A theory of sortition, part 2 of 2

Part 1 is here.

Extension of self-representation

Like many other authors discussing sortition (Dahl, Leib, Zakaras, Fishkin, and others), Stone and Dowlen choose, then, to drastically downgrade sortition from a tool of radical democratic reform (as presented by C&P, or earlier by C.L.R. James) to an add-on to the electoral system. Such a retreat is certainly not warranted by the theoretical considerations discussed in the first part of the article. The claim that sortition can be expected to produce good government can be put on a much more solid theoretical foundation than the faulty intuitive argument provides. An alternative argument works by employing the properties of sampling in order to extend self-representation of the decision-making group into representation of the entire population. It goes as follows:

  1. A small group of people, under reasonably favorable conditions, is able to represent its own interests. This claim is not directly associated with sortition, but is rather a claim about the political dynamics of small groups of people in general. The claim is that when a small group of people, meeting on an a-priori egalitarian basis, has the opportunity to make collective decisions that would promote the interests of the members as they perceive them, then it will tend to do so. This is a situation which most people would be familiar with – group decision making in the family, within a group of friends or with colleagues. “A small group” is taken to be a group in which all-to-all communication is possible. The upper size limit of such a group would depend on the circumstances, but even under the most favorable circumstances a few hundred people seems like the most that would fit the description.
  2. Policy that promotes the interests of a small group of people which are selected as a sample of a larger group will tend to promote the interests of the larger group as well. Since the interests of a group selected as a sample of a larger group are typical of those of the entire group, policy that promotes the interests of the sample would tend to promote the interests of the group. In particular, if a certain policy promotes the interests of a majority of the members of the sample then that policy is likely to promote the interests of a majority in the population. There would be some obvious exceptions to this extension from sample to population. Policy that applies directly to the members of the sample in their role as members – their salaries for example – affects interests for which the sample members are very atypical. In a government by sortition such exceptions would have to be treated separately.


The extension-of-self-representation argument avoids the most problematic point of the mirroring argument by avoiding an appeal to the hypothetical “what the entire population would decide” construct. By avoiding this standard, it also avoids the need to make assertions about similarity of policies. The extension from the small group to the large group occurs on the basis of similarity of interests, not policy.

The validity of the extension argument can be tested empirically. If the system is working as the argument describes, most citizens would feel, upon examination of the workings and decisions of the decision-making body, that the policies enacted represent their interests. To measure whether this is the case, a separate body, also made up by sortition, can be put in charge of monitoring the decision-making body. This monitoring body can then decide whether the policy made by the decision-making body represents the interests of the population. The sentiment of the monitoring body should reflect the interests of the population.

The issues of preference aggregation and the supposed intractability results claimed by social choice theory apply, if at all, at the first point of the argument. While some sort of a procedure for aggregation of preferences needs to be employed within the decision-making group, the characteristics of any such procedure, including any drawbacks, are small-group issues that potentially affect its ability to represent its own interests. But if problems of self-representation exist then they affect any small group making decisions – they are not problems scale. Whether those problems are severe is something that every person should be able to assess based on their own personal experiences in small group decision making.

Finally, the argument also sheds light on the issue of exclusions from the sampling pool, which Stone mentions as a problem for the mirroring argument. Sortition proposals, including that of C&P, often specifically exclude certain groups of people from the set of those eligible for selection to the decision making group. The largest group, and the one most consistently proposed for exclusion is children, but sometimes other groups, such as criminals or the insane are also targeted. The extension of self representation argument indicates that there could be two grounds for exclusion. The first is when the interests of those excluded are considered illegitimate and therefore should not be represented at all – this is presumably the case for those suggesting to exclude criminals. The second ground is when the group is considered as deserving representation, but at the same time it is considered as being unable to represent itself – this is the case for children and the insane.

Conclusion

Arguments which aim to diminish democratic expectations are part of the arsenal of opponents of democracy – both elitist opponents that wish to justify existing inequalities of political power, and anarchist opponents that claim to aspire to a society without any form of large scale powerful organization. Those arguments are not a-priori without merit. On the contrary: modern democratic dogma notwithstanding, large scale democracy is not a naturally occurring phenomenon – it exists nowhere today and existed (as far as I am aware) only in some Greek poleis in the 5th and 4th centuries B.C., if at all.

In view of that, an attitude of skepticism toward claims that a certain technique provides a basis for a democratic government is sensible. But this background also motivates breaking with the established institutions and looking for a radical alternative, rather than attempting to patch those institutions in various ways. Sortition provides such a radical alternative. The discussion above indicates that this alternative is more than an idle hope – it is a concrete goal that can be reasonably expected to result in democratic government.

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90 Responses

  1. >The claim is that when a small group of people, meeting on an a-priori egalitarian basis . . .

    What do you mean by “a priori”? Hypothetical? The limited examples that you provide (families, friends, colleagues) are anything but egalitarian in practice. Anyone who has experienced a student seminar group will know that, notwithstanding egalitarian norms, some students will speak and others will remain silent, and some will command more authority and respect than others. Whilst that is unproblematic for persons representing themselves, this is not the case when they are remaining silent on behalf of the disenfranchised majority. I also don’t understand how “the extension from the small group to the large group occurs on the basis of similarity of interests, not policy.” Politics is about enacting policies, not analytic abstractions like “interests”.

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  2. No, of course simply applying sortition to existing democratic bodies is not likely to produce optimal results, and may in fact make matters worse, as I wrote in a previous comment, a full overhaul of government is needed to make it work. One might even wonder if a central legislative assembly is needed at all and could be replaced with a number of specialized ones each which would deal with specific areas of concern the way school boards handle matters of education in some jurisdictions.
    Policy juries impaneled on an as needed basis may be another option and one could postulate some sort of mixed system with an executive elected by popular vote with sharply limited powers to serve the function of head of state and to provide oversight. Sortition in and of itself is just one (albeit central) aspect of the radical alternatives to the current system we need to look at.

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  3. > What do you mean by “a priori”?

    This means that the people are entrusted with the same authority, resources and status.

    > I also don’t understand how “the extension from the small group to the large group occurs on the basis of similarity of interests, not policy.”

    See point 2 in the argument.

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  4. How on earth do you “entrust people with the same authority, resources and status”? Do they go around with paper bags over their heads and speak via a Stephen Hawking voice machine which not only equalises their intonation but re-parses their sentences to conceal the clear cognitive and education attributes that differentiate individuals? Rawls’s veil of ignorance was just a thought experiment, but you seem to be suggesting constructing a real one. You might as well try and build the Tower of Babel (or the Israel-Palestinian “peace” wall).

    As for the differentiatiation between interests and policy, I’ve read (and failed to understand) your point 2. Given my evident stupidity, I was hoping you might explicate it.

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  5. > How on earth do you “entrust people with the same authority, resources and status”?

    All delegates will be entrusted with equal authority, resources and status as part of their role (office, salary, staff, voting rights, authority to make proposals, authority to call witnesses, speaking turns, access to media, etc.). This creates a situation that is largely a-priori equalitarian.

    Yes, Keith, obviously some indicators of pre-existing inequalities will remain, but if the situation of the delegates is powerful enough, those will be of secondary importance. It is elite political power that endows those background indicators with their importance, not the other way around. Once political power is not held by a differentiated elite, the influence of those indicators will dissipate.

    > As for the differentiatiation between interests and policy, I’ve read (and failed to understand) your point 2. Given my evident stupidity, I was hoping you might explicate it.

    Now, don’t be so hard on yourself. If you can be more specific about what you don’t understand, I may be able to help you.

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  6. OK, so to take the example that I gave of the student seminar — where some people spoke frequently and the majority remained silent — is this a reflection of “elite political power”? If so, then I suppose the female graduate students’ sense of oppression is on account of patriarchical cultural norms. If this is the case then sortition will be entirely impotent as what is required is a comprehensive transformation of social attitudes. Some would claim that this is not just going to take a long time, but that it’s impossible, as much of the existing differentiation can be explained by psychology and even evolutionary biology. But whatever your view on the level of reduction required (political sociology, psychology, biology), merely tinkering with the selection mechanism will only have minimal effect. It would be much more practical to take human nature and social norms as they are and produce a political system that works with the existing crooked timbers of mankind.

    >The extension from the small group to the large group occurs on the basis of similarity of interests, not policy.

    The two things are not so easily separable. Take the example of a group of people suffering from (say) a disease. One member of the group might propose bleeding with leeches as a cure, and another might propose consulting the witch-doctor. Only if a member of the group happened to have knowledge of scientific medicine would the group be able to make a sensible choice of policy that is in their interests. The problem becomes far worse when the group is deciding on behalf of everybody else. How would you feel if a random group of people decided (on your behalf) to fund leech-treatment rather than antibiotics?

    Needless to say I’m taking issue with your earlier claim that individuals and groups automatically know in their own interests (and/or where to look for impartial advice) and am relieved to see that you now qualify this — “the interests of the members as they perceive them”. But perceptions may be spectacularly badly informed, hence the need for extrinsic (“elitist” in your parlance) standards of information and advocacy. If this is true, then the distinction between interests and policy fails, as a group can only protect its interests if it is in full knowledge of available policy options.

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  7. Just finished reading both parts of this. Yoram, I think your summary of my position in the first part (I won’t speak for Oliver, of course) was quite fair and charitable…up to the very end. I don’t see myself as offering an “apologia for the existing political system” at all. Nor do I believe I am “drastically downgrading sortition from a tool of radical democratic reform…to an add-on to the electoral system” I think that sortition can play an important role in the prevention of corruption and domination by political elites. That claim does not say anything about just how radical changes must be in order to curtail present levels of elite corruption and domination. I would be the first to admit that our current ruling elite is utterly out of control, and that radical changes might be needed to end this. An integral part of that will surely be a radical reduction in economic and political inequality. And I can see sortition-based institutions taking on considerable powers as part of this project. So I’m just not seeing how my argument is some sort of capitulation to the status quo.

    What I do reject (for the reasons you present) is the idea that we should see the primary virtue of an allotted chamber as expressing some sort of “will of the people.” I am also skeptical of the claim that any decision-making body should hold “sovereign” power, whether it be an elected legislature, an allotted chamber, or the popular referendum. The world is just too complex for any one decision-making body to do everything. Finally, I simply don’t regard election as a tool of the Devil, the ruling class, or whatever. I think it does a very poor job at certain tasks, particularly right now, but that’s not a reason to foreswear its use everywhere and at all times.

    Like I said, all of that is compatible with the idea that radical institutional reforms are needed. I don’t have a blueprint in mind for how that might look, and I’m a bit suspicious of anyone who claims to know for sure what the right institutional formula might be. Figuring that out is one of the purposes of this blog, I would hope, but I don’t think any of us is going to hit upon the right solution until we have a lot more data and a lot more experience with sortition–something I would actively encourage us to seek.

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  8. Keith,

    I do not think Yoram is claiming that people “automatically” know their own interests. You agree that people are the best JUDGES of their own interests. Why aren’t they also the best judge of deciding how best to learn their won interests? I imagine an allotted body whose sole task is deciding on the design of a system for educating future allotted bodies. They might decide to hire expert staff, or consult all kinds of academics, union stewards, religious leaders, business leaders, experts, average citizens and opinionated blow-hards, until they feel ready to settle on a system. Why NOT let such an allotted body tackle this job, recognizing the details of the system would evolve over time with changes made by subsequent allotted groups.

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  9. Terry,

    I agree, of course, that mature adults without mental incapacity are the best judges of their own interests, when informed in an adequate and well-balanced manner. But I’m puzzled as to why you insist on self-informing (aka pulling oneself up by one’s own bootstrings). I wrote my two books on the basis of self-informing and now, having returned to university, actively discourage people from reading them. This is not because I think my arguments are wrong, it’s on account of the vast areas of research that I was simply ignorant of. When I wrote The Party’s Over I didn’t even realise that there was a field of research/practice called Deliberative Democracy and had never heard of a Citizen Jury. So I subsequently put myself in the hands of a PhD supervisor who has alerted me to all the things that I was simply missing out on. The problem, of course, is the prevention of corruption by dominant schools of thought, biased advice, political correctness, butt-licking etc, and this is particularly a problem for younger scholars who are trying to climb up the greasy poll of academic advancement.

    Returning from an educational to a political context this is doubly problematic and that’s why I resort to the standard policy of “impartial” public service broadcasters — ie adopting a dialectical approach to the provision of information and advocacy. Whilst this is both crude and reductive I can see of no other way to ensure balanced information.

    How would allotted amateurs know which experts to consult? One criticism of the BC citizen jury was that members were over-reliant on permanent staff. I imagine these people would have been portrayed as dispassionate constitutional experts, but I have had extensive dealings with the UK Constitution Unit, who in my experience are little more than devolution advocates. I can’t see any other way to attain balance than opposing groups of advocates slugging it out, and this is a role normally assigned to political parties.

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  10. Keith,

    The seminar example is irrelevant – it is not a decision making body.

    I am not sure what your point about the leeches-witch-doctor scenario is. Sure, allotted bodies can make wrong decisions – surely if you measure right vs. wrong in terms of my own personal opinion, but also if you measure right vs. wrong in some hypothetical retrospective viewpoint of the delegates themselves. It is an obvious point that has been mentioned many times on this blog. I don’t see how repeating it bears on the current discussion.

    > I’m taking issue with your earlier claim that individuals and groups automatically know in their own interests (and/or where to look for impartial advice)

    Not only haven’t I claimed this, I have explicitly mentioned that there is nothing automatic about understanding one’s interests:

    By “interests” I mean to encompass whatever a person, or a group of people, perceive, upon informed and considered reflection, as important or desirable.

    (End of second paragraph of part one, emphasis added.)

    There is no point to have a discussion in which you make no effort to understand what the other discussants are saying.

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  11. Peter

    I agree with your scepticism that an allotted body would automatically manifest the will of the people, but would agree (with Fishkin) that it is the best way of manifesting the informed judgment of the people. I also agree that decision-making in modern societies is a complex matter, but surely the buck has to stop somewhere? Rather than dividing decision outcomes between elective, allotted and plebiscitary bodies in an unspecified way, subdividing the decision space into proposing and disposing would make analytic sense. That way there would be a clear proposing/advocacy role for elected politicians and a clear disposing role for a consequentially well-informed and representative microcosm.

    Given that the word “representation” does not appear in the index of your book (and the scepticism you expressed in the executive summary for the Dublin conference), what are your own proposals for a “radical reduction in political inequality?” The allotted monitors that Dowlen and yourself propose might well have a role in reducing corruption among elected officials, but why would this affect inequality? (given that it would only involve a tiny number of citizens, and you reject the notion of sortition as an instrument of representation). I leave aside the issue of economic equality, as this is not affected by sortition (unless you follow Barbara Goodwin’s call for a total social lottery). This issue has not been addressed on this blog, as our principal concern is political equality.

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  12. Yoram

    The student seminar example was only introduced as an indication of the illocutionary imbalances that would need to be overcome by any decision-making body. If its only mandate were that it was statistically-representative, this would rule out speech acts for the reasons given in the student seminar example, as these are built-in inequalities that cannot be removed by a priori fiat.

    My point of the leeches-witch/doctor-scientific medicine thought experiment is that your sharp distinction between interests and policies does not hold up. The group can only protect its own interests (and those it exists to represent) given adequate information and the best array of alternative policies and there is no good reason to believe that these will be generated endogenously. If so policy options would be just down to random chance (in the pejorative sense).

    Apologies for misunderstanding your view on the automatic understanding of interests. I think the only word that divides us now is “well-informed”. To my mind this cannot be achieved endogenously, for the reasons that I’ve just stated in my response to Terry. But you are unhappy with this, on account of the role that it allocates to elites, and I think we are unlikely to agree on this.

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  13. In responding to Keith about how an allotted body might inform itself on designing a system for informing future allotted bodies, I would agree with what Keith wrote: ” I can’t see any other way to attain balance than opposing groups of advocates slugging it out, ” It seems likely that a sortition body charged with settling on a system to educate future allotted bodies would have the SAME realization…and seek out staff, experts, etc. with divergent views, so they didn’t miss something important, or get lead around by the nose. This is not arcane wisdom…MOST people recognize the value of hearing experts with multiple points of view questioning each other. So if that system makes sense to Keith, I expect an allotted body would do the same thing.

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  14. Terry,

    OK but where would they look for experts in confirmation bias, deindividuation and other such arcane psychological concepts? Wikipedia, Google or the Yellow Pages? And how would ordinary citizens know which issues were controversial and which ones were not? And what if a member of the allotted rules committee happened to have some knowledge of psychology — she would immediately be perceived as an authority even though her understanding might be poor and/or heavily biased. I share Peter Stone’s concern that allotment is being used on this forum to do tasks for which it is manifestly unsuited (and alternatives ruled out a priori as elitist). You wouldn’t use an allotted body to design an airplane or bridge, and I don’t see how the current example is radically different, even if psychology (unlike engineering) is often viewed as a “soft” science. The normal way of seeking expertise in any domain is peer review, as opposed to sticking a pin in the phone book.

    Note that I agree with you that an allotted jury should be the final arbiter in ALL matters (citizens should be able to choose which kind of airplane they prefer, even if they didn’t design it) but I have a sense here of the baby being flushed away with the bathwater.

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  15. OK. I am offering this up as a framework for conversation, I am not wedded to any of the points herein as presented but I do think this covers most of the areas that need to be considered in formulating the mechanism by which a legislative body empanelled by sortition would exercise its mandate.
    Two antecedent conditions are presupposed here for the purpose of this exercise: first the mechanics of the lottery by which members are selected, their terms of office and so on is established and assumed fair. Second to avoid issues that follow from scale, I am assuming a polity of around five or six million citizens of a mixed urban/rural nature. This is not to say these conventions would not work with a smaller or larger entity, only that the numbers presented will be consistent with this size.

    Let’s assume a body of two hundred legislators whose function is to examine debate and pass various bills into law and look at the process from start to finish.

    I’m going to start by requiring that the process start from the public. That is every bill start as an initiative created by a petition signed by a certain minimum number of eligible citizens. Looking at the steps in order:

    First the proposed petition is filed with a designated official who would then route it through a technical review in particular examining the language of the proposal to establish clarity of intent. This office could return proposals to the authors to be rewritten in an accepted manner but could not reject one outright. This would need to be guaranteed via some avenue of appeal. One would assume that some convention would evolve over time in the structure and wording of these things, or conversely certain forms would be mandated that all such proposals would need to follow.

    The petition would then be circulated to obtain the required number of signatures. Unlike ballot measure petitions which precipitate referenda the number of signatures required to send a proposal for legislation forward could be rather modest say in the order of a thousand or so. After these are obtained the petition is submitted to state election officials to verify the signatures and sent on to initial review. It is now a proposition.

    The proposition is then assigned to a standing committee of twenty randomly selected members of the legislative assembly for initial acceptance and would require a simple majority to move forward. If the committee rejects the proposition it would be required to show cause, a record of which would be made available to the sponsors and the public. This step is important to avoid situations where there may be several similar propositions being put forward at the same time, or to dismiss frivolous, vexatious, or ludicrous without wasting too much time. This decision falls to the committee not to the bureaucracy for obvious reasons. The proposition is now tabled in the legislature with a first reading and becomes a bill.

    The bill is now referred to an ad hoc committee for examination and debate. This could take several forms with members calling experts to present reports or public hearings, or the bill could be put on trial with advocates for and against presenting arguments, testimony from third parties, and engaging in cross-examinations, the members of the committee sitting as a jury. When these activities are complete, the committee will prepare a report to the legislature which would be tabled at second reading. Open debate of the full house would follow.

    Once this debate is complete, a vote would be taken and the bill will pass or fail. Passed it would be declared into law, failed it would die without further recourse.

    Again this is just a schematic treatment of the steps and I have no doubt that I am probably missing some and certainly there is much detail that needs to be fleshed out before this would even approach being practical. However I do believe it could stand as a starting point for discussion if anyone wishes to explore what procedures a sortition based government might use.

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  16. Robert,

    That’s a very clear proposal, and (IMHO) sound in principle, which I hope we can all unite behind as a basis for further discussion. Some specific points:

    1. Assuming a full separation of powers, in addition to proposals initiated by public petition, a parallel track would be required for proposals from government ministers.

    2. Numbers: typical modern polities are an order of magnitude larger than five or six million (at least at the federal level), so the signature threshold might need to be higher. The current threshold for UK Government e-petitions is 100,000 http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/. There are many nearly-identical proposals on this website, so it might help if it were classified and ranked in the order of the number of signatures already obtained (see the “Trending” epetitions on the above website). This would mean that popular proposals rose more quickly to the top (although this might be considered by some to be a mixed blessing).

    3. I’m unsure about the standing committee of 20 allotted citizens as this would not normally be considered statistically representative. This stage might not be necessary if there were a higher e-petititon threshold (and/or the size of this standing committee could be significantly higher if the volume of petitions were reduced by the higher threshold of, say, 100,000 signatures).

    4. I’m not an expert on parliamentary/congressional proceedings, but I believe that debate in the full house normally occurs prior to debate in committee. The bill is then returned to the full house for a second (or third) reading. Needless to say, my preference is for adversarial debate + allotted jury, for reasons that I have already provided (ad nauseam).

    5. The one element missing from your proposal (and most other proposals based on random selection) is ex-facto accountability. Whatever the dysfunctions of electoral politics, it does provide citizens with some mechanism to punish politicians who introduce bad laws, and this would be absent if preference election were replaced by allotment. One way to address this might be to have a three sources for new legislative proposals: a) government bills; b) successful e-petitions; and c) the manifesto pledges of the successful party/parties in a general election. Whilst this would reintroduce some of the evils associated with electoral regimes, the successful party/parties would still need to convince the allotted jury of the merits of their bills. Given the earlier assumption of the separation of powers, and the lack of a requirement for parliamentary majorities, parties would become more akin to pressure groups and would wax and wane in keeping with their legislative track record. It would be likely that proposers of successful e-petitions might well morph into new-style political parties, and would disappear again if they introduced duff legislation. There would consequently be no loss of ex-facto accountability.

    6. The danger of all this is a torrent of legislation and this is one reason for a higher e-petition threshold and a numerical limit on the number of bills per parliamentary session. There is also a problem inherent in the ad-hoc nature of government by e-petition, in that there would be no overall policy framework or fiscal accountability. This would suggest that the default tenure of government ministers, whilst still subject to removal by a no-confidence motion in the allotted assembly, should be long-term. It would also require that every bill be fully costed by the Office for Budgetary Responsibility (OBR) or government audit office, and the fiscal consequences of any bill be made explicit. Assuming the need for balanced budgets in the medium term, any increase in government spending would need to be offset by either an increase in taxation or a reduction in spending elsewhere and this would be something that the allotted assembly would need to implement as part of their deliberations. No representation without taxation.

    In general I think your proposal has great merit and involves a sensible balance of popular initiative (ho boulomenos, as the Greeks called it) and scrutiny by allotted legislative juries (a 4th Century Athenian innovation). But at the same time that the Greeks introduced legislative juries they also introduced election for key magistracies — in order to avoid some of the irresponsible decisions that characterised the first democracy — and I think this is an element that needs to be added to your proposal. Random selection is an essential democratic mechanism, but oranges are not the only fruit.

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  17. Hi Peter,

    I am pleased that you find my summary of your position generally fair.

    > I don’t see myself as offering an “apologia for the existing political system” at all.

    I agree that this is not an explicit message of your analysis. However, rejection of the concept of representativity and considerable vagueness about both the problems of electoralism and their causes and potential sortition-based reforms make the resulting message fundamentally conservative. While I would go much farther than you go in your response here, I think that you have phrased things here in a way that is more explicitly critical of the status quo than you have in the writings I referred to.

    > I simply don’t regard election as a tool of the Devil, the ruling class, or whatever. I think it does a very poor job at certain tasks, particularly right now, but that’s not a reason to foreswear its use everywhere and at all times.

    To put things plainly, elections are an oligarchical mechanism. I would be interested in an argument about where its use can be expected to result in good government.

    > I’m a bit suspicious of anyone who claims to know for sure what the right institutional formula might be.

    I agree that offering detailed blueprints for government is not useful. However, we should aim to find guiding principles that are specific enough to allow formulating meaningful reform proposals such as the C&P proposal. Without such principles and such proposals, it is hard to make any progress, as, I think, the Occupy experience shows.

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  18. Yoram

    >rejection of the concept of representativity

    Peter doesn’t reject the concept of representativity, he merely denies that sortition is a valid way of implementing it. Preference election is a form of representation in that it permits all citizens to register an approximation of their uninformed policy preferences vicariously and/or to select citizens who they deem most competent to act as trustees for their interests and/or the general good. What Peter disputes is the ability of sortition to implement the vox populi and this, IMHO, is on acccount of your conflation of policy advocacy and judgment. Statistical representation can only, ex hypothesi, implement the latter. I think he is also sceptical regarding the epistemic value of the wisdom of crowds, but that’s another matter.

    Next week’s sortition workshop in London will be focusing on Stone/Dowlen-style proposals to establish a monitoring role for allotted citizens to improve the integrity of the political process so we can expect something more concrete. But I agree with you that applying a band aid to the problems of electoralism is not a strong use of sortition.

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  19. Keith,

    As I implied, my suggestions were purposely skeletal with the intention of creating a framework for discussion rather than a full process. With that in mind:

    1. My preference leans toward a separate executive level and indeed one that the leaders may well be selected by popular vote and in that case a separate track for considering proposals from that level needs to be created. However I would think that this would only be that the initial vetting be bypassed. Nevertheless I believe that soliciting proposals from the public should be considered the primary source to avoid dependence on either the executive or a local representative to bring proposals forward.

    2. I set a lower limit on the number of signatures to facilitate cases where the proposed legislation would not affect a large number of folks. While it could be argued that these should be dealt with locally, (and indeed, if the impact was limited geographically, it should be) there are situations when those that might benefit may be relatively small but spread widely through the population. Setting too high a bar in these situations might mean some of these falling through the cracks.

    3. The need for a initial vetting committee follows from the low numbers I suggested to move a petition forward the reasoning being that I would rather see members decide if a proposal should move forward rather than a bureaucrat. On reflection though your view that the bar might be set too low has merit as indeed the possibility that a flood of proposals might be the result otherwise and that would not be optimum.

    4. I have bills going to committee first to help streamline the process and so as not to burden the full house with proposals that have not been properly thought out. In the current system, government sponsored bills have already been researched, costed, and have had their ramifications considered, not so in this case. The committee step therefore will need to look at these factors in detail or I would imagine debate in the full house would dissolve into a flurry of unanswerable questions.

    5. I have little use for political parties at all and consider them one of the reasons current parliamentary systems often become dysfunctional. That is not to say ad hoc groups should not be permitted to form around given issues, but a full party structure, with all that this entails is, in my opinion, something to be avoided.

    Accountability (or lack of it to be precise) will always be an issue with a legislature created by lot, but I always felt that this would be counterbalanced by short terms and creating large enough bodies to guarantee a good cross-section of opinion.

    6. Again this is why I suggested several levels of vetting before a proposal goes before the full assembly, the issue here is balancing accessibility on one hand vs. the limited ability of an assembly to consider bills on the other. As for broad policy frameworks to the extent these are required, (and there is a real problem in Western democracies separating them from political platforms) they would have come from the executive branch. Policy frameworks are not something we can reasonably expect from an allotted assembly.

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  20. Thanks for the clarification Rob. I agree with you that at this early stage it would be wrong to develop anything other than an outline and that the focus should be on the underlying principles. I think we both agree on the principle of ho boulomenos (anyone willing) as opposed to restricting policy initiation to the tiny number of citizens who would be selected by lot, and can sympathise with your argument to keep the e-petition threshold to a level that would allow bills that would only affect a small number of people. I confess I hadn’t thought that through when I suggested that all citizens should rank successful e-petitions in a public votation. This would mean that proposals that were not of general interest would be excluded and I can see that allotted scrutiny would be better — the problem being one of making sure the committee was of a sufficient size to be representative of the general public. I wonder if John Burnheim’s principle of forming the scrutiny committee out of an allotted sample of volunteers (ie people with an interest in the bill in question) would be appropriate at this early stage, bearing in mind every bill would still need to pass the further stage of the general assembly.

    Political parties, which have always been viewed with suspicion, evolved naturally with the onset of universal suffrage.

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  21. While I agree that some sort of petition process to initiate legislation is a good idea to include, I think you are over-emphasizing this approach. You may be imagining a romanticized version of the petition process. In the real world it is motivated interest groups (often with access to plenty of wealth) that launch petition drives, and are skillful at manipulating messages and using the free and paid media. The plight of poor single immigrant mothers is far less likely to be addressed through a petition drive, than the interests of the well-connected. This is why I favor having the PRIMARY means for introducing legislation being an allotted Agenda Council. This Council (or committees of it) would act as an initial filter, and could hear proposals from government ministers, economists, business leaders, union leaders, or a single person advocating for more public toilets for the homeless. The Agenda Council would not write the legislation, nor advocate for it, but decide what topics warrant being tackled by the allotted legislature (however the bills get written). Ultimately, petitions suffer form the same shortcoming as elections… they only have the APPEARANCE of being the expressed will of the people, while the true power brokers remain largely invisible.

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  22. Thanks Terry, I think we could all agree if the Agenda Council were a filtering, rather than an initiating body — this is certainly Rob’s proposal. I’m resolutely opposed to is the restriction of policy initiation to randomly-selected individuals, but agree on the need for an allotted body as a preliminary filter for the proposals of government ministers, economists, business leaders, union leaders, or a single person advocating for more public toilets for the homeless. In my understanding this would be quite similar to the role of the Athenian boule.

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  23. Terry,

    Again I want to emphasise that my suggestions were a point of departure rather than an ideal, however the whole point of setting a low bar for entry of a petition is to include a broad set of applicants. What you write about wealthy interest groups launching petition drives is very true in some of the U.S. states that allow ballot initiatives, but if you look at the number of signatures that are needed to place a question, it is clear that having deep pockets is a great advantage in those places. Reduce the number of signatures needed and the cost is sharply reduced.

    My theory is that a low bar would at the very least make sure that most ideas would get some sort of consideration and Agenda Councils may well be a better option if it is set up to consider common pleas (as it were) but I would see them need to show cause if they rejected an idea, and further if there was some route for appeal.

    In fact going further with this concept I see no reason why there cannot be a network of Agenda Councils serving distinct geographical areas that would serve as the first line in the process.

    Of course special interest groups will present propositions, that is to be expected. The real trick is to construct regulations and procedures that will prevent them from purchasing influence at any stage of the process and this is one of the reasons I called for secret voting in these bodies internal workings.

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  24. Yes indeed, the secret ballot was introduced in the nineteenth century in order to prevent votes from being bought or subject to intimidation. Given that sortition is often advocated as a prophylactic against corruption it would be ironic if corruption was to increase as a result of public voting in the allotted assembly. Sortition is only a defence against ex-ante corruption; once the lots have been cast then randomly-selected legislators would be easy to corrupt, as there would be no need to secure re-election and no constraints from party discipline.

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  25. Rob, Terry,

    I see no justification for using the petition process. Like elections, it fails to scale (i.e., it is an idea that may work well within small groups but cannot work for a large group).

    If the signature bar is high, then, of course, this becomes an elitist mass-political process. If the bar is low (as Rob suggests here) then the system is flooded with a large number of petitions and necessarily most of those are essentially ignored.

    Of course, nothing prevents citizens from coming up with ideas, organizing support for those ideas, or offering their proposals to the delegates. Granting official privileged status to petitions, on the other hand, is useless at best.

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  26. Yoram,

    I’m puzzled also by your claim that petitions work in small groups (where they are, in fact, entirely unnecessary, due to the ease of face-to-face communication). What fails to scale up is your proposal to create a modern equivalent of the Athenian boule. In classical-period Athens many people would have known a member of the Council, so would have found it comparatively easy to introduce a legislative proposal. Not so in large modern states, hence the need for a modern equivalent of ho boulomenos. Your proposal to restrict policy innovation to a tiny random oligarchy would only be democratic were it the case that members were in fact delegates (i.e. bearers of an imperative mandate), but they are not. You can distort the meaning of words until you are blue in the face, but this will have no effect on their referents. My insistence on the correct use of language has nothing to do with pedantry, it’s simply the need to be entirely clear what we are talking about.

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  27. Actually I am having second thoughts about the value of public proposing legislation myself. While I still think it would be ideal, I can see that the technical difficulties are manifold and implementation therefore difficult. Yoram makes a very valid point that striking a balance in setting the number of signatures needed to avoid flooding the process on one hand and putting it out of reach for all but the well funded on the other is compelling. This is particularly true as the ideal number would depend heavily on the scope of the proposed legislation: sweeping changes to something like the banking acts are of a different order of magnitude than proposal to fund a new bridge.

    However I am not all that enamored with the idea that an assembly selected by lot could be asked to assume this burden ether.

    What I am leaning towards is something along the lines of an administration elected by universal suffrage with a limited fixed term, empowered only to put proposals forward for consideration by an allotted legislature.

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  28. If the elected administration were genuinely toothless, and could only propose ideas, this might not be TOO terrible, but it still reintroduces all of the negatives of partisanship, elite manipulation, rational ignorance on the part of voters, etc. Why not allow an allotted body to recruit and “hire” such an administration. As a general rule, the fact that a person SEEKS to be elected is evidence that they are not suited to the job (have an inflated ego). It is better to let average people seek out expert advice and RECRUIT people with clear successful records of administration to take on the task…with NO policy-making authority…just executive administration and proposing new policies to allotted bodies.

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  29. >What I am leaning towards is something along the lines of an administration elected by universal suffrage with a limited fixed term, empowered only to put proposals forward for consideration by an allotted legislature.

    Your proposal has a lot going for it, but this will inevitably be an election for a political party (this is in fact the proposal that I made in my second book, A People’s Parliament.) It has the merit of allowing the people to speak twice — in the first instance everybody gets a chance to register their uninformed preference (for persons and/or manifesto pledges) and in the second instance the considered judgment of a well-informed microcosm. It also provides for accountability — a party that introduces flawed policies will not be re-elected.

    I know that your proposal is for single-term persons, rather than parties, but that was also the intentions of the US Constitutional Convention. But partisan forces hijacked it immediately, and the same thing will happen with your proposal. So we’re going to have to learn to live with it.

    I wonder only why you would refer to it as an “administration”, as this would be a clear breach of the separation of powers. Given that the role of the administration is only to execute the will of the sovereign legislature, why not select government ministers on merit alone, but held to account by the allotted legislature?

    I do like the fact that more of us are now prepared to change our minds as a result of the discussion on this forum, as opposed to holding on to some position for dogmatic reasons. I’m very open-minded on the mechanisms for policy proposals, just so long as it is not restricted to the random whims of an allotted oligarchy.

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  30. Terry, that’s an interesting suggestion — it’s actually Rousseau and Mill’s proposal to restrict legislative inititation rights to the “magistrates”. That was the view in my first book, but I was then persuaded that it would be undemocratic to limit it to the professionals alone.

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  31. Keith,

    As you can probably tell from the quality of my prose, English is not my mother tongue so you will have to excuse me if occasionally I use the incorrect term. ‘Administration’ I thought was a fairly neutral description for the body I was thinking of as I would suppose its leader would assume the titular position at least, of head of state somewhat like in the case of the U.S. If you can think of a better word, I would be happy to use it.

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  32. I think your prose is excellent! Heads of state are supposed to be non-political creatures, but elections inevitably unleash partisan and factional forces (as currently in the US), that’s why I think administrations should be appointed on merit, not elected (but held to account by an allotted, and sovereign, legislature). In the UK policy proposal, judgment and administration are all rolled up into one, so elective dictatorship is an accurate description of our constitutional arrangements.

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  33. Assigning political power, of any kind, via elections is anti-democratic. In a democracy, the power to propose legislation like (almost) any other political power must be assigned via sortition. Of course, the allotted legislature can recruit whomever they want as advisers, assistants, witnesses, etc. But all those people should be seen as no more than employees (or volunteers) that can be hired and fired at will by the allotted legislature.

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  34. Accountability can be designed into any system, even if the executive doesn’t sit in the legislature it can be made responsible to it via a non-confidence mechanism that would precipitate an automatic election if it is felt an impeachment process is too arduous. What I am trying to work towards is a system of governance that workable and while I agree that the ideal executive branch would be selected by merit in theory I strongly suspect that ideas of what constitutes merit might vary broadly and consensus may be very difficult to attain be it among the members of allotted legislature to say nothing of the general public.

    The electoral process is ripe with pitfalls to be sure but it does require that at some point candidates formulate and present a platform to the public for consideration and this is the vital factor we seem to be missing here. I agree this leads to partisan politics but one would hope that there would be a fairly wide choice of candidates/parties such that a spectrum of ideas would be brought forward. Multiple parties also would help avoid the either/or situation that is at the root of the U.S. deadlock we are seeing at this time. Here in Canada we have always had several parties contest each election and while I would not make the claim our system is ideal (I would argue quite the contrary in fact) it does allow fringe elements in the legislature to be isolated without much fuss and bother while still leaving them both a voice and the right to participate in the business of the assembly.

    Thus if a system of policy initiation via general petition is too cumbersome, and some modern equivalent of the Athenian boule cannot scale, and we want to maintain some transparency and public participation in setting the direction of the polity I can see few practical alternatives to elections for at least that branch of the government charged with setting the legislative agenda.
    I am open to other suggestions.

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  35. > some modern equivalent of the Athenian boule cannot scale

    Sortition is a method that scales very well. It reduces a group of any size into a small scale group whose interests are aligned with those of the large group.

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  36. Robert,

    I agree with pretty well all you have to say here (although I would point out that the one system that is NOT subject to accountability is allotment). The problem with political parties is that they have assumed the role of advocate, judge, jury and (in the case of fused political systems like the UK) executioner as well. Under your proposal they would only be policy advocates, so would not be subject to the forms of corruption normally asociated with partisan politics. I’m no more wedded to elections than I am to petitions but agree that demokratia presupposes SOME means whereby everybody can register a preference (on policy and/or persons), albeit an uninformed one.

    On the issue of executive appointment, the key factor is competence and a proven track record in a similar domain. There is nothing particularly radical about this approach. In the UK, monetary policy used to be the province of the (elected) chancellor of the exchequer, but since 1997 it has been in the hands of a committee of bankers. If fiscal policy had followed a similar trajectory, then we might not be in the fine mess that we are in. Since the Next Steps initiative in the 1980s, the majority of civil servants work for government agencies headed up by appointed chief executives, so the notion that deparments of state are headed up by elected politicians is already something of an anachronism. In my book I suggest that a shortlist be drawn up by headhunters and then the final decision be confirmed by an allotted body (not entirely dissimilar to the US system of confirmation hearings). Note: government ministers do NOT set policy, they simply enact the wishes of the sovereign legislature, and are held to account in the way that you outline (no-confidence motions in the legislature).

    Yoram,

    Your use of imperative language — “the power to propose legislation like (almost) any other political power must be assigned via sortition” — is no substitute for argument, whatever Montesquieu might have said on the use of sortition in antiquity. I wish you would folllow Robert’s example and enter into dialogue in an open-minded way.

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  37. Yoram

    >Sortition is a method that scales very well. It reduces a group of any size into a small scale group whose interests are aligned with those of the large group.

    Yes, we all know that but the scaling problem, in this instance, has nothing to do with interests, it has to do with the mechanism whereby ordinary citizens can introduce policy proposals. Most Athenian citizens would have served on the boule once, or even twice, in their lifetime and/or most of them would have known someone who was currently serving. Not so in large modern polities, hence the need for a modern equivalent of ho boulomenos. You’ve already acknowledged that sortive alignment is on the level of interests, not policies, and the latter is the topic under debate.

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  38. Keith,

    We seem to be drifting a bit on definitions here, and again I will take the blame due to perhaps a error in my syntax. I am not opposed to executive appointment being done by the allotted body even up to and including head of state, what I do not think is a good idea is having a randomly selected body appoint those whose primary function would be to initiate new legislation even if the selecting body was a good cross-section of the public. Ultimately the candidates for this position would have to be judged on the scope and quality of their legislative agendas thus I see no reason why their selection should not be referred to the general public as a whole rather than just a sample. If fact I would go further and say that a small selection committee is far more likely to be compromised and vulnerable to corrupting influences than a broad base of voters.

    I also agree that doctrinaire positions asserted in the imperative leave little room for fruitful discussion.

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  39. Rob,

    > Ultimately the candidates for this position would have to be judged on the scope and quality of their legislative agendas thus I see no reason why their selection should not be referred to the general public as a whole rather than just a sample. If fact I would go further and say that a small selection committee is far more likely to be compromised and vulnerable to corrupting influences than a broad base of voters.

    Elections is a mechanism that is unable to produce a body that represents the public’s interests. Most importantly, credible candidates would have to be well known to a large part of the public, which restricts the pool to a small group whose interests are unaligned with those of the public (this is “the principle of distinction”). In addition, the public is not informed about the candidates, or motivated to become informed, so even within the pool it is unable to choose those that are better able to represent its interests.

    See more here and here.

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  40. Robert

    I agree with all that and for exactly the reasons that you provide! In fact I’ve been making the same argument for the last few years and banging my head against a wall of intransigence. In fact it wouldn’t surprise me if Yoram and Terry think there is no such person as “Robert Gauthier” and that you’re just an alias I’ve created in order to pretend that I’m not in a minority of one. Given that neither of us is wedded to any particular form of democratic policy generation (elections, petitions or whatever) I can’t think of anything that you are arguing that I would take issue with. I can’t tell you what a relief it is to have you join in the debate!

    Might I take the liberty of sending you a copy of my last book, A People’s Parliament? If you let me have your address, I’ll put a copy in the post.

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  41. Yoram,

    I don’t have Manin’s book to hand (I’m currently at work, running a printing press) but from memory I think you are giving a Marxoid twist to his principle of distinction. And your emphasis on persons, rather than policies, applies to the first (parliamentary) and third (audience) stages of Manin’s developmental theory, whereas Rob’s focus on policies is an attempt to reincarnate the second stage (party democracy).

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  42. For those that think I am a sockpuppet you may Google my screen name DV82XL. Doing so will show that I have been an active commenter in several forums for almost twenty years. Keith, I thank you for the offer of a copy of your book, please send me an e-mail at r.n.gauthier (at) gmail.com and I will be glad to reply with my snail-mail address.

    Yoram, I agree that elections are a poor tool (otherwise I wouldn’t be here in the first place) however I have been in the past directly involved in politics having served almost a full decade with a local school commission and have developed because of this a well honed appreciation of the differences between what is ideal and what is practical.

    [For the record I am no longer involved in politics and haven’t served in an elected position for over seventeen years, but the funny thing is all the time I did serve, I did not once face the voters as I was declared for my seat due to a lack of other candidates. In fact neither did the person I replaced, nor have any of my successors; the job is not a popular one. I knew little of politics and cared less when I started and very probably my seat could have been just as easily filled by someone selected at random from the list of taxpayers and in fact here at least there is a little used provision of the law that indeed lets the ministry do just that if no one comes forward. I finally got out when my kids graduated.]

    In the end legitimacy, regardless of the system one invokes, depends on the acceptance of the governed and to maintain that sometimes the appearance of broad consultation is more important than the efficiency of the process. A public airing of a legislative platform and getting a mandate for it to go forward provides that appearance even if it is not the most efficient way of doing it, even if it is driven more by popularity than practicality. Keep in mind that we are working under the assumption that any legislative proposals generated by the elected group would still get the full scrutiny of the legislature selected by lot who by the very nature of their existence would not be beholden to popular opinion.

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  43. Keith, Yoram, Terry,

    I will venture to make a few distinctions based on your earlier comments on this forum and elsewhere. Please correct me if I have misunderstood.

    Keith, you wrote, in response to one of my “politdoche” articles,not the effect, “it’s best to leave deliberation to the chattering classes and for a group selected by lot to judge among the proposals.” From this I gathered you were for a “citizens jury.”

    Yoram, with “pure” or maximal sortition I would call you an advocate of a “citizens parliament.”

    Terry, because your recent article called for multiple sortitive assemblies, you’re calling for a “multi-cameral citizens congress.” And I think, in doing so, you make a new triple distinction, reflected in today’s proposal by Robert, that amounts to a new separation of (legislative) powers into: “prepositive, deliberative, and dispositive” functions.

    Is this a fair statement re your positions? If so, has anyone looked into this “separation of legislative powers” before? What are your thought?

    My interest includes exploring fertile grounds for further sortition-related research as I consider entering a doctoral program soon. As I mentioned before, I also wonder whether a sortitive democracy, or any democracy, needs to reconsider legal theory because positivism based on “sovereignty” seems decidedly too arrogant to coexist with the values justifying democratic gov in the first place.

    On another note, regarding accountability, what about the “exit interview” (“euthonoi?”) that Athenian administrators took upon leaving office? Could that replace (re-)elections?

    Keith, turning parties into advocacy groups for initiatives sounds brilliant.

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  44. I really don’t have a position as such beyond recognizing that the current system of representative democracy via popular vote leaves much to be desired. What I would like to engage in is a free running discussion of alternatives that feature major elements whose membership is determined by random selection,but I am not advocating for any given structure at this time.

    Having said this, I would like to explore further at this time that form of government where powers are separated such that those charged with suggesting new law are not those empowered to make it so, and neither having the responsibility of administering it once it is declared but I am open to any and all criticisms.

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  45. Robert, Ahmed

    Glad to concur with all your points — Ahmed’s depiction of Keith, Yoram and Terry’s very different perspectives strikes me as accurate.

    I concur regarding the issue of legitimacy/consent. Although Peter Stone has been dismissive of the importance of consent in the maintenance of peaceful government (or, more specifically, how it can be implemented using democratic means), I agree that it is very important, even if the consent is tacit, presumptive etc. People need to have confidence in the system. In practice this presupposes (in a non-deferential age) a legislature that “looks like [America]” and the knowledge that multiple samples of the same population would return the same verdict. Otherwise which decisions would those who are not involved be deemed to consent to? In addition there is a need for positive epistemic outcomes — an allotted body would need to return decisions that are at least as good (ideally better) than the elective alternative. James Fishkin’s last book is very good on the relationship between allotment, legitimacy and consent and I have written a long paper critiquing Bernard Manin’s claim that election replaced sortition on account of the natural rights doctrine of consent. Manin is simply wrong about this — both historically and philosophically.

    The Athenian exit interview was merely a check against corruption — magistrates were not held to account for the quality of their work.

    On the issue of sovereignty/legal positivism I suspect that this is a tough one to crack, given the prevalent notion that people should be the author of their own laws. It has a long history and I doubt whether the deliberations of political and legal theorists will have much influence.

    I agree in particular that the crucial thing is the separation of proposing, deliberating, disposing and executing functions. This need was emphasised by Montesquieu, Rousseau, Madison and Mill, but somehow or other all functions have become assumed by a single body of persons (especially in fused polities like the UK). Although the US has formal separation of powers, in practice it just has two different institutions (president and congress) with overlapping powers and an electoral system which delivers contrary outcomes.

    I really think we’re making some progress here and am particularly delighted to agree with Ahmed, as we’ve clashed swords frequently in the past.

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  46. Rob,

    > For those that think I am a sockpuppet

    No one suggested this idea. If you continue to participate in discussions here, you will find that Keith frequently comes up with absurd ideas and attributes them to other people.

    > A public airing of a legislative platform and getting a mandate for it to go forward provides that appearance even if it is not the most efficient way of doing it, even if it is driven more by popularity than practicality.

    This is not a matter of efficiency. The so-called “public airing of policy” is really nothing more than sloganeering and manipulation. And even if there was a meaningful discussion of policy (which is impossible even in principle in a mass political setting), restricting the policy proposers to those who are able to win wide public attention means that the range of policy proposals discussed is restricted to those that are convenient to the elites.

    > Keep in mind that we are working under the assumption that any legislative proposals generated by the elected group would still get the full scrutiny of the legislature selected by lot

    Once the agenda and the proposals are controlled by the elites, having an up-or-down vote doesn’t mean much. It means selecting between a number proposals, all of which may be bad, or sticking with the status quo, which may be just as bad.

    But anyway, why would you want to restrict the role of the representative group to an up-or-down vote only? If the representative group is able to assess the quality of proposals it is presented with, why can’t it come up with its own good proposals?

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  47. Ahmed,

    > Yoram, with “pure” or maximal sortition I would call you an advocate of a “citizens parliament.”

    Yes – I think that’s a reasonable label.

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  48. Rob,

    > I would like to explore further at this time that form of government where powers are separated such that those charged with suggesting new law are not those empowered to make it so, and neither having the responsibility of administering it once it is declared but I am open to any and all criticisms.

    I think that as long as all the bodies wielding political power are selected by sortition, there is no strong argument against separation of roles into multiple bodies.

    However, there is a downside to reducing the power of political bodies (whether through restricting their roles or by sharing roles with other bodies). Once a body becomes weak, the members of the body become less motivated to put in the time and effort needed to make informed and considered decisions, and therefore the representativity of the resulting policy is degraded and corruption increases.

    It is important to realize that (contrary to standard democratic theory) spreading power too thinly may be just as anti-democratic as concentrating power too tightly.

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  49. > For those that think I am a sockpuppet

    Yoram, my suggestion that “Robert Gauthier” was an alias for me is was nothing more than a light-hearted aside — what we English like to call a “joke”.

    >If the representative group is able to assess the quality of proposals it is presented with, why can’t it come up with its own good proposals?

    Because groups don’t come up with proposals as these are the result of individual speech acts. If the group is selected by random, then the speech acts will be equally random (and will be performed by a small, opinionated vocal minority within the group), and will not therefore be covered by the statistical mandate. Given that you’re a mathematician, why do you not accept this point?

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  50. Ahmed asked about …
    “… a new separation of (legislative) powers into: “prepositive, deliberative, and dispositive” functions.
    Is this a fair statement re your positions? If so, has anyone looked into this “separation of legislative powers” before?

    Bicameralism seeks to DIVIDE proposing and reviewing/enacting legislation (sort of) in that each chamber reviews the proposals from the other…but there is no real SEPARATION, since both chambers perform all three functions. This lack of separation taints the process by fostering hidden agendas, vote swapping and pride of authorship.

    For those who haven’t read my paper
    http://www.publicdeliberation.net/jpd/vol9/iss1/art11
    here is a nutshell explanation.

    My notion is that ANYBODY should be able to SEEK to initiate a bill by making their case to the AGENDA COUNCIL. (This could be an individual citizen, or a petition, or a government administrator.) The allotted Agenda Council would periodically issue calls for the creation of small Interest Panels (which could be self-organized) to draft a bill responsive to some need declared by the Agenda Council. These Interest Panels would each be made up of volunteers who try to agree on a draft bill that they think could pass muster with an allotted Review Panel. Volunteering for an Interest Panel is another place that ANY citizen could seek to influence legislation through deliberation and persuasion. I suggest that each Review Panel be limited to one particular agenda item. The Review Panel engages in give-and-take deliberation (“speech acts”) to benefit from the cognitive diversity Landemore writes about, which enhances problem solving. They review all of the draft bills coming from the various Interest Panels on that topic. It is these Review Panels that amend, or combine the drafts from the Interest Panels and PROPOSE a final bill to a Policy Jury, which listens to balanced presentations and votes by secret ballot on adopting or rejecting the law. The term of service of the Jury is short (days or weeks) to maximize the ability of citizen’s to serve and maximize descriptive representativeness.

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  51. I miss-typed above…Instead of saying “…each Review Panel [should] be limited to one particular agenda item.” I meant to say “limited to one particular subject area” In other words there might be a Review Panel on Transportation, another on Agriculture, etc. The members might serve over-lapping multi-year terms, to gain some expertise in the particular field (like existing legislative committees).

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  52. Terry, I like your combination of Burnheim-style demarchic interest panels and randomly-selected juries. A demarchic committee WOULD be able to come up with proposals as they do claim to have a particular interest in the topic in hand and the process of volunteering would help to equalise illocutionary imbalances (no-one would volunteer to serve on a committee with an active function if they did not think they carried any persuasive power). But the value of their proposals would be subject to the judgment of the randomly-selected statistical microcosm.

    But do you think there is any realistic chance of acceptance of a plethora of allotted bodies? Would it not make more sense to allocate a distinct constitutive method to each of Ahemed’s categories? If so it would suggest:

    1. Proposing: ho boulomenos
    2. Deliberating: proposers and appointed opposition advocates
    3. Disposing: allotted microcosm

    1. Proposing: I think we all agree that anyone who wishes should have the right to propose, although there is disagreement as to whether this should be via election, epetitition or appearing in person before the boule. The issue that really divides us is whether the persons selected by lot to sit in the boule should have priviliged proposing rights — Yoram and yourself say yes; Robert and myself say no. Robert and I argue that ELECTION is the characteristic principle of proposing, whereas Yoram and yourself refuse to go down that route. If there are no elections I would argue for an intermediate stage of public votation, but let’s pass on that for the time being and focus on the issues we can agree on.

    2. Deliberation: the proposer would obviously argue in favour of her own proposal, and opposition might come from a professional house of advocates — appointed on the principle that they know what they are talking about (ie representatives of a wide range of civil society groups). This would suggest that APPOINTMENT is the distinct organising principle for deliberative bodies. Deliberative democrats would open it up to randomly-selected members but this will cause variation between different allotted samples, so would be ruled out for a legislative chamber that represented the whole political community.

    1. We all agree that SORTITION is the unique principle constituting the disposing role.

    It strikes me that this mixture of election, appointment and sortition is more likely to be accepted by both the political class and the general public than a complex hierarchy of allotted bodies. This would mean Yoram and yourself having to hold your nose and put up with something less than ideological purity, but we do need to start from where we are, even if your goal is the construction of the New Jerusalem (personally I’ll settle for something that allows the trains to run on time).

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  53. We need to be careful, if discussions of this sort are not to turn into flights of fancy, to consider the practical implementations of any system under consideration. My own experience in this area made me realize that the nitty-gritty of the process of moving an initiative from concept into a workable piece of legislation (in my case a by-law) is far more important than many interested in political theory give weight to and this is not even taking into account the fact that there will always be those willing to game the rules to their own ends.

    Broad sweeping ideas are easy and fun to come up with but the reality is that tailoring an idea to fit within the parameters that you are forced to work within the rules and the mandate is non-trivial and potential legislation often passes or fails on the way it is framed rather than solely on what it is supposed to accomplish.

    Unfortunately those out to overhaul democracy with notion like sortition don’t give this aspect enough consideration and this is why I wanted to bring it up in this exchange. That is not to say the minutia of selecting members of an allotted assembly is unimportant, only that it is far from the only issue, how it goes about its business once impaneled needs to be established as well. Because this group is not elected its dynamics are going to e very different and simply dropping randomly selected people into the seats of existing legislative institutions and expecting them to function within the existing rules and procedures of that place is naive.

    The inception of an idea is in many ways the easiest task but getting it framed in a way that it can be debated intelligently, passed and made to function once it is law is not. Proposals can take several form as well, relatively trivial ones that speak to broad subjects in the form of position statements (‘this committee is opposed to bullying’) are easy to state and move on, whereas those that will precipitate deeper changes or have budget consequences need to be finessed very differently. One of the biggest pitfalls that can derail things is if a proposition once passed finds itself in tension with other established law and this can fall from something as trivial as the wording.

    I could go on at length but the point I am trying to make is that the mechanics of framing potential legislation is not a minor consideration and just for this reason alone a functioning legislative body needs to work with a pre-established, pre-prepared agenda of bills or the process will bog down very quickly. I simply don’t think a randomly selected group of folks representing a broad cross-section of opinion is going to be able to establish a single vision of what needs to be accomplished swiftly enough to serve as a practical source for new proposals and be able to agree on the way they are framed, and combine these into a focused legislative agenda.

    This is why I originally thought we could work through publicly submitted ideas that would be vetted by an auxiliary body that could put them together into something the allotted assembly could consider and now believe that it would be better to have a group present a package of ideas to the public for consideration before moving forward with it. But this does not imply that the only role of the allotted assembly would be to provide a simple up or down vote, quite the contrary, they would be expected to debate each and every thing tabled before it and put it under full scrutiny via committee, policy juries, or other forms of examination before deciding to pass it into law.

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  54. Rob,

    I agree that practical implementability is the important factor, and this is the reason that I believe Terry’s multiple allotted bodies will fail. But before considering the minutiae it’s important to resolve the theoretical issues — principally what an allotted body can and cannot do within the confines of its mandate as a statistical sample of the whole citizen body. Andre stressed earlier the danger of assuming that functions derived from elections could be simply transposed to sortition — ie the assumption that a person selected by lot should be empowered to do everything an elected representative can do, the only difference being the selection mechanism. I’ve spent many years arguing against this assumption and this does require reference to theoretical issues. Once we have agreement on this basic principle this will clearly have entailments for practical institutional design. The other reason that I tend to focus on theoretical issues is I’m not a political scientist and, unlike Terry and yourself, have had no active experience as an elected official. So I think it would be presumptive to address issues regarding detailed implementation. But I do think it is essential to keep it simple and believe Ahmed’s distinction between proposing, deliberating and disposing is the best model to build on.

    Regarding the role of the allotted assembly, no-one is suggesting a simple uninformed up-down vote, as in Rousseau’s sovereign assembly. All bills would be subject to full deliberation, the only issue is who gets to do the talking, my preferred model being that of the judicial trial. This is partly because its better for advocates to know what they are talking about but primarily on account of the need to ensure that the decision produced by each statistical sample should be consistent, in order to ensure representativity. If the jury, rather than the advocates, performed the courtroom debate there would be litttle chance of a consistent (and just) outcome as verdicts would diverge wildly as a result of pure random chance. In the judicial case the victim would be the accused (or, in the case of an unjust acquital, public safety), in the case of the trial of legislative proposals, the victim would be the vast majority of citizens disenfranchised by the switch from election to sortition.

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  55. About exclusion of some groups from sortition

    *** Our societies give to all ordinary “able” persons some powers about “critical” personal decisions: right to marry and beget children, right to choose dangerous professional jobs (including engaging into professional military), right to issue a lawsuit, right to emigrate; and our societies can require some “critical” obligations, as conscription. These sets of powers and obligations can be said to define “able citizens”. The difference between democratic view and non-democratic view appears about power in political sovereign decisions. The democratic principle of basic political equality (Greek “isonomia”) says that the power to make critical political decisions is to be distributed to all “able citizens”, as the personal critical powers, without any specific (political) selection. Therefore in a modern society where women are entitled to these personal powers, they are accepted as “able citizens” and must have equal part in sovereign decisions. If an eighteen young is given these personal powers, he is an “able citizen” with equal basic political power. This will never be extended to eight years children, because no society will ever consider them as “able citizens” in personal life.
    *** About mentally-deficient, insane or badly-behaving people, the reasoning must be the same. The principle is to treat on a similar way personal powers and political power. The citizen jury, or mini-populus, is a mirror not of the society, but of the body of able citizens – for that reason the mini-populus will never include young children.
    *** A person sentenced to jail loses at least a big part of his personal powers, and (if we accept this kind of sentencing) he rightly loses his political power; he must get back personal and political powers at the same time.
    *** The isonomia principle rejects any political selection among able citizens; if we exclude people with a criminal file as people having specific difficulties to resist their impulses (towards money, drugs, sex …), we are making selection, we engage in the aristocratic way, with its good sides, but with its bad sides, to which we are very sensitive – otherwise we would not be democrats. You would like to exclude the 5% people lower on the ethical scale? If so, you accept the selective aristocratic principle; and you should think of reserving political power to the 5% higher ethical people.
    *** Yoram Gat supposes that the idea of excluding people with criminal file may be founded on the thesis that their interests are illegitimate. Such a thesis cannot be accepted. The people with a criminal file may have many interests of a legitimate kind. Let’s consider an Israeli citizen who has stolen the public by cheating taxes, had stolen his customers through some unlawful way, had sex with a person somewhat below the legal age, have bought or sold an illegal drug. We can blame him strongly, we can approve his punishment, but we must acknowledge he may, too, have very legitimate interests; for instance about peace and war with the Arabs, including his eventual conscription into war… Conversely, many law-abiding citizens may have illegitimate interests, through excessive greed, selfishness, intolerance … Actually given the numbers the illegitimate interests of law-abiding persons is a much bigger concern. A political selection founded on the relative weight of illegitimate interests would be very difficult to design, and anyway it would be an anti-democratic political selection.
    *** Some of my fellow Frenchmen will maybe agree with the idea that illegal behavior must lead to political exclusion. But I wonder how many of them have never cheated on VAT, something not so rare in France. Actually unlawful acts are punished along very unequal ways, and the exclusion for unlawful behavior would probably strike disproportionately some kinds of unlawful behavior, and therefore some specific groups. Ethical selection could often have a strong content of selection along class, ethnicity, sex, ideology … But anyway, any political selection of any kind must be rejected.

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  56. What I am trying to underline is the need to consider in depth any proposed system as complete entity, recognizing that each feature will have an impact on how the whole system works. The big problem is that current parliamentary systems have taken a very long time to evolve and while they are far from ideal, are at least functional.

    Formulating new legislation and packaging it such that it can be deliberated in a rational way is not a trivial aspect and the mechanism by which this is carried out has to be considered as part of and integral to the structure of the allotted legislature. This is similar to the issue that comes up in discussions of direct democracy by referenda where the wording of the question, and who is responsible for that is major consideration. In fact on reflection, it is exactly the same issue in a different guise. While it can be argued that the act of deliberation by the assembly would prevent the same level of abuse one might see in a manipulatively worded question for a plebiscite, proposed legislation can stall on poor construction, or because lax amendment rules. In an elected assembly with a ruling party in control legislation can be prepared by functionaries and internally vetted by the party in power prior to introduction both for its suitability to be tabled and its objectives. They also have control of the amendment process something that is not going to be easy to implement in an assembly of independent equals without a lot of careful thought.

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  57. Rob,

    > I simply don’t think a randomly selected group of folks representing a broad cross-section of opinion is going to be able to establish a single vision of what needs to be accomplished swiftly enough to serve as a practical source for new proposals and be able to agree on the way they are framed, and combine these into a focused legislative agenda.

    The allotted chamber does not need to act unassisted, of course. The delegates can approach (and can expect to be approached by) various people and organizations with various agendas, ideas and proposals.

    The difference between having the allotted chamber set the agenda and proposals is not in eliminating the role of non-allotted people and groups, but in making sure that the agenda setting and proposal making powers are in representative hands rather than in elite hands.

    An agenda dictated by an elite body or an elitist process is worse than no “focused” agenda at all. Would you be willing to put the proposal role in the hands of, say, a hereditary monarch? Putting it in the hands of an elected body is not much different.

    > But this does not imply that the only role of the allotted assembly would be to provide a simple up or down vote, quite the contrary, they would be expected to debate each and every thing tabled before it and put it under full scrutiny via committee, policy juries, or other forms of examination before deciding to pass it into law.

    What does this mean? Would the allotted delegates be able to introduce changes in the proposal?

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  58. > current parliamentary systems have taken a very long time to evolve and while they are far from ideal, are at least functional.

    What’s your definition of functional? I don’t see any reason to think that replacing the elected officials with allotted ones would reduce the “functionality” of the system.

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  59. To make myself clear Keith this is an important theoretical issue as well as a practical one and it should be considered as such

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  60. Andre,

    I completely support your all-adult-inclusive stance – see here: https://equalitybylot.wordpress.com/2012/08/09/exclusions/.

    My point was not about my personal position but an attempt to analyze the position of those (such as Callenbach and Phillips) who do advocate excluding certain groups of adults in light of the extension-of-self-representation argument.

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  61. The simple answer is that the rules of procedure for these bodies almost always presume the existence of at least one bloc that can be said to hold a majority and that is controlled by some form of leadership. This bloc holds its position due to its own cohesiveness and internal discipline and thereby makes the institution work by imposing its will upon it.

    Legislative agendas need not be ‘dictated’ only proffered in some sort of coherent fashion. And no, having struggled on more than one occasion in situations without a focused agenda I can state with some authority that there are few situations worse for any deliberative body.

    Keep in mind that rejecting proposed legislation is always an option, and those “elitists” “dictating” such will always yield to the will of the assembly.

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  62. Sorry some formatting issues I see

    “I don’t see any reason to think that replacing the elected officials with allotted ones would reduce the “functionality” of the system.”

    The simple answer is that the rules of procedure for these bodies almost always presume the existence of at least one bloc that can be said to hold a majority and that is controlled by some form of leadership. This bloc holds its position due to its own cohesiveness and internal discipline and thereby makes the institution work by imposing its will upon it.

    “An agenda dictated by an elite body or an elitist process is worse than no “focused” agenda at all.”

    Legislative agendas need not be ‘dictated’ only proffered in some sort of coherent fashion. And no, having struggled on more than one occasion in situations without a focused agenda I can state with some authority that there are few situations worse for any deliberative body.

    Keep in mind that rejecting proposed legislation is always an option, and those “elitists” “dictating” such will always yield to the will of the assembly.

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  63. Rob,

    > Legislative agendas need not be ‘dictated’ only proffered in some sort of coherent fashion.

    So, again, do you propose that the allotted chamber would be able to amend proposals in various ways?

    > having struggled on more than one occasion in situations without a focused agenda I can state with some authority that there are few situations worse for any deliberative body.

    Sorry, I am unwilling to take this on authority. I think the average person is very familiar with situations in which a group has to make decisions and both experience and theory show that when the agenda is set from the outside then it leads to bad decision making and to a situation in which whoever sets the agenda is calling the shots.

    > Keep in mind that rejecting proposed legislation is always an option, and those “elitists” “dictating” such will always yield to the will of the assembly.

    When the alternative to a bad proposal is maintaining a disastrous status quo, the allotted chamber may not have much of a choice. The examples I always use are Obamacare and Medicare Part D. Both of those are bad pieces of public healthcare policy, but it could be validly argued that they are superior to the status quo they were replacing. In both cases it would be easy to come up with proposals that would be much superior to the ones that were offered – much easier, in fact, than deciding what to do with the proposals that were offered.

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  64. >Keep in mind that rejecting proposed legislation is always an option, and those “elitists” “dictating” such will always yield to the will of the assembly.

    Yes indeed, this was Harrington’s original cybernetic model in which the upper (proposing) house was constrained to make proposals that the lower (disposing) house would find acceptable. He illustrated this with the analogy of two girls deciding how to divide a cake in an equitable manner:

    “For example, two of them have a cake yet undivided, which was given between them. That each of them therefore may have that which is due, ‘Divide’, says one unto the other, ‘and I will choose; or let me divide, and you shall choose.’ If this be once agreed upon, it is enough for the divident dividing unequally loses, in regard that the other takes the better half; wherefore she divides equally, and so both have right” (James Harrington, Commonwealth of Oceana, 22).

    Harrington was a realist with regard to the inevitability of elite formation and argued that elites were best able to articulate interests, hence their suitability for the advocacy role. But by leaving the disposing role with the popular house (comprised, primarily, by sortition), elites would be obliged to formulate proposals that were in the general interests. This is self-regulation at its very best, but it depends on an absolute separtion between the proposing and disposing powers.

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  65. Yoram,

    I don’t think Rob is arguing from authority, merely from his own experience. What experience do you have in public office?

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  66. “So, again, do you propose that the allotted chamber would be able to amend proposals in various ways?”

    But of course that should be part of the process but again with the proviso that the rules setting out the amending formula be established such that the procedure cannot be misused.

    ” both experience and theory show that when the agenda is set from the outside then it leads to bad decision making and to a situation in which whoever sets the agenda is calling the shots.”

    Rubbish. I challenge you to provide references to support such a sweeping statement, either that or you have a very different definition of the term agenda than the one I am familiar with.

    I simply don’t believe you have any idea of just how hard it is to turn an idea into proposed legislation, however you are right in recognising that that a great deal of influence comes from those that are charged with doing so. Leaving this power in the hands of functionaries called on to ‘help’ the allotted assembly is a major error. I would far more prefer that a legislative platform gets a public airing prior and at least some sort of mandate from the population at large than leave it in the hands of invisible mandarins because that is essentially the other option.

    You have to understand that this is not a question driven by ideology, but in reality a technical one. Laws and other legislation don’t exist in a vacuum, workable ones must fit into the existing body even if their purpose is to replace something already there. This sets a limitation on the scope and the wording of any legislation. It is not a trivial aspect of the broader issue.

    I often get the feeling that those supporting various forms of demarchy think that it can function without the sausage making aspect that Churchill alluded to – but it cannot and if the idea of demarchy is going to move forward it’s going to have to start taking these practical issues under consideration.

    I don’t claim to have all the answers, that’s why I want to have a discussion, but I will keep dragging it back to the practical because these issues must be addressed.

    And just a a closing though, (as I am going out for the evening) a union delegate that often chaired large meetings once pointed out to me that Robert’s Rules of Order didn’t apply when they were waiting for you after in a dark parking-lot: politics is the art of the possible.

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  67. >Leaving this power in the hands of functionaries called on to ‘help’ the allotted assembly is a major error. I would far more prefer that a legislative platform gets a public airing prior and at least some sort of mandate from the population at large than leave it in the hands of invisible mandarins because that is essentially the other option.

    Exactly, and this is one of the criticisms levied at the BC citizen assembly. The problem is that most randomly-selected citizens will have no idea where to turn for information and advice in an area that they are entirely unfamiliar with and will naturally lean on the “impartial” permanent staff. Much better to slug it out in public, even if the prime actors will inevitably be “elite” media groups. In the UK the fourth estate is the principal (only?) defence that we have against tyranny.

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  68. Robert,

    Practical ideas for implementing sortition are important to discuss, but it is crucial that there be a concept of which practical reforms might ultimately advance democracy, and which would be a distraction (realizing that future experience will cause this understanding to evolve). For example, most of us on this Blog agree that establishing allotted bodies that merely ADVISE has little or no value. I am not a Christian, but I think the analogy of the Guiding Star over Bethlehem applies…We are trying to figure out where that star is…and while it is unattainably high in the sky, defining that ideal helps us eventually plan the practical possibilities for moving in that direction. So I see this blog as primarily helping to define the long-term direction and goal. Since “practical” implementation possibilities inevitably vary hugely from country to country (and from era to era), those “practical” discussions should probably happen at a more local level.

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  69. One note on the perceived danger of relying on professional staff for developing proposals, as opposed to partisan election campaigns… REALLY?? We see evidence everywhere of how election campaigns mislead, distort, ignore, and poison public understanding. In the Vermont legislature there is a non-partisan staff of “experts” and drafters who serve all three political parties in the legislature. Their tenure is dependent on satisfying EVERYBODY that they are not biased. They have unanimous respect and a stellar track record. In a sortition system, a key is to have an allotted body that constantly monitors the performance of all professional staff, and can hire and fire based on complaints of bias.

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  70. Terry,

    Let me reiterate: there is no separation between discussing demarchy as a replacement for existing forms of government and its practical implementation. Any program that seeks to replace existing institutions has to deal with this fact because the internal structure of these bodies and how they conduct the business of governance is going to a critical factor in having them seen as a viable alternative.

    Look, one can make the argument that any system of government if operated as it was ideally conceived would work fine; they break down in their practical realizations either because of systemic issues or because they have been corrupted. Right now the idea of using sortition to fill a legislative assembly hasn’t got past the former and until it does, it cannot be considered a practical replacement to what presently exists. And no, the fundamentals will not depend on what country, the current differences in parliamentary procedure in existing democracies are far less than their similarities, and while some local variations can be expected between demarchys, I submit that viable ones will exhibit many of the same corresponding aspects.

    On professional staff. Let’s make sure we are comparing apples with apples. There is a vast difference between amicus curiae type of help and the mandarins found in the higher levels of the civil service. The latter are skilled politicians in their own right, cannot be replaced at whim and even now in current representative assembly systems are deeply involved with the formation of policy and the framing of new legislation. Their power is balanced to some extent by the fact that the elected person they nominally report to is himself supported by a party and its leadership, but someone dropped into such a relationship off the street would be eaten alive.

    Finally as a last practical consideration, one cannot place responsibility for too many things on the back of any legislative body or it will break down. To some extent this is what is happening with many national governing bodies right now, division of powers is not a bad concept and is always an option that should be considered.

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  71. For a minute I saw a penumbra of a fourth separation into:
    propositive, formulative (drafting), deliberative, dispositive functions; perhaps better left aside for the moment.

    Robert’s concern, call it “devil in the legislative detail,” is another reason the judiciary needs be discussed sometime. If a main goal of demarchy is reducing elite control of state institutions, then considering how judges are appointed/elected/allotted is crucial. I give the historical example of the “Lochner Era” in the US when the Court regularly overturned progressive legislation passed by overwhelming majorities at both State & Federal levels.

    Keith, there is at least one alternative to positivism with some history and pedigree (meaning intellectual & political) that was called sociological jurisprudence. This is an aside, but it meant that non-state institutions (civic organizations, unions, business, international organizations, NGOs, etc.) are looked (by judges) to supplement, interpret, or even modify law.

    A compromise between stated positions perhaps:

    elections for legislative/party platforms but with some assurances of diversity, ie, encouragement of small parties, through the electoral rules (e.g. some of the proposals at FairVote such as Rank Choice Voting, or multi member districts). But, add a further “comment to the public” by citizen juries (maybe one to examine each platform) to be passed out to voters before elections–such as now being done in Oregon on referenda. This could be a way to make Fishkin’s DP’s more useful.

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  72. That proposal assumes final say with a citizen jury once concrete legislation is considered by the deliberative body (be it elected or allotted.)

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  73. Rob,

    > Rubbish. […] I simply don’t believe you have any idea

    This is not a way to have a constructive conversation. You seem to have quickly adopted an attitude of authority and an assumption of superior understanding. I don’t think it makes much sense to keep this back-and-forth going as long as this is the case.

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  74. Terry,

    > In a sortition system, a key is to have an allotted body that constantly monitors the performance of all professional staff, and can hire and fire based on complaints of bias.

    I very much agree with this fundamental point. All non-allotted personnel must be seen as no more than assistants to the allotted delegates and their authority and terms of service must be set accordingly.

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  75. Ahmed,

    That seems like a fair compromise. My (and I think, also, Robert’s) principal concern is the separation of proposing and disposing and the unsuitability of sortition for the former role. As for sociological jurisprudence as an alternative to positivism, the danger is lawmaking by pressure group. There is much sympathy for that amongst those disillusioned by democracy — for example Michael Saward’s book The Representative Claim and Stephen Estlund’s Deliberative and Associational Democracy. All these are attempts to diminish even further the voice of the man on the Clapham omnibus.

    Yoram,

    >[Election] restricts the pool to a small group whose interests are unaligned with those of the public (this is “the principle of distinction”).

    I now have Manin’s book, The Principles of Representative Government, in front of me. Chapter 3, The Principle of Distinction, does touch on interests, primarily in the context of the anti-federalist argument, but the central claim is that election is intended to uncover “aristocratic” qualities of “talent, virtue and wealth” (p.130), and that election will enable voters to bring the “best informed men into the legislature” (p.131). Whilst the anti-federalists did believe that wealth would come to predominate, nowhere is this reduced to a straightforward clash of interests, hence my earlier claim that you have imposed Marxist-style reductionism on Manin’s principle of distinction.

    But the claim of a separation of interests between those that offer themselves for election and “the masses” is clearly false. Take, for example, the case of the British politician Tony Benn. Born Anthony Wedgwood Benn, the 2nd Viscount Stansgate, Benn abandoned his peerage in 1960 so that he could seek election to the House of Commons. His political views are consistently to the left of the Labour Party, so in what sense would you claim that his interests are distinct from those of the general public? It’s perfectly possible for elected politicians to seek to act in the interests of the public, whatever their personal background. “Distinction” is a general term of differentiation, and there is no inherent connection with interests. Indeed all elected politicians (including those on the right) would claim to act in the interests of the public, but would simply disagree as to what policies best serve those interests. Terry served for many years as an elected politician, are you claiming that his interests were therefore unaligned with his constituents?

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  76. Yoram Gat I asked you for references to back the statement: “both experience and theory show that when the agenda is set from the outside then it leads to bad decision making and to a situation in which whoever sets the agenda is calling the shots,” which itself has as much of an odor of assumed authority and superior understanding as anything I have written. That you chose to take insult from having it called rubbish rather than backing it up with citations is telling.

    Frankly if you do not wish to engage with me further the loss will be yours, unless you have the authority to ban me from this forum I intend to comment at will.

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  77. >Rubbish

    Yoram, you should understand that your tendency to make intransigent and dogmatic claims can irritate your interlocutors. And it’s nothing compared to the brickbats that you have hurled at me over the years. Rob’s willingness to change his mind as a result of the exchanges on this forum should be an inspiration to all of us.

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  78. A characteristic of good group decision making is the ability to develop brand new (perhaps win-win) proposals as a result of new information and understandings uncovered through deliberation. When an entity outside the deliberative process imposes an agenda (such as, take option A, B or C), the synthesis of new options can be blocked. If an outside entity sets an agenda, it should be PART of an iterative process that allows the deliberators to influence the next round of agenda setting, to incorporate their insights. In many legislatures around the world, special interests, the media, party leaders, monied interests, etc. define the agenda, with elected legislators merely having the pretense of agenda setting. The hope is that a healthy sortition democracy could take control of the agenda setting process — seeking input from all comers, but avoiding being manipulated. That is a tall order, but I believe achievable.

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  79. So to recap, we seem to all agree that using public petitions to initiate new legislation is unworkable due to the potential for the process to be high jacked by special interests and creating an elected body for the same task risks leaving the door open for the same types of abuse . If this is the case, from a practical standpoint it is doubtful that any given randomly selected group of citizens could be expected to create a practical legislative agenda without a great deal of input from external sources, and that too represents a potential for money amplified influence skewing the process. Thus if we are going to consider this third option, ways in which its integrity can be maintained needs to be examined.

    The first two methods above, while deeply flawed, are somewhat easier to keep transparent. Unfortunately as can be seen from current examples, this fact does not in and of itself make them less vulnerable to being corrupted, but it does seem to permit the worse abuses to be exposed. I am not sure that this would be the case for the third method as the need for external input is essentially an open invitation to influence the procedure.

    In the case of almost all elected representative assemblies the process of developing new legislation is an ongoing process that begins at the party level often years ahead of it being ready to go before the parliament with it. Even when out of power, opposition parties work on legislative agendas that they will present as platforms in coming elections or will try to introduce via leverage if the governing party is in a minority position. The point here being that this is a long and involved process that doesn’t lend itself very well to being executed by the sort of ad hoc committee drawn from a random sample of citizens which by its very nature would not have a single vision of the direction they wanted to go in.

    While such a group could certainly review proposals, initiating them and shepherding them through the process of turning them into concrete proposals in a form suitable for deliberation, approval and subsequent passage into law within a reasonable timeframe is fraught with difficulty. Just the fact that those serving on these bodies will not expect (or be expected) to serve for long periods of time places a significant limit on their effectiveness in developing proposals from scratch to say nothing of the number of such that they could hope to generate.

    So one way or the other we are left with the fact that any allotted system will need to follow current elected systems in that the generation of new legislative proposals is going be done by groups external to the legislative assembly the difference now being that they will have to work without the ideological structure of a political party, and without even the show of going before the public for approval and what little transparency that route offers. To me this will lead inevitably to a mandarinate system developing where those selected by lot to serve will find themselves like deer caught in the headlights as they assume office becoming little more than puppets of their own staff. Since most demarchy systems feature relatively short periods of service for those selected to sit it is unclear how anyone could be expected to anything else but given the circumstances.

    Faced with the simple mechanics of the situation statements like: “The hope is that a healthy sortition democracy could take control of the agenda setting process — seeking input from all comers, but avoiding being manipulated. That is a tall order, but I believe achievable,” look like hand waving. A workable system that includes deliberative and decision-making bodies empanelled via sortition is going to have to reflect the fact that there are some functions that cannot be effectively handled by that body and if abuses are going to be avoided, how those functions are carried out should be considered right from the beginning rather than hope that they will sort themselves out.

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  80. I second Terry’s last comment re agenda setting, and believe it articulates Yoram’s previous objection. I would even venture that the point goes without “proof” or “res ipsa loquitor” when you look at what is happening in democracies throughout the world today. Irrelevant or secondary issues are place front and center because they’re easier to sell, or easier to “split the opposition” with. Look at abortion, guns, marriage, inheritance tax, etc…

    Fellas, let’s please be gracious. Humility is, after all, part of why democracy at all. No one mind has the answers, information, relevant experience, legitimate opinion,…

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  81. Terry,

    I remember making the sort of case that Rob has just made to Helene Landemore, and she responded that this was irrelevant as deliberative democracy (DD) is a normative project to do with discourse ethics. But the design of a legislative procedure is to a) make something that works and b) ensure that it is not in breach of fundamental democratic standards. So if there is a trade-off between the normative aspirations of DD and the realities of a democratic legislature, then I think we have to opt for the latter, notwithstanding all the defects that you rightly point out. Anything else really is just handwaving.

    But I don’t think it’s as bad as you suggest — if the proposers know that the disposers have the whip hand then it’s up to them to get the proposal right in the first instance. The sort of artificial cleavages introduced by the party system will be neutralised by allotted scrutiny and full separation of powers. And the epistemic diversity that Page, Landemore, Estlund and their followers rightly value can be ensured by the petition process — there is no necessary connection between ho boulomenos and sortition. Why can’t the sort of deliberations you suggest be entered into voluntarily by those who seek to set the agenda (political parties do this all the time) — why do you need such people to be selected by sortition? Surely if proposers know that the disposers will be a randomly-selected mini-public then they will be wise to include their own randomly-selected focus group as part of the deliberative agenda-setting process. Otherwise the process is likely to fail at the scrutiny stage.

    The case for the wisdom of crowds (obtained by random selection) only pertains to the decision outcome, from both an epistemic and a democratic perspective. Perhaps this is the reason that Helene tries so hard to distance her own work from the arguments contained in Surowiecki’s book (and why Surowiecki claims that the wisdom of crowds — which only pertains to judgment — has no part to play in active politics). Page/Landemore/Estlund are all about proposing, Surowiecki is all about disposing and we need to keep these two elements separate. Failure to do this will ensure corruption.

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  82. Robert and Keith,

    A few points about initiation of proposals..Perhaps political parties in some European Countries actually develop their legislative proposals from scratch, but in the U.S. the vast majority of legislative proposals actually come from special interest groups, bureaucrats, think tanks, or as knee-jerk reactions to high visibility issues hyped by the media. The parties in the U.S. are NOT the source for legislative initiation. Those proposals that DO come from politicians are often geared towards either gaining campaign contributions, winning media attention, “bringing home the bacon” to their district, or sucking-up to specific constituency groups. Crucial long-term legislation (like dealing with the decaying infrastructure) almost never comes from the parties, because those issues are “boring” and don’t gain votes for the next election. Leaving policy generation to parties and politicians simply doesn’t work. It would be better to allow allotted bodies (separate from decision-making juries), hire staff, consult experts and define the public agenda based on real needs rather than what will help win the next election.

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  83. To be clear…this assumes that special interests, bureaucrats, think tanks, etc. will STILL generate ideas for new laws…but the filter should be an allotted body with professional staff, rather than parties or politicians.

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  84. Perhaps that is the case in the U.S., although I would like to see something to back up such an assertion, but in most Commonwealth countries that use the Westminster model, parties not only develop their legislative proposals from scratch but publish them prior to elections in some cases. If not they must be made public with the Throne Speech that opens each new session. Yes there are influences from outside but in the end responsibility for the legislative calendar both in terms of tempo and content lies with the party in power, not with the parliament as a whole, and that is the point here. In the absence of a party structure who controls the agenda and how.

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  85. Robert’s description would also apply on this side of the pond. The principal difference between UK and US politics is that campaign funding in the former case is much more tightly constrained. Election broadcast slots are allocated according to strict rules and there is no paid-for political advertising (the only exception being, for some reason, roadside billboards). I don’t think there are any formal prohibitions, it’s just that the parties have very little money. I believe it’s the case that the Labour Party was only saved from bankruptcy by selling the freehold of its London HQ and leasing it back. Many of the problems with US politics could be fixed by a constitutional amendment to ensure an equal level of poverty across the board.

    UK election campaigns are structured around the need to grab voters’ attention (often by constructing artificial cleavages) and the principal dysfunction is rational ignorance, rather than the influence of money and power. I’m not saying the latter doesn’t happen, it’s just far less significant than in the US. The best way of addressing rational ignorance is allotted scrutiny (at the disposing stage); this would also have a marked effect on proposing (whether this is by election or petition) owing to the (Harringtonian) need to submit proposals that would gain the approval of the disposing mini-public. This is the reason that I’m relaxed about the proposal mechanism so long as it is a) workable and b) democratic. This rules out policy generation by randomly-selected persons, although I’m supportive of Terry’s proposal for an allotted filter for petitions at the proposal stage.

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  86. It is best as well to keep in mind that when we talk of political parties this doesn’t just mean the candidates for elected office. Major parties have a huge apparatus behind its candidates that is involved in much more than just managing the next election. This is to say nothing of appointed offices that depend on the support of the party in power other patronage appointments, and some senior civil service jobs where the incumbents serve at the whim of the majority leadership.

    When I state that parties are the source of much of the legislative agenda I am referring to this more inclusive description rather than sitting members only.

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  87. >When I state that parties are the source of much of the legislative agenda I am referring to this more inclusive description rather than sitting members only.

    The trouble is this structure evolved at the time that political parties were mass membership organisations. In the1950s the UK Conservative Party had over 3,000,000 members and now has around 100,000 (whose views are scrupulously ignored by the party leadership). It would now be more accurate to refer to political parties as brands or franchises — single-issue organisations such as Greenpeace have far more members. This is why I envisage political parties in an age of allotted judgment to be more fluid and ad hoc in nature than the present monolithic structures. But there needs to be some sort of branding of policy proposals, and I still maintain that the need for ex-facto accountability should be taken more seriously. Robert has also pointed out the need for consistency — ensuring that new laws do not contradict existing statute. This would suggest an increased role for government ministers, appointed on merit and held to account by an allotted house, and with a key role for the finance minister who would be bound by statute to return a balanced budget over the medium term. The primary responsibility of the administration would be to ensure that (for example) a Greenpeace-inspired proposal on carbon reduction should not cause the lights to go out or industry to relocate offshore. All this is the role of the executive, not policy proposers, but parties (or special-interest groups) who had a past record of making unworkable proposals would lose support at subsequent elections.

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  88. Of for sure, In Canada we had the so-called “Three-Dollar Tory” which referred to those that bought a minimal one-year membership for the sole purpose of gaming the nomination process. But I was more referring to those that have seats in the smoke filled rooms and those that hold positions of official status in the bowels of government. There are a surprising number of the latter in Westminster systems. While they technically serve at the whim of the Clerk on the advice of some minister, they are in fact patronage jobs that are filled by the party in power.

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  89. Keith refers to a future role for parties in generating proposals:
    “there needs to be some sort of branding of policy proposals…”

    I disagree. Indeed, branding is a major problem, as jury members feel more comfortable taking off their thinking caps and relying on the leadership of their preferred party.

    In the U.S. the example of “Obama-care” is a classic example. A right-wing market-oriented approach to healthcare reform that originated in a right-wing Republican think tank, first implemented as Romney care by a Republican Governor, was later sold by Obama and leading Democrats as a “Democrat” proposal. Rather than really looking at it and probably attacking it, most Democratic supporters of universal health care (whether through a single-payer model or whatever) lined up behind the Democrat leaders and pushed a horrible reform proposal, in an unthinking manner, simply due to the “branding.” And ironically the Republicans did the same thing on the other side, ignoring the nature of the actual proposal.

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  90. Terry

    I was referring to the initial public votation not the allotted scrutiny. Perhaps things are different in the US, but over here, where public political partisanship went out decades ago, there is no reason to think that an allotted assembly would do anything other than consider it on its merits. Remember they have to listen to the arguments, so “horrible reform proposals” are likely to be rejected.

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