both.

    How would over-representation of the poor be evidence of elite power?

    > he is adamant that only a tiny minority spoke at the ecclesia.

    Actually I think he says that the rhetors were a tiny minority while the occasional speakers and proposers were a somewhat larger minority. But that is a detail. As I already wrote, in general I agree that due to its size the Assembly, much like today’s electoral system, was unable to support equal distribution of power. The only reason the Athenian system did distribute power much more equally than other systems is the use of sortition in the selection of magistrates, the Council and the courts. This view seems to have been the accepted view in antiquity.

    > Iris Marion Young (following Dahl, Democracy and its Critics, p. 225-31)) maintains that “in assemblies of a few hundred people, most people will be passive participants who listen to a few people speak for a few positions, then think and vote (Young, Deferring Group Representation, 352-3). This is standard social psychology — uncontroversial — and I’m surprised that we’re still arguing about it. If, as you claim, this was not true of the Boule, then that is truly remarkable.

    I think this is pretty much true. The exact boundary at which mass scale politics takes hold would depend of course on many things. Certainly any ad-hoc, one session meeting of even a few dozen people would either be completely ineffective or would concentrate power in the hands of a minority. In the case of an institutionalized, high resource, high stakes, body I think equality among 300 is still feasible.

    There is certainly room for experimentation here, since there is a tradeoff to be made between representativity and face-to-face-ness. However, it is clear that the popular election setup is an extreme on that spectrum – an extreme that is not much better than the other extreme, the random single ruler.

    Like

  21. “I don’t understand this. How do elections provide more intimate chances for deliberations than sortition?”

    Election (stage 1) has nothing to do with deliberation as it only reflects raw preferences. Deliberation comes at stage 2, when the winning raw preferences are subject to the scrutiny of an allotted chamber. The silent majority are empowered as they can exercise their free judgment on both occasions (1) directly and 2) by proxy. I agree that election privileges elites, hence the need to ensure (by careful design) that as many people/groups as possible can offer their policy proposals for electoral choice in stage 1. The playing field will never be level (for all the reasons that Manin describes) but that’s no reason to give up on the engineering effort.

    “How would over-representation of the poor be evidence of elite power?”

    Just the opposite — my point was that the dikasteria allotment method did not privilige the judgment of the elite (although only a small elite would have spoken).

    “I think equality among 300 is still feasible.”

    Only with respect to the faculty of judgment, the number is far too large to provide equality in the speech act, in anything other than the narrow positivist respect. Procedural equality appears to be good enough for many deliberative democrats, but I hope that all of us who believe in real equality would find that obnoxious. I’m actually quite appalled by how many deliberative theorists don’t give a fig about substantive equality — for a particularly shocking case see Stephen Elstub’s book on Deliberative and Associational Democracy.

    Keith

    Like

  22. Keith: What does the acronym EEA stand for?

    Do any of you have an opinion about the work of AmericaSpeaks?

    I understand the title of this blog, ‘Kleroterians,’ signifies it is academic study of Athenian sortition. Can you direct me to any online discussions more pragmatically oriented to present-day implementation of sortition?

    Like

  23. EEA: Environment of Evolutionary Adaptedness. According to the creation myth of evolutionary psychology this was the period when the cognitive patterns that Harald referred to were supposed to have originated. It has a similar empirical status to the signing of the social contract.

    I believe the methodology of AmericaSpeaks has been heavily criticised on account of its failings to randomise effectively. Whilst it would be hard to make participation in a DP mandatory, nevertheless the organisers do need to go to great lengths to make sure that as many as possible of those selected turn up and that the sample is truly representative. AmericaSpeaks tends to privilege the chattering classes and those with a “political” disposition.

    I would agree with you that we need a healthy dose of pragmatism on this blog.

    Keith

    Like

  24. David –

    > Do any of you have an opinion about the work of AmericaSpeaks?

    We actually had a post about a recent AmericaSpeaks project: Another deliberative polling experiment.

    > I understand the title of this blog, ‘Kleroterians,’ signifies it is academic study of Athenian sortition. Can you direct me to any online discussions more pragmatically oriented to present-day implementation of sortition?

    At least as far as I am concerned, the scope of this blog is certainly not limited neither to academic discussions nor to Athenian democracy. I think many of the posts here deal with various present-day matters. Please feel free to offer for discussion any topic that you feel is relevant to sortition.

    Like

  25. > The silent majority are empowered as they can exercise their free judgment on both occasions (1) directly and 2) by proxy.

    How quickly we moved from an amorphous hypothetical group of the extremely shy to a “silent majority”.

    Your answer explains neither why the electoral process would produce alternatives that better serve the extremely shy, nor why the “scrutiny” in a ratification chamber would be more conducive for the expression of the extremely shy than a discussion in a fully empowered chamber.

    > Only with respect to the faculty of judgment, the number is far too large to provide equality in the speech act, in anything other than the narrow positivist respect.

    If by “by far” you mean “by a factor of 10 or so” then I completely disagree. In the appropriate institutional setting, approximate equality in a group of 100 or more is certainly feasible, and in a group of 300 is likely possible. Again, this is something that is open for experimentation. Again, your suggestions to rely on elections give up on substantive equality altogether, so your protestations about the matter ring hollow.

    > I would agree with you that we need a healthy dose of pragmatism on this blog.

    By which you rather transparently mean, “we need more people who agree with me on this blog.”

    Like

  26. Scrutiny in a ratification chamber empowers the silent majority because all votes carry equal weight (unlike speech acts, which privilege the noisy and self-opinionated).

    Regarding the experiments for the maximum size of an actively deliberative group, Fishkin has done them and found the maximum size to be 18 or thereabouts, and then only with the aid of trained monitors.

    Regarding the number of people on this blog who agree with you, me, or the Queen of Sheba, we’ll never know because (assuming anybody even bothers to read our tedious rants), I think you’ll find that even in the blogosphere the ratio of (silent) readers to (active) posters in something like 100:1. This is a universal law of social psychology which you continue to deny.

    Keith

    Like

  27. > Scrutiny in a ratification chamber empowers the silent majority because all votes carry equal weight (unlike speech acts, which privilege the noisy and self-opinionated).

    But, of course, decision making ends in equal-weight voting in all the procedures we are considering, so the only difference is whether the proposals are dictated by an elite group or generated by a representative group.

    And, again, the notion that a majority of the people would not take any meaningful part in proposal generation despite having been given the resources and motivation to do so simply reflects your low esteem of the average person. Clearly, you have no problems generating proposals and advocating for them – do you really think your abilities in this area are that superior to those of the average person?

    > the maximum size to be 18 or thereabouts

    Even if we assume the uncalculated risk of taking Fishkin’s findings at face value, they can only teach us about the setup which he uses, which is very different from the one that would exist in an allotted parliament. In fact, this limitation of the DP setup is one of the reasons against relying on it for decision making.

    > Regarding the number of people on this blog who agree with you, me, or the Queen of Sheba, we’ll never know because (assuming anybody even bothers to read our tedious rants), I think you’ll find that even in the blogosphere the ratio of (silent) readers to (active) posters in something like 100:1. This is a universal law of social psychology which you continue to deny.

    Not that it really has much bearing on our discussion, but this is quite likely untrue – the wordpress system provides some statistics on the number of visitors and, unfortunately, we are not being followed by hundreds of readers. In October, our most active month ever, there were about 25 page views on EbL on the average day. (This doesn’t include my visits – I am not sure if it includes the visits of logged in contributors such as yourself.) I think it is quite likely that most if not all regular visitors to this blog occasionally post comments.

    This doesn’t have much to do with our topic of conversation, however, since the situation here – an online, self-selected group with no decision powers and little resources – is very different from the one that would hold in an allotted parliament. Extrapolating from one situation to the other without accounting for the differences is meaningless.

    Like

  28. “whether the proposals are dictated by an elite group or generated by a representative group.”

    you need to add “a small subset of” before “representative group”

    “Clearly, you have no problems generating proposals and advocating for them – do you really think your abilities in this area are that superior to those of the average person?”

    Superior in the sense that I’ve been pondering little else for the last decade.

    “[Fishkin’s] setup is very different from the one that would exist in an allotted parliament”

    Then do the experiments to prove that you have the magic bullet to overturn the received wisdom on small-group dynamics.

    Like

  29. > you need to add “a small subset of” before “representative group”

    You started with a minority of extremely shy people that would be unable to participate effectively in deliberations, you then moved on to the “silent majority” and now you claim that those who are unable to participate are everybody but a small minority. Your claims become progressively more absurd, in an attempt to justify a pre-formed conclusion.

    In any case, whatever imbalances of power exist among allotted delegates, it is clear that inserting additional power imbalances through the electoral mechanism will not fix this situation but rather introduce additional problems.

    > Superior in the sense that I’ve been pondering little else for the last decade.

    If that is so, then it is only a question of getting people ready through a training period. I think that a couple of years should be quite sufficient to get people started, with additional experience being obtained on the job. (You, after all felt confident enough to publish a book 6 years ago.) In any case, there is no reason to think that experience is more necessary for writing proposals than for being able to decide whether to accept or reject proposals written by others.

    > Then do the experiments to prove that you have the magic bullet to overturn the received wisdom on small-group dynamics.

    I am all in favor of running such experiments by enacting government-by-sortition in various bodies. This is, of course, the goal of my activity. Unfortunately, artificial setups like DPs show nothing of interest regarding the allotted parliament proposal.

    Like

  30. Many of us would argue that two years training is quite sufficient for someone to go native and cease to be descriptively representative — this is why I’ve come to prefer ad hoc selection. Regarding your other points,
    we’re going round in circles and it’s getting more than a little tedious. Time to move on.

    Keith

    Like

  31. Let me finish with some observations, then: How willing people are to speak in an assembly depends on many factors, but an important one is how much is at stake. I expect that citizens given a once-in-a-lifetime chance to influence the course of their community be quite a bit braver than members of a Fishkin poll.

    One would also not have to literally speak. If initial proposals are submitted in written form, read up by a neutral functionary, and are given a grace period before being commented on, so people can formulate replies, most of people’s fear of public speaking could be overcome. Not without costs, of course, there are tradeoffs. But it’s just an example that lots of things can be done with procedure. Given reasonably OK initial procedures, I would trust an allotted body to improve them themselves.

    Like

  32. “If initial proposals are submitted in written form”

    Then why limit this to members of allotted chamber? (all citizens are free to use the post or email). And why would you want to intermediate the myriad proposals via a “neutral functionary” (assuming the possibility of such a dispassionate creature), why not put them to the test of competitive election before subjecting them to allotted scrutiny?

    In short your proposal to privilege the agendas of members of the allotted chamber is fundamentally undemocratic.

    Keith

    Like

  33. A long thread.
    I’m a little surprised that ‘the test of competitive election’ is lauded on this blog.

    At risk of re-hash or inappropriately posting in this thread (is there another Word Press blog specifically on this topic?), I past here a FAQ from http://www.TheCommonLot.com

    FAQ: What are the downsides of electoral balloting?

    First of all, of course the ballot is preferred to the bullet.

    The ballot however requires a certain type of person to put him- or herself up for candidacy. Such a person is necessarily of a particular psychological profile. That profile is only a small sub-section of the populace. Balloting — in and of itself — prevents realization of government ‘by’ the people.

    Furthermore there are the obvious drawbacks: financial wherewithal, rhetorical adroitness, media visage.

    Finally, the campaign is a contest. Many are attracted to the blood sport of it. That contest unfortunately drives the candidates to desperate measures — not only the attack ads that poison civil discourse, but also the unavoidable compulsion to make promises and to take positions whose purpose is merely to win the election.

    These reasons lead us to believe that sortitional selection of policy-making bodies will be the equitable, inclusive and wise ‘next step for democracy’.

    Like

  34. It’s possible to be a sortition advocate without arguing that sortition is the only valid democratic mechanism. For a long time I’ve been arguing for a two-stage process: 1) preference elections to select the “best” (ie most popular) policy proposals followed by 2) detailed scrutiny by an allotted body. The model for this is the Fishkin DP, which is beginning to acquire a patina of democratic legitimacy.

    We’re all aware of the downside of the electoral process, but it’s hard to envisage an alternative method that would meet with the “consent” criterion (dismissed by Yoram as a quaint medieval fantasy). I, for one, would not consent to policy proposals advocated by a vocal subset of an allotted body, even though I’m a firm believer in sortition, so I imagine most citizens would find the idea idiotic or (more probably) alarming.

    Anyway, I’m pleased that the argument has been opened up, rather than just Yoram and myself beating each other up!

    As for the “next step for democracy” it’s better to take one step at a time.

    Keith

    Like

  35. What Fishkin chronicles in his *We The People* seems a reasonable half-step towards a Citizen Legislature (Callenbach & Phillips, decades ago got me started).
    I attended yesterday the first presentation and book signing of *Next Generation Democracy: What the Open Source Revolution Means for Power, Politics & Change* by Jared Duval. That’s about another half-step.
    I’d rather push for the whole step and let others half-step the way there.

    About long or short terms of legislative service for sortitionally chosen citizens….
    I’d like to see a spirit of service more widely inculcated — something like Peace Corps, though not unremunerated. if compensation were 150% of the national median, that would mean 75% of the populace would be financially moving up for … three years, say.

    Like

  36. > I imagine most citizens would find the idea idiotic or (more probably) alarming.

    It is obvious that you find the idea alarming. How very considerate of you to attempt to shield the innocent citizenry from the burden of sharing that feeling (or, even more alarming, having a different feeling about the matter).

    Like

  37. Keith: You talk about preference elections to select the best proposals. But what you really mean is preference elections to select the best proposers, isn’t it? Because there’s no way the people can take time off to vote for individual proposals often enough.

    Or do I misunderstand you?

    How does your competitive preference elections for proposals differ from current electoral schemes? For that matter, which current electoral scheme do you propose to use?

    > I, for one, would not consent to policy proposals advocated by a vocal subset of an allotted body

    Taking each proposal individually, I can see you come into three situations:

    1. One in this vocal subset comes up with a proposal that you would have made yourself. It will happen rather often, I suspect. In this case it would be quixotic of you to object.

    2. No one comes up with a proposal you like. The question then is, why don’t you speak up with one yourself? Or, more likely, why don’t the people like you do it? (there has to be some of you, since you think the sentiment of lack of consent would be widely shared)

    Proposals in an allotted body will be very different than in an elected one, I think. In elected bodies, the representative’s positions are already given (even if they’re not within the party line, it’s highly unlikely deliberation in parliament will change them). Therefore, you only need 50,1% to win.

    In an allotted body, if your proposal passes with 50,1%, you’re going to alienate a lot of people, and your career as a loudmouth proposal-maker will suddenly become a lot harder. For that reason, I expect central, uncontroversial proposals to dominate.

    But that’s just my belief, true. I’m more interested in how you answer my first questions in this post.

    Like

  38. Yoram, Harald

    Most political theorists (including our own Peter Stone) would agree with Manin’s claim that ‘However lot is interpreted, whatever its other properties, it cannot possibly be perceived as an expression of consent’ (1997, p.84-5). Personally I don’t agree, as I think it’s possible to demonstrate that the DP is nudging us towards a form of ‘consent by proxy’ that is at least as plausible as the electoral version (consent by [aggregative] approximation). This is the easy task, but will still take a lot of work, both empirical and theoretical (I have a paper forthcoming on this topic).

    Once that has been done then its open to anyone else to try and demonstrate that the policy proposals of an allotted agenda-setting body could plausibly be deemed to have earned the consent of the population. I can’t imagine how you would set about it, but no doubt you have your own plans, for which I wish you well, and hope you don’t break too many eggs in the process. But it would be in your interests, in the meantime, to stop denigrating Fishkin and others who are endeavouring to establish that in a DP-style forum, ‘consulting the public’s considered judgments is a bit like seeking its collective informed consent’ (Fishkin, 2009, p.195). Let’s all unite in supporting this limited effort first of all, because the case is far from proven in the eyes of political theorists (and most of the public).

    Regarding Harald’s first question, I’m agnostic as to whether the initial preference elections should be for selecting proposals or (aggregated) proposers (as with current elections). On balance I would prefer the former, particularly as the reduced volume of legislation fits better with my own small-state prejudices.

    Keith

    PS it’s worth pointing out that for a single chamber, allotted or otherwise, to propose, scrutinise and pass legislative bills into statute is a little risky, as most moderns would argue that checks and balances are prudent. Even though the Gat-Korneliussen model might be argued to reflect the ‘general will’, bear in mind this theory of sovereignty has its origins in Bodin’s justification of absolute power. You’re treading on some fairly dodgy ground here.

    Like

  39. […] Representation: A Modest Proposal,” by Alex Zakaras. This paper has already received some attention here, and so I shall try and approach it from a somewhat different […]

    Like

  40. […] My take on this proposal and exchange with Zakaras are here: The elected legislator’s burden, Lottery and Legislative Powers: A Reply to Yoram Gat, and Limiting the allotted chamber’s powers – a foundational argument. […]

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: