Down With Free Elections! Part 2

Part 2 of a post by Campbell Wallace. Part 1 is here.

There are some matters that were not touched on, or were skimmed over, in my first article.

(Note: I shall continue to refer to the members of legislative bodies as MPs, which you may translate “representatives” or “deputies” or whatever. Similarly for “House”, “Chamber”, and “Parliament”; translate to what is appropriate in your country.)

One House or Two?

This will depend on the circumstances of the country involved. In a very small country, a city-state for instance, it might be adequate to have a single House chosen from all the community with no geographical circumscriptions. In a large country one might have one chamber chosen from the entire population, with a second chamber, chosen by geographic regions like today’s electorates, in order to protect local interests. Although I am not convinced of the absolute necessity of this latter approach, a good case can be made for an Upper House or Senate as a “House of Review” with powers limited to referring legislation back to the lower house with amendments. The fact that this slows legislation down is generally regarded as a good thing; laws should not be rushed.

Number of MPs

Again, this will depend on the circumstances of the country. There is nothing magical about the number 500 which I have suggested; more might be appropriate for a large country. For a small country some smaller number might be chosen, but it would be a false economy to make the number too small. It should be noted, though, that with a new ballot every six months, even a number smaller than ideal should give reasonable fairness; even if the representation is a bit skewed at any one moment, over a period of time things will even out. I think 200 might be a reasonable lower limit for a very small country.

Pay and Conditions of Members of Parliament

At present, in most countries, MPs or their equivalents fix their own salaries and conditions. With an elected parliament, there is at least some incentive (public hostility and the need or desire to be re-elected) to keep salaries at a reasonable level. That restraint disappears when MPs are chosen by lot, and cannot seek re-election.

On the other hand, there is a tendency for expense accounts, which are less visible to the public, to be both very generous, and enthusiastically abused (the recent scandals in the UK being only one example).

So the question arises: how do you make sure MPs are adequately paid and don’t abuse the system?

Independent Salaries Board
To my mind, MPs’ salaries should be fixed by an independent body. That body (call it the Salaries Board) should be chosen by lot, and, as with MPs, its members should be replaced regularly: 20% every year would be appropriate. It should have sufficient members – perhaps 100 – to ensure that it reflects at least roughly the community as a whole, and to ensure that there is a reasonable number of competent people in it. It should meet about once a year, but for a period no longer than is necessary for its work, thus it should not be necessary for its members to leave their other occupations.

In addition to fixing salaries, the SB would be responsible for setting MPs’ expense allowances, retirement benefits, extra pay for certain functions (eg PM, Cabinet membership) and work conditions and perquisites generally.

I think that MPs’ pay should be pretty generous. I do not believe that anyone should be forced to sit as an MP. Those who do must leave whatever they are doing for the term of their mandate. In addition to the immediate financial loss there is the loss of seniority, experience and knowledge in their field, and reputation, renown or fame. These are considerable sacrifices for many people: people in business or the liberal professions, academics, employees in large organisations, pop stars, footballers . . . even tradesmen or shopkeepers working on their own may find it hard to build up their business again after five years absence. I would go so far as to suggest that they should continue to be paid their salary until death. It is important that the selection process should not systematically weed out competent and intelligent people.

Other Perquisites
MPs will have similar requirements for staff, office space, research assistants, travel, re-location expenses and so forth as they have at present, with the great difference will not need the resources that standing for election requires. Where MPs represent a local district, they must have adequate facilities to make themselves available to the residents of that district: a local office with staff, time set aside for the purpose, and travel expenses.

Attendance and Diligence
You can’t make rules to ensure diligence, but you can oblige attendance at sessions. This might seem petty and narrow-minded, but full attendance is important when a randomly selected parliament votes, in order to preserve the accurate representation of the public. So I would suggest docking MPs’ pay for absence, except for illness. Incapacity to attend should lead to retirement, which would not, at least, be a financial penalty.

It follows that sessions of parliament should be scheduled to allow MPs ample time for legitimate activities outside the House, in particular research, committee work, and making themselves available to citizens in the locality that they represent.

Bribery and Corruption

I don’t suppose these will ever be eliminated entirely, but removing the possibility of re-election will certainly reduce the scope for it. It will still be possible to offer an MP money to vote in a certain way, or to make threats against an MP or the MP’s family. To reduce this risk voting should be by secret ballot in the House. However, if MPs deliberations are made public it will be easy to see at least some MPs’ preferences. Nevertheless, with a randomly-chosen House it would usually be necessary to work on a large number of MPs for the bribe or threat to be effective, which would be very hard to keep secret. And one might suppose that anonymous threats would tend to antagonise all MPs, and so be counter-productive.

Cabinet and PM

Parliament as a whole is far too large a group when it comes to choosing policies. You can’t sit 500 people around a table and discuss things informally. Therefore I think it appropriate to have a group of around 10 or at most 20 which will attempt to make coherent plans for the future and to propose them to the parliament. I have called this a Cabinet and suggested it be chosen initially by lot. In many countries members of the Cabinet have a specific responsibility or “portfolio”: Treasury, Social Security, Defence, Trade, etc. Whether this should be done would be decided by the parliament itself, which would also be competent to make any other decisions affecting Cabinet.

I should point out an important difference from the Cabinet in an elected British-style government. In the latter, the Prime Minister and his close colleagues set policy, and MPs vote according to party dictates, except on certain questions where a “conscience vote” is permitted. Generally though, MPs vote strictly along party lines, or risk expulsion from the party and often failure to get re-elected. In the proposed system, since there is no re-election, and MPs are not beholden to the PM or to a party, the real power remains with the parliament as a whole. The Cabinet proposes, the parliament disposes.

I feel that even if there is no mention of a Cabinet in any written Constitution, one will form. Leaders will emerge because some people are more assertive than others – “natural leaders” if you will. It is also highly likely that working groups or committees will be created by the MPs to study particular questions, and to advise the House on these matters; one could think of the Cabinet as a sort of permanent working committee on overall policy. All formal decisions, however, would be made by vote in the parliament as a whole.

I have also mentioned a Prime Minister. Again, I think a dominant figure will emerge within the Cabinet whether you mention a PM in the Constitution or not. I do not see this as a great problem, as long as the House can remove any cabinet member by majority vote. The vacancy would then be filled by lot, and being voted out would not prevent being re-chosen by lot (or being again voted out!).

In any event, it is necessary to have a formal Head of State. If you don’t want a Prime Minister then you will need a President (or whatever ) chosen in some way outside the parliament. Very well, but your President should have no authority except to be hospitable to visiting foreign heads of state; and even here there is a danger that the President will acquire excessive influence through the prestige of the position and hob-nobbing with the mighty.

My use of the word “Cabinet” is perhaps unfortunate but I can’t think of a better term.

Parties and Pressure Groups

The broad political tendencies and interests that exist now in the community will not, of course, disappear. Their relative strength will be accurately represented within the House. Outside parliament they will no doubt continue to mount media campaigns, demonstrate in the streets, distribute pamphlets, write blogs, and so on. Groups with deep pockets will probably have more influence than the merits of their case deserve. Sometimes they may succeed in inducing mass hysteria, as has happened in the past.

Although MPs will be exposed to such campaigns in the outside community, within the House at least opposing views will not suffer from the disparity of means. In private discussion or open debate there will be the counter-influence of those of their colleagues who are not swept off their feet by the torrent outside. So there would be some hope of avoiding decisions based on highly biased advertising or mass hysteria.

It is certain, I think, that informal groups with special interests or a similar point of view will form spontaneously within the parliament. This is all to the good. They will have to persuade the others if they want to get their way.

Voting

Although I suggest random selection for appointing MPs and Cabinet members, I propose voting to get rid of unsatisfactory ones. This is fundamental to the system I propose: choose by lot, eliminate by vote.

Voting MPs out of Cabinet (or any other office established by the parliament) by the parliament should be simple and swift: a show of hands, a division, or a black ball/white ball system. Loss of special office should not entail exclusion from parliament, since we need to keep the parliament representative of the people as a whole.

Voting MPs out of office by the people would be much more rare. It should be done by an accumulation of votes against that person: these votes could be recorded at any time, would be a form of censure, and should perhaps be accompanied by the loss of salary and entitlements, at the discretion of the parliament.

There is a danger that a well-organised pressure group could mount a malicious campaign against an MP who outspokenly opposed them. For this reason the number of votes required to expel an MP should be quite high. Of course, the fact that the replacement would be chosen at random would limit the effectiveness of this form of abuse.

Selection of the PM
This might be made by random selection within Cabinet, followed by votes (of Cabinet members) against the random choice if necessary, or by voting for the PM within the Cabinet. The method used here matters little, since the PM can always be removed from office by the House, at the drop of a hat if necessary.

Civil Service and Administration

Senior public servants would not change with a change of government, as happens now in some countries, for the simple reason that there will be no change of government. Thus the day-to-day running of the country can continue smoothly at all times.

Similarly, the refusal to vote budgets as a political weapon would disappear.

Judges and Magistrates

If MPs write the laws, it is judges who interpret them, so the choice of judges is at least as important as that of MPs.

The choice of judges should be completely removed from the parliament, and not subject to its approval in any way. I propose that they should also be chosen by lot from a pool of those with sufficient qualifications (Law School plus several years experience). I believe it should be necessary to serve for a period in a lower court before acceding to a higher court. Their removal could be by vote of all other persons with adequate qualifications. I suggest a 60% majority should be required.

Education and the Media

Democracy of any sort cannot flourish if the mass of people is not educated and well informed. The view is popular in the US (much less so elsewhere) that there is something sinister in schools run by the government, and even more danger in government news services. The belief seems to be that the government of the day will abuse these services to influence the public to suit its own nefarious ends. (In fact, outside the US, government news services have often worked rather well, and been conspicuously less biased and more conscientious than their privately owned competitors. The British BBC, Australia’s ABC and SBS, and government owned radio and TV in France and Germany are examples.)

One huge advantage of the random selection of MPs is that MPs have nothing to gain from trying to influence the media. Consequently there can be no reasonable objection to government news services, and everything to gain.

Similarly MPs have nothing to gain financially from influencing school curricula, and the nature of the parliament, which represents the views of the whole community, should thwart attempts to influence school boards in a sectarian way. Contrast this with private schools, most of which belong to religious groups, whose avowed aim is to inculcate their religious views into their pupils.

Secret Police, Spies, and Similar

Though there will still be a need for intelligence services to inform the government of foreign governments’ capabilities and intentions, and for counter-espionage, random selection will make nonsensical the abuse for political ends the surveillance of and dirty tricks against political rivals.

© Campbell Wallace

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31 Responses

  1. >Leaders will emerge because some people are more assertive than others – “natural leaders” if you will. . . . I have also mentioned a Prime Minister. Again, I think a dominant figure will emerge within the Cabinet whether you mention a PM in the Constitution or not.

    Exactly. And that is why the democratic mandate of a statistically-representative assembly must be limited to aggregate functions such as voting. I’m genuinely puzzled by the perceived need to rely on one process alone for the appointment of political officers — this is likely to discredit our shared endeavour as much as the bizarre proposal at last week’s Paris sortition workshop to allocate penal sentences by lot. Statistical representation is exactly it says on the can, so let’s have no more talk of appointing prime ministers by lot (or architects and flute-players by bean).

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  2. >”I’m genuinely puzzled by the perceived need to rely on one process alone for the appointment of political officers”

    I’m still a bit baffled by your term “political officers”.
    Officers, to me , are servants of the statet. Civil servants,
    policemen, that sort of thing.
    “Political”: to me that puts us back in the world of elections, political parties, etc. Which I thought we are trying to get away from.

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  3. Office-holder would have been a better term — a member of parliament is a political office-holder and so is a government minister. I agree this is a slightly archaic term, but can’t think of a better one that covers all the relevant examples.

    You may be trying to “get away from elections, political parties etc.” (and so was I when I became involved in sortition, via my first book, The Party’s Over) but then I decided to grow up and start trying to develop political arrangements that combine equality with good government. This requires a combination of mechanisms — including election, appointment, sortition and direct democracy. Since then I’ve been involved in a running battle with dogmatic advocates of a one-trick-pony approach, as they bring sortition into disrepute (much better to have horses for courses).

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  4. > I decided to grow up and start trying to develop political arrangements that combine equality with good government. This requires a combination of mechanisms — including election, appointment, sortition and direct democracy.

    Campbell,

    Just to give you a heads up – I (and others here) have been through these discussions with Keith many times over. You can look them up in the comments threads in many posts on this blog. Personally, despite putting significant time and effort into those discussions, I have never managed to gain any understanding of how or why the arrangements Keith proposes are anything but a way to privilege the interests of certain elite groups over those of the majority of the population.

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  5. >”I’m genuinely puzzled by the perceived need to rely on one process alone for the appointment of political officers ”

    I see my proposal as very much a two-process system.

    1 Chance appoints the MPs and the members of “Cabinet”
    2 One or more members of “Cabinet” get voted out of office. This will happen until there is a group in “Cabinet” which is satisfactory in the eyes of the parliament. When one or more cease to be satisfactory, out they go.

    I accept that my use of the term “Cabinet” possibly ruffles American feathers. Is “Policy Committee” more acceptable? “Policy Council”?

    >”I decided to grow up and start trying to develop political arrangements that combine equality with good government”
    It’s too late to hope that I’ll grow up, I’m afraid. Not sure that I want to.
    If by “direct democracy” you mean referenda, you will have a _very_ hard time convincing me. I’ve seen a few, and I think they are a sort of phoney democracy.
    You haven’t convinced me that my proposal would not give good government, but please keep trying. It’s useful to me to have these objections, they help me think.
    >”as they bring sortition into disrepute”
    My intentions are honorable, Mr Sutherland! I shall always cherish and respect your daughter.

    @Yoram: I haven’t had time yet to read everything posted here, or Keith’s books, and I’m sorry if I’m going over well laboured ground. I was afraid that would happen. I’m just delighted that there are others who hold views not unlike my own.

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  6. If you take a statistically-representative sample and then select (in any way) a small number of people from that sample, then those people will have no representative mandate. What you are proposing is a form of oligarchy, it’s just constituted using a different selection method (chance, rather than wealth, heredity or force of arms). The only merit of selecting by chance is to create a portrait in miniature of the whole citizenry, but you lose that as soon as you subdivide it and privilege individual wills rather than the general will.

    I’m not American, I’m as English as you are, and I have two equally cherished daughters.

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  7. Oops, Scottish, I mean.

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  8. >”I’m as English as you are”

    Not at all, then. Congratulations on your daughters, I wish I had a couple of daughters.

    >”What you are proposing is a form of oligarchy.”
    By your reasoning, even the 500 (or 1000, or whatever) is a form of oligarchy.

    >”The only merit of selecting by chance is to create a portrait in miniature of the whole citizenry, but you lose that as soon as you subdivide it and privilege individual wills rather than the general will.”

    You might give some thought to the merit of being able to “de-select” (sorry about the word) any or all of them by vote at any moment. To my mind, if there’s a weakness, it’s not the risk of the Cabinet running rough-shod over the wishes of the parliament, it’s rather that there could be periods of revolving-door changes of membership in the Cabinet. However, I think things would tend to settle down after only a short time. Sooner or later you will get people that the parliament feels comfortable with. For a while.
    Anyway, they only have the power to propose Bills – which any other member would also have. Perhaps I should have made that clear.
    >”those people will have no representative mandate.” Mandate? Only to consider, think, suggest. Not to decide.

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  9. >By your reasoning, even the 500 (or 1000, or whatever) is a form of oligarchy.

    Not so long as the assembly only acts as a group. Public opinion pollsters would claim that a stratified sample of 1,000 would enable them to predict with reasonable confidence the views of the whole population. But this would not be true at the level of the individual members, it’s only true in aggregate. That’s why (sadly) individual speech acts are not part of a descriptive-representation mandate and why (sadly) we have to look elsewhere for active political functions. All a sortive assembly can do is question, listen and then vote in secret, thereby determining the outcome of the legislative debate. A mixed constitution is unavoidable, assuming we all share a commitment to democratic equality. Note: this is a normative point, we haven’t even considered the fact that it might be better to select ministers who have a past record of competence.

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  10. > I propose that they should also be chosen by lot from a pool of those with sufficient qualifications (Law School plus several years experience).

    Why have judges at all? Why not rely on randomly-selected juries?

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  11. > A mixed constitution is unavoidable, assuming we all share a commitment to democratic equality.

    Oligarchy is democracy.

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  12. I don’t know.

    On the number of MPs I tend to be supportive of extremes, like the Thirty Thousand.org proposal or a compact size sufficient for combining legislative and executive-administrative authority.

    The independent salaries board would be irrelevant if the pay and perks for public officials are such that their living standards were at the median for professional and other skilled workers. There should, however, be an audit organ and definitely a recall mechanism if these bounds were violated. Anyway, isn’t the median I just mentioned “pretty generous” enough?

    Folks, we were supposed to have additional blogs on “direct democracy and mass politics” and on “designing” an executive.

    Anyway, on the subject of executive vs. legislature, the 10-20 range isn’t statistically representative. The minimum is between two dozen and 30. Also, couldn’t the legislature divide itself into compact but demarchic committees such that they could also have executive-administrative authority vested in these specialized committees? For example, the defense committee itself, if compact enough, would run any “ministry” of defense?

    [In any event, I’m in favour of two or three sovereign legislatures dealing with separate spheres, as opposed to the upper-lower house divide.]

    Yes, your use of the word “Cabinet” is unfortunate, but I think a good substitute is “Government” with a capital-G. In a transitional stage, I would support a Thirty Thousand.org size proposal coupled with a sovereign Revolutionary Provisional Government that both “proposes” and “disposes.”

    At least you’re open to “recall by vote” as a process.

    Anyway, I’m in favour of sovereign juries, and I’m also in favour of political accountability for those courts determining whether laws are constitutional.

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  13. Keith is comparing the legitimacy of individuals engaging in speech acts in a statistical sample (mini-public), with a hypothetical participatory democracy in which every single citizen was present and could speak if they wished. His point is that in repeated drawings of a sample there will be a fairly accurate representation of the whole, but that variations among individuals who choose to speak will make each mini-public different than each other if individuals can act as individuals, with outcomes different than the hypothetical universal democracy. He sees this difference as fundamental.

    But people like Yoram, myself, and I presume Campbell, are instead comparing any one of these mini-publics with an ELECTED representative chamber, rather than an impossible universal democracy. And we see that in nearly every occurrence, the allotted mini-public would be more representative (more democratic) than an elected one (though, admittedly not identical to a hypothetical universal democracy).

    Speech acts by individual elected legislators, which Keith accepts, have no REAL superior legitimacy than individual acts by allotted representatives. If I live in a district and voted against my “representative” who argues in the legislature in diametric opposition to my interests and beliefs, how is that more legitimate? Keith suggests it is more legitimate because we have tacitly agreed to rules that allow this person to pretend to represent me…He is “authorized” by the rules of the election process. But then, why can’t we equally well develop rules that authorize those selected by lot to engage in individual speech acts?

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  14. >”Why have judges at all? Why not rely on randomly-selected juries?”
    Because you need technical knowledge and competence.
    Juries are very prone to “group-think” – that is to say they tend to follow the notions of the most outspoken oof their members. If you want juries to work, you would have to lock them up in separate boxes and to decide without reference to each others’ thinking.

    >”Oligarchy is democracy.”
    I don’t think I can agree with that.

    @keithsutherlandKei and Jacob Richter
    I’m perfectly well aware that 10 or 20 can hardly be considered an adequate sample from a statistician’s point of view.
    Since the vote of the 10 or 20 carries no more weight than that of any other member of the parliament, and they have no executive function other than to propose matters for consideration and in any case they can be removed by vote of the others, I fail to see that the “non-representativity” poses a problem.

    >”Also, couldn’t the legislature divide itself into compact but demarchic committees such that they could also have executive-administrative authority vested in these specialized committees?”

    As far as I’m concerned, yes, if the parliament sees fit to do things this way. However, the ultimate power should remain with the parliament as a whole, ie all 500 or whatever voting together. If the committe gets it wrong, parliament overrules and/or sacks them.
    >”At least you’re open to “recall by vote” as a process.”
    I’m more than open to it, I see it as essential.

    >”Anyway, isn’t the median I just mentioned “pretty generous” enough?”
    If you set it at the median, then you could expect only those who earn less than the median to accept appointment, which would not be representative.
    Obviously you can’t set their income at the level of a Gates, a Buffet or a Soros, but it shouldn’t exclude too many.
    Thanks for the comments, I still have a lot of reading to do.

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  15. > Because you need technical knowledge and competence. Juries are very prone to “group-think” – that is to say they tend to follow the notions of the most outspoken oof their members.

    Those are exactly the arguments that people make to justify government by professionals.

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  16. Thanks to Terry, as always for putting my argument better than I do (in order to knock it down again!). The reason that the speech acts of an elected legislator are legitimate from a democratic perspective is that more people have invested their will in her will than those who she defeated. By contrast, the speech acts of an allotted member only represent her own will (and anyone who happens to share her prejudices). Campbell puts his finger on the problem in his discussion of speech acts among trial jurors:

    “Juries are very prone to “group-think” – that is to say they tend to follow the notions of the most outspoken of their members. If you want juries to work, you would have to lock them up in separate boxes and to decide without reference to each others’ thinking.”

    Exactly so — and the same is true for a political jury. Hence the need for non-sortive mechanisms for speech acts. In juries we allocate the advocacy role to lawyers and the knowledge role to judges, and we need a similar division of labour in the affairs of state. Jury-room deliberation is only on account of the need for a unanimous verdict, with a political jury a simple majority vote is required.

    PS: Terry, I’m not concerned about the formal rules of authorization, only the rules of arithmetic. I accept, of course, that the mandate of elected officials is, at best, approximate and that there are other ways for people to express their unreflective will (ie in varieties of direct democracy). I’m completely agnostic as to the best approach here, but would argue that they are all an improvement on relying on the arbitrary will of outspoken members selected by chance. What trial juries do is to weigh the evidence and decide the outcome and this should be our model for political juries, rather than giving a randomly selected bunch of people the role of policeman, prosecutor, defence, judge, jury and executioner, which is what Campbell is advocating.

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  17. @ Campbell Wallace:

    What I meant is that there can still be some sort of role for a legal expert to ensure that court procedures are followed properly. What’s not needed is a position that somehow demands that everyone in the room stand and sit at his command. The whole trial process should be done by jury, not just the conviction part. Moreover, civil cases need cases by jury, because common law judges make law without being politically accountable.

    Why should a single parliament be the be-all-and-end-all when there are just way too many issues for it to decide?

    The median standard of living suggestion is actually an improvement over the older “average skilled workers’ wage” measure. Setting things only to the mean would skew the average a tad too upwards and spur greed. The median is more reflective of what the middle-income folks in the workforce get.

    I look forward to more of your thoughts.

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  18. >”His point is that in repeated drawings of a sample there will be a fairly accurate representation of the whole, but that variations among individuals who choose to speak will make each mini-public different than each other if individuals can act as individuals, with outcomes different than the hypothetical universal democracy. He sees this difference as fundamental.”

    Hmm. Not sure I understand you.
    Do you mean to point out that speakers on a bill to (say) increase funding for outpatient wards in country hospitals will be different from those who are passionate about inner-city bicycle lanes or improving broadband internet service? That in each case there will only be a subset – possibly very small – of the “parliament” (my word) or “mini-public” (yours) that is interested, and so this small subset is not statistically representative?
    If that is what you or Keith mean, then my answer is “of course”. But voting on the bill – the real power – is in the hands of all the MPs, not just the few who get excited about a particular issue.

    >”Those are exactly the arguments that people make to justify government by professionals.”

    Yes. However, there are some fundamental differences.

    Judges do need to pass examinations, which are – at least theoretically – objective test of knowledge. Elected members pass no examinations.

    Law is a narrow enough field for there to be some hope of an intelligent person, after years of study and experience, getting a working grasp of it, by which I mean knowing which books to look up when in doubt.

    Our elected representatives cannot have any useful technical competence in all the fields that a parliament legislates on. The only competence or “professionalism” which is selected for by elections is skill in getting elected. The methods which work best are often less than admirable.

    What judges and MPs do have in common is the need to be sacked from time to time.

    >”The reason that the speech acts of an elected legislator are legitimate from a democratic perspective is that more people have invested their will in her will than those who she defeated.”

    In Part 1 of my ramblings I gave several reasons why I think they do not always have any legitimacy. In the French presidential elections of 2002 the public was presented with a choice between Jacques Chirac and J-M Le Pen. It almost certainly true that over 50% would have chosen “neither of the above” if they could have. I think the same will be true for the current US presidential elections -certainly if the “99%” really are 99%. Where is the legitimacy in these situations?

    >”Exactly so — and the same is true for a political jury.”
    I reject your assimilating a parliament to a jury.
    In principle, a jury in a criminal case decides on a question of fact, in which there are usually only two possible answers: guilty or not guilty, with (sometimes) a third: “not proven”.
    A parliament decides questions of principle and questions of policy, on which a whole spectrum of divergence is possible. No, “spectrum” is too narrow, it’s 2-dimensional. Differences on these questions are multi-dimensional. Tot homines, tot sententiae: there are as many opinions as there are MPs. And these differences can be at least partly expressed by proposing amendments, rather than just saying yes or no to the bill.

    >”rather than giving a randomly selected bunch of people the role of policeman, prosecutor, defence, judge, jury and executioner, which is what Campbell is advocating.”

    I admire your majestically sweeping way of putting a whole lot of nonsense into my mouth. “Not guilty of any of that, your Honour”

    >”The whole trial process should be done by jury, not just the conviction part. Moreover, civil cases need cases by jury”

    I really don’t know.
    The worst tyrants have always managed to find a judge to commit judicial murders.
    Juries in civil cases have a reputation for giving erratic and extravagant damages awards. As I typed that sentence however, I remembered the recent case of a student who uploaded 29 (I think) songs to the internet. A jury awarded $650 000 of damages to the record companies, this was reduced to $65 000 by an appeal judge, and reinstated to $650 000 by the Supreme Court (?) of the US. It must require a very subtle mind and profound knowledge of the law to see any justice in that.
    Where prospective jurors can be challenged and refused by the parties you can get a stacked jury.
    Unfortunately you will probably always have the innocent person condemned because of prejudice: Socrates, Dreyfus, the Liverpool Six, Sacco and Vanzetti . . . In the political climate of the time, would an all-jury system have saved them? In Socrates’ case, we know the answer.

    Phew! It’s hard to keep up with you guys. I’ll stop now, I’m falling asleep.

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  19. Although voting is the crucial power and the mini-populus will be representative when voting, statistical accuracy will be skewed by imbalanced advocacy (as you acknowledge in your comments on dominant figures in the jury-room). We’re all aware of the approximate nature of the elective mandate and the problem with none-of-the-above; all the more important to redouble our efforts to improve this aspect of democracy, via media pluralism, PR and direct-democratic initiatives. When something doesn’t work very well, it’s tempting to give up on it, but the alternative (oligarchic klerotocracy) is far worse.

    Voting on parliamentary bills is in the end an up/down process (there are only two lobbies), although a no vote can often lead to a “revise and resumbmit” option. This is a cybernetic process, whereby those who submit legislative proposals will learn to anticipate the popular judgment. Nadia Urbinati’s book is very good on the need to enable tot homines, tot sententiae without generating too much hot air.

    My comment on policeman, prosecutor, defence, judge, jury and executioner was deadly serious, as it’s an accurate reflection of your proposal to assign all powers (initiative, advocacy, judgment and execution) to a tiny group of citizens appointed by lot.

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  20. > Judges do need to pass examinations, which are – at least theoretically – objective test of knowledge.

    “Application of the law” is a completely subjective activity, as the fact that dissenting opinions are commonplace clearly shows (in case this is not self-evident). Therefore, this activity carries significant political power and should not be left in the hands of an elite.

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  21. I have the feeling that if we were all in a room together we could dispose of a few bottles of wine very thoughtfully indeed.

    >”We’re all aware of the approximate nature of the elective mandate and the problem with none-of-the-above”
    Good. We agree here then.

    >”media pluralism” Yes! Bring it on! Include a state-owned broadcaster. With no politics, we can definitely afford it.

    >”PR and direct-democratic initiatives.” Not at all sure about this, or exactly what you mean.

    >”the alternative (oligarchic klerotocracy) is far worse . . .
    “My comment on policeman, prosecutor, defence, judge, jury and executioner was deadly serious, as it’s an accurate reflection of your proposal to assign all powers (initiative, advocacy, judgment and execution) to a tiny group of citizens appointed by lot.”

    If by tiny you mean the 500, well, I’m not wedded to that number. More will be more representative, more cumbersome and more costly.

    However, if by tiny you are referring to the group that I called the Cabinet, then I vehemently disagree with you.

    I do NOT assign all powers to them. I think I have been quite clear on this already.
    And the “appointed by lot” is very much a half-truth. True on day one of the new regime, yes. But how long do you think the MPs will refrain from getting rid of the unpopular ones when doing so is so easy? After a short period they will be a quite different group, and will continue to evolve, at the will of the representative group of 500 or whatever.

    Moreover you draw a totally false parallel between a court and the parliament I have proposed with your highly-charged terms.
    Policeman? In a parliament?
    Prosecutor?
    Defence?
    Judge?
    Jury?
    Not one of your terms is applicable. Courts investigate crimes and torts. Parliaments do not. At least the one I propose does not. It’s a pretty fundamental and widely accepted principle to separate the judicial and executive bodies.

    Deadly serious? You’re joking!

    >”Application of the law” is a completely subjective activity, as the fact that dissenting opinions are commonplace clearly shows (in case this is not self-evident).”

    Completely subjective? No, but there often is subjectivity. But does this always necessarily make it political?

    “Elite”: another highly charged term. Admit at least that there is a big difference between an elite whose members all have 16 quarters of nobility, and an “elite” which has studied for and passed exams. (I assume that all citizens have equal access to law schools and exams.)

    The question boils down to “is the direction of a court an activity which requires specialised technical knowledge and hence training?”
    If you think that it does, in the same way that brain surgery, designing bridges, or piloting aeroplanes do, then I think you must accept that it should be done by an “elite” which has the qualifications.

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  22. Campbell,

    > I have the feeling that if we were all in a room together we could dispose of a few bottles of wine very thoughtfully indeed.

    If people are inclined to do this, we could have occasional video meetings. (I understand that there was such a meeting recently with Iain Walker: https://equalitybylot.wordpress.com/2012/03/21/allotted-assembly-for-budget-planning-in-the-city-of-canada-bay-australia/#comment-3013)

    > “Elite”: another highly charged term. Admit at least that there is a big difference between an elite whose members all have 16 quarters of nobility, and an “elite” which has studied for and passed exams. (I assume that all citizens have equal access to law schools and exams.)

    Again – this kind of “it’s open to everyone” argument is the standard argument for electoral government. A legal career appeals to a certain kind of people, and reinforces certain ways of thinking among those who embark upon this career. As a result, those emerging from that process are unlike the rest of the population – and their decisions represent their own ideology and their own interests.

    > The question boils down to “is the direction of a court an activity which requires specialised technical knowledge and hence training?” If you think that it does, in the same way that brain surgery, designing bridges, or piloting aeroplanes do, then I think you must accept that it should be done by an “elite” which has the qualifications.

    Entrusting all legal decisions to lawyers is analogous to having people entrust their bodies at birth to the medical establishment and committing a-priori to undergo any treatment that is prescribed to them by the doctors at any point in the future. Would you do that?

    Sure – a jury can take advantage of the services and advice of professionals, but the decisions of which professionals to turn to (just like the decision of which doctors to turn to) and whether to follow their advice or reject it (just like the decision of whether to undertake a certain medical treatment or not) should be at all times in the hands of the jury.

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  23. My comment on the continuum of policeman to executioner is because your proposal explicitly arrogates all powers (executive and legislative) to the 500 or so citizens appointed by lot. By coincidence this is the same number as the Athenian Council of 500, appointed by lot. The Athenians would have been horrified by your proposal (even though every eligible citizen would have stood a 50/50 probability of serving on the Council at least once in his lifetime), as the Council was only a collective magistracy which prepared the agenda for the Assembly, the prime law-making body (which all citizens could attend). Obviously this is impossible in large modern states, hence the rise of representative democracy and (more recently) direct democratic initiatives. Democracy requires some or all of the above, rather than leaving everything to a few people chosen by random.

    Even with a larger assembly, frequent fresh allotments and election within the allotted body, this could never approximate the Athenian principle of rule and be ruled in turn, owing to the sheer size of modern states. Increasing the size of the allotted assembly will only lead to the return of the problem of rational ignorance, hence the need for a mixed constitution — sortition, election, direct democracy and appointment on merit. (Don’t bother trying to convince Yoram of the need for the latter [or anything, for that matter], you’re just wasting your breath. You are right to distinguish between elites and groups privileged by birth, wealth etc but the former is just as much of an anathema to the good Mr. Gat — not sure whether he would mellow much under your agreeable suggestion of a few bottles of vino.)

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  24. P.S. Given that my repeated case for a mixed constitution is frequently portrayed on this site as the rantings of an intransigent maverick (or deranged reactionary bigot), I’d like to point out that Peter Stone and myself have taken on the challenge of engaging with the regular political theory community as opposed to just circling the wagons and talking among ourselves, or preaching to the converted (select your own preferred cliche). At the recent sortition conference in Paris we were engaging with Bernard Manin, the leading theorist of representative government, and made some progress, although were thwarted by a deranged proposal to allocate penal sentences by lot. I’m also engaging with Nadia Urbinati (another leading theorist of representative democracy, who has expressed an interest in sortition) and the Ancient Greece historian Mogens Hansen, who is coming round to the view that sortition might have a role to play in large-scale modern states. This is why I’m a little sensitive about attempts to claim that sortition is some kind of magic bullet and would appeal to all and sundry to read up on the literature in order to understand exactly what sortition can and cannot do.

    I’m relieved to see that Conall Boyle, the honorary grandfather of this blog, has agreed that it will require serious work by political theorists to resolve whether or not the lot can have any role to play in modern politics (in addition to the obvious one of distributive justice). Given that Conall, wearing his statisticians hat, argues that it can’t, I think we need to take this challenge very seriously indeed (although Yoram would dismiss it as an appeal to elite authority).

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  25. Keith,

    I think you understate the role of the Council of 500 in Athens. There is new archeological evidence from the neighboring democracy (the city of Eretria) that, according to Josiah Ober, suggests that a council selected by lot was the KEY institution in Greek democracy and may even have been more central to the Greeks’ concept of democracy than a People’s Assembly.

    Ober writes:
    “In terms of making a participatory Greek democracy work, the key institution was a popular deliberative council chosen from the entire citizen body. The Greek recognition of the centrality of a popular council for democracy is underlined by a recently discovered inscription from Eretria. In ca. 340 B.C. the Eretrian democracy promulgated a decree offering rewards to a potential tyrant killer, that is, to anyone who took direct and violent action against those who sought to overthrow the existing democratic government. In a revealing passage, the decree orders all citizens to fight without waiting to receive orders if anyone tries to establish “some constitution other than a Council and a prutaneia (a subset of the Council) appointed by lot from all Eretrians.” (Knoepfler 2001, 2002; translation Teegarden 2007).

    You can read the whole article here: http://www.princeton.edu/~pswpc/pdfs/ober/090703.pdf

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  26. I’m glad to defer to the historians on this issue, and it’s important to note Hansen’s distinction between Athenian democracy and the other Greek variants (Manin and Urbinati are adamant that the boule was merely a “collective magistracy”). But the important difference between the archaic and modern examples is the vast difference in numbers — modern proposals for sortition have to take into account the miniscule probability that most citizens have for being selected. This puts severe constraints on the role of any allotted assembly with regard to what actions it can take without breaching its collective mandate. In this respect Campbell’s proposal for an all-singing-and-dancing mandate is a variant of oligarchy and would merit a similarly violent response as in the Eritrean example. Off with his head!

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  27. >”Again – this kind of “it’s open to everyone” argument is the standard argument for electoral government.”

    So? I’ve given my given reasons for doing away with elections.
    I don’t see that we should treat the courts in the same way.

    >”A legal career appeals to a certain kind of people”
    True.
    >”and reinforces certain ways of thinking among those who embark upon this career.”

    One would like to think in a good way: logical thinking, looking at both sides of a question, being aware that several pieces of legislation may have a bearing on a particular case, being aware of precedent, etc.

    >”As a result, those emerging from that process are unlike the rest of the population – and their decisions represent their own ideology and their own interests.”
    Judges would probably prefer the term “philosophy” to “ideology”, and would no doubt reject the last four words outright.

    Yoram, I think that any attempt to make “justice” work perfectly is doomed to failure by the human material. All you can hope for is to make gross errors less likely, and their consequences less severe. I have already suggested one way: the possibility of judges who perform badly being voted out by their colleagues. I do have some other ideas, but they are not relevant to the topic of doing away with elections.
    I am not convinced that trial by jury alone would improve matters. Would you fly in a plane with a pilot chosen by lot from the general population?

    I do see one theoretical and at present remote possibility of getting rid of judges. I have noticed that trying to frame regulations is something like writing software. At some stage in the distant future it might be possible to have trials run by software. It would need a lot of debugging before being usable. Google’s next project after the cars that drive themselves?

    >”Entrusting all legal decisions to lawyers is analogous to having people entrust their bodies at birth to the medical establishment and committing a-priori to undergo any treatment that is prescribed to them by the doctors at any point in the future.”
    We do entrust our bodies at birth to doctors – there’s not much choice when you’re in the womb – and for some time afterwards.
    There’s an implicit false analogy between judges and doctors in your argument. Doctor and legal counsel are more nearly analogous.
    >”Sure – a jury can take advantage of the services and advice of professionals”
    Sadly, the advice of honest and no doubt well meaning professional has given rise to some miscarriages of justice. The Lindy Chamberlain case in Australia comes to mind; there are also cases where fires have been wrongly attributed to arson. (Scientific American had an article on this a couple of years ago)

    @Keith
    I think that the case of Athens is of historical interest only. I don’t see that we can copy. I also think we should remember that in practice policy was largely in the hands of one man – Pericles – and that the prosperity of Athens was largely built on slave labour. Not good selling points if you don’t want to “bring sortition into disrepute”

    >”and would appeal to all and sundry to read up on the literature in order to understand exactly what sortition can and cannot do”

    And so I shall, which may mean that I’ll not respond here for a while.
    I’m glad you didn’t compare my proposal for the removal of MPs by popular vote to ostracism.

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  28. Campbell,

    While I agree that it isn’t particularly useful to dwell on Athens in promoting sortition in the modern era, it is worth noting (at least on this site) that almost everything most people (and probably you) think they know about the Athenian democracy is wrong…at least for the fully developed form of democracy in the age of Demosthenes (after around 402 BCE), rather than the less developed form in the age of Pericles. Of course it was fatally flawed by modern standards…Like all city states of the era, women had no political power and slavery was endemic. But it is a mistake to assume Athenian democracy was based on slavery. Most of the participants of Athenian democracy were working class citizens who worked along side slaves, rather than the leisure class. Nor was democracy based on Athenian imperialism…It flourished to its democratic peak AFTER the demise of its empire (though there was still silver mining).

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  29. > Judges would probably prefer the term “philosophy” to “ideology”, and would no doubt reject the last four words outright.

    No doubt. And elected politicians prefer the term “public servants” over “electoral oligarchs”. What of it?

    > There’s an implicit false analogy between judges and doctors in your argument. Doctor and legal counsel are more nearly analogous.

    Exactly – but the analogy was explicit and was yours (“brain surgery”). My point is precisely that your analogy between judges and doctors is wrong. (BTW, the same false analogy was offered by Socrates as an argument against sortition.)

    > Sadly, the advice of honest and no doubt well meaning professional has given rise to some miscarriages of justice.

    Of course, but how does this bear on our discussion?

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  30. Campbell,

    Absolutely agree about the difference between Athenian sortive democracy and the potential of sortition in the modern world. In the former case it was rule and be ruled in turn, in the latter descriptive representativity, ruling out the use of sortition for the appointment of persons to political office. An allotted representative is not an individual, she is a statistic, and we must be vigilant against category errors.

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  31. I have just posted a retraction of one part of my scheme in the comments to the first part of Down with Free Elections https://equalitybylot.wordpress.com/2012/05/20/down-with-free-elections/

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