Problems with Deliberative and Allotted Decision-Making: Path-Dependency and the Polya Urn

According to Robert Goodin (2008), one problem with a deliberative forum (allotted or otherwise) is that:

conversations, seen as serial processes with dynamic updating, can easily be path dependent. The outcome of the conversation depends upon the sequence of conversational moves, particularly those early in the conversation that set it off down one path rather than some other. (p.114)

A path-dependent process displays the following features:

  1. Unpredictability. Because early events have a large effect and are partly random, many outcomes may be possible. We cannot predict ahead of time which of these possible end‐states will be reached.

  2. Inflexibility. The farther into the process we are, the harder it becomes to shift from one path to another.

  3. Nonergodicity. Accidental events early in a sequence do not cancel out. They cannot be treated (which is to say, ignored) as ‘noise’, because they feed back into future choices. Small events are remembered.

  4. Potential path inefficiency. In the long run, the outcome that becomes locked in may generate lower pay‐offs than a forgone alternative would have. (p.112)

Goodin illustrates the problem for deliberative democracy with a stastical model called the ‘Polya urn’. In this model an urn contains two balls, one red and one black. Draw out one ball. Return that ball to the urn, together with another ball of the same colour. Continue the process until the urn fills up. Then tip out the balls and count how many there are of each colour, the chances being that early selections will lead to a predominance of either red or black balls. How might this play out in a deliberative assembly with full speech powers?

Imagine a dozen‐person group trying to answer a binary true‐false question. Imagine that each member of the group has some private information bearing on the question, as well as the public information that is shared among everyone in the group. Suppose we are good deliberative democrats, so (a) we accord each other person’s views the same weight as our own and (b) we update our own views in light of what others have said dynamically as they say it.

Now suppose we go around the table clockwise, each of us announcing his or her decision in turn. The first person says ‘false’. Suppose the private information available to the second person also disposed her to say ‘false’—which she does all the more emphatically for having heard the first speaker’s ‘false’. Now comes the turn of the third man. His private information suggests that ‘true’ is the correct answer. But both of the first two speakers have said ‘false’, and he accords their views as much weight as his own. Dynamically updating his views in light of theirs, therefore, he concludes (albeit more reluctantly than the second speaker) that ‘false’ must be the correct answer, and reports accordingly. The weight of opinion come the fourth speaker is three‐to‐zero ‘false’; so after dynamic updating she says ‘false’ even if her private information suggested ‘true’. The weight of opinion come the fifth speaker is four‐to‐zero ‘false’; so after dynamically updating he says ‘false’ whatever his private information. And so on around the table. In the end, the decision (p. 114 ) is unanimous. ‘False’ has emerged as the common consensus among the group.

But suppose we had gone around the table counterclockwise instead. And suppose the private information available to the first person and the second person going around in that direction suggested that the correct answer is ‘true’. By exactly the same serial process of dynamic updating, the group would then have come to a unanimous decision in favour of ‘true’. In short, had we gone around the table in the opposite direction, the common consensus would have been just the opposite.

The general point is that conversations, seen as serial processes with dynamic updating, can easily be path dependent. The outcome of the conversation depends upon the sequence of conversational moves, particularly those early in the conversation that set it off down one path rather than some other. (p.113)

This is not a big problem for ‘procedural’ democrats, although it is a serious issue for those of us who argue for the epistemic benefits of allotted deliberation. A typical deliberative forum has a purely advisory role, the final decision being taken by elected members who may well attempt to bracket out such factors when they study the micro-deliberations. But for those of us who seek to establish allotted legislative assemblies, path-dependency is another reason to insist that speech acts should be limited to asking questions of representatives. Goodin concludes that the variations in the three Texas energy DPs (Fishkin, 1995, p. 220) is a result of the conversational path-dependency effects of small-group deliberations.

Goodin acknowledges that a Polya urn that contains an initial (say) ninety-nine red and one black ball will inevitably reproduce into an urn that is almost entirely red, so those who argue that politics is a competition between class interests (the elite and the masses) will draw comfort from this argument.

References

Goodin, Robert E. (2008), Innovating Democracy: Democratic Theory and Practice After the Deliberative Turn (Oxford University Press).

Fishkin, James S. (1995), The Voice of the People (Yale University Press).

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66 Responses

  1. erratum:

    last para, 2nd line: should be “one black ball” [Fixed -YG]

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  2. Goodin’s point is relevant to deliberative processes of every kind. Even an individual’s deliberations are heavily influenced by the way in which what one reads first sometimes frames what is read later, but sometimes is swamped by what comes nearer to the end of the process.
    Anybody with experience of committees is well aware of the ways in which skilled operators, especially chairmen, manipulate the sequence of discussion. In particular, where there is any element of inequality between the participants, the instinct of the weaker is normally “to go with the strength”.
    One advantage that sortition has in mitigating these effects is that it minimises differences of statusand power between the participants.

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  3. JB> One advantage that sortition has in mitigating these effects is that it minimises differences of status and power between the participants.

    Perhaps that would be true with demarchic committees where all participants are self-selected, but not so with purely random allotment. If, say, the allotted body contained a couple of politics professors, people with past experience of government, doctors etc., I imagine that if it came to verbal exchanges, such people would exert a lot more influence than someone from a background where discursive exchanges were rare (and who didn’t volunteer to participate in the first place). This is the objection of Iris Marion Young and the agonists against deliberative democracy. Goodin has just extended this argument to include seemingly trivial factors like who gets to speak first. Elected politicians, of course, are selected in part on account of their verbal and discursive skills and are constrained by party ideology, so the problems that Goodin outlines would be particularly marked in the case of an assembly comprised of randomly-selected “conscripts”. But if they’re not conscripted then the assembly will not be a portrait in miniature of the whole citizenry so will not have a democratic mandate.

    I agree with John that Goodin’s argument is relevant to every form of deliberative exchange. The only way to eliminate status and power differentials between allotted members is to restrict their role to asking questions and then voting in secret (a DP without the small-group sessions). Of course this creates a much greater power differential between allotted members and policy advocates, that’s why, in my proposal, the latter role should be reserved for those with a different kind of democratic mandate from the purely descriptive (but such policy advocates don’t get to vote on the outcome). There’s no point in having a statistically-accurate sample and then seeing the democratic equality that it produces destroyed by the kind of speech-act distortions that Goodin has described.

    As I mentioned in the post this isn’t an issue for those who view politics purely in terms of homogeneous interest groups, but it is a serious problem to those of us who are also committed to instituting the “republic of reasons”,

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  4. Yes – obviously different delegations would do different things and even the same delegation would do different things at different times. What of it? Yous keep pushing the idea that some sort of ill defined strict consistency is a benchmark of good sortition-based government. It appears that you have convinced yourself that this is due to some formal properties of sortition, but why would anyone be interested in these formalities? The only matter of interest is the quality of the policies implemented by the government.

    If we assume that the delegates are able to represent their own interests well, and if we assume that the interests of allotted delegates are aligned with those of the public, then the expectation is that the activities of an allotted delegation would represent the interests of the public. That is, the resulting government is democratic. The issue of consistency is simply irrelevant.

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  5. Yoram: >If we assume that the delegates are able to represent their own interests well, and if we assume that the interests of allotted delegates are aligned with those of the public, then the expectation is that the activities of an allotted delegation would represent the interests of the public.

    Those are the two strong assumptions that I take issue with. In the first instance, path-dependency and the status inequalities that John refers to would suggest that individual allotted delegates may not even necessarily be the best defenders of their own interests. But even if we grant your first assumption the alignment that you refer to is only demonstrable at the aggregate level, so would only apply to voting. The speech acts of individual delegates would not align to anything other than their own will and there is no way of aggregating them in a representative manner, given the inevitable inbalance in illocutionary force between different individuals.

    The other point that I would take issue with is your reduction of politics to the representation of interests. Defenders of deliberative democracy would claim that citizens are, in principle, capable of rising above interests and responding to the forceless force of the better argument. (In practice of course it’s impossible to verify whether people are voting in their interests or for the general good.)

    Anticipating the utilitarian response that the general good is nothing other than the interests of, to use your preferred term, “the masses”, I would give the example of the protection of the interests of the unborn. There are very good reasons for protecting the interests of the unborn (alongside the inhabitants of territories close to sea level), but this requires a moral concept of the general good that is far removed from “the interests of the public”. If anything their defence is best left in the hands of members of a discursive elite.

    As for my insistence on consistency (the interchangeability theorem), this is because of my attempt to instantiate a principle of democratic consent, something that most political theorists are happy to see consigned to the dustbin of history. But it seems to me that, given the choice, people would prefer to live under laws that they could be deemed to consent to (and I suspect this is one point that we might actually agree on). If so then my consent would require that it makes no difference whether or not I attend in person, hence my insistence on consistency. Bear in mind Goodin’s claim that an argument that went round the table clockwise would lead to a law being passed, whereas an argument that went anticlockwise would lead to the law being rejected. How can the vast majority of citizens who are not present be deemed to consent to both outcomes?

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  6. > The speech acts of individual delegates would not align to anything other than their own will and there is no way of aggregating them in a representative manner, given the inevitable inbalance in illocutionary force between different individuals.

    This is an argument against the first assumption (self-representation) rather than the second assumption (alignment of interests). If we were to accept that significant imbalance in political force within a small group is “inevitable” then small-group democracy would be impossible. Even if we accepted that (and very few people do, I think), then imposing an external agenda (or in any other way moving away from an formally equal, open, self-determined situation) would not be an improvement.

    > Defenders of deliberative democracy would claim that citizens are, in principle, capable of rising above interests and responding to the forceless force of the better argument.

    I don’t deny (or accept) this. I use the term “interests” as describing people’s views and values after having applied all moral and intellectual considerations that they see fit to apply. There is no implication that “interests” are inherently selfish or altruistic. They are simply those things that people want to see public policy promote.

    > consent

    I think reference to this mythical creature does not promote an understanding of what good government is or how to obtain it. I do think that it is important that people see their government as promoting their interests.

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  7. Yoram

    Thanks for clarifying your idiosyncratic use of the word “interests”.

    I wouldn’t like to live in a society that has given up on the “myth” of democratic consent, however hard it may be to implement in practice. If this constrains the mandate for an allotted assembly then so be it.

    I do think small-group democracy is inherently problematic in any respect other than voting (do we go to the Indian restaurant or the pizza joint?) as some people are more informed and/or persuasive than others. But the problem becomes impossible if the group has to represent a larger constituency (if the group votes for pizza then we all have to eat pizza) because lovers of Indian food did not choose the advocate for their preferences and ended up with an unpersuasive bozo. However if the pizza industry and the Confederation of Indian Restauranteurs both put up expert advocates then I’m sure the small group would come to a sensible decision and that this decision would be the same irrespective of which empirical individuals were in the allotted group (assuming the necessary statistical constraints). The latter would be a democratic outcome, whereas the former is just the random whims of members of a klerotocratic oligarchy.

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  8. > Thanks for clarifying your idiosyncratic use of the word “interests”.

    On the contrary. You seem to be identify “interests” with “self-interest” or maybe with “class interests”. This may be normal usage within a particular dogma but it does not reflect common understanding of the term.

    > unpersuasive bozo

    Again, this is an argument against the self-representation assumption: The bozo and all others who would have preferred Indian food are supposedly unable to represent their own interests as well as an expert would. None of them apparently is even competent enough to simply pick up the phone and call the Confederation of Indian Restauranteurs and ask them to send over their experts to appear in the discussion. They supposedly must rely on someone else (who? and how do we know they would make the right phone calls?) to organize the show.

    This kind of extreme assumptions about the incompetence of large parts of the population reveals an elitist mindset that underlies your entire position. To make your arguments even less persuasive, you really offer nothing other than a generic “trust the experts” as an explanation of how any alternative would be superior.

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  9. Yoram,

    The dichotomy between interests and reasons is standard within the deliberative democracy literature.

    >The bozo and all others who would have preferred Indian food are supposedly unable to represent their own interests as well as an expert would.

    Yes that’s true. Few people are gifted with the skills to stand up in front of a group of many hundreds of people (as would be required in an allotted assembly) and argue their case persuasively. This would give a huge advantage to the tiny minority with the necessary discursive skills, and that’s clearly unfair. Once again this is the bog-standard objection to deliberative democracy — just read anything by Iris Marion Young. Needless to say this argument does not impact in any way on the aggregate judgment of an allotted group, where the bozos have just as much power as the most persuasive orator.

    > To make your arguments even less persuasive, you really offer nothing other than a generic “trust the experts” as an explanation of how any alternative would be superior.

    I do indeed believe that the best we can hope for advocacy-wise is the dialectical exchange between opposing schools of experts, as in the trial process. However I’m not prepared to leave agenda-setting in the hands of experts, reserving this to a combination of government officers (experts) and the popular will, expressed either via the majority party/ies in an election or direct-democratic initiative. Nothing would be passed into law until subject to the informed scrutiny of an allotted assembly, bozos and all.

    Such a mixed constitution would be a hugely better — from both an epistemic and egalitarian perspective — than leaving everything to the black box of sortition, from which the democratic will emerges by some kind of magical alchemic process. I’m deeply puzzled as to why any thoughtful person would take such a proposal seriously.

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  10. > Few people are gifted with the skills to stand up in front of a group of many hundreds of people (as would be required in an allotted assembly) and argue their case persuasively.

    Again, even if accept your assumptions and assume that most of us, when faced with “many hundreds of people”, would babble incoherently, your argument is still invalid.

    For your argument to be valid, one would have to assume not only that most of us are incapable of representing ourselves but that most of us are so incompetent that we are unable to find an expert that would be able to represent us (even though such experts are presumed to exist).

    Of course, even if we go along and assume that the average person is essentially a helpless idiot, your argument is still self-defeating. Because, if people are unable to select experts, then who can? The voters (i.e., those same helpless idiots, but this time without the authority, time, motivation or resources to make an informed and considered decision)? Or meta-experts? And who will select the meta-experts? Meta-meta-experts?

    So, again, not only are you making the “bog-standard” assumption that the average person is an idiot, you are also not offering any alternative other than an “experts all the way down” system.

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  11. >most of us, when faced with “many hundreds of people”, would babble incoherently

    We don’t need to recourse to “incoherent babbling” in order to acknowledge that there will be a wide range of variation in the persuasive skills of randomly-selected “conscripts” (less so if the allotment is from a volunteer pool).

    >if people are unable to select experts, then who can? The voters?

    Yes. All voters can select between the competing proposals offered by political parties and single-issue advocates. The rational ignorance inherent in this process will be overcome by allotted scrutiny. Given my strong requirement for democratic consent (a concept that you, along with most political theorists, appear to have rejected) this requires that all voters have the opportunity to register their policy preferences directly and that the decision of the deliberative forum should be the same irrespective of which individuals draw the lot (the Interchangeability Hypothesis). So, yes, the experts are selected by all voters, as per standard democratic practice, rather than being at the whim of a tiny klerotocratic oligarchy.

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  12. > All voters can select between the competing proposals offered by political parties and single-issue advocates.

    Again, you ignore the obvious contradiction: On the one hand you assert that voters can choose the political party and advocates that represent them well, but at the same time you assert that the allotted delegates – who are the same people as the voters, but have more resources, time, authority and incentives – are unable to do the same.

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  13. The difference is that in the first case everyone gets to choose, whereas in the second it’s only a tiny klerotocratic oligarchy. Your assumption, that “the interests of allotted delegates are aligned with those of the public” is unwarranted, as policy advocacy relies on the speech acts of individual persons and the statistical representation mandate only applies to the actions of the whole group, such as voting in secret (the clue is in the word “statistical”). Rather than just repeating yourself, perhaps you could provide us with some argument as to why your assumption is true — an appeal to descriptive representativity will not suffice (for the reasons that I’ve just given).

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  14. > The difference is that in the first case everyone gets to choose, whereas in the second it’s only a tiny klerotocratic oligarchy.

    You seem unable to keep to a line of argumentation. You were supposedly pushing a substantive argument. Now, you resort to relying on formalisms.

    > Your assumption, that “the interests of allotted delegates are aligned with those of the public” is unwarranted, as policy advocacy relies on the speech acts of individual persons and the statistical representation mandate only applies to the actions of the whole group, such as voting in secret (the clue is in the word “statistical”).

    I don’t see any connection between the first clause (ending with “unwarranted”) and the rest of the sentence. Can you give a specific example of a way in which the interests of the delegates are unrepresentative of those of the public?

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  15. I’ve always relied on the formal (and substantive) distinction between the microcosm and the macrocosm.

    >Can you give a specific example of a way in which the interests of the delegates are unrepresentative of those of the public?

    Every allotted assembly member (they are not “delegates”) has her own interests and some will be better able to articulate them than others. And referring back to Goodin’s original argument, whoever gets to state their interests first has an unfair advantage (especially if they are articulate and persuasive). There is no particular reason to believe that persons who speak either a) persuasively, or b) first, automatically represent the interests of the public. At the risk of repeating myself there is no way of summing individual speech acts in such a way as to ensure they represent the interests of the public.

    Why are you so impervious to the logic of this argument? Terry, Peter and the other regulars accept it, but are not particularly interested (in the latter case, anyway) as their concerns are primarily epistemic and/or have given up on the notion of consent. But by constantly repeating claims like:

    “If we assume that the delegates are able to represent their own interests well, and if we assume that the interests of allotted delegates are aligned with those of the public, then the expectation is that the activities of an allotted delegation would represent the interests of the public.”

    you appear to be simply sticking your fingers in your ears!

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  16. > whoever gets to state their interests first has an unfair advantage (especially if they are articulate and persuasive)

    The idea that whoever speaks first in a group will dominate the outcome is so obviously contradicted by experience that it needs no refutation. Whatever slight differences speaking order makes, asserting that a large subset of a group would let its interests go unrepresented because someone spoke against them early in some meeting is just silly.

    By the way, this is again an argument against the self-representation assumption and has nothing to do with the relationship of the group to a larger population. And since you are back to offering a substantive argument against the self-representation assumption, you are once again facing the obvious I-like-you-as-a-voter contradiction: your arguments against delegate competence (however unreasonable they are) hold just as well (and better) when applied to the voters and therefore provide an argument against any electoral procedure that is at least as forceful as the argument you are trying to make against sortition.

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  17. As for

    > Why are you so impervious to the logic of this argument?

    As Campbell Wallace put it in a different thread:

    > Could it be that (a) It’s not true, and (b) you’re not very convincing?

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  18. I do wish you would stop (ab)using the term “delegate” in the context of allotment — the word only applies to the sort of predetermined mandate that operates at trade union congresses and the like, where the representative is obliged to vote in line with the recorded preferences of her (branch) members. Allotted members are not delegates as they make their own judgments. The correct term would be Burke’s concept of “virtual” representative, in that the allotted member has no finite constituency but does represent (vicariously) the interests of those like herself.

    The difference between voting (under universal suffrage) and allotment is that in the elective case everyone has an equal opportunity to indicate their preference and to decide to what extent it is an informed preference. Not so in the case of allotment, hence the need to take additional steps to protect the interests of the majority (by eliminating the variability of individual speech acts and providing balanced information and advocacy). Repeating the claim that the interests of the majority are automatically mirrored by the allotted minority is no longer sufficient at this stage in the debate — we need some social psychology evidence as to why Goodin is wrong, rather than just deriding his careful argument as “silly”. By all means continue to lambast my “senseless formalisms”, as I’m just a student with a meagre record of peer-reviewed publications; Goodin, however, is one of the leading theorists of deliberative democracy and deserves a little more respect. And by all means continue to be unconvinced by my argument but please let’s have some reasons, rather than endless repetition of your old slogan:

    “If we assume that the delegates are able to represent their own interests well, and if we assume that the interests of allotted delegates are aligned with those of the public, then the expectation is that the activities of an allotted delegation would represent the interests of the public.”

    I’ve endeavoured to point out why both of these assumptions are unwarranted and am still awaiting a refutation of my argument that doesn’t rely on words like “silly” and “senseless”.

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  19. > the term “delegate”

    Well, we’ve had this discussion before: I think the term “representative” is very misleading so I am sticking with “delegate”. I think it covers the meaning I need (someone entrusted with political power) quite comfortably. I am open to substitute terms, but “representative” won’t do.

    > in the elective case everyone has an equal opportunity to indicate their preference

    If evanescent occurrences such as speaking order affect the way people decide even in the small group setting, how could the voters indicate their preference? How could we even say they have preferences rather than fleeting whims? Again, you are not addressing the obvious fact that any claim that delegates are unable to represent themselves implies that voters are unable to represent themselves.

    > Repeating the claim that the interests of the majority are automatically mirrored by the allotted minority is no longer sufficient at this stage in the debate — we need some social psychology evidence as to why Goodin is wrong, rather than just deriding his careful argument as “silly”.

    Sadly, you seem unable to follow the line of the argument again. The “order of speech” argument you made has nothing to do with alignment of interests between the population and the delegates. It purports to show that groups are unable to represent their own interests. It is silly. If that is the best you can offer, then I think we are at an impasse.

    If you wish to make an argument about the issue of alignment of interests, I think the best way to do so would be to simply point out a way in which the interests of the allotted delegates are not aligned with those of the public.

    I’ll demonstrate with a couple of examples of the way the interests of elected delegates are not aligned with those of the public: Elected delegates are much richer than most of the public. They therefore have an interest in increasing the power of money by cutting public services. Elected delegates also have an interest in controlling the information available to the public so that they can control their public image and hide corruption and failures.

    Anything along these lines would be useful.

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  20. If you refuse the title “representative” (virtual or otherwise) to allotted persons then what democratic function do they serve? No doubt allotted persons will determine legislative outcomes in terms of their own interests but our concern, from a democratic perspective, is the correspondence with the interests of the whole. The notion of statistical representation is based on a virtual relationship between the microcosm and the macrocosm, whereas the term “delegate” requires a specific mandate, such as provided to those who attend trade union congresses. If you refuse the term “representative” and the term “delegate” is simply wrong then you are left with nothing more than the Dowlen-Stone thesis — sortition as a means of combatting corruption and nepotism — which has no inherent connection with democracy. I’m sure this cannot be your intention, so I would encourage you to reconsider the concept of virtual representation.

    >If evanescent occurrences such as speaking order affect the way people decide even in the small group setting, how could the voters indicate their preference? How could we even say they have preferences rather than fleeting whims?

    The difference is that there are multiple conversations at the time of elections within a plurality of media, thereby cancelling out the effects of individual social-psychological mechanisms such as speaking order. In addition citizens record their votes in secret and are thereby less affected by the pressures to conformity and groupthink that are generated by the deliberations of a small group. I don’t deny that the preferences expressed in elections are little more than fleeting whims, that’s why allotted scrutiny is required. The obvious parallel here is the 4th century innovation of the legislative courts to counteract the fleeting whims of the assembly. The Athenians, however, would not have even considered replacing the ekklesia by the nomothetai as this would be a reversion to (synchronic) oligarchy.

    The “silliness” of the argument is Goodin’s, and I note that you have dealt in a similar manner with other authorities in this area when they have come up with arguments that you find disagreeable.

    >If you wish to make an argument about the issue of alignment of interests, I think the best way to do so would be to simply point out a way in which the interests of the allotted delegates are not aligned with those of the public.

    That’s logically impossible, because the interests of individual allotted members are myriad and unknowable in advance, as it depends which concrete individuals are selected to serve. Given the different weightings that pertain to the speech acts of individual persons there is no way that they can be aggregated to align with the public interest. It’s perfectly possible that an allotted individual (or small group of individuals) could be a Nazi or a closet oligarch who possessed the rhetorical skills to convince other members that her political programme was in the general good. As for your claim that cutting public services is against the general good this is a partisan political argument that is contested by those who claim that citizens are better off keeping their money and purchasing services as they best see fit (rather than leaving it in the hands of a government oligarchy). So it’s not a priori clear that any particular public policy option is in the general good, this can only be determined by deliberative scrutiny on the basis of balanced advocacy.

    >Elected delegates also have an interest in controlling the information available to the public so that they can control their public image and hide corruption and failures.

    That’s an interesting point. One of the reactions to the Leveson enquiry into press freedom in the UK is that the majority of citizens are in favour of statutory-backed regulation of the press in order to control the information available to the public. The most strident advocates of press freedom are (some) elected politicians along with oligarchs like Rupert Murdoch, even though he knows that the printed media that Leveson is seeking to regulate are in the process of being superseded by the (unregulatable) internet.

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  21. > The difference is that there are multiple conversations at the time of elections within a plurality of media, thereby cancelling out the effects of individual social-psychological mechanisms such as speaking order.

    I hardly envision the delegates as being locked into a room where a single conversation is taking place. Each delegate is at least as exposed to various ideas and sources of information as does the average voter.

    By the way, since you seem so troubled by the label “silly” that I attached to a different argument of yours, I’ll note that this new argument, while I think it is completely unconvincing, is not silly.

    > In addition citizens record their votes in secret and are thereby less affected by the pressures to conformity and groupthink that are generated by the deliberations of a small group.

    Again, an argument that is unconvincing, but not silly. I think it is quite clear that voting in secret – like any secrecy in government – cannot be expected to produce good government. However, this is an independent issue from the issue of the self-determination of the allotted chamber: one could easily propose an allotted chamber that sets its own agenda and discussion procedures and at the same time votes in secret.

    > It’s perfectly possible that an allotted individual (or small group of individuals) could be a Nazi or a closet oligarch who possessed the rhetorical skills to convince other members that her political programme was in the general good.

    Right, so this Nazi would be able to convince the Jews, the Blacks, the homosexuals, the communists and the disabled in the chamber to advance the Nazi agenda? And the same Nazi with his magical rhetorical skills would not be able to convince the voters to vote for him? Now that is silly.

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  22. >Each delegate is at least as exposed to various ideas and sources of information as does the average voter.

    Not so. In my proposal every citizen (rather than just the allotted oligarchs) would be able to make a legislative proposal which would get on the public votation ticket if it garnered 100,000 online signatures.

    >one could easily propose an allotted chamber that sets its own agenda and discussion procedures and at the same time votes in secret.

    Whilst that would marginally reduce (but not eradicate) the tendency to groupthink, the allotted assembly would still be wide open to corruption by lobbyists. Institutional barriers are required to separate interests and judgment, otherwise they will have a “tendency to corrupt” (Federalist 10).

    >Right, so this Nazi would be able to convince the Jews, the Blacks, the homosexuals, the communists and the disabled in the chamber to advance the Nazi agenda? And the same Nazi with his magical rhetorical skills would not be able to convince the voters to vote for him? Now that is silly.

    It took Hitler over ten years (and economic circumstances favourable to his cause, along with widespread violence and enforced constitutional upheavals), to convince the voters. A small allotted assembly with a brief to sit down and legislate will be a lot more amenable to persuasion (especially as most people will have no particular legislative proposals in mind prior to allotment). The closet Nazi scenario was just an extreme example of the fact that some people are more persuasive than others and that your casual assumption that the deliberations of an allotted microcosm will automatically mirror and protect the interests of the whole political community is without foundation. I won’t stoop to calling it silly, but we still await your outlining of the intermediary steps that would ensure that, notwithstanding the inevitable imbalance of illocutionary force, your “automatic alignment” hypothesis holds. This would be open to testing if you were able to come up with some mechanism for judging the “general goodness” of the legislative output in a non-partisan way (unlike the examples that you have already furnished). Unfortunately that’s all the domain of something that we usually call politics — broad agreement about ends coexisting with sharp disagreement on how best to achieve those ends.

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  23. I don’t agree with Robert Goodin, therefore he must be wrong. QED.
    Furthermore, I haven’t read the other posts in this thread.

    * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

    In explanation:
    First let me apologise if someone else has made the following points. I really haven’t read the thread _yet_, though I shall shortly.

    To me, this thread, and the others on this forum, are effectively conversations. As I’ve shown, it’s perfectly possible for me to disagree (reasonably or unreasonably) with the first or the last or any post. And if it’s possible for me, it’s possible for anyone. Moreover, you only have to look at Yoram’s responses to Keith’posts, or vice versa, in other threads to see that other people disagree with earlier posts very often. There seems to be more danger in most circumstances (pubs for instance) of conversations taking a needlessly aggressive tone and degenerating into punch-ups than of the participants all deciding to sweetly sing the same hymn.

    It’s also possible, as I so rudely did above, to completely ignore other people’s input. If the Hon. Member for Lower Puddle is burbling on about the dire plight of cabbage farmers, other members have a tendency to drift off to the land of Nod, or to the Members’ Bar, and this will no doubt happen in an allotted assembly.

    Of course, speeches, – or “speech-acts” if you must – sometimes do make us change our minds or our actions. Sometimes we will be misled by a specious argument. Sometimes we will be led to examine our own prejudices and assumptions in a way which brings us nearer to a reasonable or correct view. But in any event, short of locking each member away in solitary confinement for the duration of his/her term, it is impossible to insulate members from opinions expressed in the media, or by other members in private conversations, or by husbands or wives at home. Outlawing “speech-acts” (I mean the act of speaking, not the term itself) will not help; it will not stop one member influencing another, if only by raised eyebrows, or rolling the eyes or bursting into tears or whatever. (At the peace conferences at the end of WW1, the PM of Australia, W M Hughes, had a crude hearing aid which consisted of headphones and a wooden box with a large switch on the top. Placed next to a microphone, this made a very loud and satisfying click whenever he switched it off in disgust at opinions he did not share.)

    I would suggest (without experimental evidence, I admit) that the chance of “group-think” is lower in an assembly of several hundred members than amongst three or four friends, or even in a jury of twelve good men and true. In a larger group, there is much more chance that someone will hold strong views that are radically different from the prevailing wisdom. Airing those views, I believe, can only help to make others question their own opinions, and thus reduce group-think. This is all the more important in a society where the media are content to peddle conformist notions, and to ridicule unconventional ideas (like sortition, for example). Therefore I am strongly in favour of a parliament that argues.

    Having got that off my chest, I apologise to anyone who has already said this, or who feels that I am only stating the bleeding obvious. I shall now read all the posts above. I promise.

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  24. Good afternoon Campbell, your post is a welcome break from Yoram and myself trading insults.

    The problems with your argument from my perspective (I can’t speak for Goodin) are:

    1) I am in search of the Holy Grail of an allotted mechanism that can be said to instantiate the informed consent of the whole political community. That is a tall order (and one that most democratic theorists have given up on), nevertheless it strikes me as essential if allotment has any claim to political legitimacy. This demands some very tight design constraints on what forms of deliberation can pass muster as legitimate, my criterion being that the outcome of the debate should be substantially the same, irrespective of which persons are called to serve.

    2) Demands for representative accuracy (implicit in the notion of democratic consent) would, in effect, create a conscripted assembly. Unlike in the case of the conversation between Yoram and myself, both of whom have passionately-held convictions on the topic, most “conscripts” will not have strong views on the issues under consideration. As such they will be easily swayed by a skilled orator, or they may choose to side with Yoram on account of the pretty picture on his email signature. Again this requires strong medicine to ensure a truly level playing field (Yoram’s opponent being an ugly old git with a speech impediment, but reasonable writing skills).

    3) Nobody is suggesting that members of what would, in effect, be a large citizen jury, should be shielded from the effects of speech acts, only that the sources of information should be diverse and (crucially) that efforts should be taken to ensure balance. The DP approach is for the relevant stakeholders (for and against) to agree the information advocacy in advance. This dialectical approach is crude and somewhat limited but this is the approach adopted by every media organisation (including those who organise academic debates) to best ensure balanced deliberation. And civil society and the media in general will be bombarding the jurors with information and advocacy. The important thing is to make the information input as broad as possible and to allow jurors to make their decisions independently. This is the goal of the Condorcet process, which is completely opposed to the consensual approach advocated by most deliberative democrats. The key factor is ensuring that the argument is not over-determined by a small vocal minority of the tiny oligarchy selected by the sortition process. Normally this is secured by “impartial” moderators, but that’s not possible in a body with a legislative role (on account of the quis custodiet problem).

    4) My principal concern is that all citizens should have a chance to determine what items should be on the assembly agenda, rather than it being at the random whim of a few people. This is the bottom line, rather than proscribing advocacy arguments from allotted members. But I do think the latter is undesirable as a) speech acts are open to corruption by lobbyists (unlike the secret vote) and b) they will introduce differences between the outcome of each assembly and this will mean that the verdict can no longer be said to embody the informed consent of all citizens.

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  25. Hi Campbell,

    > I shall now read all the posts above. I promise.

    If you learn something useful, please share.

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  26. Keith,

    > outlining of the intermediary steps that would ensure that, notwithstanding the inevitable imbalance of illocutionary force, your “automatic alignment” hypothesis holds.

    Sigh. As I have already pointed out several times, those imbalances, significant or insignificant, have nothing to do with the alignment of interests. There is really very little reason to carry on a discussion in which you do not bother to notice what other people say. (Although, if everybody followed your example, then “speech-acts” would lose any effect and we would find ourselves in the communication-free situation that you so unconvincingly advocate.)

    > This would be open to testing if you were able to come up with some mechanism for judging the “general goodness” of the legislative output in a non-partisan way (unlike the examples that you have already furnished).

    I can only vaguely guess what you are referring to, but I have already offered such a mechanism: determination by an allotted body.

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  27. Yoram

    Your mechanism for judging what is in the general good (determination by an allotted body) is the best example of a circular argument that I’ve seen for a long time. Perhaps this explains why we continue to talk past each other.

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  28. > circular

    I don’t see what this means here. Having an allotted body answer a question (in our case “how good is the government?”) is not any more (or less) circular than having an “expert” body answer the question or answering the question with a plebiscite. The only issue is what the answer means.

    A plebiscite will reflect the uninformed and unconsidered popular opinion. An “expert” body will reflect the informed and considered opinion of an elite. An allotted body will reflect the informed and considered opinion of the population. I think the last one is the one we should be aiming for.

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  29. >An allotted body will reflect the informed and considered opinion of the population.

    That is only true if either a) the internal inequalities of the allotted assembly can be overcome as the reflection you refer to only holds true at the aggregate level; or b) you make the sort of partisan assumptions regarding the general good indicated by your earlier remarks on public policy. The tautology is because you define the public good as the decision of an allotted body.

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  30. > That is only true if either a) the internal inequalities of the allotted assembly can be overcome as the reflection you refer to only holds true at the aggregate level

    I am not going to rehash this. See my comments above for repeated explanations for how this assertion makes no sense on multiple levels.

    > or b) you make the sort of partisan assumptions regarding the general good indicated by your earlier remarks on public policy.

    I don’t see how this is even marginally relevant. It seems you are latching at random sentence snippets as arguments for a foregone conclusion.

    > The tautology is because you define the public good as the decision of an allotted body.

    No – I do not. As is often the case, this is something you simply invented but nonetheless attribute with complete confidence to others.

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  31. Then how do you define the public good?

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  32. I define it as what is good according to the informed and considered opinion of the population.

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  33. And how do you ascertain the informed and considered opinion of the population when you only have a tiny sample, a vocal/opinionated subset of which will:

    1. Choose the issues to debate
    2. Select their own information and advocacy
    3. Deliberate without trained moderators

    after which the sample will (presumably):

    4. Decide the outcome via an open public vote

    How do you ensure that the sample is descriptively representative (given your opposition to any form of conscription)? What steps will be taken to ensure consistent results between different samples and, if none, how can you possibly make the claim that the deliberative outcome of each sample is the “informed and considered opinion of the [whole] population”? Fishkin’s understanding (derived from Dahl) of the informed and considered opinion of the whole population depends on some strict constraints, all of which you have ruled out as “elitist”.

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  34. I won’t recount the ways in which your arguments don’t make sense – I refer you to my comments above. If you actually bother to read them you may find some answers.

    Funny how the fact that you confidently attributed to me, without any apparent reason, a position I don’t hold doesn’t concern you in the least – you just move on. I am constantly impressed by how untroubled you are about niceties like veracity, coherence, or trying to understand what other people are saying.

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  35. >”And referring back to Goodin’s original argument, whoever gets to state their interests first has an unfair advantage (especially if they are articulate and persuasive).”

    The first statement (post) in this thread was by Goodin & Sutherland. You don’t seem to have convinced Yoram – or me, for that matter. Incidentally the Polya urn is such a dodgy analogy that I wonder that you and Goodin can produce it without a blush.

    >”Suppose we are good deliberative democrats, so (a) we accord each other person’s views the same weight as our own and (b) we update our own views in light of what others have said dynamically as they say it.”

    I personally almost never do (a), and certainly never (b) in the automatic fashion you describe. I think both your premises are highly suspect, as bad as the economists’ assumption that we all act rationally to maximise our wealth. (I can’t be bothered; can you?)

    To me you seem to be straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel. The possibility of one allotted member influencing another fills you with horror and righteous indignation, while you are indifferent to the probability that members will be over-awed by the titles and qualifications of your “experts” (scare quotes fully intended) and not sufficiently aware of their propensity to get things wrong, or else influenced by the media or the temporary mood of the community.

    I’ll agree there is a _slight_ effect such as Goodin mentions. (Has he really discovered anything? We’ve known since Aesop’s day that glib, gullible and guileful people all exist. It is also obvious that one can only be influenced by a preceding speaker. Hence the path dependency.) I suggest, though, that people will only be significantly influenced in cases where they are completely ignorant and/or don’t care, or where the decision is a truly difficult one to call, in which case it may not much matter what they decide. The experts will disagree, in this case.

    I’ve not tried to lay down hard and fast rules about how parliamentary business should be conducted in my model. (That’s for Parliament to decide!) I would expect, though, that on any matter that interested them, members would tend to speak from a prepared speech, or at least notes, so that their position would usually be decided before hearing other speakers. Since the vote would be taken in secret after all speeches, members would be free to change their minds, or to say one thing and vote differently. That they might tend to follow the majority doesn’t greatly trouble me, since the outcome would not be altered.

    I don’t see that limiting speaking to questions will stop an able member from influencing the others. It’s pretty easy for an experienced and aggressive barrister to tie witnesses in knots, so a member with the right skills could ridicule the proposals, the proposers, and the experts.

    >”There are very good reasons for protecting the interests of the unborn (alongside the inhabitants of territories close to sea level), but this requires a moral concept of the general good that is far removed from “the interests of the public”. If anything their defence is best left in the hands of members of a discursive elite.”

    1. Many if not most people consider that their children’s and grandchildren’s interests are their own.

    2. As for your second sentence, a few centuries ago the members of a very discursive elite of the Catholic Church argued that it was in the best interests of “heretics” to burn them at the stake, in order to shorten their time in Purgatory.

    You seem to be trying for a theoretically perfect system that I believe is unattainable.
    I think we’d be far better off trying to get a good robust model that is as close to fair as possible. You’ll never eliminate inequality completely, some people will always be more intelligent, more articulate, more outspoken, more stubborn, and so forth. On any binary decision where the house is nearly evenly divided, you’ll get able people on each side. On any issue where there is a large majority one way, well, of course the majority will get its way.

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  36. Campbell,

    There’s so much to respond to, and I have to go out in a minute, so let me ask you just one question. My goal (which doesn’t appear to interest anyone else) is to construct a political system that would embody the informed consent of everyone (ie the 99.999%) who didn’t participate. If you were to set up two identical samples who deliberated and then came up with two diametrically opposed policy decisions, which one of them would everyone be deemed to consent to? As an example of the problem take the US fiscal cliff — if the popular vote is anything to go by it would appear that half the population wants to cut spending and the other half wants to raise taxes. Any two allotted assemblies with a full mandate (as proposed by Yoram and yourself) might well find themselves dominated by a small handful of Tea Party folk or their “liberal” counterparts and come up with diametrically opposed policies. Which one of them would everyone else be deemed to consent to, and why? According to Yoram’s earlier comments it would be the one that resists any cut to public services, but this strikes me as a massively partisan claim — one that would be contested by around half of all American citizens. The likely outcome of your proposal would be civil war.

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  37. Campbell,

    I, of course, agree with much of what you wrote. This, however, is not how I see things:

    > You [Keith] seem to be trying for a theoretically perfect system that I believe is unattainable.

    I don’t think Keith is aiming at perfection. He is aiming at an elite-controlled system. He simply doesn’t trust the average person and thinks that average people should not be given significant political power. They can select from a menu of options given to them by the elite, but they can’t be trusted to come up with their own options. The rest is simply rationalization and dissembling.

    This attitude is quite common – at least in the circles of people I talk to. Usually, however, people are more upfront about this rather than trying to hide behind implausible excuses. Keith himself, BTW, used to be more direct about his attitude but has become over time more circumspect.

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  38. Yoram, your maths skills are far superior to mine, so I don’t need to tell you that the “average person” is merely a statistical artefact. Empirical individuals fall within a wide range of deviation from the median, that’s why statistical representation cannot empower individuals. My proposal is for a modern version of the Athenian option (ho boulomenos + ecclesia + nomothetai) hardly an “elite-controlled system”.

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  39. >” My goal (which doesn’t appear to interest anyone else) is to construct a political system that would embody the informed consent of everyone (ie the 99.999%) who didn’t participate.”

    In other words, you’re aiming for perfection, which is no doubt right and proper for philosopher. However, perfection is notoriously not of this world. As I said above, I’d be content (well, fairly content) with a good pragmatic engineering solution which was as close to fair as possible. I’m looking for a system that gives equality of opportunity to make a decision, rather than equality of ability to evaluate what that decision should be.

    This no doubt damns me in the eyes of a perfectionist, on the grounds that I am prepared to tolerate a small amount of iniquity.

    >”If you were to set up two identical samples who deliberated and then came up with two diametrically opposed policy decisions, which one of them would everyone be deemed to consent to?”

    The first answer is to ask whether it is possible to have two _identical_ samples. After all, the sample can only ever be an approximation, and we like to think we are all different, and maybe we are, so it would be impossible to exactly replace each member of your first sample in order to constitute the second.

    Suppose though you have a club, where every member is present to vote on one of your binary yes/no proposals. If there is an even number of members, you may have an equal number for and against. You might also have one more member, giving an odd number, but with the last member undecided, so that he rests like Buridan’s ass between his two piles of hay.
    Somehow you make a decision, perhaps by flipping a coin. Do you then “deem” that everyone has consented? (Deliberate scare quotes again. The word “deem” seems to me to be used most often to give an air of legality to some unjust proceeding that facilitates administration)

    In your example, let us assume that you can have two samples that we can consider identical, and you get two diametrically opposed decisions. You might put the proposal to them again after a period of time, and find that both samples have changed their minds. What then? And this would be just as possible, I believe, with your non-speaking wise monkeys as with my garrulous ones. Some decisions are hard to make, often we say that we are in two minds about something. No political system will change that.

    >”Any two allotted assemblies with a full mandate (as proposed by Yoram and yourself) might well find themselves dominated by a small handful of Tea Party folk or their “liberal” counterparts and come up with diametrically opposed policies.”

    Any allotted system probably will come up with policies that I personally find odious. I accept that. Elected governments do it all the time. However I doubt the ability of a _small_ group to consistantly dominate a larger (by which I mean be able to change firmly held opinions), on ideological questions, simply by speaking first (or even by shouting louder, for that matter). If you mean a larger group that is perhaps a few members short of a majority, well, certainly, they might convince a few others to join them.
    Influences outside the parliament worry me more: advertising campaigns by lobby groups, religious doctrine, that sort of thing. And experts, of course, have a universally accepted right to pull the wool over our eyes. As long as they pull it over their own first, who can object?

    You are arguing as if you consider that one bad or inequitably-arrived-at decision is equivalent to the end of virtue and justice for all time. I am quite confident that lots of bad decisions (foolish, inefficient, unjust . . .) can be made with a large, unequivocal majority, without invoking the sort of problems you are raising. One advantage of an allotted parliament is that it could rectify past mistakes at very little cost, because it has nothing to lose electorally. Provided, of course, that it is free to re-examine legislature, which implies that anyone should be able to put proposals forward.

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  40. > My proposal is for a modern version of the Athenian option (ho boulomenos + ecclesia + nomothetai) hardly an “elite-controlled system”.

    The most democratic element of the Athenian system – the allotted Boule – was conveniently left out of your formula. (Of course, in any case the Athenian system should not be seen as a model for emulation but as simply a source of ideas.)

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  41. Campbell,

    Again, I agree. This part is particularly well put:

    Any allotted system probably will come up with policies that I personally find odious. I accept that. Elected governments do it all the time. However I doubt the ability of a _small_ group to consistently dominate a larger (by which I mean be able to change firmly held opinions), on ideological questions, simply by speaking first (or even by shouting louder, for that matter). If you mean a larger group that is perhaps a few members short of a majority, well, certainly, they might convince a few others to join them.

    Influences outside the parliament worry me more: advertising campaigns by lobby groups, religious doctrine, that sort of thing.

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  42. Thanks, Yoram.

    Keith, I noticed you didn’t reply to Yoram’s accusation of elitism by an unequivocal denial.

    I had a silly thought this morning. Could you two be reconciled by the following model:

    An allotted parliament which would publicly argue and debate proposals put to it, but whose only voting right would be to vote to submit previously debated proposals to an allotted “mute” assembly for the yes/no (secret) vote. Both groups (say 500 in each) chosen randomly from the widest possible public, (no exclusions, but no compulsion to serve, no self-selection, no qualifications required) serving for a limited period, renewed in batches of say 50 every six months.

    Excuse me if this has already been put forward and debated in the mountain of words in this blog. I haven’t thought about it enough myself to say that I’m in favour of it, and I realise it’s incomplete, particularly in that I haven’t suggested how the day to day administration of the various departments or ministries might be overseen. Nor have I said whether the members of the voting assembly would be required to attend and listen to parliamentary debate, or whether they should be insulated from it, and, if so, why and how; whether they would be required to physically appear in a chamber to vote, or whether they could vote by computer from the comfort of their own home (perhaps delegating the 10-year old to do this chore). Personally, I could see members of the voting assembly dying of boredom, but I suppose all occupations have their risks.

    Any thoughts?

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  43. Campbell,

    The notion of using more than one allotted body, (one setting an agenda, one debating, developing and refining proposals from the public, experts, etc, and a final “mute” jury ) I believe addresses each of Keith’s and Yoram’s objections (not perfectly but substantially). You can find a summary of the design I proposed at
    http://www.newdemocracy.com.au/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=194&Itemid=129&showall=1
    They both however “deem” this mulit-body sortition model of mine to be unnecessarily complex.

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  44. Thanks, Terry. I half-expected that someone would have got in first.

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  45. Hi Campbell,

    The idea of having multiple allotted bodies (with or without differentiated functions) has been discussed here before. I believe there are advantages and disadvantages to partitioning authority – we can discuss these if you want. To me this is a secondary issue. The important issue is that all political power must be vested in representative – that is, allotted – bodies.

    That is, I have no strong objections to your proposal. I would like, however, to see such an arrangement (or any other constitutional arrangement) created by an allotted body rather than by a self-appointed constitution writer (such as yourself, Keith, or me).

    (My understanding is that Keith would object to any procedure which allows an allotted body to set the political agenda and draft legislation, so I doubt he will like your proposal.)

    There are several problems with Terry’s proposal. Among them: (a) it is overly complex (b) it relies heavily on self-selection (c) it relies on decisions made by bodies convened for very short terms (measured in days).

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  46. Campbell and Yoram

    My concerns are two-fold:

    1. Democratic consent
    ==================
    Although this has been derided as perfectionist, I think it is a worthwhile target (normatively speaking) and essential in terms of perceived legitimacy. To my mind I can only be deemed to consent to a decision if a) if I attend in person and make it myself or b) the outcome would be the same if my attendance is by proxy. (Needless to say both conditions presuppose majority rule.) Goodin and myself believe that individual speech acts and procedural niceties make a big difference; Campbell and Yoram believe such factors are trivial (presumably because the assembly would be populated by the statistical artefact called the “average person”). The veracity of both positions can be tested experimentally — I have outlined previously the experimental scenario for testing the Interchangeability Hypothesis and no doubt you can both come up with an experimental design indicating how an allotted chamber with full powers can legislate in such a way that all citizens can be deemed to consent to its unchecked sovereign rule, even though (in the US) they are deeply divided on an important issue like fiscal policy.

    2. What works
    ===========
    I agree with Yoram that we don’t need to be bound by past practice but we should be prepared to learn lessons from the only working example of democracy where legislative powers were handed to an allotted body (the 4th century Athenian nomothetai). When the Athenians reintroduced democracy in 403/2 they preferred a ‘moderate democracy’: ‘The Athenians shall govern themselves according to the custom of the ancestors and use the laws of Solon and Drakon as heretofore’ (Andox. 1.83). This meant limiting the powers of the assembly to passing administrative decrees, electing magistrates and summoning nomothetai (legislative courts) into being (Hansen, pp.151-3). Legislation involved 3 stages, and three distinct bodies were involved:

    Boule
    ——
    It is true, as Yoram claims, that the allotted council now had control of the legislative agenda. But any Athenian citizen who chose to would have a good chance of being a councillor once or even twice in their life and most citizens would have known a serving member and could have encouraged him to introduce a proposal. And the assembly of the people could always order the council to put an item on its agenda (Hansen, p.153). So any citizen could still make legislative proposals (ho boulomenos).

    Ecclesia
    ———-
    Proposals from the boule were only referred to allotted scrutiny once they received majority assent from all citizens present in the assembly.

    Nomothetai
    ————–
    All new laws were subject to the deliberative approval of an allotted court in which citizens over 30 who had taken the Heliastic Oath voted in secret after listening to adversarial debate.

    Note that law-making involved three different bodies, of which only one (nomothetai) was a pure sortive assembly (as the Boule was wide open to influence and lobbying). The Athenians would not have considered a legislative system that did not permit the participation of any citizen who chose to do so as democratic. I confess to being completely baffled as to why Yoram, Campbell and Terry are so fervently in agreement with Madison’s diabolical plan for the ‘total exclusion of the people’ from the legislative process.

    It’s also worth noting that that 4th-century innovations were largely introduced in the spirit of checks and balances, as the Athenians had discovered that any single ‘pure’ principle would lead to corruption. Aristotle was only prepared to deem a mixed government ‘constitutional’. My legislative system is modelled very closely on Athenian practice, the only difference being the sheer numbers involved which presupposes that the ecclesia should be electronic in nature. Apart from that it’s really just the Athenian option (rather than just cherry picking one part of it).

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  47. Terry, I had already looked at this article, but there are many points where I’m just not sure what you intend. (I had the same reaction after reading John Burnheim’s “Is Democracy Possible”).
    Has there been any discussion of your article on this forum or elsewhere? Or a readily accessible explanation? I could post here my questions, but it’s a waste of your time if the ground has already been covered.

    >”They both however “deem” this mulit-body sortition model of mine to be unnecessarily complex.”

    Well, you do have rather a lot of bodies. Perhaps “entia non sunt multiplicanda”?

    Yoram and Terry:
    >”There are several problems with Terry’s proposal. Among them: (a) it is overly complex (b) it relies heavily on self-selection (c) it relies on decisions made by bodies convened for very short terms (measured in days).
    (b) and (c) worry me a bit too, though as I say, I’m not really sure what he intends. Perhaps like me he has been a bit vague because he doesn’t want to be an authoritarian “self-appointed constitution writer”.

    Keith:
    >”Although this has been derided as perfectionist”
    Please understand that I did not use the term perfectionist in derision. By all means keep looking for perfection. You won’t ever get there, but it is by searching for perfection that we get improvements. Which doesn’t mean we shouldn’t adopt an improvement just because it falls short of perfection.

    >”Goodin and myself believe that individual speech acts and procedural niceties make a big difference; Campbell and Yoram believe such factors are trivial”
    More or less, yes.

    >”(presumably because the assembly would be populated by the statistical artefact called the “average person”)”
    Give Yoram a break. It’s a loose usage, certainly, but common enough. (And I thought _I_ was a pedant!)

    >” no doubt you can both come up with an experimental design indicating how an allotted chamber with full powers can legislate in such a way that all citizens can be deemed to consent to its unchecked sovereign rule, even though (in the US) they are deeply divided on an important issue like fiscal policy.”

    1 Not the only thing they are divided on.
    2 Not the only country where there are deep divisions.
    3 On principle, I don’t want to “deem” anything.
    4 I’ve already pointed out that a population can be split 50:50 so you cannot honestly say that all citizens consent to anything. All you can say is that, in recent history, we give lip service to the idea that the majority should decide. I go along with this notion, although I have very deep misgivings about its fairness, because I cannot think of a better alternative. This is another thing that worries me far more than the effect that you are Goodin are concerned about.

    The Athenian constitution.
    By all means study it. It makes me impatient, though, when every suggestion is compared with what the Athenians had 24 centuries ago in very different circumstances. We need something for the 21st century. Still, I suppose I should be pleased you aren’t suggesting we model our ideas on the Spartan constitution, or on Plato’s “Republic”.

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  48. Campbell: >I’ve already pointed out that a population can be split 50:50 so you cannot honestly say that all citizens consent to anything.

    The 50/50 problem applies irrespective of the decision procedure — flipping a coin is just as good as resort to hanging chads. As for majoritarianism, the notion of the greatest good of the greatest number is pretty much universal nowadays. Yoram’s reification of the “average voter” isn’t just a loose use of language, as he’s frequently contrasted the substantive interests of the 99% to those of the elite and provides us with a (highly partisan) illustration of this principle in a comment on this post. But you need to put your model to the test, rather than just relying on competing intuitions. To my mind if one allotted chamber voted to raise taxes and the other to cut public services then there’s no way that either could claim to embody the consent of the entire citizenry. Those of us who believe in democratic consent would seek a solution that has synchronic consistency, although this would change over time due to fluctuations in social norms etc.

    I completely agree over the need of a solution that is fit for purposes in the 21st century, but that is no reason not to learn from the experience of our predecessors who actually put sortition into practice. I can’t think of a single historical instance of a “pure” form of government that didn’t end up drowning in its own blood, hence the need for the checks and balances of a mixed constitution. Aristotle was unwilling to use the word constitutionalism in any context other than a mixture of aristocracy and democracy and perhaps he was right all along (although you would just deride him as an elitist).

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  49. Campbell,

    1. There has been a little discussion of my proposal (mainly by me) on various threads…but if you would like, I can send you the paper I submitted to the Journal of Public Deliberation about it, if you send me an email request to terrybour(at)gmail.com

    2. Keith wrote, that there were two requirements for meaningful consent by proxy (in an allotted chamber) and then added in parentheses
    “(Needless to say both conditions presuppose majority rule.)”
    But that is the HUGE elephant in the room…what is the point of perpetuating the myth of consent of the governed on one hand, when with the other hand you accept having 49% absolutely NOT consenting, yet declare them to BE consenting, merely because they got out voted.

    3. Later Keith wrote:
    “I confess to being completely baffled as to why Yoram, Campbell and Terry are so fervently in agreement with Madison’s diabolical plan for the ‘total exclusion of the people’ from the legislative process.”
    As for my model, I preserve the principle of isegoria (equal right to speech), or ho boulomenos, by allowing absolutely anybody who wishes to participate in a legislative matter to do so at the level of Interest Panels, to craft proposals for the allotted bodies to consider…with the ultimate decision at the final level, the short-term jury, being a body with near-mandatory service with deferrals.

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  50. Terry

    The consent of the minority is equally problematic in election- and sortition-based democracies, so I don’t see it as something we need to address our limited resources to. However in political communities equally divided on an important issue (such as how not to fall over the fiscal cliff) it’s important that any distortions introduced by procedural niceties or illocutionary inequalities should not tip the balance one way or the other, hence this post.

    I agree that your interest panels would allow for ho boulomenos, but still insist that they have to be intermediated by the modern equivalent of ecclesia. Whilst the fourth-century innovations were designed to limit the effects of demagogues, what you, Yoram and Campbell are suggesting is the ‘total exclusion of the people in their collective capacity from any share in government’. That would mark the end of democracy and the realisation of Madison’s republican dream.

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  51. Received this anonymous comment on the email alert for this post (not on the blog for some reason):

    >”Until we simplify the language, get to the point, and get the message out to the general public, we will continue to sink in the sand.”

    I agree we all need to use accessible language, but you really can’t reduce constitutional issues to soundbites and slogans like “leave it all to an allotted assembly” or quoting epithets from Montesquieu out of context. We need to clarify the theoretical issues — what sortition can and cannot do — before packaging it up as a message to the public otherwise the quicksand will become even more treacherous. The devil is (unfortunately) always in the detail.

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  52. The comment is not here because I removed it. It appeared to be spam (junk comment) rather than meant specifically at your post.

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  53. OK, I took it as a criticism of my pseudo-academic ponderousness and tendency to nitpick, count the number of angels dancing on the head of a pin etc.

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  54. Keith,
    I completely forgot the following:
    >”I confess to being completely baffled as to why Yoram, Campbell and Terry are so fervently in agreement with Madison’s diabolical plan for the ‘total exclusion of the people’ from the legislative process.”

    Come off it, Keith, that’s rubbish, and you know it.

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  55. Why? You are all three determined to focus on one aspect of 4th century Athenian democracy (allotment), thereby excluding the other democratic mechanisms (election and direct democracy). These are the only mechanisms capable of including all the people in their collective capacity in large modern states where rotation (rule and be ruled in turn) is rendered impossible by numerical factors. I stand by my claim.

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  56. Just for the record (and not because I believe this will make a dent in your complete bafflement), Keith, the answer to the question that baffles you so is spelled in great detail here and here (and of course over and over and over in previous comment threads in which you expressed similar bafflement).

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  57. Although numerical support is no indication of merit, Campbell, Terry and yourself stand pretty much alone in arguing for a sortition-only solution. Such a policy would have been anathema to the Greeks, even though the small size of the citizen body meant that rule-and-be-ruled-in-turn was a practical proposition. So yes I find your position truly baffling, as I’ve tried to indicate in my responses to your two previous posts.

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  58. Keith,

    It is fine that we disagree – people disagree all the time. The issue is that you do not seem able to read and understand (not agree, but merely understand) what other people are writing. You are unable or unwilling to engage with arguments substantively. Instead, you simply recycle formulas and declare yourself “completely baffled” (it used to be “puzzled”) by other people’s positions. This leaves us forever stuck in square one of the discussion.

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  59. Unfortunately I could have written that paragraph myself (substituting Yoram for Keith), so there’s no point wasting any more time on it. Given the hundreds of hours we have devoted to attempting to persuade each other, both online and offline, it’s truly alarming that we have made no progress at all. I take this as a vindication of my view on how policy in an allotted chamber with full powers (where most people will have no strong views) will be dominated by a tiny number of anoraks and ideologues. If two highly educated, (otherwise) intelligent, well-informed and committed people — both passionate advocates of sortition — cannot even understand each others’ positions then what hope can there be for policymaking by Habermasian deliberation? Much better to limit the powers of people like you and me to just one vote amongst several hundred in weighing and then deciding the outcome of debate. The trouble with a full-powers allotted assembly is that it may well contain people like Yoram Gat and Keith Sutherland. That’s why the lines on the floor of the House of Commons are placed two swords’ lengths apart.

    In the meantime, for the sake of everyone else on this blog, I think we will have to revert to the self-denying ordinance of ignoring everything said by each other.

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  60. > I take this as a vindication of my view […]

    I don’t doubt you are quite able to take any set of facts and see it as a vindication of your views. As usual, your argument is a collection of false and dubious assertions tied together in a sequence of non-sequiturs.

    How rashly, for example, you assume that the problems of communication that you are experiencing are typical to other people. Other people seem to understand my ideas and I can understand theirs. I even usually understand your positions. I disagree with them, but I understand them. In fact, at least in this forum, the phenomenon of useless interaction that I described is apparently unique to interactions with you. (For example, there is no one else here who so regularly resorts to expressing puzzlement or bafflement at other people’s positions or arguments.)

    > I think we will have to revert to the self-denying ordinance of ignoring everything said by each other.

    When I ignore what you write it is not due to self-denial. It is because I think there is nothing to be gained by responding.

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  61. Like you I have little problem communicating with most people with a serious interest in this issue (although I have some difficulty with those who believe that sortition is some kind of magic bullet). Unlike you, though, I’m not prepared to lay all the blame at the feet of my adversary. It takes two to tango.

    This is all getting a little unedifying and I think we should desist for the sake of other members of this forum. By all means have the last word — I won’t respond.

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  62. Keith,
    Whether Yoram is an anorak or an ideologue or neither, at least you must admit that he’s not blindly following the lead of the first post on this thread, as you and your Mr Goodin suggest in that post that he should. Keith, you taxed me with being a “hand-waver”, and suggested that I should defer to empirical evidence. Here we have a bit of empirical evidence, and you choose to ignore it because it doesn’t suit your argument. (Is “anorak” one of J L Austin’s “ordinary language” technical terms?)

    >”The trouble with a full-powers allotted assembly is that it may well contain people like Yoram Gat and Keith Sutherland.”
    And several hundred other people who are neither Yoram Gat nor Keith Sutherland. Fortunately, there will be a bit of pudding to go with all that spice.

    >”Why? You are all three determined to focus on one aspect of 4th century Athenian democracy (allotment), thereby excluding the other democratic mechanisms (election and direct democracy). These are the only mechanisms capable of including all the people in their collective capacity in large modern states”

    Once again, the tiresome use of Athens as the touchstone of democracy.
    If I suggest anything different from KS’s interpretation of Athenian democracy, I’m in favour of tyranny.

    I’m not going to argue about to what extent it was direct and to what extent representative, but I don’t see direct democracy as I understand it as a possibility in today’s large populations.

    Most of 200 states in the world today pay lip-service to “democracy” by having elections. In none of these countries (to my knowledge) do elections give a satisfactory result, for one reason or another. That this has been true for a long time is also evident. I make no apology for excluding elections, I think they only make sense in situations where electors can know all possible candidates, and any group member can be proposed as a candidate. A sporting club of not more than two or three hundred members might be an example.

    Yoram:
    >>”Until we simplify the language, get to the point, and get the message out to the general public, we will continue to sink in the sand.”
    >”The comment is not here because I removed it. It appeared to be spam (junk comment) rather than meant specifically at your post.”

    I’m not sure that it was spam. As someone with a limited education, I sympathise with the sentiment expressed. The world is full of people like me who don’t have PhDs in political science or anything else. However, we have a certain amount of discernment, and can sometimes be convinced by rational argument couched in terms that ordinary people understand. I seem to recall that a certain Wittgenstein said something to the effect of “what we can say at all can be said clearly” A good precept, though I’m not sure that he followed it himself.

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  63. Campbell,

    The path-dependency problem does not apply to people (like Yoram and myself) who already have strong views on the topic being debated. In a “conscript”-style allotted assembly most people will not have any particular understanding or viewpoint on most issues and will be more inclined to take their lead from earlier speech acts. So depending on whether Gat or Sutherland spoke first they might well be swayed by their arguments and the resulting decision could no longer be said to be accurately reflect what everyone would have thought, had we all been in a position to deliberate. Descriptive representation is a very fragile creature which can easily be corrupted. This is a serious problem for those who propose a full-power allotted assembly, not so for those who would limit the role of allotted persons to deliberation within and deciding the outcome — the only possible model if the decision of the microcosm is to receive the consent of those who didn’t participate. As I asked before (in the context of the fiscal cliff), how can we all be deemed to consent to two entirely different policy outcomes, depending on whether those of a Tea Party or “liberal” persuasion get to speak first?

    CW: >Once again, the tiresome use of Athens as the touchstone of democracy.

    Well the Athenians did invent democracy and the name and logo of this group is a homage to its origins. Athenian governance was a mixture of election, sortition and direct democracy, and the balance between the three mechanisms altered over the passage of three centuries. Representative government (in modernity) has also changed over a similar timespan — the trustee relationship between voter and candidate that might be possible in a small sporting club being described by Manin as the early stage of “parliamentary” democracy. But election can also be a way of expressing a preference for a certain type of policy (“party” democracy), and is also a way of punishing/rewarding politicians on the basis of their actions rather than their words. Direct democratic initiative is also a way of indicating policy preferences. I’m agnostic as to which form is preferable (votation being a possible compromise solution), the important thing being that the final decision should be the result of informed deliberation by a (randomly-selected) group of ordinary citizens. That strikes me as a sensible balance between election, direct democracy and sortition.

    I agree with you on the need to use plain English and apologise if I’m every guilty of not doing so.

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  64. Campbell,

    > I’m not sure that it was spam. As someone with a limited education, I sympathise with the sentiment expressed.

    Saying it was spam doesn’t imply that it was false. What it means is that it was completely generic – it made no particular reference to any item in the post or the comment thread. It was a comment that could be made to just about any post on this blog and on many other blogs. Generic comments can be true, but in a non-informative way.

    If you want to develop this idea with reference to the specifics of our subject or discussions, that would be very welcome.

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  65. Keith,
    >”The path-dependency problem does not apply to people (like Yoram and myself) who already have strong views on the topic being debated. In a “conscript”-style allotted assembly most people will not have any particular understanding or viewpoint on most issues and will be more inclined to take their lead from earlier speech acts.”

    Goodin uses the Polya urn as an analogy of what _may_ happen. You give me the impression that you take it as a sort of algorithm determining what _must_ happen. Except for Yoram and yourself, of course.

    Also, you assume that members make their decisions in sequence and that the decisions are irrevocable. You speak first, with your customary eloquence. I, poor simpleton, am completely won over, and decide to follow you. Bill Braindead and Cornelia Clueless follow me. Next comes Yoram, who in a stupendous feat of majestic rhetoric, convinces me that I was wrong, but, alas, it is too late for me, Bill, or Cornelia to change the red ball for the black. This is totally unlike any system I have seen proposed. It’s a straw man argument.

    For “most people” not having any particular understanding does not exclude having a “viewpoint”; thundering great prejudices, sometimes. I dare say you consider that this applies to me.

    Where the assembly members are inclined to “take their lead from earlier speech acts” will often be in cases where they feel the difference between two choices is just not enough to fuss about. In your restaurant example, I might well go along with either pizza or the Indian restaurant, even if I had a hankering for moussaka, simply because I’m far too hungry to want to spend another minute on a cold street corner arguing about it. The real choice, in this case, is not “pizza or curry?”, but “do we get to a restaurant before they all close, or do we go hungry?”

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but you appear to make the assumption that “naive” voters – untainted by previous “speech-acts” – will always make the same choices if presented with “the facts”, just as the north-seeking pole of a compass will always point north. Leaving aside the horrible problems of whether “facts” exist and can be presented in an objective way, and by whom, etc, etc, can you be sure that this is true? Would it be true in the absence of any presentation of facts or arguments for and against? Would the same woman, in the absence of sales talk, given a choice between a red dress and a blue one, always make the same choice? Given a choice between two CDs, would you or I always make the same choice? I doubt it – I often later regret my choices. And if not, then the difference in outcomes may be random, and not be due to path-dependency.

    Finally, -at least for the time being – in any large assembly, asked to decide between A and B there will often be those who see arguments for or against which the original (expert) advocates of A and B did not see, or who find a third possibility C. Which might be of great benefit.

    >”the Athenians did invent democracy and the name and logo of this group is a homage to its origins.”

    All honour to the Athenians, but the best homage to them, surely, is to think for ourselves, as they did (some of them, anyway). I object to their constitution becoming a cage outside of which we may not venture.

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  66. Both Goodin and myself are referring to probabilities, not certainties. As for the need for consistency between groups this strikes me as essential if the decision of the group is to embody the informed consent of all citizens. Given the need for this, why not take every effort to produce a decision mechanism that will give an outcome that everyone can agree on? There will be random fluctuations but, if the assembly is large enough, they should cancel out. The results of an opinion poll should be the same, irrespective of the particular sample, and all we are doing is adding balanced information and a deliberative element (hence the term deliberative poll). Those of us who believe in the principle of democratic consent would argue that’s about as good as it gets. If that reduces the opportunity for individuals to grandstand then that’s a small price to pay for the consent of everyone who is not included. The trouble with deliberative democratic theory is all the emphasis is on the speakers, less on the listeners and none whatsoever on those who don’t get invited to the party. The last group are my principal concern.

    >All honour to the Athenians, but the best homage to them, surely, is to think for ourselves, as they did (some of them, anyway). I object to their constitution becoming a cage outside of which we may not venture.

    I’m not suggesting that we should be constrained by the past but, given the law of unintended consequences, it’s best to learn everything that we can from past experience. Most radical sortititon proposals justify themselves by reference to the cradle of democracy and then ignore 99% of Athenian political practice. As I point out in my new post, the principal aim of the 4th-century sortition innovations was to stop the legislative tidal wave and return to the ancient constitution, where change was the exception rather than the rule.

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