Which actors for each activity?

In a recent post, I proposed a generic set of activities for a legislative process, as an aide to conversations about design. After getting some useful feedback from Jorge, Yoram and Keith, the structure now looks like this:

1.     Choosing issues to write bills for
1.1.  Choosing values and goals for the polity
1.2.  Choosing and revising categories of issues
1.3.  Reviewing current legislation and its outcomes against values and goals
1.4.  Proposing issues in each category to write bills for
1.5.  Deciding which issues to write bills for
2.     Writing bills
2.1.  Developing and revising objectives and criteria for bills
2.2.  Reviewing and accepting objectives and criteria for bills
2.3.  Developing and revising alternative bill “designs”
2.4.  Reviewing and accepting bill “designs”
2.5.  Writing and revising the language of bills
2.6.  Reviewing and accepting the language of bills
3.     Voting on finalized bills
3.1.  Education about issues and bills (learning by the decision makers)
3.2.  Advocacy (by advocates, arguing for and against bills)
3.3.  Deliberation (among decision makers, after hearing arguments)
3.4.  Voting on bills

I would like to ask anyone in this forum – especially those of you who have made specific proposals — which actors you would propose to carry out each of these activities (for example, an allotted chamber, an elected legislature, a single-purpose allotted “panel,” the whole electorate, etc.). I’m hoping to arrange your answers side by side in a matrix, like this:

Activity Actors  proposed by person 1 Actors  proposed by person 2
Activity 1
Activity 2
Activity 3

I think that if we could see everyone’s ideas about “who would do what” side by side, it would be much easier to see where we agree and where we disagree.

Are you willing to do this? And if so, what would be the most convenient way? I’ve created a Google doc that you could fill in, with columns written in for Terry, John, Jorge, Yoram, and Keith so far. Anyone else can simply log in, add your name in a new column, and fill in the actors that you’re proposing. Or, if you don’t use Google docs, I could send you a spreadsheet to fill out (please leave a comment below).

One other thing – if you disagree with my list of legislative activities, please feel free so say so, and to suggest improvements!


39 Responses

  1. David,

    The first section of your table assumes a logical sequence of setting goals and then deciding how best to achieve them. While I think that a governmental system should have a method that works like that, I think the reality will always be different (or at least broader). I think the system needs to accommodate a grass-roots policy initiation process, that will often be backwards… In other words, I expect popular organizations, special interests, minority groups, businesses, etc. will always be saying “we need a law that does X” without the logical goal driven thinking behind it. We need a procedure that can wade through all of these arbitrary ideas, to decide which are worthy of pursuit. Thus, I imagine a system that also allows any group that wishes to try to initiate a bill.

    I’m not sure how to modify your table, but I would like to have more than one route into bill writing.


  2. Done. I think the level of detail is perhaps a little fine-grained at this stage, so have filled in the boxes where I had a particular view.


  3. Thank you, Keith!

    And thank you, Terry. Your bring up a very important point, that I don’t have time to address adequately right now. No matter what process is used, there will be decisions made about goals for the polity, how well existing legislation serves those goals, what issues need to have bills written, and so on. The way I’ve laid them out is in “logical” order — in some sense, decisions about what bills to write should be based on “logically prior” decisions about what issues need bills, etc. But as you point out, in actual practice, the higher level decisions are often what you call “backwards” (for example, people write bills first, and agreements on issues may emerge out of that).

    I think there’s value in laying out the “logical” order of activities — and, I don’t think actual processes should necessarily reflect that order. I need to think a little more about how to clearly and simply organize different processes — like yours and Keith’s, for example — that don’t necessarily follow the same order of activity — so that it’s easy to compare and contrast them. That will be my next step.


  4. Yoram,

    My impression is that in your model, an allotted chamber (or a variety of bodies chosen by sortition?) would perform all the legislative activities. Is that correct? And could you point me to a post of yours that addresses the question of which actors perform which activities?

    Jorge, John, Peter, Martin, and anyone else in this forum — I’d love to hear your views as well.


  5. David,

    Laying out a detailed plan for reforming government which proposes introducing many changes at once is not useful, in my mind. It is difficult to foresee the implications of changes in detail and it is not realistic to try to get all the details right in advance. My aim is to get the basic principles right and then let the details be ironed out as time goes on.

    Therefore, as far as I am concerned the important thing is to set up an allotted chamber with enough power so that it can both shape policy and be able to reform itself as it sees fit. The most straightforward way to do that, I think, is to switch one of the chambers of a bi-cameral elected system to sortition (or, in a unicameral system, to add an equal-powered allotted chamber). In the context of the US federal system, this is the same as the Callenbach-Phillips A Citizen Legislature proposal. In this proposal, actors and roles stay as they are now, with the only change being the method of selection of the delegates.


  6. In my humble opinion, the current priority is to establish a sortitioned senate (or chamber of government).

    Like the constitutional founders, the soritioned senate (chamber) is trusted to organize itself for effective governance.


  7. I think I’m done with my part


  8. I’ve always been puzzled by proposals to use sortition in the upper house — election is the obvious mechanism for an “aristocratic” chamber. Surely the place for sortition is the lower house (as in Callenbach and Philips)?


  9. Thank you everyone!

    Jorge, Yoram, Keith, and Coach all propose bicameral legislatures, with an elected house and an allotted house. What about you, Terry? John? Peter? Martin? Others?


  10. Keith Sutherland: We see elections and elected chambers as oligarchic, but obviously the chambers which where supposed to be oligarchic (like the US senate or the house of lords) are even more so. I want – and we want, I think – to get rid of all sorts of oligarchy. To this end, if one chamber is to be replaced, it makes sense to replace the worst offender first.


  11. Unfortunately it’s impossible to get rid of all oligarchy, outside of the context of an anarchist solution (which is an utopian endeavour). Oligarchy (in Aristotle’s numerical sense) is a consequence of election but also of sortition in a political community that is too large for rotation (unknown in the era of classical democracies). We certainly don’t want to replace one oligarchy with another.


  12. David Schechter, to spoil the unanimity here, I am not a fan of bicameral systems or systems with many layers of veto – vetos reward brinkmansship, which leads to unpredictability and waste. The government where I live abandoned bicameralism, and I think it would be a step back to reintroduce it. It would be simpler to let elected and allotted representatives sit in the same chamber, and gradually increase the number of allotted representatives.

    But I really imagine a quite different path to sortition. A much easier first step than convincing elected politicians to reform the constitution, I think, would be to make them give up power to an allotted chamber on a case-by-case basis. Indeed, in many places this is already happening for issues like electoral reform or legislator pay. All we need to convince them is that it is appropriate for more and more areas.

    This assumes our current system is democratic enough to be “bootstrapped” in this fashion. I think it is in my country at least; I am not optimistic with the prospect of revolution as a means to enact it.


  13. Harald, thank you!

    I’m not seeking unanimity at all – instead, I’m trying to create some kind of useful “catalog” of the main questions that must be answered to design a more democratic ways to make laws (including some prominent role for sortition), and all the different answers that people have proposed.

    A unicameral legislature with both elected and allotted members is an option I wasn’t aware of. And I’m intrigued by your two implementation strategies – gradually increasing the portion of allotted members, and/or gradually increasing the number of issues decided by randomly selected bodies.


  14. Choosing issues to write bills for: a mass, demarchic but constitutionally entrenched singular party-movement of the working class. This could be alternatively called programmatic policy.

    Writing bills 2.1 to 2.2: same

    Writing bills 2.3 to 2.4: tussle between the above and below

    Writing bills 2.5 to 2.6: demarchic legislative caucuses associated with the party-movement

    Voting on finalized bills 3.1: go back to the party-movement

    Voting on finalized bills 3.2 to 3.3: both the party-movement and the caucuses

    Voting on finalized bills 3.4: demarchic legislative caucuses

    I’ll add:

    Writing edicts, decrees, and orders: elected officials from multi-candidate and single-candidate “random balloting” slotted into the ruling political bodies of a “state party,” none of which have voting membership influence in either the demarchic caucuses or the party-movement outside those caucuses, but whose “state party” is nonetheless constitutionally associated with both

    Voting on finalized edicts, decrees, and orders: same “state party” officials

    Administration: cadres following orders from the above “state party” officials


  15. Harald and Jacob,

    I just created rows for you in the Google doc mentioned at the top of this post. Could you add your answers into the table? Or I can do it for you if you prefer.

    Jacob, thank you for answers. About your additions — at the moment I’m trying to limit this little project to the legislative function of government, which is why I don’t have any proposed activities for administration, or edicts, decrees, and orders. I appreciate you bringing it up, though – among other things, a lot of lawmaking activity is carried out by chief executives and by the heads of agencies in the executive branch of government.

    Terry, thank you for filling in your piece of the table. I haven’t yet taken the time to revise the list of activities so that it easily incorporates a “bottom-up” approach to lawmaking (i.e. proposed bills first, let the issues emerge from that) as well as a “top-down” approach (choose issues first, then write bills). I’m determined to make a good attempt at it though, and soon.


  16. Re: unicameral vs. bicameral.

    I see the bicameral (one allotted, one elected) arrangement as an interim situation that will serve to test the method of sortition and to hammer out some of the details of the method. This will hopefully lead in due course to a system that is based on sortition alone. In that sortition-only system, I have no particular preference toward a bicameral arrangement.


  17. It’s important to separate interim pragmatism and principle — so we should limit bicameralism to those who advocate two different principles in the political process. I’m not aware of any historical example of bicameralism based on a single principle. Read, for example, the chapter in Wood describing the difficulty the new US states had in attempting to establish a Senate absent the principle of aristocracy. Although both chambers were to instantiated by election, the two-chamber solution presupposed two different organising principles.


  18. Thank you for the clarification, Yoram.

    Keith, I think separating pragmatism and principle is very useful. Each of use will have some idea of the ideal we want to aim for (for example, a sortition-only legislature), and also some idea of how to get there. Both are important, and I think it will be much clearer if we talk about them separately.


  19. Terry,

    On December 14, you wrote, “The first section of your table assumes a logical sequence of setting goals and then deciding how best to achieve them. While I think that a governmental system should have a method that works like that, I think the reality will always be different (or at least broader). I think the system needs to accommodate a grass-roots policy initiation process, that will often be backwards… In other words, I expect popular organizations, special interests, minority groups, businesses, etc. will always be saying “we need a law that does X” without the logical goal driven thinking behind it. We need a procedure that can wade through all of these arbitrary ideas, to decide which are worthy of pursuit. Thus, I imagine a system that also allows any group that wishes to try to initiate a bill.”

    This is an important point, and I want to make sure I understand it. I think that in your proposal, there are these three stages:
    1. Writing bills
    2. Deciding which bills to vote on
    3. Voting on bills

    My table (which was intended to be more of a typology than a sequence), has these three stages:
    1. Choosing issues to write bills for
    2. Writing bills
    3. Voting on bills

    So, in your version, “choosing issues” isn’t an explicit activity of its own – instead, it’s incorporated into the stage of proposing bills (before proposing a bill, people will have some idea of what issues they want to address), and also incorporated into the stage of deciding which bills to vote on (people could decide not to vote on bill X if they think that it’s issue is not important).

    Is that correct? If so, I think we’re both talking about the same activities, but different sequences. Mine is, as you wrote, “logical, and goal driven,” as yours more accurately reflects how people tend to think most of the time. Or, mine is more “top-down,” and yours is more “bottom-up.”

    You also wrote, “I would like to have more than one route into bill writing.”

    I like that a lot – in fact, I’d suggest that there ought to be a way to get the benefits of both the top-down and bottom-up kinds of thinking.

    What do you think? What do others think?


  20. David,

    Exactly. I was assuming your table was also expressing a sequence (as it describes a rational procedure).

    I think there should be a grass-roots bill initiative route, which might use petitions or something. This route may be dominated by emotional issues of the day, as well as self-interested special interests. So, I think we also need a somewhat detached, logical long view route. This long-view approach I assign to a meta legislature that hears experts, etc. about important issues that aren’t currently “in the news” like perhaps the infrastructure deficit, or the like.


  21. Could you explain what you mean by a “meta-legislature?”


  22. By “meta-legislature” I mean an allotted body that does not enact any laws, but rather decides what issues warrant drafting and ultimate consideration by a separate allotted chamber. it would also establish rules, procedures, compensation, methods for selecting staff, etc. for the decision making allotted chamber. It all goes back to the “cookie principle”…the kid who divides the cookie into portions is not the kid that gets to pick which piece he gets.


  23. I should note that my post above applies only to countries where the working class does not outnumber all the other classes in the population. In other countries (much of the “Third World”), I think the comments on the classical philosophical concepts of “Aristocracy” and “Oligarchy” need to be addressed in another direction.

    Instead of a genuine one-party system whereby the ruling party actually has a political character (via its forums and horizontal networks, currents, platforms, and tendencies, but maintaining the Marx-era and Eurocommunist taboo against factions and factionalism)…

    I envisage a sort of “managed democracy” that nonetheless excludes bourgeois representation, promotes “socialist” choice re. pluralism, and promotes *only* such. The old Eastern European regimes did not, unfortunately, have this setup or something similar:

    Socialist Fatherland Party (relatively social-conservative “party of power”)
    Socialist Freedom Party (relatively social-liberal “party of power”)
    Socialist People’s Party (relatively social-centrist)
    Socialist Labour Party (relatively social-centrist)
    Agrarian Socialist Party (relatively social-conservative)
    Green Socialist Party (relatively social-liberal)
    Liberation Theology Party (depending on religious affiliation)
    Radical Left Party
    Plus the independent, singular Party-Movement of the working class doing preparatory work for the genuine one-party system once the working class outnumbers all other classes.

    [Instead, ordinary voters were presented only one slate for yes-no “elections,” and this slate had the ruling party, a satellite Catholic or Protestant party, a satellite agrarian but not necessarily “agrarian socialist” party, and a f****** Classical Liberal satellite party for class-collaborationist “national bourgeois” representation!]

    Another aspect of this “managed democracy” completes a circle of power against “Aristocracy” and “Oligarchy.” Instead of some “Mixed Government” cover for both, this next aspect combines “Democracy” only with (elected, non-hereditary, de facto) “Monarchy.”

    This would be party-based control (via legislative confidence and mandatory membership in a political party) over an executive Leader system, including but not limited to a Latin American-style sub-system of La Presidencia. El Presidente should not have US- or Ukrainian-style “strong vetoes,” much less the constitutional power to disband legislatures, and certain restrictions on “states of emergency” need to be made. However, the remaining “Monarchy”-esque features of each Latin American or other presidential model should be combined:

    1) El Presidente should share in the “proposal of issues in each category to write bills for, should be able to write personal bills for submission to the legislature, should be an additional “educator about issues and bills,” and should be an additional advocate of bills

    2) From Colombia’s model, the ability to declare “economic emergency” (presumably apart from strike action, and if so, then thankfully, so situations like hyperinflation and Gingrich’s engineered budget crisis)

    3) From Ecuador’s model, the ability to force legislatures to explicitly vote down executive-declared “urgent” bills (from the executive, of course) within a certain number of days (30 currently)

    4) From Venezuela’s model, the ability to legislate by decree

    5) From Brazil and Chile, exclusive initiative in policy areas beyond just budget law and trade matters

    6) From Peru, the exclusively executive ability to convoke referenda or plebiscites – because El Presidente does not have “strong veto” power, there’s no need for legislatures to have this power, as well

    Source: http://books.google.ca/books?id=B5GETJaRpgQC&printsec=frontcover

    In both First World and Third World countries, the court system should be divided between criminal and civil, on the one hand, and constitutional affairs on the other, because there is always “judicial activism” in the sphere of the latter (so much for an “independent judiciary”), and current bourgeois arrangements don’t allow for any political accountability in the latter. In Third World countries, El Presidente should have the power of Byzantine- and FDR-inspired “judiciary organization” or the less euphemistic presidential “court packing” of specifically constitutional courts.

    Finally, from Russia (yeah, outside Latin America), El Presidente should have the power to arbitrarily dismiss and appoint chief executives of municipalities, provinces, prefectures, and federated states.


  24. Keith Sutherland: “I’m not aware of any historical example of bicameralism based on a single principle.”

    The chambers under Norway’s old system were indeed elected according to the same principle, and they naturally very rarely disagreed. This was one of the main reason the system was abolished.


  25. Yes, good point. Unless different constitutive principles are involved you might as well not bother. Gordon Wood’s chapter on the difficulty the American states had coming up with a constitutive principle for their senates makes for a very amusing read.


  26. 49 out of 50 U.S. States are bicameral. While some historically had different voting qualifications, most did not (and now none do). The constitutive “principle” in the switch from unicameral to bicameral in 1836 in my own State of Vermont is almost funny. The unicameral general assembly was elected annually, and sometimes alternated partisan majority, such that certain laws were adopted and repealed repeatedly. One main reason that the creation of a Senate was proposed was simply to slow down the rate of legislative change, by making it harder to pass a bill. There were other reasons too, having to do with population proportionality, since every town got a seat in the general assembly, regardless of population, and the Senate seats would be apportioned to counties based on population. Since 1965 or so, the U.S. Supreme Court has required that all State legislative bodies (Houses, Senates, City councils, etc.) use the same constitutive principle of equal population per seat.


  27. Sounds completely insane! Republics have traditionally comprised a mixture of aristocracy and democracy; the trouble with the founding of the US republic was the lack of any (formal) acknowledgement of the aristocratic principle, hence the confusion. If there is no role for the aristocratic principle (in the original Greek sense) then there is no point in having a bicameral legislature. Most of us would argue for bicameralism at least in the interim (one chamber elected; one chamber allotted), but if so, then why not go the further stage and differentiate functions accordingly? J.G.A. Pocock is one of the leading neo-republicans (in academic circles); this is how he differentiaties functions:

    ‘there is to be a “natural aristocracy” constituted by the people themselves in the act of recognizing [via elections] and deferring to those of superior talent; it will possess its own “virtue”, the capacity to reflect, and will exercise its own function, that of proposing alternatives between which the many’s “virtue”, the capacity to decide, entitles them to choose. The difference between aristocracy and democracy is moral, numerical and functional but has no necessary connection with the existence of estates, orders or classes.’ (Pocock, 1988, p.63).

    This is his commentary on Harrington, who he describes as a “classical republican”. Others (Scott, Davies etc) have claimed that Harrington’s republicanism is anything but classical. But whether in its neo- or paleo- form, it is to republican theory that you need to turn if you want a formula to devise a bicameral legislature, democratic theory alone will just end up with the sort of absurdity Terry describes.


  28. Keith,

    You wrote, “Most of us would argue for bicameralism at least in the interim (one chamber elected; one chamber allotted), but if so, then why not go the further stage and differentiate functions accordingly?”

    That makes a lot of sense to me. In terms of implementation, that would mean, for unicameral systems, adding an allotted chamber, and for bicameral systems, replacing one elected chamber with an allotted chamber. Then it makes a lot of sense to ask what would be a good division of roles between the two chambers.

    You also quoted Pocock, “The difference between aristocracy and democracy is moral, numerical and functional but has no necessary connection with the existence of estates, orders or classes.” I think that’s a very useful distinction. So, how to deal with societies where benefits and burdens are distributed very unequally based on class, ethnicity, and gender? Certainly, changes in the political system alone can’t solve those problems, but there must be ways that the political system can promote greater equality.

    Harald, if I remember from another thread, you advocate a single chamber with a mixture of allotted and elected members. Is that right, and if so, what’s your thinking behind that?

    Jacob, I need some more time to get my mind around what you wrote. But I think you raised one very important question – what should be the role of the executive branch in the process of lawmaking? (veto power?


  29. I look forward to your thread on the executive. Meanwhile, I’ll address some of the discussions regarding bicameralism fetishes on this page elsewhere, in your blog “Strategies to implement sortition.”


  30. >”So, how to deal with societies where benefits and burdens are distributed very unequally based on class, ethnicity, and gender? Certainly, changes in the political system alone can’t solve those problems, but there must be ways that the political system can promote greater equality.”

    Absolutely. Harrington’s constitutional proposals also included agrarian reform (the most salient wealth category in 17th Century England). His proposal included the abolition of primogeniture and a limit on the size of landholdings. Harrington’s analysis was proto-Marxist, as he explained the origins of the civil war purely in terms of political economy (as a result C.B. Macpherson devotes a chapter of The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism to Harrington).

    The classical connection between aristocracy (the best) and wealth was partly on account of the fact that only the wealthy had the necessary resources (financial and temporal) to devote to education. There was also a sense that “free” (in the sense of economically unencumbered) people were less tied to particular interests, and a residue of this is retained in Madison’s notion that the professional classes (doctors, lawyers etc.) are better equipped to judge dispassionately than landowners, manufacturers, artisans and labourers. Of course, since Marx’s analysis of class interests we know that this is hogwash, and that disinterested judgment — the god’s eye view — is just a chimera.

    So where do you look for “aristocracy” in modern societies, where education is universal and provided by the public purse? Harrington’s view was somewhat cynical, elites were simply better equipped to articulate interests: “reason is nothing but interest, there be divers interests and so divers reasons”, in other words the primary difference between elites and the masses is discursive eloquence (the gift of the gab) rather than (Platonic) wisdom or economic power. Such an analysis is highly relevant to our own information-based society and that’s the main reason that I argue that the prime role of the elites is discursive advocacy. The important thing is diversity — “divers interests and divers reasons” — so a modern-day Harrington might well focus as much on the concentration of media power as the concentration of wealth. His conception of a “natural aristocracy” required anybody with the necessary talent should be able to make the transition from the “prerogative tribe” to candidacy for election to the policy-proposing senate. As well as as a cap on wealth, Harrington’s property franchise for the senate was comparatively modest.

    Regarding the relationship of the policy-proposing (senate) and policy-deciding (assembly), the power of decision was in the hands of the latter, thereby obliging the former to come up with policies that the latter would accept (viz. Terry’s example of the two children dividing a cookie — “you cut and I’ll choose”). And in order to avoid the weak power of veto, any citizen should have the right to make proposals to the senate (as in the Athenian Boule), so long as they garner enough support to make it to the public votation stage. There is also a reasonable probability that the allocation of full decision power to the popular (sortive) assembly would make Harrington’s property redistribution look rather tame.

    So I agree with David that property redistribution is an essential part of the process of democratisation and this is not incompatible with the separation of powers between an aristocratic (elective) and popular (sortive) chamber.


  31. I have a question about the “cookie principle” for everyone here, but especially for Terry and Keith, since it’s a key part of what you’re proposing.

    It makes a lot of sense to me to have one body responsible for proposing laws, and a separate body responsible for deciding whether or not to enact them, for at least two reasons. One is that this could reduce the possibilities for conflict of interest (“the cookie principle”), and the other is that it seems to me that coming up with proposals and deciding about them involve very different kinds of work (Yoram and others, please feel free to disagree).

    Having said that, I’m thinking that there are several aspects of the legislative process where this kind of separation of functions could be useful, not just one.

    1. One body proposes “candidate” issues that warrant new legislation, another body chooses the final issues
    2. One body proposes “candidate” criteria for bills that address each issue, another body chooses the final criteria
    3. One body proposes “candidate” bills, or summaries of them, that (hopefully) meet the criteria, another body decides which ones are worth voting on
    4. One body drafts bills, another votes on them (this is the one that Terry and Keith proposed)

    What do you think?


  32. I think there’s a danger in making it all too complicated at this initial stage — we need to get people to accept the principle of sortion (and the distinction between proposing and deciding) first before going into the fine-grained detail. One of the reasons that Harrington’s model constitution was never taken seriously was the byzantine level of complexity involved. But on the principle of “you cut and I’ll choose” where I differ from Terry slightly is that I believe each of the “children” dividing the cookie should represent a different consitutional principle, whereas I think Terry would argue for a simple division of personnel, so he is taking the analogy rather more literally than me — the two agents being interchangeable in his case. (I’m sure Terry will correct me if I’m wrong here.) In my re-working of Harrington’s cake example, it wouldn’t be possible to reverse roles.


  33. Keith and David,

    Close… Except I think the choosers need to be as fully descriptively representative as possible, and thus should be asked to serve extremely short terms of service (days or weeks), and service should be very close to mandatory. The proposers, are asked to put in far more effort and time (learning more, drafting, debating), and thus while still chosen by lot (in my model), are inevitably more voluntary, and thus less descriptively representative of the population (though still far more than any elected chamber).


  34. By the way, I have been trying to find a quote I read some time ago that presented this “divide and choose” rule using the baked goods analogy…I believe it was some enlightenment era thinker, Condorcet or Montesquieu perhaps? Keith…do you know who I mean, or where I can re-locate the quote?


  35. The original reference (so far as I know) is to Harrington’s Commonwealth of Oceana:

    “Two of [the girls] have a cake yet undivided, which was given between them: that each of them therefore might have that which is due, ‘Divide’, says one to the other, ‘and I will choose; or let me divide, and you shall choose.’ If this be but once agreed upon, it is enough; for the divident, dividing unequally, loses, in regard that the other takes the better half. Wherefore she divides equally, and so both have right (Harrington, 1992, p.22).”

    And there have been a number of modern versions, including John Rawls, where he uses it to illustrate his “veil of ignorance” argument:

    “Consider the simplest problem of fair division. A number of men are to divide a cake: assuming that a fair division is an equal one, which procedure will give this outcome? The obvious solution is to have the man who divides the cake take the last piece. He will divide it equally, since in this way he assures for himself as large a share as he can.” (Rawls, Distributive Justice, Collected Papers (Harvard, 1999, p.148)

    Rawls uses the story to illustrate the principle of distributive justice, whereas Harrington is more concerned with the way that elite policy-makers in the senate can be constrained into providing an agenda that will meet with the approval of the decision makers (the popular chamber). I guess Terry’s example is more Rawlsian and mine Harringtonian. (Harrington, of course, unlike Rawls, uses the inclusive pronoun. Not just a proto-Marxist, also proto-PC!)


  36. Keith,

    Ha ha. Yes it was the Harrington quote I was remembering… which means I almost certainly came across it initially in your book! Wikipedia has an article about this principle under the title “Divide and Choose.” I think it needs a more homey baked-goods name, but am not quite satisfied with my trial “cookie principle.”



  37. How about “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche”? Marie Antoinette’s notorious advice that the poor should eat cake could be read as a reference to Harrington’s principle, as there was a French law which obliged bakers to sell expensive brioche at the same price as regular bread if they ran out of the latter. This law was devised in order to stop bakers putting profit before their social obligations — if bakers only made fancy bread then the poor would choose the fancy bread (at the mandatory cheap price) so the bakers would lose out. Thus it was in the interest of the bakers (the dividers) to look after the interests of the poor (the choosers). This benign social outcome was dependent on a royal edict, whereas Harrington was proposing a self-regulating law-making machine, that would ensure such outcomes automatically. That’s why I argue that the distinction between divider and chooser should be over function rather than just personnel.


  38. David,

    As I wrote above, I see the matter of having multiple decision making bodies, with or without differentiation in functions, as a secondary issue – the primary issues being that all decision making bodies would be chosen through sortition and be properly constituted so as to be independent, internally equal, promote participation, etc.

    That said, I disagree that having two bodies, one for proposing laws and the other for accepting or rejecting them, is a natural or a-priori useful division of labor.

    I don’t see why such a division of labor would tend to reduce conflicts of interest. If this claim relies on a “checks and balances” line of reasoning, then I think the current system – in which all arms of government are in full collaboration despite being nominally a system of checks and balances – exposes the falsehood of such an argument. Elites tend to collaborate with each other rather than allow slight differences in interests to undermine their broad shared interests, and it can be expected that such a mutually useful collaboration would prevail when it comes to the two proposed bodies, unless those bodies are themselves representative rather than elitist.

    As for the supposed differences in skills: I really don’t see this as being the case. The understanding required in order to pick a good proposal is essentially the same understanding that is required in order to craft a good proposal.

    The whole “divide and choose” model assumes that there is a conflict of interests between two parties. In our case, we are considering a situation where we would like to design a system that serves one group – the population. It is not clear to me at all how and why this situation is mapped into a “divide and choose” setup.


  39. The reason for the collaboration is because all branches of government are constituted by the same principle — election. Until such time as each branch is constituted by its own characteristic principle, the checks and balances hypothesis is untested. As to the consequences of exchanging one universal principle (election) for another (sortition), one can only speculate — this is virgin territory, as there are no historical examples whatsoever to base our expectations on. Sortition has only ever played a minor role and always for a different reason (rotation or sanitization). There are no historical examples of the use of sortition for political representation, so the proposal to appoint all political office-holders by sortition might appear somewhat reckless.

    Given the clear dominance of elite interests and their ability to percolate through whatever filter is provided, a good case can be made for strictly delimiting their area of influence. The attempt to ban elites from the political process is likely to have the same consequence as prohibition — they will just go underground. Political parties are much easier to police than the mafia.


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