If the legislature is (at least partly) chosen by lot – how to restructure the executive branch?

Terry Bouricius and I are working on some ideas for reforms to the executive branch that would be compatible with an allotted legislature. We have a paper in peer review on some aspects of this, and we’re working on a second paper that would be more comprehensive.

The sortition literature that we’ve read is mostly limited to the legislative branch. The two main exceptions we know of are Keith’s book “A People’s Parliament,” and John Burnheim’s book “Is Democracy Possible.”  Does anyone here know of other books or papers that deal with the question of “what to change in the executive branch, assuming that the legislature is at least partially selected by lot?”

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35 Responses

  1. Interesting question, most of the literature is just concerned with the legislature. Since I wrote my book I’ve become even more convinced that if the legislature is to become more democratically responsive (and devoid of accountability) then the executive has to move in the opposite direction. If this is the case then the answer to the question in the title of John’s book is “no” — (pure) democracy is not possible as kratos will have to be shared (in order to ensure competence, continuity and accountability). Demarchy is equally impossible in large, complex modern states as x million archons would mean all chiefs and no indians.

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  2. Have you written anything about the executive branch since your book?

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  3. In Italy Luigi Salato has written “Elections? No, sortition”
    http://books.google.it/books/about/Elezioni_No_sorteggio.html?id=DhZIAAAACAAJ&redir_esc=y

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  4. David, I haven’t written anything more, but my views have been influenced both by my PhD research and by recent conversations on this blog (especially with Naomi and HH). It just shows how important it is to include people other than committed kleroterians.

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  5. I suppose if I were to construct an executive for a sortition-centric government, I would have a chief executive elected by ordinary lawmaking procedure, with a sitting executive replaced automatically upon the election of a successor. A name would first be proposed by initiative (or by an elected assembly or an allotted committee) and confirmed or rejected by the standard method. I’d let this chief executive appoint and dismiss other members of the cabinet, with appointments subject to confirmation. I’d also let the allotted assembly/juries call a retention election for the chief executive if they wish to do so, just like how an ordinary proposal can be sent to referendum. The allotted assembly/juries could elect someone, then immediately back a call for a direct popular retention vote if there was a need for a leader with a strong popular mandate. A retention vote could be triggered using standard lawmaking procedure with the same sort of initiative process.

    The executive is probably the biggest reason why I still favor keeping elections at the heart of government. While it’s possible to govern without the consent of the governed, it is clearly impossible to lead without the consent of the led. How well would a country do in the long run without a government with the capacity for decisive and centralized leadership in a crisis? How would an assembly of largely coequal meritocrats handle a sudden existential threat? Some of them would favor taking one course of action while others would favor another. Some would have no idea what to do and more than a few would try to keep their heads down in the hope that the more vocal ministers would take a disproportionate share of the blame. How do you get coherent and timely action? Could such an assembly really have replaced Lincoln or Churchill? Could drawing a new set of juries and selecting a new set of meritocrats have pulled Ukraine back from the brink the way the election of a chocolate mogul may have?

    The greatest threat, I would argue, to constitutional government is a nation’s own military. Most countries have seen military coups. Many have seen many military coups. Thailand, for example, has averaged about one military coup every 6 years over the last 70 years. A capable civilian leader who holds the WRITTEN consent of the average person is the strongest civilian counterbalance to a politically ambitious military I can think of.

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  6. Naomi>: How would an assembly of largely coequal meritocrats handle a sudden existential threat? Some of them would favor taking one course of action while others would favor another.

    In most instances two-handed economists are better than one-, notwithstanding Harry Truman’s preference for the latter. And why do we need political “leaders” in non-crisis situations? A political community only becomes an “enterprise” organisation during times of war, the rest of the time it’s just a bunch of people trying to muddle along together as best they can. Perhaps we would need a modern equivalent of Solon’s law, which required all citizens to take one side or the other during times of stasis; no doubt they would also wish to elect a strong leader to re-establish business as usual (and then, hopefully, abdicate). And most military coups have overthrown elected civilian leaders.

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  7. Anything controversial will likely generate conflict within the cabinet. How do you resolve it without centralized leadership? The ministers may have “merit” (whatever that may mean) but they will still be human. Most will be on the lookout for opportunities to avoid blame and advance their careers.

    Selecting and dismissing ministers one at a time is a tough proposal. The allotted body responsible for selecting ministers will have to understand the scope of each department’s job well enough to define “merit” and sort out disagreements quickly. They will have to be able to see when a conflict is genuine and when it’s just part of a power play. They will have to overlook charisma. Some members of a review board will favor Minister A over Minister B in a conflict because they personally favor A’s actions. Others will favor B for the same reason. Some will believe A acted outside the scope of her authority, some will think A acted appropriately. Some will like one over the other for personality reasons. I suspect most will lack the technical knowledge of each department and the personal knowledge of each minister needed to make an objective decision. In any case, there’s a full degree of separation between the behavior of the executive as a whole and the consequences faced by individual ministers. Having a manager-in-chief who curates the executive neatly sidesteps all these issues.

    Most military coups occur when there is the perception that the existing government is incapable of resolving a crisis without outside help. The government should be in position to handle whatever comes it’s way to the fullest extent possible.

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  8. Naomi’s points are all well made. I share her scepticism regarding the ability of allotted review boards to adequately supervise government executives — in my first book (The Party’s Over) I viewed this as one of the responsibilities of the Advocates’ House, along the lines of parliamentary select committees — in the UK there is some evidence that the Lords’ committees perform this role better than the Commons. So a censure motion would originate in the relevant Advocates’ committee but voting rights on the motion would be limited to allotted members (as with legislative votes).

    As for the issue of centralised leadership, I wonder if there is anything to be learned from the evolution of the office of the “prime” minister in the UK. All ministers were/are appointed by the Crown but Walpole (the First Lord of the Treasury) took advantage of the lack of interest of George I to establish and then assume control of the “cabinet”. In my proposal ministers would have secure tenure (subject to performance audits by the select committees) and the “prime” minister (the treasury secretary) would have very considerable power. If she felt that the committees and/or allotted members were acting irresponsibly this might well trigger the resignation of the entire cabinet, resulting in a constitutional crisis. This would be a good counter to the harlot’s prerogative of the allotted and elected elements.

    I agree with Naomi that accountability is essential for good government and that this is entirely absent in sortition-based systems, I’m just unpersuaded that election is the best way of establishing an accountable chief executive. Much better to have a genuinely mixed constitution, with each of the three estates established by a distinctive mechanism (appointment, election, sortition) and then let them slug it out in truly agonistic fashion. The result may well be the best way of combining popular rule, accountability and good policy outcomes.

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  9. Keith: > “Much better to have a genuinely mixed constitution, with each of the three estates established by a distinctive mechanism (appointment, election, sortition) and then let them slug it out in truly agonistic fashion.”

    See, I believe a system that is based on conflict between institutions can never be truly stable. No conflict can last forever. No machine will work forever. One side will gain the upper hand. One cog in the machine will break and the whole machine will eventually stop working. I prefer a collaborative approach. A Swiss-style approach. Switzerland enjoys such an advantageous geopolitical location that it could probably get by with something pretty darn close to pure direct democracy. It goes without saying it could get by with pure electoral democracy. Swiss voters don’t want to vote on every issue. It’s slow and tedious. Even though the direct democracy elements of the constitution limit the power of Swiss politicians, they also increase incumbency and make the lives of politicians much more peaceful by lifting responsibility for the most controversial issues out of their hands. If some arbitrary force were to push the Swiss government out of equilibrium, it seems to me that all those involved would try to push it right back to its current sweet spot. It is stable not because of checks and balances but because the whole system is resting at the bottom of a valley. It has nowhere else to go.

    When it comes to election vs appointment, election wins almost every time. Take the selection of the chief executive. Parliamentary governments readily make the transition to semi-presidential and full presidential systems. Precious few presidential republics have made opposite transition. It’s easy to convince the voters that they should have more direct control. Convincing them that they should have less is tough. It takes nuance and education.

    If we have some formal leadership figure, we can expect that the people will be well aware of her actions on important public matters. We can expect that the people will have an opinion on these actions and on her efficacy in general. I can’t imagine ever convincing the average voter that they should have no say in her tenure.

    I don’t believe elections are the best way of establishing an accountable chief executive. I just believe that the course of constitutional evolution strongly favors it. If this is the case, why not accept it and engineer around it? I believe that fighting the natural course of evolution leaves you with a system that is at best metastable. We have something on the order of ten thousand country-years of experience with elected governments. Their evolutionary patterns cut across cultures and eras. Why not achieve a more intrinsically stable state by embracing these patterns as general rules and starting from their end-point, or something close to it?

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  10. Naomi,

    Most UK citizens would reject the idea of trading their constitutional monarch for an elected one. Parliamentary democracies may well be becoming increasingly “presidential” (Foley, 2001; Allen, 2003) but that has largely been on account of powers gained during wartime not being handed back after peace is declared. Attlee’s peacetime crusade would not have been possible without the continuation of Churchill’s wartime powers.

    But does any of this make for good governance? Hansen (2010) excoriates the decisions of the three “elected monarchs” (Bush, Blair and the Danish premier, Rasmussen) that led up to the Iraq war. Presidential government may be decisive but is frequently downright wrong. Much better to have a bit of dithering about before getting it right. Meritocracy also leads to stability, lessening the chances of abrupt policy swings every 5 years, and increases the chance that government executives will actually know something about the departments that they are supposed to be running.

    As for your point on the desirability of collaboration (as in Switzerland), I was wrong to portray mixed government in such an agonistic fashion. The term “Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition” bears witness to a more co-operative model. In mixed governance each estate has its own rightful domain and cannot usurp the other. It’s more a case of mutual constraints — the government cannot get the funds to go about its business without the approval of its budget by parliament.

    Refs

    Allen, G., MP. (2003). The Last Prime Minister: Being honest about the UK presidency. Exeter: Imprint Academic.

    Foley, M. (2001). The British Presidency. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

    Hansen, M. H. (2010). The Mixed Constitution Versus the Separation of Powers: Monarchical and Aristocratic Aspects of Modern Democracy. History of Political Thought, XXXI(3), 509-531.

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  11. I believe a core problem with existing electoral democracies is the mixing of policy leadership and administration within one person (whether a president, mayor or prime minister). A goal should be to distinctly separate policy making from administration, and not allow the executive to merge the two. This may be the weight of history (including eons before elections), but it is a good idea to correct that error. This applies to allotted or elected government.

    Human leadership may be “natural” because we as humans are natural followers (an efficiency heuristic). Many tribal decisions at the hunting and gathering stage are in essence matters of coordination (or administration) rather than policy as we think of it today (Perhaps the leader of the baboon troop decides we will all travel East to look for more food)…It doesn’t matter so much whether we as a group travel East or West, but that we move as a group for safety. The leader doesn’t really know if East or West is better, but acts confidently, allaying fears. The problem is when this natural inclination towards followership gets transmorgrified at a mass scale in modern society, and countless prerogatives get layered on top of the position.

    Yes, it is natural and easy to want a fearless leader (whether a king, president, or whatever), but democracy requires the elimination of this too-powerful position.

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  12. Agreed! I think Jon would confirm that the original intention of the American founders was to keep a clear separation between policy making and administration. The trouble is that if you use the same mechanism to determine the two different offices (legislature and executive) then one will steal the clothes of the other. If the president is elected then she will claim that she has a mandate for “her” policies (even though she isn’t supposed to have any). That’s why presidents shouldn’t be elected.

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  13. PS An allotted legislature and elected president is the least stable option. How could 300 ordinary Joes and Janes overturn a presidential mandate supported by x million votes? They’d be lynched. The electoral mandate will trump any other principle, so should be reserved for policies and parties, not persons.

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  14. *** We must beware when speaking about « the executive branch ». It refers to the « tripartite model » developed in the eighteenth century Western world.This world was yet, basically, in Ancient Times. Now, after two centuries, we are deeply in Modern Times, and the data of the « political problem » are very different. In Ancient Times the societies were usually quasi-static ; the material data changed slowly, and the moral data even more slowly. Laws had to change rarely (frequent changes could be considered pathological), and a big part of the regulation of the society was ascribed to customary rules and to collective sets of moral ideas. In Modern Times societies are dynamic, many material data and moral data change frequently, and the political system have to respond. There are many regulations, and the official legislative branch of our polyarchies develop only a small part of them ; a big part of the rules come from the judicial branch, or of « executive » autonomous agencies, or of the unitary « executive branch ». But it seems that the subsets of the unitary executive branch often act as semi-autonomous agencies, or even downright autonomous ones ; I did study the infected blood scandal in France, and that scandal revealed the extent of practical autonomy of the different entities involved.
    *** If we except the « basic laws », constitutional and institutional, the other laws in a Modern Society must not be considered as the primary element. The primary element is the choice of policies in front of a new problem (or a problem newly acknowledged). The laws will follow, and the establishing of the appropriate set of authorities and administrative networks.
    *** In many contemporary societies the political system includes more and more « autonomous agencies » – generally a good think in itself, because responsability is clearer than with de facto autonomous services. This trend is much problematical in respect of the theory of « representative democracy », but is well matched with democracy-with-sortition : the different mini-populi ruling the different agencies will have the same set of material and moral interests.
    *** I acknowledge we cannot rule a society only through a set of autonomous agencies. A modern dêmokratia must include an axial mini-populus, who will rule directly an axial agency, and decide which fields devolve to peripheral autonomous agencies.
    *** In every agency, axial or peripheral, the specific mini-populus should have the same responsabilities : first choice of policies, afterwards issuing of regulations (secondary laws), choice of managers, audits of the functioning of the agency ; and overseeing of the critical decisions, specially for unexpected circumstances
    *** It seems that various ways of choosing the managers are compatible with the principle of sovereignty of the people – and maybe could be mixed.

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  15. Andre,

    Another way of expressing your Ancient / Modern distinction (leaving aside the fact that Constant’s theory was formulated only 70 years after Montesquieu’s ‘ancient’ taxonomy, which Constant would have viewed as distinctly modern) would be that we now have far too many laws, with the state meddling in areas that are simply none of its business.

    >In every agency, axial or peripheral, the specific mini-populus should have the same responsibilities : first choice of policies, afterwards issuing of regulations (secondary laws), choice of managers. . .

    Goodness me, that would make for an all-powerful (and totally unaccountable) kleristocracy. Why do you think that the disenfranchised masses would put up with it (in particular the [effectively] random selection of policies)?

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  16. Terry,

    I’ve given your comment a fair bit of thought.

    I don’t think you can overcome human instinct with institutional design. I think this is the case whether we are talking about large-scale social structure or something like economic self-interest, for example. We still have pre-tribal hunter-gatherer instincts. I would argue that failing acknowledge them, and failing to design our institutions with them in mind, is not the healthiest thing in the world. Having no face to rally behind inside the system just means that people are more likely to rally behind influential people outside the system.

    With no face, the government runs the risk of coming across as cold and distant. An impersonal machine. Given how many people can’t name the vice president or the secretary of state it seems that many (most?) people wouldn’t know the name of a single minister. It’ll be a black box to them. The average person will most likely disagree with the government’s actions on major policy issues about half the time, at least to some extent. The actions of the government will certainly continue to play an important role in day-to-day the lives of the people. But the people would seem to have little recourse when they feel they have been wronged by the actions of a minister or the contents of a piece of legislation. I don’t know how you would gain the confidence of the people or restore that confidence when it is lost due to scandals or simply because the government spent years implementing ‘good’ policies at the expense of popular policies. How do you get people to rally behind and trust government if they can’t realistically (rational ignorance) be expected to know who runs what?

    I strongly dislike separation between policy making and policy implementation. It’s a recipe for inefficiency and internal conflict. It confuses the lines of accountability. The best policy in the world with a botched implementation is actually a terrible policy. The people who design a policy ought to be the ones who see it all the way through to the end of its implementation. Passing it on to another group of people makes little sense. You can’t separate power and opinion. A legislature can only pass acts with a certain level of detail. It can only act so quickly. The people responsible for administration will have to have to be afforded considerable personal initiative in working out the details. It’s difficult to imagine their personal preferences not coming into play in practice. They will have power, opinion, and ambition and they will surely play a central role in shaping policy regardless of their constitutional role.

    I emphatically do not share everyone else’s confidence in meritocracy. Implementing good policy in the absence of public support is a hollow victory at best, a pyrrhic one at worst. I think for the great majority of cabinet positions you are best off, first and foremost, with a good manager who has good judgment and sense enough to employ (and listen to) a diverse set of qualified advisors. I agree with the Economist http://www.economist.com/node/21538698 Meritocrats may be useful at times, but they are a far cry from a panacea.

    Keith,
    Would the actors in your proposed system be content with the powers they and their institions have, or would they seek to increase them at the expense of the others?

    I’m inclined to believe the elected branch would seek to further its powers. There’s no reason politicians will be less ambitious or less eager to grab important cabinet positions than they are now. Major politicians will be all over the talk circuits hammering home the idea that the people have a RIGHT to personally control the technocrats running rampant in Washington/London/wherever every time a scandal hits. Will the allotted branch of government resist encroachments on its role in government? The motives and interests of an assembly are the motives and interests of the individual members aggregated together. If an individual member were to vote in favor of handing over more power to the elected branch, they (and their friends and their progeny for all-time) would gain power through their role as voters. Their chances of being selected to serve again are practically nil. It seems they stand to gain the most personally by voting to sacrifice the power of their institution.

    We all remember being wronged far better than when we remember being treated fairly. Going off US Supreme Court rulings, I suspect the average person (read: the average member of an allotted assembly) will have cause to feel wronged by the actions of the government in the past. Proposals to give populist institutions a greater say will carry weight if the allotted individuals feel they had no recourse to address having been wronged.

    Andre,
    Your point about the tripartite model being out of date is well taken.

    I prefer to think in terms of a two-part division between a policy branch and an oversight branch, each composed through a different principle, with the multitude of appointed institutions like the courts, prosecutors, law enforcement, and miscellaneous agencies resting somewhere between these two pillars.

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  17. Naomi,

    >The people who design a policy ought to be the ones who see it all the way through to the end of its implementation. Passing it on to another group of people makes little sense.

    Yes and no — the British compromise, whereby the civil service is charged with policy implementation under the direction of political ministers and partisan advisers, is worth pursuing, as there is clearly a need both for competence and political drive. The senior ranks of the civil service used to be filled with Oxbridge-educated generalists (“Sir Humphreys”), but in recent decades there has been a move towards hiring those with a good success record in business and academia. Such an executive, appointed on merit, would then be instructed by the advocates for the legislative programme approved by the randomly-selected legislature (Yes Minister gives a good picture of how the “instruction” is counterbalanced by executive power). That strikes me as a reasonable balance between executive competence and enthusiasm. The accountability of the advocates would be Bayesian/Athenian (those who proposed duff policies would lose the confidence of the electorate), whereas government executives would be judged by professional standards of competence and probity. Note that my proposal here requires little more than minor modifications of existing arrangements, rather than a radical re-design.

    >Having no face to rally behind inside the system just means that people are more likely to rally behind influential people outside the system.

    The British compromise (constitutional monarchy) addresses this need surprisingly well. You guys should have listened to Hamilton’s advice.

    >Would the actors in your proposed system be content with the powers they and their institutions have, or would they seek to increase them at the expense of the others?

    That’s why constitutional arrangements require protection (you Americans are pretty good at this). It also confirms the need for separate selection principles for the three estates:

    Policy advocates: election and/or direct inititiative
    Legislature: sortition
    Executive: appointment on merit

    Policy advocates have no voting rights, so can only seek to persuade; legislators have no advocacy rights, they can only vote; executives (who have no advocacy or voting rights) who fail to implement the policies of the majority advocacy group (confirmed by the allotted legislature) will be subject to removal. The only way to prevent the encroachment that you foresee is separate mechanisms; the Madisonian solution (different variants of election) failed almost immediately.

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  18. There’s always the possibility of bringing back the electoral college as an independent body, That could be safely chosen by lot.

    Another possibility is to promote from below at random. America has fifty governors who are experienced executives. We could select a random Governor weighted by population.

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  19. Hi John,

    I agree that an allotted electoral college may very well do a better job selecting a president than the voters. But the real improvement would come if their role was not merely selecting a president but hiring and firing all senior executive branch personnel and monitoring their performance.

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  20. Yoram,

    I’m sympathetic to the idea of having allotted bodies hire, monitor, and fire senior executive branch personnel (although I’d rather see multiple bodies doing this instead of one). However, it seems that there’s a possible danger of leaving the chief executive without enough power to carry out her/his job of managing the implementation of policy. Do you (or others here) have any thoughts about where to find a happy medium between having allotted bodies do all the hiring, reviewing and firing, and having executives do it all?

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  21. Keith,

    You wrote that executives should be appointed on merit. In your view, who should appoint them?

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  22. David,

    > it seems that there’s a possible danger of leaving the chief executive without enough power to carry out her/his job of managing the implementation of policy.

    Why should this be so? Sure – the executives’ power would depend on maintaining support in the allotted chamber. But why should this be inherently difficult?

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  23. >You wrote that executives should be appointed on merit. In your view, who should appoint them?

    I take the (almost certainly naive) view that the executive arm is non-political, so would opt for either the current (UK) civil service appointments process or a shortlist drawn up by head-hunters, with the final choice made by allotted parliament. This will make for a somewhat conservative and bureaucratic executive but, given that an allotted parliament will lead to an ad hoc approach to policies and a sharp reduction in accountability, this strikes me as a necessary corrective. Appointments would be permanent, in that government executives who ran their departments competently would retain tenure, and would receive an annual performance-related bonus (just like corporate CEOs), voted by annual motion in the allotted parliament (just like the Athenians with their golden crowns).

    The collegiate responsibility of the ministers would be to point out the interconnections and incompatibilities between policy proposals, along with the fiscal consequences — as such the treasury secretary would assume the role of ‘prime’ minister. If, in the view of the cabinet, the proposals of the legislature were unworkable/unaffordable (given a legal requirement for balanced budgets), then the executive would (threaten to) resign en masse, leading to a constitutional crisis. Given that no-one in such a system would be ultimately accountable for anything, a constitutional requirement for balanced budgets (with the executives personally liable) strikes me as an essential constraint.

    However, given that it is the policies of the winning advocates that will be enacted by the executive, the victorious advocates will supply the political direction and will be able to institute a censure motion to remove executives who consistently obstruct the will of the legislature. This would lead to an Athenian-style political trial, and trigger a new appointment if the minister in question were removed by censure vote in the allotted parliament.

    As in all mixed systems of government there needs to be a careful balance between the different powers. The job of political theorists is just to bring some analytical clarity to the different functions. Exactly how to establish the correct balance is the job for those who have practical experience in this field and (I suspect) there would be a significant element of trial and error.

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  24. Keith,
    Why would the executive threaten to resign en masse? Why wouldn’t they fight to keep their jobs?

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  25. >Why would the executive threaten to resign en masse? Why wouldn’t they fight to keep their jobs?

    Because, in addition to their personal liability for achieving the departmental goals allotted to their ministry, executives are jointly charged to implement a balanced budget. If, in their view, a new law damages these goals, then their only recourse will be resignation (generous pensions being provided for resignations on such grounds). So the executive is motivated to protect the long term interests of the demos against the transitory whims of the allotted legislature. A threat for the whole government to resign would automatically lead to a new sortition (just as losing a confidence motion leads to the dissolution of parliament and a new election) and the resignation would only be accepted if the new legislature agreed with the policy of its predecessor. Randomly-selected citizens cannot be expected to understand the interrelated nature of modern governance, hence the need to ensure (via bonuses and sanctions) an independent executive that is not just the servant of the current legislature.

    Such an executive would be far more powerful than existing political ministers (either parliamentary or presidential), but I can’t see how that can be avoided if the sanctions provided by election are no longer available (the underlying hypothesis for this thread).

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  26. Keith: > Because, in addition to their personal liability for achieving the departmental goals allotted to their ministry, executives are jointly charged to implement a balanced budget. If, in their view, a new law damages these goals, then their only recourse will be resignation (generous pensions being provided for resignations on such grounds). So the executive is motivated to protect the long term interests of the demos against the transitory whims of the allotted legislature.

    I’m still not sure why they wouldn’t just ignore the damage done by the new law and hope for the best. Is there some kind of agency or court that will punish the cabinet for the irresponsibility of the other branches, giving them incentive to jump ship rather than just let something questionable slide?

    In a parliamentary context mass resignations (and threats to resign) make perfect sense, as I understand it. The power base of a minister is their party and their network of supporters within their party. Their long-term interests are served by backing strategies that maximize the power of the party. If it’s decided that it’s in a party’s strategic interest to have the cabinet resign to take a stand on an issue (to better position the party going into an election, for example) or to make a power play of some sort (or just try to shore up their support in Parliament), and the members of the cabinet don’t go along with the decision, they risk alienating their all-important network of supporters. If they do go along with such a move, many, if not most, will be back in later cabinets. Possibly the next one. Even if the party losses the next election it’ll spring back eventually and the old politicians will still be around in some capacity. The cabinet members who never return to the cabinet after resigning will still enjoy considerable influence inside the party. Not so if they throw a fit.

    But here it would seem that the ministers would stand to lose at least as much the allotted individuals by resigning. Perhaps more. Once they’re out, they’ll probably be out for good. It would seem they don’t see any meaningful personal gains from threatening to resign and then following through. Why risk it? Why would the allotted assembly believe they would be willing to risk it? They wouldn’t want to go home any more than any of the allotted individuals and everyone would know it.

    I doubt they would be censored by the allotted assembly for budget reasons in practice. Unless the ministers have a monopoly on the introduction of money bills they can’t really be held responsible for the budget, regardless of what their responsibilities may be on paper. Some of the most popular presidents in the last few generations were pretty bad on budget issues, but were (and still are) popular for other reasons. As budget making in the US is a very diffuse process, it’s hard to pin the blame squarely on a president, even though (in practice) no budget can be approved over his head. Presidential cabinets have to deal with legislatures doing breathtakingly stupid things all the time and they almost never seem to get blamed or resign in protest. The ministers in the proposed system can do the best that anyone could humanly do and still have an irresponsible items passed over their heads. It’s not their fault if the law is changed in such a way as to make their goals impossible, so is it really reasonable to expect them to be punished for it? An absolutely bullet-proof excuse is almost as good as actually getting stuff done. They’ll also surely have a team of brilliant speech writers and public speaking coaches help them more eloquently defend and promote their actions in front of the (amateur) allotted assembly. I suspect they would end up spending a fairly long time in office, compared to modern politicians. All the more so if they go out of their way to take a back seat on policy. Trading power for incumbency would not exactly be novel.

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  27. Naomi,

    Clearly I’m struggling here and making it up on the fly. But that’s because the original question — how to maintain long-term accountability, coherence and stability with an ad-hoc legislature? — is so challenging.

    I’m not aware of any historical instances (apart from hereditary monarchies) when government executives were personally liable for maintaining a balanced budget. The UK is moving in that direction via the Office for Budgetary Responsibility and this is a bi-partisan trend (Labour proposed similar laws binding the government in 2010). Fiscal responsibility is a challenge to all democracies (just look at the US deficit) hence the need to establish this as a constitutional principle, with executives subject to personal rewards and sanctions for balancing the books. This will generate substantial independent executive power vis a vis the allotted legislature, long-term rather than demand driven. Sure, they will be trading initiative power for incumbency, but that’s what we want — long-term stability in the new ad-hoc world of allotted legislatures. But the rewards and sanctions need to be structured in such a way that ministers cannot ignore their constitutional role to ensure stability, coherence and fiscal responsibility — no matter how good your speechwriter, going bust is going bust. And remember these guys (unlike presidents) don’t need to be elected, so why waste time in the bully pulpit?

    It certainly used to be the case that political parties were concerned with their long-term prospects and that may still be true in the US, where the partisan divide is still genuine (rather than manufactured cleavages). Not so in audience democracies like the UK. Party membership has dropped catastrophically and policies are rewritten on the fly for short-term electoral advantage. Voters’ memories are poor and parties can airbrush out their predecessors’ mistakes after a few years in opposition, so I think the picture you are painting of party accountability is somewhat idealised.

    >Is there some kind of agency or court that will punish the cabinet for the irresponsibility of the other branches, giving them incentive to jump ship rather than just let something questionable slide?

    I’m all for self-correcting mechanisms, rather than leaving it to police action. It would be a matter of structuring the rewards and sanctions in such a way that it would be in the interests of the executives to jump ship. This would suggest that a principled resignation (over the incompatibility of proposed laws and/or a breach of fiscal integrity) would mean retaining generous pension rights, whereas a dismissal for breach of these requirements would not.

    And we should not underestimate the power of moral qualities such as pride — semi-permanent ministers will view their fiefdom in personal terms and would prefer to resign than to see it harmed by an irresponsible legislature (Hobbes and Rousseau would have agreed that vain glory / amour propre could on occasion be a positive force). Public servants like to think that they were right in the long term and that history will judge them more benignly than the transient court of public opinion. The aristocratic virtues are even more essential in a political system that is based around an unaccountable ad-hoc legislature and there is little evidence that election is still an aristocratic mechanism, notwithstanding the views of Aristotle and Montesquieu.

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  28. Keith,

    You wrote
    >the original question — how to maintain long-term accountability, coherence and stability with an ad-hoc legislature? — is so challenging.

    Actually, when I opened this post, I was talking about an ALLOTTED legislature – not the same is ad-hoc. Most of the sortition proposals I’ve read assume that allotted legislature would have more or less full time jobs, for a period of several years – although it’s true that in Terry’s multibody sortition model, the final decision making body for each law would be ad-hoc.

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  29. >Most of the sortition proposals I’ve read assume that allotted legislature would have more or less full time jobs, for a period of several years

    Yes, that’s true, although then there’s a problem with “going native” and increasing the risk of corruption. But even a term of (say) three years is insufficient — most politicians reckon they need at least two four- or five-year terms to enact a legislative programme, and political parties have the advantage of a shared background, interests and ideology to create a coherent package. It strikes me that there is a strong assumption of collective interests/general will underlying most sortition-based proposals that is hard to reconcile with the pluralistic multicultural societies that we actually live in.

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  30. Keith: >It strikes me that there is a strong assumption of collective interests/general will underlying most sortition-based proposals that is hard to reconcile with the pluralistic multicultural societies that we actually live in.

    YES! I’ve noticed reformers almost everywhere have a tendency to believe that a more “rational” government will enact the sorts of policies *they* like. Because, clearly, *their* views are the rational ones. Once we have true democracy everyone will quickly come around. Of course, serious differences in policy preferences tend to be born out of a differences in goals more than anything else. If anything the range of goals seen among the members of an allotted institution will be far greater than is politically viable in an electoral regime. The policies passed will depend on what goals the members support and how strongly they actually care about these goals in practice. I suspect that reconciling differences between members of a semi-conventional legislature selected by lot would be tough at best. People can be stubborn jerks.

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  31. Agree with all Naomi’s observations. I believe the notion of “true democracy” has Marxian origins and those of us who have participated for years on this blog can confirm the “stubborn jerks” observation — that’s why we shouldn’t entirely give up on aggregating the preferences of those who have little interest in an issue (once they have listened carefully to the arguments of those who have a strong interest). This is what Madison meant when he distinguished between advocacy and judgment. As a Calvinist he believed that there existed a class of dispassionate individuals (who would be revealed by election) best able to make this judgment, whereas I would support the Aristotelian view: the aggregated wisdom of a randomly-selected group of citizens is a better proxy for the informed judgment of the whole political community. But all those who have a strong interest in the particular issue should have the right to address this court before it delivers its judgment. (Of course, how to distinguish those with a strong interest from loudmouths is a non-trivial question.)

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  32. >You wrote that executives should be appointed on merit. In your view, who should appoint them?

    This is the sort of process I had in mind, whereby the candidate may well emerge from within the ministry: http://www.printweek.com/print-week/news/1145330/martell-leave-st-ives-34 Ultimately appointments are subject to confirmation by the shareholders, but it’s unusual for board-room choices to be overturned. The equivalent of shareholders in our analogy would be an allotted sample of the citizen body.

    Are there fundamental differences between commercial companies and government departments? The activity of the sovereign legislature is clearly not akin to that of an enterprise organisation, but government departments are — they have particular goals to achieve, determined by the sovereign. The trouble is we’ve been so accustomed to politicised governance, with departments run by ministers with no experience in the field and only in it for the short term. Note that this often the case with modern corporations — the reason that I chose this post is because it bucks the trend.

    So, the real question is, are government ministers anything more than mandarins/bureaucrats? I think not.

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  33. Keith: >So, the real question is, are government ministers anything more than mandarins/bureaucrats? I think not.

    I suspect this depends on the efficiency of the legislative process. If you can get a relatively minor revision in a law almost overnight if most of the major leaders are in agreement, then you’re probably right. If it can take a few weeks, and if important details are often left ambiguous simply because the lawmakers don’t want to spend the additional time fighting over them, then I would argue that the ministers are likely to assume a more significant role.

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  34. Naomi,

    That’s certainly true for our existing political arrangements, but my question was posed in the context of a legislature selected by lot, in which the role of political leaders is limited to making proposals for new laws. There would be no deals to be made — the job of ministers is merely to implement the will of the legislature and the only trade-offs will be between long- and short-term considerations (is a new law compatible with the long-term goals set by parliament and will it breach the balanced-budget principle?). I guess this hands appointed ministers a kind of veto power, but that’s not so different from the role of current civil service mandarins (“Yes minister, but . . .”). In short the role of the executive with a lot-appointed legislature is to make sure the trains run on time and that we can afford to pay the engine driver and that sounds to me like the job of a mandarin, rather than a charismatic political leader. There will still be a role for the latter — providing a vision for new legislative initiatives — but it will be diametrically opposed to conservative-leaning government executives. That will make for a nice dialectic between the forces of change and stability.

    >I suspect this depends on the efficiency of the legislative process.

    Alessandro Pluchino and his colleagues are presenting an interesting paper on the sortition panel at the Montreal IPSA congress which argues that sortition-appointed reps can play an essential role in ensuring the efficiency of the legislative process. They’ve written on this before, but the new paper uses Beppe Grillo’s 5 Star MPs as rough proxies for allotted members and indicates how they might serve a useful function as intermediaries between partisan machinations.

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  35. […] this year I began a discussion thread about what changes to the executive branch would complement an allotted legislature, since the sortition literature I know of seems to say so little about the executive branch. At the […]

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