In a Spanish town where one in three people are without a job, getting one can depend quite literally on the luck of the draw.
Alameda is surrounded by neat rows of olive trees that stretch for miles towards the distant sierra. Two hours east of Seville, the town is a maze of narrow streets lined by orange trees and whitewashed houses.
Take me down to the paradise city
Where the grass is green and the girls are pretty
Oh won’t you please take me home
Guns ‘N Roses
This fascinating book is unique amongst radical theories of democracy in that it’s written by a clinical psychologist with a particular interest in psychopathology – as such his primary emphasis is on the (two-way) relationship between political systems and character. Whereas most books focus on the institutional level, Dr. Robbins constantly reminds us that entities like ‘governments’ and ‘nations’ are merely abstractions, by adding (in parentheses) ‘person or persons in power’ every time he uses the word ‘government’. History is ‘nothing but a vast battlefield after the battle is over – a mountain of the corpses of men, women, and children from around the world and across time who have been slaughtered to satisfy the warriors in their quest for blood and glory’ (p.229). Political leaders are subjected to psychoanalytic scrutiny and are (with the exception of a small number of Athenian statesmen) mostly diagnosed in terms of psychopathy – not just the obvious cases (Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot) or even the usual suspects (Alexander of Macedon, Genghis Kahn, Napoleon), but also less extreme examples like George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Theodore Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. Dr. Robbins explains the development of psychopathy in terms of dysfunctional childrearing and early maternal relationships, so history is, in effect, reduced to the psychiatrist’s couch. Strangely enough (given his idolisation of Athenian democracy) this explanation is derived from Greek literature, forcing him to conclude that the dysfunctional relationship between mother and son is limited to the Greek aristocracy (p.303). Given that such psychopathic individuals – ‘a special subset of men’ – are fundamentally different from ‘us’ (p.309), then the goal of democracy is not so much ‘power to the people’ as making sure that the bad guys don’t get hold of the reins. Rotation of office (and/or mass participation in government) is not so that we may all, as Aristotle put it, ‘rule and be ruled in turn’ but simply to reduce the likelihood of handing power to a psychopath.
A recent article on electoral tiebreaking by lottery. Like a lot of these articles (at least, those that don’t regard lotteries as some kind of communist plot), it takes essentially the Churchillian position–a coin toss is the worst way to break a tie, except for all the others:
It’s one of the weirder traditions of American democracy: In many states, if a race is tied, a “game by lot” — cards, straws, or most often, a coin toss — determines who goes to the house and who goes home. Months of campaigning, committee assignments, the fortunes of careers, the possibility of political change — it all comes down, like possession in a football game, to heads or tails.
Allowing chance to enter the core of a democratic system seems counterintuitive, although it’s widely recognized today as an electoral tiebreak. In fact, the roots of election by lottery stretch back to ancient Athens. (Modern-day Americans aren’t the first people to be wary of the method; it was also used by sorcerers to predict the future. “Sorcery” comes from the Latin sors, meaning “lot.”) More recently, coin tosses have broken ties in New York, Illinois, Wisconsin, Ohio, Missouri, Washington, Florida, Minnesota and New Hampshire. South Dakota and Arizona have used card games. In Virginia, the winner has been chosen from a hat.
Politicians making money
As Steven M. Davidoff, a professor at the Michael E. Moritz College of Law at The Ohio State University, reminds his readers, legal bribery is endemic to elections-based systems (admittedly, he probably would not phrase it this way).
Of course, this arrangement in which retired (or on-leave) politicians are awarded large sums of money by private interests is very convenient to both politicians and powerful private interests. This fact makes it unlikely that this phenomenon would be addressed effectively in a system dominated by the interests of those groups, despite the obvious conflicts of interests involved and the despite the equivalence for-all-intents-and-purposes of the activities involved to acts of illegal bribery.
Ideologically, as well, electoralism makes it natural for politicians to claim that their monetary rewards are justified. Just like manufacturers who manage to sell their products to a large number of people and can claim that the popularity of their products is an indication of their high quality, successful politicians can claim that the fact that the were elected is evidence of their high qualifications. It is only fair, then, according to the rules of the free market, that they are rewarded handsomely for providing their skills, once they are not in office, to private employers. Any mechanisms aiming to limit the ability of former politicians to sell their skills would not only be unfair to those politicians but would also be a disincentive for highly skilled individuals to entering politics and using those skills in the public interest. Prof. Davidoff sums up this outlook in the last paragraph of his article:
I can’t begrudge politicians making money after years of relatively low-paid public service.
Yes, they should, says the Irish Constitutional Convention. No they shouldn’t, says an condemnatory editorial in the Irish Times.
It’s bad enough that the Government should severely circumscribe the agenda of the constitutional convention, but it is bizarre and unprecedented decision to turn it into an advertising focus group by allowing its 66 “citizen” members to remain anonymous takes the biscuit. What price transparency, supposedly one of our new core values?
Alda is an Icelandic organization promoting reform of Iceland’s government system, including the use of sortition in various ways. A member, Kristinn Már Ársælsson, has an article on the openDemocracy site:
After the crash that destroyed Iceland’s economy, Icelanders started to take an interest in new forms of political and economic governance.
In some respect, Icelanders have made their voices and interests heard in a way people of other countries have not. The protests after the crash got us a new government, the head of the central bank and the financial inspection agency were axed and a process to make a new constitution with the active involvement of the people was initiated.
These are important achievements. Things that other countries could learn from. But frankly, most of these developments were also controversial in Iceland and overall, they could have been executed more efficiently. For example: the idea that the general public should be actively involved in creating a new constitution is indubitably right. But this could have been better carried out. The selection process didn’t have the legitimacy it needed and random selection should have been used as well. The time given to the process was too short. There was not enough debate all over the country and in the media. Of course, in comparison with the constitution being rewritten by a small group of politicians in closed session, as usually happens, the new process was great. But it could have been better.
There must be a lottery fan at work in the Guardian! (There is of course. Our very own kleroterian Martin Wainwright.)
Unthinkable? The Eton raffle
It seems only fair to offer every 13-year-old the same chance of being immersed in a community entirely directed to helping them shine
A cursory glance at the background of the new establishment confirms that Eton is flourishing beyond Henry VI’s wildest ambitions. It’s not only the new archbishop of Canterbury, nor the next but one in line for the throne, nor of course the PM, his chief of staff, nor even the chief whipand the chancellor’s chief economic adviser. There are the actors (Eddie Redmayne, Dominic West, Damian Lewis), the diplomats, the mandarins and all those cabinet ministers. And the London mayor. The school hasproduced 19 of 53 prime ministers, but who would have expected such a 21st-century renaissance of privilege? Eton always boasted that it was comprehensive. The difference between it and, say, neighbouring Slough is the indefinite article and approximately £30,000 a year. This buys your lad world-class academic, artistic and sporting facilities plus star teachers drawn by top-dollar pay. For seven days a week, 24 hours a day, pupils are immersed in a community entirely directed to helping them shine. It seems only fair to offer every 13-year-old the same chance. All parents of 10-year-olds (yes, girls too) would be issued with a special 09- phone number. It would cost, say, £15 a call to defray lost fees, and the number could only be used once. Two hundred names would then be drawn from a top hat. For the next three years they’d prepare, learning to tie a white tie while mugging up on Latin so they too could cry “Floreat Etona”. Twenty years on, high offices might at last be filled from humble homes.