Party policies?

Without political programs there are no political movements.

I’m putting this very mildly with this article (though I may not be as mild with my comments), but this is a different spin on the Exclusions post by Yoram Gat. Over there, I suggested that policy proposals be the exclusive domain of expert bodies filled by random selection, with the general body being left to vote up or down on each line of every policy proposal. In other words, I put forward stratified sampling.

Over here, since Keith Sutherland said that electoral organizations that win the most votes should be able to convert so-called “manifesto pledges” into legislative bills, what about the whole range of political programs themselves?

They can range from electoral platforms to more medium- and long-term party programs, but it is generally acknowledged that a certain degree of expertise is required for any given policy proposal / plank / demand / etc. included in the final document. Shouldn’t that expertise be recognized formally, in the form of program committees (preferably, of course, with randomly selected memberships) having the exclusive authority to suggest any policy proposal / plank / demand / etc. while some broader organizational congress / conference / convention having mere up and down votes?

This does not preclude the broader membership from participation in the brainstorming of what will be submitted to the congress / conference / convention, but again this is a recognition of the expertise needed for policy proposals / planks / demands.

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29 Responses

  1. I would certainly endorse this archaic Millian proposal, both for pragmatic reasons (it helps if people know what they are talking about) and also because political parties tend to introduce policies based on general philosophical principles (aka dogma) or self-serving populism. Unfortunately it will be dismissed on this forum as undemocratic and over-conservative by those who would rather privilege the random whims of those who happen to have won Willie Wonka’s golden ticket.

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  2. >”Without political programs there are no political movements.”

    And perhaps vice-versa.
    Do we need either in a government based on sortition?
    Political parties are necessary in an elective system because it is necessary to band together to get the numbers necessary for an electoral majority. They require a good deal of compromise, and policies on subjects which have no connection at all get bundled together as the party platform. So if Party A proposes a new airport at X and free dental care, Party B opposes both, and you want one but not the other, you have a dilemma when you come to vote.
    With an allotted assembly, the majority view should prevail on each subject (which may be the exact opposite of your views).
    In a state run by an allotted legislature parties might still exist as like-minded groups with the object of publicly supporting certain policies which do have some connection.

    >”Shouldn’t that expertise be recognized formally, in the form of program committees (preferably, of course, with randomly selected memberships) having the exclusive authority to suggest any policy proposal / plank / demand / etc.”
    The “exclusive authority” is anathema to me.

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  3. >”those who would rather privilege the random whims of those who happen to have won Willie Wonka’s golden ticket.”

    You can’t say that a policy approved by a majority of an assembly of several hundred is a random whim if those who propose it have to justify it and defend it publicly against opposition. And if there’s no opposition at all, it must be self-evident.

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  4. >In a state run by an allotted legislature parties might still exist as like-minded groups with the object of publicly supporting certain policies which do have some connection.

    Yes indeed. Experts in government departments would most likely introduce housekeeping measures, whereas political parties would go for big-ticket items. Democratic norms would suggest that the policies that receive the most popular support (aka votes) should be presented for allotted scrutiny, rather than the random whims of golden ticket holders.

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  5. Keith,

    Party A might get the most votes because of their stand on issue X compared to party B’s stand on issue X. Why should party A then get monopoly control over drafting proposals for the allotted body to consider on another issue, issue Y. On issue Y it could be that party B has the popular stand, or both parties A and B have terrible and unpopular policy ideas, while a huge majority of the allotted body have a very clear notion of what the vast majority of the population need with regards to issue Y. but, your view is that they shouldn’t be allowed to propose it.

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  6. Terry,

    I agree, that’s why my preference is for a public votation on policy issues. I don’t have a strong view over whether the issues should arise from party campaign manifestos or direct democratic initiative. The former option has the advantage of providing some measure of accountability as parties that made unworkable proposals would lose the confidence of the public in the long term, but the converse problem is exactly as you put it, aggregated preferences. I would anticipate that with a sortive legislative assembly parties might well morph into single-issue groups (and vice versa) so this might well provide the best of both worlds. If there is “a clear notion of what the vast majority of the population need with regards to issue Y”, some campaign group (or political party) would back it and it would win the public votation.

    The important thing is a structure that provides a formal separation of initiative/interests/advocacy and judgment/outcome. Going back over the centuries most theorists (Hobbists being the obvious exception) have argued for this distinction, unfortunately it has never been instantiated in concrete political institutions.

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  7. > Shouldn’t that expertise be recognized formally

    No. The standard argument applies:

    If the expertise is widely recognized, then no special formal status is needed, since the advice of the experts would be heeded by a majority in an allotted chamber in any case.

    If, on the other hand, the expertise is not widely recognized, then granting the “experts” formal status is clearly an anti-democratic arrangement which privileges the opinions of a non-representative minority.

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  8. But that ignores the problem of party culture. There tends to be the rank and file, the “activists,” and the policy thinkers. My proposal is a means of putting the “activists” in their place, since it is typically this grouping that doesn’t do the homework on political demands. There are some folks amongst the rank and file who are more politically educated than many “activists,” and my proposal would be give them carrots to be amongst the policy thinkers.

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  9. Jacob, I don’t understand your argument. How would putting “experts” in a privileged position encourage average people to propose policy?

    Putting authority and resources in the hands of average people seems like the best way to encourage them to participate in policy making.

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  10. Formally recognizing such expertise would encourage the rank and file to undergo the necessary education required to be a substantive policy thinker. Many minimum demands of a substantive character required and require doing a bit homework to conclude upon such.

    All that many “activists” usually come up with are cheap sloganeering, and if their culture predominates, that can also infect the policy thinkers towards either going along with such culture or going into meaningless philosophy (a la Zizek).

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  11. What you call “undergoing the ecessary education required to be a substantive policy thinker” could easily be seen as “committing oneself to established ideology” – a system incompatible with democracy.

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  12. Jacob,
    >”But that ignores the problem of party culture.”
    It’s a fair bet that party culture would change dramatically in the absence of elections. Parties might well break up into single issue groups, as someone has suggested. Not necessarily a bad thing.

    >”Formally recognizing such expertise would encourage the rank and file to undergo the necessary education required to be a substantive policy thinker. Many minimum demands of a substantive character required and require doing a bit homework to conclude upon such.”
    Rather than requiring that the rank and file have recognised qualifications (diplomas or whatever you have in mind) before being eligible to make proposals, you might consider requiring that the proposals meet certain norms of presentation before being accepted. This would be a bit less restrictive, though there is a problem with who decides whether a proposal meets the minimum standard.

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  13. (CW, at 13:18)
    >”You can’t say that a policy approved by a majority of an assembly of several hundred is a random whim if those who propose it have to justify it and defend it publicly against opposition.”

    (KS, at 13:51)
    >”rather than the random whims of golden ticket holders.”

    Well, apparently you can say it. My mistake was to leave out the word “reasonably”.
    Keith, some of your comments seem to be random whims, and are not always expressed very clearly.

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  14. >”Putting authority and resources in the hands of average people seems like the best way to encourage them to participate in policy making.”
    I agree with Yoram on this.

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  15. Yoram:

    “What you call “undergoing the necessary education required to be a substantive policy thinker” could easily be seen as “committing oneself to established ideology” – a system incompatible with democracy.”

    Becoming an active member of a political party is already seen as “committing oneself to established ideology.” Your statement is redundant. Your last statement is contradictory, since mass activism is compatible with participatory democracy.

    I already discussed with you the areas of expertise required in my scenario, eight of which I’ll list here:

    1) Communications (ranging from making presentations to writing case studies)
    2) Labour law
    3) Labour history (and/or “critical labour history”)
    4) Labour economics (and/or “critical labour economics”)
    5) Heterodox economics (again, the possibility of “critical”)
    6) Political economy (critical enough of “economics,” but this is needed these days before being critical of this)
    7) Democratic theory and general political science (again, the possibility of “critical”)
    8) Sociology (and/or “critical sociology”)

    These days, qualification examinations should combine multiple-choice questions, short-answer questions (or longer questions, each consisting of a few short-answer questions), mathematical problems, and case studies.

    It took experts to spell out “Separation of […] schools from the church.” (http://www.archive.org/stream/EisenachProgram/725_socDemWorkersParty_230_djvu.txt)

    It took experts to spell out “State support of the cooperative system and state loans for free producers’ cooperatives
    subject to democratic guarantees.” (same)

    It took experts to spell out “Suppression of the public debt.” (http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1880/05/parti-ouvrier.htm)

    It took experts to spell out “Legal minimum wage, determined each year according to the local price of food, by a workers’ statistical commission.” (same)

    It took experts to spell out “Taking over by the Imperial Government of the whole system of working people’s insurance, though giving the working people a controlling share in the administration” (http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/1891erfurt.asp) or “Takeover by the Reich government of the entire system of workers’ insurance, with decisive participation by the workers in its administration.” (http://www.marxists.org/history/international/social-democracy/1891/erfurt-program.htm)

    Further on, it took experts like Hyman Minsky and Rudolf Meidner to spell out other policies.

    Campbell:

    “It’s a fair bet that party culture would change dramatically in the absence of elections. Parties might well break up into single issue groups, as someone has suggested. Not necessarily a bad thing.”

    I’m for combining random selections with proliferation of the party culture. Single-issue parochialism doesn’t see the big picture. Plus, as noted above, party culture is a critical component of grassroots class politics.

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  16. > Becoming an active member of a political party is already seen as “committing oneself to established ideology.”

    Far from it. If this were so, no reform was ever possible since once a party was established and its ideology set, no member would ever be allowed to advocate a point of view that deviates from the original ideology.

    > mass activism is compatible with participatory democracy.

    Actually, mass politics is antithetical to democracy. But you are not even advocating mass politics, in which everybody is nominally on equal ground. You are advocating a system in which some people have a formally privileged position – an obviously anti-democratic arrangement.

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  17. Campbell,

    > My mistake was to leave out the word “reasonably”.
    Keith, some of your comments seem to be random whims, and are not always expressed very clearly.

    See here.

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  18. ^^^ If you’re reticient to share some of our earlier discussions, by all means stop hesitating. You didn’t discuss the subject areas or demands I listed.

    As for the education, it’s not hard for randomly selected experts to alter course curricula from time to time as per my proposal.

    You’re confusing one instance of “mass politics” with mass politics in general. When I wrote of mass activism, I had more in mind things like participating in branch meetings.

    Also, what I’m suggested is a more demarchic instance of the “so-called direct-democratic system,” in that it is randomly selected experts are the ones instead of elected celebrities who are submitting policy proposals for an up-or-down vote.

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  19. (CW, at 13:18)
    >”You can’t say that a policy approved by a majority of an assembly of several hundred is a random whim if those who propose it have to justify it and defend it publicly against opposition.”

    You need to separate out a) policy proposal and b) policy approval. Regarding a): If the policy options are down to the random whims of a small vocal minority within the assembly, there is no particular reason to believe that they would command support in the general population. There may well be a host of other potential policy proposals that never come up. Regarding b) approval will depend entirely on the information and advocacy in the assembly and there is no particular reason to believe that this will automatically be balanced. Vastly more people in the UK read the Sun, the Mail and the Telegraph than “liberal” newspapers (the Telegraph alone outsells the Independent by an order of magnitude, and the Guardian is losing so much money it is unlikely survive in its present form), so a proposal to (say) introduce the death penalty for paedophiles would be unlikely to receive much in the way of opposing advocacy from a sortive assembly that provided its own information and advocates. No doubt this would all be very democratic, but there are good reasons for choosing to add the adjective “liberal” to the word democracy (however much Hayek would have disapproved).

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  20. >”If the policy options are down to the random whims of a small vocal minority within the assembly, there is no particular reason to believe that they would command support in the general population.”
    1 Or in the assembly. So they won’t get passed. But why “down to the R W of a small minority”? I’ve already said that I support submission of proposals from the community at large. Please stop putting words in my mouth.
    2 One man’s whim is another man’s wisdom.

    We probably have very similar views about the British tabloids. However, sortition is not a tool to make people more intelligent or more thoughtful, and to try to tweak it so that an intellectual aristocracy runs things is to pervert it. Your tabloid readers have the same rights as readers of the Guardian, whether their ideas please us or not.
    The word “liberal” is abused by conservatives to mean the exact opposite of its true meaning almost as often as “democratic” by cod-Marxists.

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  21. No-one is suggesting an assembly dominated by Guardian readers, merely that information and advocacy should be balanced. If newspaper readership is anything to go by this would suggest that the imbalance of an allotted assembly would be around 10/1 in favour of the hang-em and flog-em brigade, hence the need to ensure balance via constitutional safeguards (unless you want to run the risk of seeing a paedophile suspended from every lamp-post). My own political views are somewhat Scrutonesque so I’m very much arguing against my own interests here. (Yoram, in case you think I’m making this up, just take a look at the ABC circulation figures for UK daily newspaper readership.)

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  22. Keith
    >”hence the need to ensure balance via constitutional safeguards (unless you want to run the risk of seeing a paedophile suspended from every lamp-post).”

    Well, I don’t want to see even one paedophile suspended from a lamp-post, but I think your idea of trying to “balance information and advocacy” is profoundly disturbing.

    Jacob,
    >”randomly selected experts”
    That’s the rub. For me, this is a contradiction in terms (and NOT an oxymoron, btw.)

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  23. > I think your idea of trying to “balance information and advocacy” is profoundly disturbing.

    It is simply meaningless. Since any issue allows an unlimited number of view points, there is no objective meaning to “balanced information and advocacy”.

    What can be balanced is the political power of people, which is exactly what democracy is about, and which is exactly what this kind of ideas is meant to subvert.

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  24. Campbell, I’m puzzled as to why you find balanced information and advocacy “profoundly disturbing” — would you prefer one-sided prejudice? Although executive officers like Harry Truman might choose to hire one-handed economists, legislatures are supposed to consider proposals in a well-rounded manner. All I’ve attempted to do is to provide evidence (ABC figures) as to why, if left to their own devices, allotted representatives are unlikely to seek balanced information and advocacy. Like it or not, this would suggest the lampposts might be pretty busy in the brave new world that you advocate.

    To clarify Jacob’s remark, fellows of the Royal Society would normally be viewed as expert scientists and it would be a straightforward task to perform a random selection from the list of FRSs. Jacob is suggesting that if you have a range of similar bodies as the stratum for the selection then you have “randomly-selected experts”. Why is that a contradiction in terms? Setting up the range of bodies, of course, is a controversial process but not beyond the wit of humankind: Ivor Jennings has shown how new bodies like the CBI, TUC, BBC and LGA became gradually assimilated into the informal apparatus of the British constitution and something similar might be imagined for Jacob’s suggestion. This implies, of course, a certain establishment perspective, but that’s inevitable in the field of expertise. Assimilation to the establishment now only takes a few years — Greenpeace, Martin McGuinness, the author of Trainspotting and recent convicted felons like George Michael now being solidly establishment figures.

    Yoram, it’s true of course that viewpoints come in all shapes and sizes, but in a binary decision process (the ultimate task of legislatures) they can be mapped approximately onto a single continuum — for or against the motion. This may fail to do justice to the blooming of a 1,000 flowers, but it’s a necessary simplification if you want to get anything done in a democracy comprised of many millions of citizens.

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  25. Surely writing proposals is not a binary decision process. Besides, even when the decision is yes-or-no there could be infinitely many reasons for a “yes”, infinitely many reasons for a “no”, and infinitely many pieces of information that are considered as relevant for this decision.

    Any body that holds the power to limit the arguments being discussed and the information being presented is wielding decisive political power and therefore must be representative for the system to be democratic.

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  26. I agree that writing proposals is not a binary process — what I was referring to was the decision process (yea or nay) — and it doesn’t matter what the reasons are as they get aggregated by the vote. I agree that information and advocacy should ideally represent as many perspectives as possible, but not that it should be proportional, as that is the criterion for the decision process. I agree that the possibilities are infinite (Truman’s economist should really look like Kali), but if compromise has to be made in order to prevent debate going on for ever then it’s better for the information to be provided by those who know what they are talking about and, if the final decision is binary, then two hands will probably suffice.

    What I’ve tried to demonstrate in the “hang all paeodophiles” thought experiment is the dangerous consequences of the view that advocacy and information should be proportionately representative of public opinion or (even worse) left entirely to happenstance, as would be the case if it was entirely down to the whims of a self-appointed subset of golden ticket holders. That’s why the noun “democracy” is usually preceded by the adjective “liberal” as this indicates the constitutional safeguards necessary to ensure that every legislative trial gets a fair defence attorney.

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  27. > the dangerous consequences of the view that advocacy and information should be proportionately representative of public opinion

    Right – the dangerous consequences of democracy. Got to keep the hoi polloi well managed by the responsible people.

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  28. Yoram:

    “Right – the dangerous consequences of democracy. Got to keep the hoi polloi well managed by the responsible people.”

    The relationship between the broader class and any class movement is similar, though.

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  29. I think it’s important that all decisions should be well informed, but I wouldn’t choose to characterise that as well managed. Just present people with information and arguments for and against and let them make up their own minds. This isn’t perfect, but certainly more prudent than a self-managing system that runs the risk of people simply reinforcing their own prejudices. And yes, democracy (ie unchecked majority rule) is dangerous if taken without liberal and constitutional constraints, and I don’t think that is a particularly controversial view. I’m happy simply to refer to a tradition of liberal thought that stretches from J.S. Mill to John Gray (who had a nice piece on BBC R4 yesterday on this very topic) in support. Here’s the link to the Gray piece: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/player/b01m19p7

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