Schulson: Why not select Congress by lottery?

Michael Schulson has published an article about sortition in The Daily Beast. Schulson’s presentation is short but hits several important notes. It is certainly a good candidate for being the proverbial good three-minute introduction to sortition.

Is It Time to Take a Chance on Random Representatives?

If you’re looking for an unrepresentative group of Americans, the House of Representatives isn’t a bad place to start. Its members are disproportionately old and white. More than 80 percent of them are men. They spend around four hours per day on the phone, asking people for money. Unlike most other telemarketers, they have a median net worth of almost $900,000. More than a third of them hold law degrees.

Last Tuesday, not much changed. Once again, the American people went to the polls and elected a group of people who, in aggregate, only vaguely resemble the American people.

The problem isn’t new. A representative assembly, John Adams wrote in 1776, “should be in miniature an exact portrait of the people at large.” (By “people,” of course, he meant “white men”). But by the 1780s, when Anti-Federalists challenged the young Constitution, a big part of their concern was that “representation as provided for in the Constitution would be skewed in favor of the most prosperous and prominent classes,” writes the political scholar Bernard Manin.

Sortition rests on two rather unique properties of random sampling. The first of these—which I’ve written about more extensively elsewhere—is that chance is essentially incorruptible, at least until someone rigs your lottery machine. No matter how much money the Koch brothers or Tom Steyer spend, they cannot convince a lottery to choose one person over another. What could be more impartial than chance?

And, second, as your random sample gets larger, you tend to get closer and closer to a sample that mirrors, in almost every respect, the qualities of the entire population. More than any other system, random sampling gives you “an exact portrait of the people at large.” It’s the Law of Large Numbers. (This doesn’t work, of course, for small samples, and you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who wants to elect a president by lot).

If you think of representative democracy as a way to elevate the best citizens into positions of power, then random sampling won’t seem appealing. (Our current electoral system might not feel appealing, either). But if you think of representative democracy as a way to give all citizens equal access to power, or as a way to channel the ineffable will of the people, then it’s hard to find a more efficient system than a lottery.

As it stands, our system chooses very weird people—specifically, the kind of people who think that being in Congress sounds fun. “It is impossible by elections to choose normal people,” argues Yoram Gat, an Israeli software engineer with a PhD in statistics. Gat is one of the founders of Equality-by-lot, a popular sortition blog. “Normal people are kind of anonymous,” Gat told The Daily Beast. “In a large society, there is just no way, no theoretical way, to choose, to elect, normal people.”

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91 Responses

  1. “The first of these—which I’ve written about more extensively elsewhere—is that chance is essentially incorruptible, at least until someone rigs your lottery machine.”

    Question. How can we check to make sure this doesn’t happen? Has that been discussed before? It seems like it would be easy enough to generate a sample that looks right demographically, but is in fact skewed based on specific policy preferences.

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  2. Yoram, I’ll two-up this particular issue of the House of Representatives per se (since this is American history and politics at stake here) and say that the House should have at least six thousand reps based on party-list proportional representation, but that the party lists themselves should be determined by lot.

    Six thousand reps comes from the (albeit petit-bourgeois) democratism of Thirty-Thousand.org, based on the original Article the First (one rep per thirty thousand people). This enlarged House can establish multiple federal legislative capitals across the country and meet simultaneously.

    Whether the simultaneous meetings occur in those federal legislative capitals or in the much smaller geographical districts, or both, depends on whether the House accommodates district-based representation within the larger PR whole.

    (Then there’s due consideration of whether the Cordocet method is still relevant for any district-based representation within the larger PR whole, but that’s another subject.)

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  3. Jacob, if you’re going to have 6,000 reps, then why bother with representation — just include all citizens? The argument for allotment is to generate a statistically-representative microcosm, on the understanding that a smaller group is less prone to the epistemic flaws of mass democracy. That was the reason for the fourth-century reforms of the Athenian legislative process.

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  4. Naomi, cryptographers and computer scientists have come up with plenty of clever methods to generate random numbers in a distributed and safe manner. This need not be a problem.

    And actually, I think that “faking” the distribution to look random except on the attributes you secretly care about, is much harder than it sounds. Especially if you have an even remotely transparent process (e.g. one where the list of eligible citizens and the random number used to make a selection are public).

    Imagine if it was a machine of the type they used in “Lotto” type lotteries, how many times would they have to rerun it to get a result that was both skewed on the right variable and otherwise random-looking? My hunch is: a lot.

    Plato’s dream of cheating in the public lottery doesn’t look like it’s going to be a threat, if people are at all careful.

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  5. More good publicity for Kleroterians and an ok intro to sortition! Yoram, odd, you’re the only person mentioned by name. Who’s the “possible Supreme Court nominee?”

    The comments do not lead me to believe that the message was that well understood, but it may give some people pause to reflect beyond the typical partisanship or founding-father worship.

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  6. The link goes to “Choosing Representatives by Lottery Voting” by Akhil Reed Amar.

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  7. Naomi,
    Assuring honesty in random sampling is quite easy, and distinctly simpler than assuring a voting machine is honest. This is because voting needs anonymity (secret ballot) and also must disallow voter receipts (so voters can’t prove how they voted to sell their vote), while for generating a random selection everything can be out in the open and transparent. It merely takes a combination of several publicly viewable unpredictable events with everyone’s pre-assigned number being public. The seed for generating the public randomizing selection algorithm can be the air pressure on a publicly viewable digital barometer at a time randomly selected by a child drawing a slip of paper from a hat, with times arbitrarily proposed by an arbitrarily selected chicken pecking a grid with numbers arbitrarily arranged, etc., etc.

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  8. Reblogged this on Citizen Participation Network.

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  9. @Yoram, thanks, I had overlooked the link. That’s rather surprising, given Amar’s general conservatism, and it’s also a slightly different argument for sortition.

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  10. Gotta love them Dublin academics!

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  11. Keith, there are plenty of reasons to go beyond even the hypothetical limits of the Chinese National People’s Congress for the sake of representation. Here are a few:

    1) Having that many reps has the potential to reduce lobbyist influence, while fewer reps means greater ease of access by those with enough funds.
    2) As I said and as that blog said, there need be no gathering of those thousands of reps in one great hall. Spreading them out preserves the principle of the continuous session, and their ability to hold the political leaders to account.
    3) For all your concerns about the “epistemic flaws of mass democracy,” who cares if a smaller group of reps will be the real movers and shakers? Unlike with the electoral status quo, one-year or even two-year sortition limits their moving and shaking to the term in office.

    Besides, part of me sympathizes with the possibility of separating policymaking from legislating, such that the former can be unified with holding people to account and that the latter can be unified with both executive power and deciding on constitutionality/unconstitutionality. The many thousands of reps could be tasked with policymaking (unlike my posts years ago on cabinets) and putting people on the hot seat, while the more compact but progressive cabinets could (and perhaps should) do everything else.

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  12. Although it is quite different from what I usually advocate, I find I quite like Jacob’s plan. I’ve always been very sympathetic to the principle of fusing the executive and legislative branches. I’m less keen on including judicial powers in the mix, but I suppose it’s analogous to depriving the courts of the power of judicial review, which is a common thing among established democracies.

    6000 doesn’t strike me as *that* excessive for an allotted assembly, if that assembly is to function like a standing legislature. It’s enough that the major subdivisions of the body are still statistically representative. A faction representing 5% of the people (the most commonly used threshold) should have 300 members, which is enough to effectively represent the group statistically. Also, the larger an assembly is, the less work each member does and the more work gets done by the leadership. There’s a case to be made that this is desirable for a standing allotted body. I don’t see why they would have more difficulty electing a balanced “advocate’s house” or cabinet by ballot to lead them than would the people at-large.

    If the assembly is to function as a standing body, I see no reason not to allow it to assemble in one place, given balanced leadership. You would need a very different set of rules, to be sure. The introduction of bills might have to look more like miniature initiative proposals.

    My main issue is that the general public seems to be excluded altogether. Perhaps from a purely epistemic perspective this is good. However, I believe mass participation is a very healthy thing. It drives civic education and civic mindedness. It channels otherwise destructive popular passion into campaigns and debate like a lightning rod. If nothing else, pressure inevitably builds up from time to time in any political system. I’m uncomfortable trying to get by without a relief valve of some sort.

    Perhaps you could have a yearly retention vote for the cabinet. If they get voted down, the allotted assembly is dismissed as well and a new one called which would form a new legislative/executive cabinet. Or maybe you could renew half the allotted assembly at a time. Presumably, the assembly members would want to keep their jobs. They could hold their jobs until rejected as a team. The people at-large would be responsible for a simple status quo/change decision as well as whatever referenda are delegated down to them. I don’t know if the average person would be okay with their powers being limited like that.

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  13. Naomi,

    >the larger an assembly is, the less work each member does and the more work gets done by the leadership. . . I don’t see why they would have more difficulty electing a balanced “advocate’s house” or cabinet by ballot to lead them than would the people at-large.

    So the leadership, advocates and cabinet would all be elected from a tiny pool of randomly-selected conscripts, irrespective of their talents, experience and inclinations? I’m struggling to find any merit in this proposal — at least with the current arrangements the people-at-large get to evaluate the representative/competence claims of candidates who choose to put themselves forward.

    Perhaps I’ve misunderstood you and what you are proposing is choosing electors by sortition (who would then act as informed proxies for the general public in selecting government executives/advocates from the usual suspects in a microcosmic general election). I forget who it is who has developed a similar proposal (a variety of lottery voting) — is it Ben Saunders? This is really just a proposal to make elections more deliberative, as in Ackerman and Fishkin’s Deliberation Day.

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  14. On reflection it’s not lottery voting (choosing an individual ballot by lot), it’s appointing an electoral college by sortition. Is this what you are proposing?

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  15. “Perhaps I’ve misunderstood you and what you are proposing is choosing electors by sortition”

    Exactly. I can’t speak for Jacob, but that’s what I meant. But with the electors sticking around to revise the elected body as needed and to pass higher level acts.

    The more I think about it, the more I like the idea of holding an allotted body accountable to the people through a collective retention vote. If the people approve, the body ends up with a popular mandate. If they don’t, the senior half of the allotted body would be dismissed, as would the cabinet, new members would be drawn and the body would form a new government. The chief executive is personally identifiable and accountable to the voters, there is harmony between executive and legislature without the absence of a meaningful check on their acts.

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  16. Now I’m even more confused — are the electoral college, the legislature and the executive all appointed by lot? Who are “the people” — all citizens, or an allotted microcosm? If the former, then what is the mechanism by which they approve/disapprove? Or if sortition is only for the electoral college do the candidates for the legislature/executive manifest themselves via the usual channels?

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  17. Okay. let’s start by setting some names. Let’s call the allotted body the “assembly” which would be divided into two halves, the junior members who were drawn most recently, and the senior members who also served in the previous session.

    Let’s call the set of executive and administrative officials and the dedicated lawmakers the “cabinet.”

    The cabinet would be elected by the assembly. The dedicated lawmakers would be elected by the assembly some proportional means. Maybe with each individual candidate being nominated by some minimum number of assembly members. I’d have the presiding officers of the assembly as well as the chief executive be elected by the assembly by some majoritarian means with the other executive officials being nominated by the chief executive and confirmed by the assembly. The cabinet would (acting as an assembled body) make laws in an inferior capacity to the assembly as well as tending to executive matters.

    I would then have general public retention votes at regular intervals. If voted down, the senior half of the assembly would be rejected in favor of a new members and the cabinet dismissed.

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  18. It’s very different from what I normally support, but I really like collective accountability models and executive-legislative fusion. I thought it was an interesting thought.

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  19. >The cabinet would be elected by the assembly.

    But what would be the candidate pool — allotted assembly members or would they manifest through the normal channels (party membership, demonstration of competence in comparable roles etc)? My impression is that you are suggesting the former, in which case I would ask (echoing Socrates), why on earth you would wish to appoint pilots and flute-players “by bean”? There is also the danger that the policy-proposing aspect of the legislature would be dominated by a small number of high-status and persuasive individuals who may or may not reflect the priorities of the whole citizen body. When you then factor in the extreme likelihood of corruption (these citizens would be very easy to bribe), it all adds up to a singularly unappetising mess of potage.

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  20. “But what would be the candidate pool — allotted assembly members or would they manifest through the normal channels (party membership, demonstration of competence in comparable roles etc)? My impression is that you are suggesting the former”

    Oh, no. The latter. Open to anyone nominated by members of the assembly. The former is much too ridiculous to merit serious consideration.

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  21. “There is also the danger that the policy-proposing aspect of the legislature would be dominated by a small number of high-status and persuasive individuals who may or may not reflect the priorities of the whole citizen body”

    If they (as a whole) wind up acting in a fashion inconsistent with the wishes of the whole citizen body they will be turned out by the citizen body. Just like elected officials. Which makes for a powerful incentive for the assembly to police its own members

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  22. That really does assume a high level of scrutiny by citizens, which is not borne out by current political practice. Most citizens have little knowledge of policy matters and tend to make judgments on political actors on the basis of “audience democracy” heuristics that would not be applicable to allotted legislatures. And allotted members will tend (on the whole) to be equally ignorant of detailed policy proposals, leaving an open playing field for the small number who happen to be better informed, highly opinionated and/or of high status. As the presence or absence of such people will not be subject to the law of large numbers it is neither representative nor epistemically well-informed.

    It really is important to keep the two forms of democratic freedom (isegoria and isonomia) separate and acknowledge that, in large modern states, they cannot both be realised by the same institutions. The fusion just about worked in 5th century Athens (but was unpicked by the 4th century reforms), and cannot be scaled up without making the institutional changes proposed by neo-republicans like Harrington and Rousseau.

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  23. “That really does assume a high level of scrutiny by citizens”

    Not really. It would require less micromanagement by the citizen body than at present. The choice is simple: Status quo or change. Everyone in a position of power would have all the incentive in the world to make the status quo as appealing as physically possible to the average person.

    “And allotted members will tend (on the whole) to be equally ignorant of detailed policy proposals, leaving an open playing field for the small number who happen to be better informed, highly opinionated and/or of high status.”

    I agree, but only to a limited extent. In a large body (~6000) the number of people who are well informed and who seek to take an active role would likely be statistically significant.

    “It really is important to keep the two forms of democratic freedom (isegoria and isonomia) separate”

    I can certainly see considerable value in doing so. But there is also considerable value in keeping the lines of accountability clear as well. They aren’t necessarily exclusive. Perhaps it would be better to keep the assembly in an election and policy approval role with the cabinet having a monopoly on initiating legislation.

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  24. >In a large body (~6000) the number of people who are well informed and who seek to take an active role would likely be statistically significant.

    And how would these individuals come to the notice of their peers? Of necessity this will privilege those with the requisite rhetorical skills, but there are no good reasons to believe that such individuals make better legislators or executives. And the law of large numbers would not percolate down sufficiently to ensure that the policies they advocated reflected the preferences of the average voter (particularly in the light of your earlier proposal to subdivide the 6,000 into small committees of c.300). This really is random in the pejorative sense of the word.

    >the cabinet having a monopoly on initiating legislation.

    That’s about as strong a contravention of the principle of isegoria as I’ve ever come across, absent the literature on monarchic and totalitarian government. (Note that the cabinet is (effectively) a self-selected subset of a pool of randomly-selected conscripts.)

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  25. “And how would these individuals come to the notice of their peers?”

    They couldn’t. Not in any regular or predictable fashion. A body of that size could only function with a very rigid leadership. A leadership that is established through a balloting process. If the citizen body is unhappy with their choice of leaders or their actions they can turn them out.

    “(particularly in the light of your earlier proposal to subdivide the 6,000 into small committees of c.300)”

    It would be silly and pointless to set up committees like that. I simply noted that significant factions within the citizen body would be represented by a statistically significant number of assembly members. Thus, the internal diversity of factions would be well represented. If you had an assembly of only 500 people, a faction representing 5% of the citizen body would only number 25 members. You could not consider the actions of such a small group to be representative of the wishes of the faction as a whole.

    “(Note that the cabinet is (effectively) a self-selected subset of a pool of randomly-selected conscripts.)”

    No, no. As I stressed before, the cabinet would be open to anyone nominated. If anything it might make sense to bar assembly members from service in the cabinet. I would never endorse a plan that excludes a group’s preexisting leadership (in the general citizen body) from being brought into government.

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  26. OK, but I’m puzzled by your proposal to replace everyone’s current power to appoint their own leaders with the “very rigid leadership” provided by an (effectively) self-selecting sample from an allotted pool of conscripts. As an allotted pool of 6,000 is well over the rational ignorance threshold there’s no particular reason to believe that the scrutiny provided would be significantly better than that provided by the whole population. It’s no coincidence that 6,000 was the average attendance at the Athenian assembly, the dysfunctions of which were addressed by downsampling to allotted juries of 501. So why would we want to reincarnate an aspect of Athenian democracy that failed?

    >If you had an assembly of only 500 people, a faction representing 5% of the citizen body would only number 25 members. You could not consider the actions of such a small group to be representative of the wishes of the faction as a whole.

    Depends what you mean by “wishes” and “actions”: if you’re referring to specific policy proposals (speech acts), then no, but if it’s a reference to aggregate judgment then yes. The former is the province of isegoria, the latter of isonomia, which is ruled by purely mathematical principles. Most proposals for sortition fatally conflate these two very different components of equal liberty.

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  27. Fair enough. It’s just a thought I’m entertaining. The members of the assembly would be able to devote themselves full-time to considering the issues they have to deal with. They would also be held accountable for who they elect and the outcomes of the proposals they endorse. I’m not sure 6000 is above the rational ignorance threshold when one has personal stake (not being turned out) in the outcomes of what one does. At the very least it’s not as severe as when you have millions of voters who have little free time to spend on anything, much less politics. Then there’s the existence of collective accountability across the whole system, fully congruent with lines of action, which is really hard to achieve in all but the most simple (and purely electoral) models. I find that deeply appealing.

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  28. OK, but why would you want so many, as a reasonable level of statistical representativity could be achieved with an order of magnitude less?

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  29. Hmm. I suppose you could get away with a smaller body. The main reason for favoring such a large body, in my view, would be to ensure that the assembly can serve as an electoral college for the cabinet. To go back to the previous example, if you only have 25 members of a faction, the chances of them electing the “wrong” person(s) to represent the group in the cabinet are probably non-negligible. Maybe that doesn’t matter much. After all, they (and the person(s) they elect) can be held accountable later.

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  30. Yes that’s a fair point, as it will require knowledge of the availability of suitable personnel. That’s why I prefer to limit the role of allotted bodies to aggregate judgment, where everyone can exercise their equal right, even those with no knowledge of the political world. Most Brits don’t even know the name of their own MP, but that would not preclude them from coming to an informed judgment (given suitably balanced advocacy) on the taxation of gasoline, how much to contribute to tackling Ebola or whether to put boots on the ground in Iraq.

    I don’t know the history of the electoral college in the US, but what is to prevent your proposal from going the same way? And what would prevent it from degenerating into the political equivalent of Pop Idol? One of the problems with constitutional anoraks like you and me, is that we assume everyone else takes these matters equally seriously. That might well be true of groups of several hundred, but I’m sceptical for the numbers that you are suggesting. And I doubt whether vicarious accountability would work. Also what would members of the college do, once they’ve completed their electoral role?

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  31. Naomi,

    I am also skeptical about mass referendum to remove the senior Assembly members. First off however, could these allotted members serve on for years if not removed? Or would they serve for a three year term, for example? the problem with satisfaction of the ill-informed (or actively miss-informed) electorate, is the same with current elections…1. those who are on the chopping block will tend to cater to short term wants of the populace, rather than long-term needs (cheap gasoline now with global warming to be dealt with by some future Assembly). One of the epistemic advantages of short term, non-repeatable terms for allotted members is that they can look to the long term, and have an incentive to seek out experts on POLICY, rather than experts in public relations (like current politicians). I do like the idea (and I believe Keith does too) of having an allotted body recruit and hire the executive from among the entire population… I just think the “accountability” piece (removal by the mass of voters) is counter-productive. Removal should be by a special jury called to review the performance that can overcome rational ignorance.

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  32. Keith: “I don’t know the history of the electoral college in the US, but what is to prevent your proposal from going the same way? And what would prevent it from degenerating into the political equivalent of Pop Idol?”

    Well, there wouldn’t be an external legitimizing process to winnow down the field. We’re two years away from a presidential election and we have no idea who the candidates will be. Without some sort of concerted process to unambiguously chose a leader or build a cabinet it seems as though the field will be open.

    If you’ll forgive me for saying so, this is probably my biggest concern about your proposed system. Each party will likely have a formal leader, a face of the party. From time to time you’ll likely have a leader who led their party to a huge victory. A leader with an unambiguous popular mandate, if you will. There’s nothing stopping the parties from selecting extraordinarily qualified people as their leaders. But once the electoral college precedent is established, and voter expectations are set, it could be really hard to go back. All the major parties will want their chance to rule and rule in turn (if you’ll pardon my usage of the term here) from day one, so balanced advocacy on this matter does not seem likely. I generally favor an elected leadership structure, but a constitution would seem to be unbalanced if it were to arise in this way.

    Terry: “One of the epistemic advantages of short term, non-repeatable terms for allotted members is that they can look to the long term”

    Hmm. This is true.

    Anyway, I’m still not sold on hiring/removal of the executive by ad-hoc allotted bodies. At least in the system I discussed before the executive can win a mandate or be turned out by the public. This is an issue that goes way beyond simple administrative competency. It seems inescapable to me that the chief executive will be the face of the government, and by extension be the nation’s leadership simply due to the office(s) representing the largest concentration of power in the fewest hands in the system.

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  33. >I do like the idea (and I believe Keith does too) of having an allotted body recruit and hire the executive from among the entire population.

    My view is that executive recruitment is a specialist function and that the allotted body should only affirm the choice (or pick from a shortlist). The executive should be a delegated non-political function.

    >All the major parties will want their chance to rule and rule in turn (if you’ll pardon my usage of the term here) from day one, so balanced advocacy on this matter does not seem likely.

    Not under my proposal, as the winning party/parties only have the right to convert manifesto pledges into bills. Opposition advocates will be drawn from the permanent house (of advocacy experts) and the outcome would be determined by an allotted jury who would have a monopoly of the voting rights. Even if a charismatic party leader secures a huge victory in the election, this only provides a mandate to make proposals for allotted scrutiny and the expert advocates will have ample opportunity to overturn the unconsidered verdict of the electorate. The jury will be a microcosm of the original electorate, so the only source of change will be deliberative scrutiny as opposed to demagoguery. The deliberation proceedings will be on public record so it is unlikely that the “grand jury” will be dismissed as another Ferguson.

    My proposal is unicameral (elected politicians propose; allotted juries dispose) but would be adaptable to a bicameral system in which bills are passed in the elected house and then referred to the upper house for allotted scrutiny. My preference is the former, whereas I think Naomi prefers the latter.

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  34. While it may seem natural that the chief executive will be the face of the government, I would favor a drab bureaucrat with no public face. The problem is that as humans we are prone to followership… intellectually easy “free riding” on the mental efforts of others who we admire and trust. When there is a “leader” the diverse knowledge and insights of the many are put on a shelf and ignored (even by those with that knowledge). I want a system that virtually forces the randomly selected Assembly members to do the hard work of thinking for themselves when looking at policy proposals, rather than deferring to leaders. Therefore I think it is necessary to make policy development ALSO diffuse among a wide variety of relatively unknown citizens, rather than leaders. It is not just extreme examples like Hitler that worry me…I see the way that Democrats lined up behind Obama in support of his conservative (Romney inspired) mandate that everybody must buy insurance (guaranteeing profitable business for insurance companies) rather than using a much cheaper single-payer system, or the way Democrats generally now support drone killings of innocent nearby civilians when done by Obama, though they opposed it when done by Bush. People naturally support their team, but the team needs to be the entire population not a partisan slice.

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  35. Agree on the need for faceless bureaucrats, but why should the executive play any part in policy development? That was certainly not the intention of the founders, but was an inevitble consequence of electing the president (who could thereby claim a policy mandate). Perhaps Alexander Hamilton was right after all. I’m also not sure how viable it is to force randomly-selected conscripts to come up with policy proposals — there are much better ways of generating the necessary cognitive diversity. As for the problem of policy convergence, this is a product of the median-voter strategy not partisanship (true partisans are more inclined to stick to their principles than converge on the middle ground).

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  36. Keith: “Opposition advocates will be drawn from the permanent house (of advocacy experts) and the outcome would be determined by an allotted jury who would have a monopoly of the voting rights.”

    Okay. I was picturing different elected officials arguing both for and against each proposal. Like a debate in a conventional legislative chamber but observed and decided by the allotted individuals. How would the pool of opposition advocates be selected?

    Terry: “While it may seem natural that the chief executive will be the face of the government, I would favor a drab bureaucrat with no public face.”

    I don’t know. A drab face is a face nonetheless. I think most people would agree that there’s a role for a public face. If the constitution lacks one, and the chief executive decides to fill that role on their own initiative… would the allotted review board really find it all that repugnant? Would they really be all that resistant to the appeal of charisma? As Keith pointed out, they’d be people unlike us. They’d be regular citizens who care little for politics (and even less for institutional issues) and who wish to get back to their own lives as quickly as possible. Unless we’re talking about a stratified sampling of volunteers.

    I don’t know if it’s any easier to institutionalize a leadership vacuum than it is to to institutionalize a power vacuum. Someone is going to be significant enough to be looked up to. Somewhere. If they aren’t in the system, they’ll be outside the system. The celebrities and talk show hosts of the world will still exist. They’ll still have a very public opinion on every proposal of consequence. If anything people will rely on such individuals more. Perhaps if human nature encourages followership we ought to embrace it and find ways of safely institutionalizing it rather than trying to suppress it. Pesky aspects of human nature like to slip back in, in ways unexpected. Plus, followership can be a useful thing. The US with no Lincoln and the UK with no Churchill is not a pretty alternative history. Or the Ukraine without the snap election of Poroshenko, for that matter.

    Terry: “I see the way that Democrats lined up behind Obama in support of his conservative (Romney inspired) mandate that everybody must buy insurance (guaranteeing profitable business for insurance companies) rather than using a much cheaper single-payer system, or the way Democrats generally now support drone killings of innocent nearby civilians when done by Obama, though they opposed it when done by Bush.”

    As Keith pointed out, Democratic politicians have to stay fairly close to the median voter’s position. As much as I would like a single-payer system, it’s a really tough sell in the US. Maybe if the debate over the last two decades had been different… but there’s not much room for the courage of one’s convictions when those convictions can’t deviate far from the mean. This is one of the reasons why I’m so big on PR.

    And do Democratic *voters* really favor the massive drone campaign? I see a lot of politicians on both sides of the aisle making excuses but all the liberals I know personally condemn it very harshly. In any case, this strikes me as more of an example of people rationalizing the results of their agency loss.

    Keith: “That was certainly not the intention of the founders, but was an inevitble consequence of electing the president (who could thereby claim a policy mandate)”

    I would argue it was an inevitable consequence of giving the president real power. There are plenty of counties with directly elected presidents who are purely figureheads (despite being representatives of the nation as a whole) and plenty of countries with very fragmented parliaments resulting in prime ministers who can’t really claim to have any sort of mandate at all. In both cases people care first and foremost about the cabinet. Why? That’s where the greatest concentration of power is. Take away the power and no one cares. Which is not to say that a popular mandate is not a powerful thing. It surely is. But institutional power is as well. Everyone in this world has policy preferences. Is it not safe to say that if the executive has power enough to set policy then it will generally set policy in practice?

    “Perhaps Alexander Hamilton was right after all.”

    We should have the president serve a life term?

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  37. >How would the pool of opposition advocates be selected?

    My book is infuriatingly vague on this, as this is the role of institutional experts, not political theorists. The House of Advocates (very loosely modelled on the UK House of Lords) is a large (c.1000) appointed elite body of skilled personnel, representing the diverse interests of the nation. Advocates self-select for legislative scrutiny, depending on the nature of the parliamentary bill. Here’s the relevant passage from the book:

    “There is no attempt in made in this essay to camouflage the fact that the estate of the Lords Advocate [note the suitably archaic Harringtonian language] would be unashamedly elitist in its composition — a body of the great and the good. But, at the same time, it would need to be highly pluralistic and representative of the range of interests and the key professions necessary to comment on the issues that legislation is likely to cover. And the notion of an elite — a true aristocracy of talent, experience and merit — is perfectly compatible with a quota system. Thus quotas would need to be specified for business and the trades unions, science and its environmentalist critics, transport advocates and countryside conservationists, religion and the military, education, law, health, finance, culture, sport and all the myriad professions that might have something useful to contribute to the national debate.” (Sutherland, A People’s Parliament (2008), p. 137)

    The organising principle is that, unlike with randomly-selected conscripts, the Advocates should know what they are talking about. But, as is the case with most republican proposals, advocates only get to persuade, voting rights are reserved for the commons. The vagueness of this proposal is typical of the English “constitution”, in which different bodies (like the BBC and the TUC) are inducted, over time, into the power elite by informal constitutional convention (see Ivor Jennings’ book for details). The House of Advocates would become Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, advocates for the bill in question being the proposers (either political parties or the sponsors of successful direct-democratic initiatives). The debate would be partisan in the same way as the joust between the advocates in the Anglo-American law courts (distasteful to the European examining magistrate tradition and those who prefer the discursive truth-finding path towards deliberative consensus).

    >Perhaps if human nature encourages followership we ought to embrace it and find ways of safely institutionalizing it rather than trying to suppress it.

    Absolutely, but this is the role of the demegogoros (advisers to the people), not the executive, which is an apolitical delegated function, appropriately performed by faceless bureaucrats, whose job is only to implement the will of the demos, established in parliament. Note that demegogoros is a plural term, as a variety of advocates will seek to influence the judgment of the allotted representatives of the people, as in the Athenian legislative courts.

    >We should have the president serve a life term?

    Hamilton’s real preference was for a hereditary monarch, with no electoral mandate and with strictly limited powers — to be commander in chief of the army, hangman and to make sure the trains run on time (pardon the anachronism). As for policy matters (deciding on the size and strength of the army, what constitutes a capital crime, and what forms of transportation to privilege) this is the right of the representatives of the people — realised, primarily, by deciding whether or not to pass the budget. Whoever pays the piper picks the tunes, not the conductor, who just makes sure everyone plays their instruments in time. Conductors have executive power, composers have the power of initiative and their success is determined by the market (of the music-loving public, mediated by DJs, record producers, radio stations and other competitive forces).

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  38. It seems like it would still be really easy to end up with an opposition which covertly supports a proposal. Were I member of the advocate’s house and a supporter of a proposal, I’d seriously consider volunteering to serve as an opposition member. That way I could throw the defense. Perhaps a retention system of some sort would work. Those who successfully defeat proposals are retained in the advocate’s house. And probably get big bonuses. Those who fail are fired after a certain number of failures.

    I still imagine people would volunteer to serve so they can sabotage the opposition on matters they care deeply about a few times in their careers.

    One of the reasons why I like having the elected officials assemble in a conventional house is that the true supporters must declare themselves in order for the proposal to be made at all. I’ve been imagining the elected officials forming committees based on having voted for or against a proposal in the elected chamber. The committees would then build teams for the debate drawing on anyone who could make a good case (scholars, professionals, etc.) rather than having a fixed pool of experts. The majority in each committee would surely be honest, even if there are a few would-be saboteurs. So the team they would build would likely be honest in their position as well.

    “Conductors have executive power, composers have the power of initiative and their success is determined by the market”

    But unlike in a market, there can only be one body of law, one budget, one Iraq policy, one Chinese trade policy and so on. There must be one policy for everything. Not more than one and not less than one. Most people don’t really know what they want, but they know what they like when they see it. A concern of mine is that the first ones to get a proposal into the allotted chamber will be the ones who “win” as there are likely many different possible passable proposals that would address any given problem.

    It seems to me there’s a need for centralized coordination. Loose, and bypassable, but centralized none the less. I suppose an elected house and its internal leadership structure could provide such a thing. I’m concerned it may not be quick enough at times (given that its acts would have to go through the allotted chamber process) but that might be completely wrong. Any ambiguities or gaps in policy will have to be resolved by the ones who actually carry policy into being. I agree that the focus of policy making should be the legislature. But as no system of policymaking can be made free of ambiguities or gaps the executive will always end up with a policy role, even if it is a very minor one. I’m sceptical that it can be made minor in practice. The law is a complex and tedious business. As is foreign policy. There will be a great many important matters that fall between the cracks.

    In any case, if you successfully pull policymaking power away from the executive you diminish the gains from a move to a meritocratic appointment process. After all, at present we have policymakers who hand down policies to be carried out by a meritocratic hierarchy. Extending that hierarchy one step up, while raising policymaking one step higher at the same time doesn’t seem to change the overall equation.

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  39. >It seems like it would still be really easy to end up with an opposition which covertly supports a proposal.

    Then that would be win, win, win as the proposal would have:

    1. received popular approval in the election/votation
    2. received approval from the “independent” advocates
    and then
    3. become law if it received the approval of the allotted commons

    Bear in mind that the losers (in an election) could lobby against it in the media, and government ministers could also oppose the bill if they didn’t like it. I’m also assuming that advocates will be happy to pick up the devil’s mantle for the sheer hell and hubris that is involved. I half sympathise with your argument to politicise the opposition advocacy, but I think this will mean advocates playing to the gallery and undervaluing the epistemic case for “disinterested” expertise — the deliberative decorum that we are aiming for is the Senate, not the Forum. But maybe you’re right to want to include the opposition (losers in the election) in the debate. This was the Athenian practice, but that gave demagoguery a bad name.

    >A concern of mine is that the first ones to get a proposal into the allotted chamber will be the ones who “win” as there are likely many different possible passable proposals that would address any given problem.

    Fair point. This would suggest an annual votation to select the legislative proposals to go forward.

    >But as no system of policymaking can be made free of ambiguities or gaps the executive will always end up with a policy role, even if it is a very minor one. I’m sceptical that it can be made minor in practice.

    True. Ministers only have proposal rights over minor (housekeeping) matters, but mission creep is inevitable. I confess that I’m comfortable with this and the increased power it gives to meritocrats. At heart I’m with Mill and Rousseau on the rights of proposal, but was (reluctantly) persuaded that this is undemocratic — hence allocating proposal rights to the victors in an election or votation. The corollary of (legislative) power to the people is a strong executive, whose long-term tenure and remuneration is performance-based, to make sure nothing falls down the cracks and that the laws of arithmetic are fully respected.

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  40. *** Political turns following an electoral victory lead often to a policy not very different that the previous one. For some observers, it supports « the one-policy principle » : « about any problem or subject, there is only one policy which is reasonably possible, any other policy being dumb or mad ». The polyarchic system is superior as avoiding the personal or sectarian drifts which could lead to unreasonable policies. Here is one of the lines supporting the polyarchic model – a reasoning which ejects the democratic myth.
    *** There is another explanation of policy convergence, put forward by Keith Sutherland (December 2): the political offer moves tendencially towards the median voter opinion. (Note that it is not to be considered as a democratic character, as the median voter is followed, not in his choice enlightened by deliberation, rather in his opinion, shaped without deep deliberation in the usual polyarchic conditions.)
    *** Sometimes Keith may be right. But I think the general mechanism is different. The political decisions in a polyarchy are not taken by a sovereign body, they result from the complex interaction of many social forces. The median voter opinion is a factor, but usually a minor one, and the small change in an electoral majority is usually not able to modify the resultant of the parallelogram of the social forces, and that explains the usual high level of « inertia » of the policy.
    *** The global socio-economic policy of France is more on line with the general policy of West European States, as embodied in European Union, than with the opinion of the French median voter ; the NO of the French voters in the referendum to the European Constitution (whereas all the Establishment favored YES) was a result of this opposition, that many media observers ascribe to a « French rejection of modernity » – well, at least these observers’idea of modernity. The NO had actually no serious result, the Constitution was voted by the French Parliament under another name, and the policy followed the same line as before.
    *** The median voter opinion is not an independent parameter, it is strongly under influence of the dominant social forces, especially through the medias. But it may have some degre of freedom, as in this instance, because of practical experience of citizens, read through strong old ideological and anthropological legacies. And when the policy resulting of the polyarchic mechanisms gets conflicting with the median voter sensitivity, usually that results in change of wording or framing, or in creative story-telling, or in covering – sometimes, as in the above mentioned case, in pure contempt.

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  41. Andre,

    >Note that it is not to be considered as a democratic character, as the median voter is followed, not in his choice enlightened by deliberation.

    Obviously all the additional factors that Andre outlines pertain, but we need to remember that there is no such thing as the “median” voter, merely the arithmetic mid point between two extremes, which can be polarised to a greater or lesser degree. So the median voter preference may well not correspond with the actual preferences of any empirical voter. And there is no reason why democratic decisions need be “good” decisions, enlightened by deliberation (although we might, for other reasons, prefer it if they were).

    As for the French referendum for the EU constitution, the rise in popularity of the Front National is a direct consequence of the elite ignoring the opinion of the median voter (ditto UKIP). The median voter wins in the end, but you need to take a longer time frame. Right now, in the UK, all the parties are desperately struggling to better mirror the preferences of the median voter. It’s the Labour Party, ironically, who are finding this most difficult, as their policies are largely deduced from the “social justice” principles that the leaders were taught in the Oxford PPE (witness Ed Miliband’s latest attempt to relaunch his leadership).

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  42. Andre,

    > And when the policy resulting of the polyarchic mechanisms gets conflicting with the median voter sensitivity, usually that results in change of wording or framing, or in creative story-telling, or in covering – sometimes, as in the above mentioned case, in pure contempt.

    Right. It is always easier to change rhetoric than to change policy. Gilens found that while policy is correlated with the opinions of the rich, the median citizen (as measured by income) has very little influence on policy: https://equalitybylot.wordpress.com/2013/06/29/representation-in-the-electoral-system/.

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  43. Gilens’ conclusion was that the median voter had NO influence on policy outcomes, possibly as a result of the anachronistic belief that parliaments are just a “committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie”. But we’ve already debated the flawed interpretation of his dataset in depth.

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  44. Keith,
    Your dismissal of Gilens is growing tedious. First they acknowledge that their use of middle income is only a rough approximation of median voter…they tend to line up, but measure different things. What they showed is simply that median income voters have essentially zero INDEPENDENT affect on policy outcomes, when compared to the significant INDEPENDENT influence of high income people. Whether middle income people (and poor people) support or oppose a policy, and regardless of how strongly, has no impact that cannot be explained as simply riding the influence coat tails of the wealthy. This does not mean that the middle income do not get the policy they want much of the time, but generally only if what they want happens to align with what high income people want. when the middle income want a policy different than the rich, they tend not to get it.

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  45. OK Terry, I didn’t raise the Gilens issue, Yoram did. And we’ve covered at great length the alternative hypotheses that he failed to consider. And I acknowledge that Gilens’ conclusion that “the preferences of the average American appear to have only a miniscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy” (m/s, p.21) is not the same as “no influence”, at least for practitioners in the art of splitting hairs.

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  46. Keith, I have to agree with Terry here. Gillens and Pages appear to conform to the accepted standards of empirical observational studies. You seem to be underestimating the meaning of “independent effect” in multiple regression. You can always propose an alternative explanation for what they observed, but you shouldn’t simply dismiss the entire structure of modern empirical social science. At any rate, if you now see little awry in the status quo parliamentary system, why claim to be a sortinista at all?

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  47. That said, there is always a problem with using simple surveys to gauge what any group “thinks” about issues that have any level of complexity. There is a difference between what an instantaneous poll or vote can reveal and what an informed deliberation among the very same people would tell us. This is what Fishkin has been repeating, and what he built his DPs on. This is also must be a big reason why people are on this forum in the first place. Otherwise, they would simply be advocates of mass “direct democracy.”

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  48. Ahmed

    >you shouldn’t simply dismiss the entire structure of modern empirical social science.

    We have had a long empirically-oriented debate on this topic, informed by people with much better grasp of statistical methodology than me, you can read it here: https://equalitybylot.wordpress.com/2014/04/17/commentary-on-gilens-and-page-average-citizens-have-no-political-influence/

    >At any rate, if you now see little awry in the status quo parliamentary system, why claim to be a sortinista at all?

    What would make you think that? I have devoted most of the last 15 years to critiquing the flaws in our parliamentary system (including three books and my ongoing PhD). What I object to is trite, dogmatic, leftist sloganising — as epitemised by the recent cartoon post on this forum. I accept that Gilens and Page are distinguished scholars, although I think their paper is methodologically flawed and they have been dining out on it in the mass media, thereby providing more ammunition for loudmouths like Russell Brand.

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  49. Ahmed,

    I think, at the risk of over-simplification, that among the many “standard” complaints about electoralism, there are two that get a lot of attention from advocates of sortition…

    Keith (and I) argue that elected politicians catering to voters and “public opinion” with sound-bite-pleasing non-deliberative slogans and policy is bad for society. This would be a serious flaw even if there were no wealthy elite pulling strings and telling elected officials what policies are acceptable.

    And the second point that Yoram (and you and I) make is that a powerful elite largely control politicians AND the public debate behind the scenes. For a wide range of issues, median voter preferences are irrelevant.

    These are not mutually exclusive ideas, one, or the other, or both could be true, depending on the public salience of the issue, the importance of the issue to the wealthy, the level of media attention, etc.

    Keith largely disagrees with the wealthy cabal problem, and Yoram dismisses the ill-informed median voter problem. I think both are fatal flaws.

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  50. Terry,

    I don’t completely dismiss the wealthy cabal problem, I just object to the hyperbole from the media circus surrounding Gilens/Page (prompted, largely by the lack of measured language in their conclusions, entirely unwarranted in a scholarly journal). I also think it’s a lazy and anachronistic leftist trope, that may well have been true when all those dusty old books were written (mostly over 100 years ago). This trope fuels the brainless rhetoric of the likes of Russell Brand and Larken Rose (whoever that is), and Yoram’s more cerebral, but monochronous, output.

    My principal objection is to the imposition of the prejudices of the Oxbridge-educated cultural elite over issues such as immigration, multiculturalism, EU membership and social justice. I think this is a far worse breach of isonomia than the (archaic) view that it’s all down to capitalist fat-cats. Perhaps it’s different in the USA.

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  51. Terry, nicely summarized. There’s also a third possibility that I would endorse. There is no “cabal” but a structure (including both electoral rules , campaign finance, and the nature of elections themselves) that favor the privileged (culturally, economically, socially).

    Keith, again the problem is that we do not quite KNOW what people’s informed/reflected/deliberated preferences are because polls & parliamentary debates are either too simple or too distorted.

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  52. Ahmed,

    >the problem is that we do not quite KNOW what people’s informed/reflected/deliberated preferences are

    Absolutely, that’s why my preferred model is the Deliberative (opinion) Poll. However, when (as in the UK and France) the political class unites around preferences that are alien to those of ordinary working people, new parties come along that provide a better indication of uninformed preferences. That’s why Naomi and myself are adamant regarding the need for elections to ascertain raw preferences, followed by a deliberative process to see to what extent raw preferences are modified by balanced information and advocacy. It would be nice to think that the informed preferences of the general public would emerge directly from the unconditional deliberation of a statistical sample, but the law of large numbers does not apply to the internal dynamics of a small group, hence the need for a two-stage process. I’m aware of the fact that the raw preferences revealed by election will be liable to manipulation/distortion/simplification, hence the need for diverse media and limits on campaign funding (isegoria). The mistake the US has made is to think that isegoria (equal speech opportunities) just requires a free press; equal opportunities also requires levelling the playing field in terms of the cost of publicity.

    But democracy also requires isonomia, and that means elections.

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  53. > There is no “cabal” but a structure (including both electoral rules , campaign finance, and the nature of elections themselves) that favor the privileged (culturally, economically, socially).

    Sure, elite control is not a matter of a behind the scenes conspiracy. It is systemic. As Aristotle tells us (in all likelihood channeling the conventional wisdom of his time), elections are inherently oligarchical.

    Sutherland can scream and bang on the table all he wants – both theoretical examination and empirical evidence show that the ancient conventional wisdom is true while modern dogma about electoral responsiveness is false.

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  54. Yoram

    >ancient conventional wisdom is true while modern dogma about electoral responsiveness is false.

    That’s a good example of the simplistic manichaean binaries that Terry was cautioning against. I guess it’s par for the course for a software engineer. The human world, however, is stubbornly analogue.

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  55. Keith: “That’s why Naomi and myself are adamant regarding the need for elections to ascertain raw preferences, followed by a deliberative process to see to what extent raw preferences are modified by balanced information and advocacy.”

    I also believe it is difficult to get by without an active negotiation step, and so there is value in having elections to create individuals with the authority to act (principally negotiate) on the behalf of the nation’s various population groups. If I, and people who generally share my views, want policies X and Y, what right does an allotted assembly have to sacrifice Y to get X in a trade when the opposite compromise plan would also have gotten a majority? How do you decide between two policies that can both pass? A small difference in policy can make a big difference to a lot of people without necessarily gaining or losing a whole lot of votes overall. Hence my belief that active deliberation and negotiation by groups and their leaders (represented in proportion to their number) followed by a passive deliberation step with a statistical sampling of the people is the way to go.

    Yoram: “both theoretical examination and empirical evidence show that the ancient conventional wisdom is true while modern dogma about electoral responsiveness is false.”

    Sometimes I wonder if the people of the distant future will idealize the US in much the same way we idealize Athens. If all the world’s democracies fell, and two thousand years from now all understanding of our governments is derived from a handful of publications, what would people think? I fear too many of the ugly details have been lost for us to evaluate the quoted claim.

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  56. Naomi,

    As we may have already discussed before, people already idealize a mythical golden-age American government (whether this golden age is supposed to have occurred in the 18 century or in mid 20th century). The Athenians themselves appear to have had similar romantic notions about some mythical ancestral constitution.

    I am by no means idealizing the Athenian system. It had many flaws. That seems completely beside the point I was making in the sentence you quoted.

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  57. Naomi:

    >active deliberation and negotiation by groups and their leaders (represented in proportion to their number)

    How would that work in practice? Presumably the groups and their leaders would be selected by a proportional electoral system, but then what decision rule would decide the outcome of the post-electoral negotiations? (If all groups are included, then why bother with elections?) And would the decision be on each and every policy issue? One of the problems with electoral democracy is policy aggregation — if you vote (say) Labour on account of your fiscal preferences you then have to swallow social policies that you may find obnoxious. The other problem is that the post-electoral negotiations that you refer to generally lead to policy outcomes that nobody really wants (for example the policies of the current coalition government in the UK), as the casting vote is often in the hands of the party that won the least number of votes in the election. And what if the connection between the interest groups and their leaders is only a nominal one? David Cameron appears to have very little in common with the majority of Conservative Party members, ditto Tony Blair (both leaders were selected purely on the basis of their psephological appeal). At the end of the day democracy means majority rule, and minority groups have to rely on non-democratic safeguards to protect their interests (rather than behind the scenes “negotiations”).

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  58. I agree with Keith’s comments here…While Naomi raises a real issue (how to decide among competing policies, each of which could gin majority support, but contradictory), I think going to leaders of political parties to negotiate it is one of the poorer options. Even with PR, as Keith observes, parties inevitably bundle issues together — and not necessarily in the way any voter might prefer. Most issues should be negotiated individually rather through a vote-swapping mechanism based in relative power. I might prefer to have party A negotiate on my behalf on issue X, but hate it if that same party negotiated on my behalf on issue Y, where I am in strong opposition to that party’s policy, etc. Although Keith disdains active deliberation by a randomly selected legislative body, I think it is the optimal approach…realizing that NO policy is the absolute CORRECT democratic option…merely an acceptable democratic choice.

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  59. Terry,

    >Although Keith disdains active deliberation by a randomly selected legislative body.

    “Disdain” wouldn’t be my chosen verb — all I seek to do is to point out that the legitimising mechanism (the law of large numbers) fails to apply to the internal workings of a small group, so active deliberation no longer has a democratic mandate (there are no particular reasons to believe that the speech acts of any one sample of the population would accurately reflect the interests and beliefs of the target population). If we seek to replace democracy with epistocracy (albeit of a different kind to that which Plato advocated) then we should state that explicitly. Deliberation amongst elected representatives is democratically legitimate (although it has all the flaws that Terry and myself have outlined), not so with a randomly-selected group of deliberators, notwithstanding the claim for aggregate statistical representativity.

    Could Burke’s notion of virtual representation come to the rescue? I think the process is far too random — Burke could claim that the commercial interest was represented by the MP for Bristol, so it didn’t matter that Manchester did not return its own MP. And, because all MPs were elected, there was a reasonable check that they possessed the minimum degree of knowledge, motivation and eloquence to participate adequately in the national conversation. There is no particular reason to believe that this is true of a small randomly-selected group of conscripts.

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  60. *** Naomi (December 16) asks us not to idealize ancient Athens. Sure, many sides of ancient Athenian society, and generally of ancient Greece, may be judged distateful by modern standards I often agree with. Therefore I will not object to antipathy expressed against ancient Greeks as phallocratic, warlike, slave-holders, pagans, death-penalty enforcers, baby-murderers, users of prostitutes, etc. What I will object to, is libelling the Athenian dêmokratia about characters which can be found in many non-democratic Greek societies, often in a worse way, and even can be found in many civilizations. Think of people criticizing the Athenian dêmokratia about slavery, something accepted by most great civilizations of the past (with general approval by the moral authorities of the time), until the 18th century (actually the rejection of slavery is a stunning historical fact, and the mark of modernity). Dêmokratia did not allow the Athenian people to get out of his world, and we must not hope that a modern dêmokratia will be able to do it. To climb to an higher ethical degree is a spiritual endeavour, and cannot be carried out by the one agency of a good political system.
    *** The kleroterians, whatever their likes and dislikes towards ancient Greece, are interested by a specific point : the ancient political system of dêmokratia, and specifically the model of democracy-through-sortition, as carried out with a large extant by the Second Athenian Democracy. That does not imply general approval of the ancient Greek civilization.
    *** But if Naomi thinks we got from the literary tradition an idealized look of the dêmokratia as political model, with « many of the ugly details (…) lost for us », frankly he is wrong. The literary tradition is basically anti-democratic, and the most famous Greek thinkers in this tradition, Plato and Aristotle, are fierce foes of dêmokratia. We got any information available about the ugly sides of dêmokratia !
    *** Or at least what the foes of the system considered as ugly sides. With funny effects : we see modern ennemies of the Athenian dêmokratia criticizing strongly its anti-feminism, whereas Aristotle explained how dêmokratia is bad because it gives too much freedom to women… The Philosopher could not forecast what would be considered as « ugly » twenty-five centuries later.
    *** As for the interest of kleroterians for the Second Athenian Democracy as a political model, that does not imply approval of all points of this model – which, anyway, was devised for an ancient Greek City, not for a modern society ! But it would be strange, for supporters of democracy-through-sortition, to neglect the study of the ancient experiment.

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  61. Keith wrote:
    >”Deliberation amongst elected representatives is democratically legitimate (although it has all the flaws that Terry and myself have outlined), not so with a randomly-selected group of deliberators, notwithstanding the claim for aggregate statistical representativity.”

    What is the basis for this claim? Custom and tradition, yes, but anything else? In an elected assembly I am very unlikely to have anybody “like me” present to deliberate. The chances are greater in an allotted assembly. And Keith, don’t resort to the mythology that as a voter I had a modicum of “say” in who gets to represent me if they are elected (even if the winner is against everything I believe in). A society can choose to AUTHORIZE a group of randomly selected representatives just as LEGITIMATELY as an elected group of representatives. The SINGLE representative, whether elected or selected by lot is outside the “law of large numbers” and the person making “speech acts” on behalf of people like me may happen to be skilled or incompetent in either scenario. So if ELECTED representatives should be allowed to deliberate, there is no logical reason to insist randomly selected representatives shouldn’t. It is my assertion that elites who have gone through election have no more ACTUAL legitimacy than those selected by lot, and indeed, I would argue they have less.

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  62. Seconding Terry’s point, trial juries are deemed quite legitimate and they are selected by lot not vote. In fact they wouldn’t be legitimate otherwise.

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  63. Andre,

    > « many of the ugly details (…) lost for us »

    One thing of interest which is lost for us (as far as I know) is a sense of the political dynamics within the Boule – in particular whether it was equalitarian or dominated by an elite.

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  64. Keith: “At the end of the day democracy means majority rule, and minority groups have to rely on non-democratic safeguards to protect their interests (rather than behind the scenes “negotiations”).”

    I agree on the need for non-democratic safeguards, but I don’t think they are sufficient on their own. To quote Mill, “Human beings are only secure from evil at the hands of others in proportion as they have the power of being, and are, self protecting.” There are examples of Supreme Court decisions in favor of minorities that were ignored by the other branches (see the Indian removals). A court has no real, unilateral power to enforce its decisions. Unless by “non-democratic” you were referring to the executive, in which case I would point out that human rights and the things that are in the best interest of the average citizen are, at times, at odds. Much better to draw a strict line between those two roles.

    However, it isn’t just about the rights of the minorities. I believe there is a need for a place where the legitimate and acknowledged representatives of the interested parties are present and can hash things out as needed, especially if there are sharp and sometimes antagonistic divisions between groups in society. An extreme example of the usefulness of such a setup is the recent political change in Iraq. There were representatives who were in the right position to work out an agreeable shift in policy when it was needed most. This sort of thing needs coordination by a representative entity.

    It’s not clear to me why post-electoral compromise should be generally yield less agreeable results than pre-electoral compromise. It’s the same cake cut a different way. I suppose voters with esoteric preferences can make their presence better felt when they are represented directly. In any case this cannot be the reason for the unpopularity of the current UK coalition government. All three of the big parties had to appeal to the average voter to win seats. There were two compromise steps. The people had to pick the median voter-centric compromise plan least disagreeable to them, and then each party had to compromise again to a similar degree in the coalition building step. It’s not surprising the results turned out to be unpopular. If you are going to have more post-electoral compromise in the legislature you need to have less pre-electoral compromise to compensate. That’s the classic tradeoff: the more representive your representative is, the more severely she has to compromise your views after being elected to reach a majority and vice versa. I would argue that representation that is sufficiently fine-grained to represent the major divisions within society is the ideal place to be on that spectrum.

    You still certainly have majority rule if you have an initiative and everything is subject to an AC vote regardless. I agree that conventional parliamentary democracy is mediocre at best. Esoteric kingmaker parties are a real problem. Represented factions should have significance only in proportion to their number. Moving the executive away from a pure parliamentary confidence model can help with that. So can the initiative. The driving force behind consensus in the Swiss system is the initiative (Swiss Democracy, Linder). Minority parties would use their electoral support bases to get initiatives to shoot holes in the governing majority’s policy plans. Coming to some sort of arrangement was in everyone’s best interest. The minority sees the majority’s policies tempered, and the majority is able to implement their policies more consistently. The ability to drive consensus depends on the ability to appeal to the majority will. Where agreement cannot be found they go to the polls with a referendum. There’s no reason we can’t do the same with sortition in place of referenda.

    I also don’t see any reason why we can’t subject the individual terms of compromise platforms to the scrutiny of an allotted body, if we were so inclined to do so. Rather than allowing compromise plans to be enacted though omnibus bills, I mean.

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  65. Terry: “I might prefer to have party A negotiate on my behalf on issue X, but hate it if that same party negotiated on my behalf on issue Y, where I am in strong opposition to that party’s policy, etc… In an elected assembly I am very unlikely to have anybody “like me” present to deliberate.”

    Yes, but ultimately you still have to get to a majority somehow. Increasing the diversity of the voices in the body is healthy, but I’m not sure it makes a whole lot of difference. You could end up with someone just like you, but his voice would be drowned out by the need to compromise with hundreds of other voices. Once all that compromise is done, what is gained? And one person can’t negotiate with a few hundred other people. There would need to be consolidation and aggregation. And this brings us right back to where we were before. If you have too few people in the body for there to be the need for consolidation and aggregation, you have too few for statistical significance. Certainly, important subdivisions within the population would be too poorly represented for the allotted members to be considered a substitute for the group as a whole. The compromises negotiated between such groups in such a system would be arbitrary. Any preexisting leadership that may exist would be excluded as well, which raises other issues. I also suspect fringe movements would be able to form blocks that would be able to act collectively with relative ease, which would give them excessive leverage.

    I think the thing that matters more than pre-electoral aggregation is whether or not a majority approves of the policies being enacted. And that is easy enough to test.

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  66. Terry,

    At least since the time of Cicero, rhetorical prowess has been deemed important for legislators. The selection principle in elections is choice: if I choose to vote for a representative with no persuasive skills (presupposing a deliberative forum) then I’ve only got myself (or the poor choices available [see below]) to blame if my interests are not properly represented. In the case of sortition, it’s just random and (given a jury-service model) only a tiny number of allotted members will have knowledge of and/or interest in the topics under consideration and an even smaller number will have the necessary skills and perceived status to influence their peers. This is a very long way removed from the law of large numbers, the only legitimating principle for sortition, although it might make some sort of sense in the collegial problem-solving assembly that you advocate, where all the big political issues have been resolved in advance (by a yet to be specified mechanism), although, as I’ve argued before, there are better ways of brainstorming the necessary cognitive diversity for problem solving than via randomly-selected conscripts.

    I grant that empirical reality doesn’t live up to idealised models and have already acknowledged the problem of electoral approximation and policy aggregation. This problem is resolvable with a combination of proportional representation (a multiplicity of small parties will be able to aggregate issues in a way that better approximates aggregate interests/preferences/beliefs in pluralistic multicultural societies) and direct citizen initiative. I would also emphasise that my interest is in real-time legitimacy, as opposed to some historical social contract, by which citizens are deemed to have legitimised the political arrangements under which they are governed. This notion of formal legitimisation (not dissimilar to legitimisation by plebiscite in the Napoleonic tradition) is not what we are referring to when discussing the ongoing legitimacy of election or sortition.

    Ahmed,

    Trial juries are charged to decide on issues of fact, not preferences/interests/beliefs and the goal is unanimity, hence the need for active deliberation. Political juries are entirely different as there are no facts to be uncovered, only the preferences/interests/beliefs of the target population to be accurately reflected. This is incompatible with active deliberation for the reasons stated above.

    Yoram,

    It is indeed unfortunate that there is little historical evidence regarding the internal workings of the council. Perhaps this is the reason that most historians view it as an unimportant secretariat, there only to preserve the sovereignty of the legislative assembly and nomothetic panels. If the council were more important then one might expect the orators to refer to it more often. Demosthenes speaks at some length about the 4th Century legislative process, but most of his emphasis is on the assembly and the nomothetai.

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  67. Naomi,

    >An extreme example of the usefulness of such a setup is the recent political change in Iraq. There were representatives who were in the right position to work out an agreeable shift in policy when it was needed most.

    Huh? These representatives were there all along, the only thing that prompted them to bury their sectarian differences was the fact that their country was being overrun by ISIS. But it’s a mistake to use the example of a deeply-divided society like Iraq to judge the general case. None of us on this forum have properly considered your argument for a fully-fledged PR based elected house with the final outcome subject to the veto of an allotted assembly. It might take us some time to get our head round this before we can engage properly with your argument, as it’s so far removed even from my own hybrid position. Anthony Barnett and Peter Carty’s book The Athenian Option is probably the best defence of this position.

    Just thinking out loud, the biggest problem is that the compromise thrashed out by the elected representatives in their smoke-filled rooms could well be a long way removed from the preferences of most citizens. Would the fact that the outcome will be subject to veto by the allotted chamber be sufficient to keep it on track? Possibly. But how will the decision of the allotted body be properly informed — are they going to witness the haggling between the different factions in the elected parliament, who will then be even more likely to be playing to the gallery (or their own constituents)? It all looks very messy, that’s why my preference has always been for restricting advocacy rights to the majority party(ies) and securing minority rights by constitutional safeguards.

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  68. Keith: “Huh? These representatives were there all along, the only thing that prompted them to bury their sectarian differences was the fact that their country was being overrun by ISIS.”

    Well, my point was that the Parliament of Iraq was able to coordinate a major shift in policy when one was necessary to address an existential crisis. In the absence of efficient coordination, I fear there would have been dozens of different pieces of a half-dozen different reform plans floating around with each sect hoping to exploit the crisis by getting in the door first with a plan giving them an advantage. The fundamental issue remains even when differences between people are less pronounced.

    “Just thinking out loud, the biggest problem is that the compromise thrashed out by the elected representatives in their smoke-filled rooms could well be a long way removed from the preferences of most citizens.”

    Shouldn’t the usual median voter arguments still apply to the elected body in aggregate no matter where it may fall on the pre-electoral/post-electoral compromise spectrum? Trade, be it in a market or a Parliament, occurs only when all those involved benefit from the exchange. The question is whether elected representatives are able to faithfully represent their supporters’ interests. I would argue that if the representatives fail to faithfully represent their voters to the extent that is possible given political realities, they will be displaced by those who can. This should be especially true when there is considerable choice and realignments are not terribly difficult.

    “But how will the decision of the allotted body be properly informed — are they going to witness the haggling between the different factions in the elected parliament”

    My preference is for the supporters and opponents to be defined by their votes in the elected body. Each side then builds an advocacy team for their position, drawing on anyone they deem helpful. The two teams are constructed in exactly the same way and thus the danger of an institutionalized bias in favor of either position is minimized. I don’t really think the details of the negotiations/debates that occur in the elected chamber are really relevant to the allotted chamber. That’s the sausage-making process. Whether or not we should have sausage for dinner is separate matter.

    I’m not clear on what you mean by “majority party(ies).” What percentage of the vote would a party need to be eligible make proposals?

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  69. Naomi,

    >the Parliament of Iraq was able to coordinate a major shift in policy when one was necessary to address an existential crisis.

    Under a lot of pressure from the Americans. If the government had been appointed on merit (and the selection criteria excluded those with a sectarian disposition), then the existential crisis would not have occurred in the first place. I’m surprised that you have chosen Iraq as a good example of electoral democracy in practice.

    >Shouldn’t the usual median voter arguments still apply to the elected body in aggregate no matter where it may fall on the pre-electoral/post-electoral compromise spectrum?

    Strictly speaking, the median voter theorem applies to a two party electoral system. Coalition agreements can be very unpredictable — it was down to Nick Clegg (whose party only received a small number of votes in the last election) to decide whether to put in a Conservative or Labour government. The outcome was very close and it was largely down to his personal preference, rather than purely arithmetic functions.

    >I don’t really think the details of the negotiations/debates that occur in the elected chamber are really relevant to the allotted chamber.

    Then the final up/down decision would reflect their uninformed preferences/prejudices rather than benefiting from the exchange of reasons. This was Rousseau’s preferred method, as he distrusted discursive processes, but I can’t see that it has any merit.

    >What percentage of the vote would a party need to be eligible make proposals?

    That would depend on the electoral system. In a winner takes all scenario it would be simple plurality, in a PR system different rules apply. And the proposals would be limited to manifesto commitments.

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  70. Keith,

    Re-read Naomi’s posts…
    1. Her point about Iraq had nothing to do with how well it functioned as a democracy, but simply about her argument that reducing the number of players in negotiations (parties in this case) made it possible to resolve things, where my scheme of a non-party allotted legislature would either founder or have to recreate some sort of party-like leadership system.
    2. She expressly said she DID advocate pro and con arguments from the PR chamber being presented in the allotted chamber, simply not the behind the scenes power-brokering-sausage-making that is fundamentally outside the realm of persuasion base on reason.

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  71. Yes. Exactly what Terry said. Thank you. I’m sorry if I come down too hard on your system at times. I can get a bit carried away.

    Keith: “If the government had been appointed on merit (and the selection criteria excluded those with a sectarian disposition), then the existential crisis would not have occurred in the first place.”

    Merit and agenda (and ideology) are two unrelated things. No one lacks an agenda. No one lacks an ideology even if we don’t see our beliefs as such. I can find someone who is eminently qualified to run a country who also shares my agenda and my ideological preferences. You could find one who shares yours. They would disagree passionately on many things of great consequence. When we decide on a selection method for a powerful office we are we are deciding not just on whether the office is held by someone who is competent but also on who gets to advance their agenda using the office. Hence the visceral reaction people sometimes have at your suggestion we should have a powerful and nondemocratic executive. If the agenda of the executive is not the same as the agenda of the average person, then it’s the agenda of someone else. If the executive is of little significance, it matters little. If it is of great significance then it is of concern to everyone and we absolutely cannot expect people to be okay having no say in the matter, either directly or indirectly.

    “And the proposals would be limited to manifesto commitments.”

    I’m surprised to hear you say this. It basically eliminates any point of elections at all. You might as well go with the initiative for everything. That’s kind of what you’re proposing here. The initiative proposals are just bundled up into packages with signatures being gathered on a single day.

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  72. Terry,

    This demonstrates how bad parliamentary systems (which conflate the executive and legislative function) are at handling existential crises. In the case of Iraq, they actually created the crisis. Those of you who live in presidential systems are drawn towards parliamentarianism, as the grass is always greener . . .

    >[Naomi] DID advocate pro and con arguments from the PR chamber being presented in the allotted chamber

    What would the mechanism be — a redacted transcription?

    Naomi,

    >Merit and agenda (and ideology) are two unrelated things.

    Absolutely, that’s why personnel for each function need to be selected by different mechanisms (appointment and election, respectively). American political experience demonstrates how the Founders’ original intentions were confounded by choosing a single mechanism. Republican political theory is adamant that the executive is a delegated function, not one with its own agenda/ideology, but this means the executive cannot be elected — if they are then the agenda/ideology aspect will come to the fore.

    >You might as well go with the initiative for everything.

    Fair point. The case for election is to retain some degree of continuity and accountability, but in my proposal the distinction between political party and campaigning group is blurred. A successful single-issue campaign group would almost certainly morph into a political party.

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  73. Keith: “This demonstrates how bad parliamentary systems (which conflate the executive and legislative function) are at handling existential crises.”

    And yet there is actual, hard, data demonstrating in no uncertain terms that presidential systems are more prone to collapse than parliamentary ones, even when socioeconomic factors are accounted for (see almost everything Linz every published). This makes perfect sense. Drawing an arbitrary line between types of policymaking powers, allowing different factions, perhaps with irreconcilable differences to hold these powers in parallel, while forcing them to come to a consensus to function at all is a bad way to run a government. At best, accountability is damaged by the introduction of another degree of separation between government action and electoral consequence. At worst you have paralysis during an existential crisis.

    Going back to Iraq, if al-Maliki had been a president he would *still* be in power today.

    “What would the mechanism be — a redacted transcription?”

    A courtroom-style debate in the allotted house between advocacy teams assembled by the supporters and opponents in the elected house after the proposal is passed in the elected house. Though, I will admit, the idea of a statistical postal balloting process with a purely textual advocacy system has been growing on me these last few months. If only for logistical reasons.

    “Republican political theory is adamant that the executive is a delegated function, not one with its own agenda/ideology, but this means the executive cannot be elected — if they are then the agenda/ideology aspect will come to the fore.”

    Appointment simply means the agenda/ideology of the person holding the office will be consistent with the agenda/ideology of those who are responsible for making the appointment. In this respect appointment and election are the same, you just have a different electorate. If the agenda/ideology if the average person is not being advanced by the appointment process… then whose is? Someone’s will be. If the office is powerful, everyone involved will play to win no matter how big or small the electorate is. If not it doesn’t really matter either way. Of course if it isn’t powerful, the legislature will have to be sufficiently nimble to pick up the slack.

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  74. >A courtroom-style debate in the allotted house between advocacy teams assembled by the supporters and opponents in the elected house after the proposal is passed in the elected house.

    I could live with that, although I’m a little worried it will be overly demagoguic, privileging rhetoricians over those who have a more dispassionate knowledge of the topic under consideration. But your suggestion is a pretty good analogue of 4th century Athenian practice.

    I think your concerns for the agenda/ideology of the executive are largely driven by American experience of elected presidents. If we take the separation of powers seriously and design the parchment barriers in a more impervious way, there is no reason to believe that government executives should not be driven by professionalism and the sense of public service (a very English concept). The president has no right to introduce a proposal for a healthcare scheme, his job is to make sure that whatever scheme the legislature mandates is run properly. And the executive is accountable to the allotted house, so if it starts acting politically (especially in such a way as to contravene majority preferences), then it’s out on its ear (although it also needs to be protected from subjugation to the passing whims of the demos). The executive, in my view, will be a highly conservative institution with a long-term perspective, whose job it is to ensure that the disparate wishes of the demos do not collide and that the sums add up. No doubt some will view this in ideological terms, but the harlot’s prerogative created by an allotted sovereign needs a powerful counterbalance.

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  75. “And the executive is accountable to the allotted house, so if it starts acting politically (especially in such a way as to contravene majority preferences), then it’s out on its ear (although it also needs to be protected from subjugation to the passing whims of the demos).”

    Forgive me for asking, but would you mind explaining how the appointment/retention procedures work exactly? I suppose I should pick up a copy of your book at some point.

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  76. Also, almost every developed country (save for where corruption is a serious problem) has a highly competent and apolitical civil service that persists over the course of different governments/administrations and that carries out the wishes of their political superiors even when they may personally disagree with them. The reason they do so is simple: they’ll be replaced if they don’t. There is no opportunity for agency loss. But it seems agency loss is the goal here. It will exist to the extent officers are safe from replacement, almost by definition. It seems unreasonable to me to expect those who are given power to not wield that power in the pursuit their own interests to the extent they have the freedom to do so.

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  77. Naomi,

    >Would you mind explaining how the appointment/retention procedures work exactly?

    I’m afraid I don’t do “exactly” — all you’ll ever get from me is vague theoretical principles (appointed on merit; accountable to allotted assembly). I’m not a political scientist, have no practical experience in hands-on governance, administration or constitution building, and have never run for political office (a well-known political theorist once confessed to me that his wife knew more about politics than him, because she was on the village parish council). As a political theorist of a conservative disposition, I give authority to precedence, so we might like to take a look at Athenian practice. Magistrates underwent a preliminary scrutiny (to an allotted body) prior to holding office, followed by annual reckoning (when leaving office), so that sounds like a reasonable model. If there is a case for ad hoc, in-service impeachment (graphe) or confidence motion, then the threshold should be set high, in order to insulate government officers from the changing day-to-day whims of the demos (otherwise the executive would be quickly politicised).

    >apolitical civil service that persists over the course of different governments/administrations and that carries out the wishes of their political superiors even when they may personally disagree with them. The reason they do so is simple: they’ll be replaced if they don’t.

    That’s exactly my proposal for government officers (glorified civil servants). Moreover, if they attain the targets set by the legislature, then they would expect to receive an annual bonus and enhanced pension rights. Tenure would, in principle, be permanent (and under-secretaries in successful departments could anticipate promotion and succession), but if they failed to deliver (or assumed their own agenda) they would be booted out without recompense — the modern equivalent of ostracism. In extreme cases the entire senior management of a government department could be cleared out and replaced, all at the behest of a prosecution (by ho boulomenos) before an allotted jury.

    Successful mixed governance requires clearly identifiable estates of the realm, one of which would be the mandarin (executive) class. The other estates are the aristocracy (the political class)** and the allotted representatives of the people. The tricky thing is to get the balance of power right and to ensure that the parchment barriers are not breached. Although a defence of mixed government is unfashionable in an age of demotic Hobbism, I’m encouraged to be in the company of Manin, Uribinati and Hansen in this respect.

    ** Note that none of these classes are hereditary — they are open to all on merit and, in principle, available to ho boulomenos.

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  78. Naomi,

    On appointing and removing a civil-service-like executive…
    perhaps the common city manager system in the U.S. would be a model. I spent hours looking with Google Scholar searches to find some political scientist who has done a comparison between mayoral and city manager performance, and found nothing. Either I am not using good search terms, or this area has been neglected by American political scientists. it seems that it should be inviting to the current style of political science (which likes numeric data) since a database could be built allowing statistical analysis of quantitative performance outcomes (looking at tax rates, quality of life, crime rates, miles of streets below standard repair, public satisfaction survey data, employment data, etc.)

    My scheme is to have one allotted body recruit and hire a chief executive and have that person periodically come up for a retention “trial” by subsequent “juries.” But a jury that removes the executive would not get to select the replacement (other than perhaps a caretaker), since that would give the jury an incentive to remove to place their own stamp on society…A separate hiring body would need to be called into existence.

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  79. This is why I don’t particularly care for political theory. These details are everything. The people want to be governed by wise and just leaders. Why not just say the general public will elect wise and just leaders on their “merit” alone and be done with it? Obviously, because we have elections and they don’t turn out that way. We also have appointments, and they don’t turn out that way either. When there’s zero potential for agency loss, yes, principals can afford to select an apolitical agent and they have inventive to do so. But when there is potential for a powerful agent to turn around and act against the principal, the stakes are just too high to expect an apolitical choice. In the UK there’s an almost unbroken chain of say-yes-sir-or-you’re-fired from the ministers all the way down. If you break that up and give the civil service greater insulation you’ll see people being appointed because they have the right agenda/ideology/political preferences to say yes sir even without the fear of being fired looming over their heads.

    I also can’t imagine a way of giving the executive the power to limit the fiscal whims of the legislature while simultaneously preventing autonomous policymaking. These should be logically contradictory goals.

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  80. Terry, that seems reasonable to me. At least as long as the retention votes are made in a body large enough for statistical significance. I can only begin to speculate what sort of executive the allotted body would choose and how much power this executive would wield in practice. I’m worried that the relative efficiency of the executive would lead to most powers being delegated to it in practice. If it can be dismissed easily the allotted members have little to fear by delegating considerable power.

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  81. Naomi,

    >This is why I don’t particularly care for political theory. These details are everything.

    Absolutely, that’s why we need a multi-disciplinary approach. I’m not an institutional political scientist, so it would be impertinent for me to do anything more than a) clarify conceptual distinctions and b) make historical parallels. It’s up to other people to put flesh on the bones — this is why I’ve been so amenable to (e.g.) your own institutional-based suggestions, even though this has required me to shift my own position substantially.

    >I also can’t imagine a way of giving the executive the power to limit the fiscal whims of the legislature while simultaneously preventing autonomous policymaking.

    Why not? A recent institutional innovation in the UK has been the (apolitical, appointed) Office for Budget Responsibility, whose job it is to cost all legislative proposals (and the IFS and IEA provide independent corroboration). If a new proposal costs “x” then it’s up to the legislature to decide whether to increase taxes by “x” or cut some other spending programme. The job of the fiscal executive is just to outline costs and make sure the laws of arithmetic are respected. You Americans have got so used to a politicised executive that you simply can’t imagine the possibility of an alternative method of selection/holding to account.

    PS in the UK, 3 out of 5 civil servants already work for executive agencies, run by CEOs, not elected ministers, so I’m not suggesting anything particularly radical.

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  82. Hmm. Fair enough.

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  83. *** Yoram Gat writes (December 12) « As Aristotle tells us (in all likelihood channeling the conventional wisdom of his time), elections are inherently oligarchical. » That needs some comments.
    *** In dêmokratia the sovereign power followed the isonomia principle of no civic distinction between the citizens : that implied either general vote, or jury by sortition.
    The administrative functions were allocated by sortition, but some « managerial » functions, military and financial, were allocated by election, therefore following a different principle –a basically different principle : « election », i.e. subjective choice, implies distinction between citizens (and distinction with a high degree of subjectivity, leaving room for many bias).
    *** This discrepancy is not specific to democracy. Let’s consider a monarchy where the king is sovereign, by dynastic principle. « Lords » may be allocated power following the same principle, but nobody will feel strange if a minister is « elected » by the king, chosen for his technical abilities, his loyalty, his moral virtues, many qualities being evaluated by the king on a partly subjective way ; and, besides, he will be usually somebody who agrees with the basic choices of the sovereign. The neutrality of civil service, OK ; but if I am an absolute king wishing a social security system, I would not choose to carry out this policy a minister who abhors it and considers it as a step on the road to serfdom.
    *** The affinity between democracy and sortition, or between hereditary monarchy and « lordship », are self-evident. But it cannot be concluded that these political systems have to allocate all functions along the same principle as sovereignty.
    *** The political systems (other than tyranny) which competed with dêmokratia in the time of Demosthenes and Aristotle were of various kinds, but mostly « republics with strong oligarchical leanings ». In Demosthenes’ « Against Leptines », the oligarchy contrasted with Athenian dêmokratia is the Spartan republic (a mixed republic following Aristotle). Here, and in many other « republics », election was used not only for some managerial functions, but likewise to allocate central powers of the State, powers determinating the public policy. Evidently the « principle of distinction » inherent to election (Manin) was one of the factors giving a strong oligarchic character to this sovereignty system.
    *** These facts explain that Aristotle may consider as a banality to link sortition and democracy, election and oligarchy (Politics, IV, 9, 4 ; 1294b9, «it is thought to be democratic for the offices to be assigned by lot, for them to be elected oligarchic», tr. Rackham).
    *** But Aristotle knows very well that election is used in democracy for some offices (actually the « managerial » ones), and that sortition can be used in the oligarchical systems where there is a well-defined ruling elite, with isonomia inside this elite.
    *** A modern dêmokratia could allocate functions other than sovereignty along ways other than sortition : a neutral « meritocratic » civil service, or elections for managers. It will logically have big use of sortition in many areas, including for instance auditoring colleges overseeing the administration and electoral colleges choosing managers, but we must not consider that sortition is the one principle of allocating political functions ; this rule is only for sovereignty, that it determines as democratic.

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  84. Andre,

    Thanks for the clarification. I agree that Aristotle’s distinction verges on the banal and certainly should not be taken as a prime signifier of the presence or absence of democracy. My understanding of the principal difference between Athens and Sparta was isegoria — the freedom to advise citizens and to make legislative proposals. How to establish isegoria in large extended states is a non-trivial problem — sortition as a single democratic principle would limit this freedom to a miniscule proportion of the citizen body and would have appalled the Athenians. Isonomia is ensured by sortition, but (in large states) election and direct-democratic initiative provide a better match with isegoria. The fourth-century reforms transferred isonomia to a representative sample of the citizen body, but retained isegoria for ho boulomenos, and that should be our guiding principle.

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  85. Andre,

    Whenever mass elections are used, an oligarchical result follows. Those elected must be people of distinction, as Manin puts it. How would this pre-determined outcome serve the public? What would be a useful role for such an oligarchical mechanism in a democratic society? In what situation would elections be superior to the selection of office-holders by a vote within an allotted body?

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  86. >Whenever mass elections are used, an oligarchical result follows. Those elected must be people of distinction, as Manin puts it.

    Why does the election of someone of distinction of necessity lead to an oligarchical outcome? That certainly isn’t Manin’s claim, merely that election is, by definition, an ‘aristocratic’ principle (a restatement of Aristotle’s ‘banal’ observation). Most 5th century Athenians would not have known Pericles personally and he came from a powerful family, yet he was re-elected stratagos (and the ‘first citizen of Athens’) for nearly 30 years. Was he in fact secretly pursuing a policy that favoured the oligarchs, at the expense of ordinary Athenian citizens? It’s important to remember that aristocratic is not a synonym for oligarchic (although the two frequently overlap). However, a political leader, selected by the (aristocratic) method of election, could well choose to adopt policies that benefited the many, at the expense of the few — and this may well be the reason that she secures office over her competitors.

    What would be a useful role for such a . . . mechanism in a democratic society?

    When the scale of the society is such that isegoria presupposes a representative mechanism (of organised interests/preferences/beliefs). Isonomic equality is not a sufficient condition for democracy.

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  87. *** Keith Sutherland wrote (December 10) « there is no reason why democratic decisions need be “good” decisions, enlightened by deliberation (although we might, for other reasons, prefer it if they were) ». This comment would lead us to name « democratic » any following of the majority « opinion », even if this opinion is a direct answer without complementary information and discussion.
    *** Well, we can say the meaning of words is a convention. But when the word « democracy » was invented, at least, it referred to the sovereign will of the dêmos, elaborated through a discussion. I consider as improper to speak of people’s sovereign will when actually it is an opinion without deliberation.
    *** This is not specific of people’s sovereignty. Let’s imagine a strange monarchic system : a king is deemed the supreme ruler of the country, but, by the Basic Law of the Kingdom, he can rule only by deciding every morning on the policy question asked by a « Mayor of the Palace », with an information given by this Mayor, without any possibility to ask for more information, or to ask for diverse advices, or to hear discussions by diverse political personalities, or to discuss with anybody. For me, this king would not be a badly enlightened sovereign, he would be not a sovereign at all – he would be a part of a complex political system, without true sovereign.

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  88. *** Yoram Gat writes (December 21) « In what situation would elections be superior to the selection of office-holders by a vote within an allotted body? » It seems Yoram uses « election » only for « election by general vote » whereas I meant likewise « election by an alloted body ». Actually I agree with Yoram that in a modern dêmokratia elections of public managers must be carried, at least usually, by alloted bodies – as policy choices and legislation, and for the same reason : in a modern, complex and dynamic society, the political work would be too much time-consuming to be carried seriously, with due deliberation, through general votes. It would be strange to ask for serious deliberation about an external policy which could lead to war and to accept lack of serious deliberation to choose the commander-in-chief of the armed forces.
    *** The « principle of distinction » would work even in elections by alloted bodies. It implies a risk of oligarchizing tendencies if the statespersons lean to form a network linked to social elites. The risk depends on the sociological state, and must be managed along the situation (in ancient Greece it was hightened by the unicity of the elite, but lessened by the intense agonistic spirit among this elite). But anyway it will be limited in a real dêmokratia where the last word belongs to alloted citizen bodies and where citizen bodies oversee all the parts of the political system. Here the sovereignty of dêmos is in much better situation than the sovereignty of an absolute king : the king cannot multiply himself to oversee the entire system.

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  89. Andre,

    > It seems Yoram uses « election » only for « election by general vote » whereas I meant likewise « election by an alloted body »

    Yes – I think it is important to use different terms for mass elections and for voting within a small group since the dynamics of the two mechanisms completely different.

    > The « principle of distinction » would work even in elections by alloted bodies.

    To some extent this is true, but this would greatly depend on the political commitments of the individuals within the body. In mass elections, on the other hand, the principle of distinction is unavoidable and would be in effect even if a large majority of voters are committed democrats.

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  90. *** Yoram Gat (December 23) thinks « it is important to use different terms for mass elections and for voting within a small group since the dynamics of the two mechanisms completely different ». Ok. We could use the word « election » for « mass elections » with limited deliberation (as it is almost unavoidable), and « nomination » when it is by a king, or an alloted body in a dêmokratia.
    *** PS The difference Yoram underlines is clear and useful in a modern society. But we must be cautious before transfering the model of « mass politics » to Greek Cities, many of them were very small (Athens size was exceptional, and even the Athenian voters numbered only in thousands) and with issues relatively static ; and specially to Greek democracies where election had no « representative » meaning. Actually, I don’t think the consideration of Athenian elections has great relevance for modern times – whereas the jury system is relevant, even if we must always be careful to remember the differences between the societies.

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  91. While the size of the Athenian public was many orders of magnitude smaller than the size of the public of a modern state, a body of thousands of people is still large enough so that it is for the purposes of agenda setting and of decision making indistinguishable from an infinitely large public.

    The Athenian Assembly was therefore an arena of mass politics and the dynamics of voting within that body were in all likelihood the same as the dynamics of voting in a modern electoralist system.

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