“Down with Elections!” A Pure Sortition Proposal, Part 1

This is my latest thinking on the subject, and rather long-winded, I’m afraid, so I’m posting it in six parts.

Some of it is reheated leftovers, my apologies, but my mind works slowly, I have to save it labour if I can. For the same reason, the title has been pressed into service again.

It’s written for the general public, not the erudite intellectuals of this forum, but I’d like to know if there are any errors of fact, in fact any suggestions would be welcome.

DOWN WITH ELECTIONS!

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6

PART 1

Introduction

“DOWN WITH ELECTIONS!”?

How could anyone except a would-be dictator be so stupid, so irresponsible, or so perverse as to wish to see the end of elections?

In the developed and supposedly democratic world, we are accustomed to think that freedom and democracy, if not quite synonymous, go hand in hand; that one is not possible without the other. We assume, usually without giving the matter much thought, that elections are necessary for democracy and that they guarantee freedom.

It is easy enough to see why this assumption is so common.

First, citizens in countries that do not have elections, or where elections are a mere sham and the result is a foregone conclusion, are clearly not free. They are subject to dictators, or military juntas; those who are not in power have no rights and are at the mercy of the dictator, his police and his cronies. Clearly this is a bad situation, and no-one would deny that we are better off with elections, whatever their faults may be.

Second, ever since the monarchy was replaced in America and France by a government of elected representatives, we have been told by the Press, by philosophers and political theorists, and by the representatives themselves, that an elected government gives us democracy and freedom, that “we the people” are in control.

Third, since that time we have seen the expansion of the electorate from a franchise limited to propertied white males to an electorate of all citizens who have reached majority. It is obvious that this is a great step towards fairness. Consequently we believe that everything that needed doing has now been done, and that we all have a say in who has power, and that we have achieved freedom and equality.

Fourth, we see people in less fortunate countries desperately struggling, often at the risk of prison, torture, or death, to get an elected government like those in Europe or North America. Surely, if these people are willing to risk so much in order to have a political system like ours, then our system must be worth defending at all costs.

Yet despite these comforting assumptions, it appears that all is not quite well in our “democratic” world. There is a malaise; the man or woman in the street is increasingly dissatisfied and cynical about governments. The signs are evident: political leaders are increasingly regarded with contempt, they are seen to be corrupt, or weak and incompetent, or to have betrayed the interests of the electors. Voter turnout is low, often not much over 50%, sometimes even less. In the past it has been usual to assume that those who fail to vote are simply apathetic and too lazy to do so; it is accepted now that often they don’t vote because they know that their vote will have no effect, or believe that whichever way they vote, the politicians’ promises will be broken. Other voters turn to the extreme left or right, quite often not because they want to see an extremist party in power, but as a “protest vote” to show their disgust with the major parties.

We see too that there is a large gap between rhetoric and practice. Western governments, so ready to trumpet their commitment to freedom, nevertheless help to maintain or install dictatorships and military governments in other countries, and oppose any attempt by the citizens of those countries to free themselves. Moreover, blatant abuses of human rights are committed by elected governments, usually with the pretext that it is necessary to defend democracy against subversion or fanatics.

There is a feeling, then, that things don’t work out as they should. Most of us blame other people. For most of us the villains are the politicians, and for many, the media and big business. Politicians blame their political opponents, or sometimes the apathy or the ignorance or unreal expectations of the ordinary citizen. And everyone likes to blame “the bureaucrats”. Almost no-one, until recently, has considered the notion that it is perhaps not only the people involved who are to blame, but also the political system itself. Subconsciously we seem to think “Democracy means freedom, so since we have elections, we have democracy, and all would be well . . . if only “those idiots” had not won the election.”

Unprincipled and venal politicians are common, of course, and so are uninformed citizens.

However, I shall argue that it is neither the voter (or the non-voter) nor the politicians that are the real problem. The root cause, I believe, is the system, the system of free elections that we hold so dear, and which nevertheless is deeply flawed.

In a nutshell, elections don’t give the results we desire because they cannot.

The Failure of Elections: Twenty–Four Defects

There are many reasons why elections don’t work very well, including the following:

  1. Elections are all too vulnerable to fraud. Votes are lost or falsely declared invalid, ballot boxes are stolen or stuffed with fake votes, some voters vote many times, electronic voting machines have buggy software, recounts are impossible because there is no permanent record, or “it could not be done in the time available” or are “too expensive”, and so on.

    To be sure, one might argue that these are not so much faults as abuses of the system. But without elections these abuses could not occur, so this is a weak argument: it amounts to admitting that elections are vulnerable.

  2. In principle, anyone can stand as a candidate, and the voter can choose any candidate whatsoever. But modern election campaigns require huge sums of moneyi, so in practice only those who have the backing of wealthy organisations and individuals can realistically be candidates. Generally speaking then, the ordinary citizen can neither be a candidate, nor vote for the candidate he or she would prefer, since the only candidates “available” – that is to say who have a hope of getting elected – are those who please these powerful groups. Our choice is limited to a small number of candidates chosen by others.
  3. Since survival (that is to say re-election) in politics depends on this finance, elected politicians must – at least to some extent – put the interests of their financial supporters before those of the public or risk losing their backing at the next election, which may mean certain loss of the election.

    The interests of these supporters, of course, have nothing to do with your interests or mine, or those of the rest of the electors.

  4. The electoral system makes parties necessary. Even if election campaign expenditure were rigorously limited to zero, it would still be necessary for candidates to form groups. An unknown, independent candidate has no chance of election, because the electorate has no idea of what he or she stands for, and fears the unknown: “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t”.

    Even a celebrity, a sporting hero or actor, for instance, will have to work very hard to make his policies known and his candidature credible. A new candidate belonging to a large party, on the other hand, has a better chance of election, because most voters have a rough idea of what to expect, and will vote for the party whoever the candidate is.

    Now electoral politics is adversarial. Parties struggle to be elected, and to prevent other parties taking power. Party strategists work hard, by means of gimmicks – funny hats in party colours, slogans, ribbons, banners, streamers, etc – to promote a sense of party loyalty in the voters, a sense of belonging to a group. The strategists deliberately polarise the voters, always stressing the division between “us” and “them”. Politicians, by their denigration of opponents, (and also by their questionable behaviour) further this polarisation.

    No tactic is too base, too ignoble. Opposing candidates’ private lives are searched for anything that will discredit them. Calumny is just part of the game. It doesn’t matter if a discreditable report is true or false, mud sticks and the campaign managers know it, and the only thing that counts is the public’s reaction on election day. Who cares if there’s a bit of a scandal or the threat of a libel suit just after the election, as long as our guy gets elected?

    Media reports of elections are couched in competitive metaphors, like those of a sporting match, or even in warlike terms, (“fight to the death” etc) and stress the battle between parties. It is not surprising that the voters often support their party (and abhor the opposition) in a “tribal” fashion, fervently and uncritically, like some supporters of football clubs. Whether or not this helps the candidate, it often leads to serious violence, and never to thoughtful consideration of issues. And surely politics ought to be about issues, not about personalities or “party loyalty”.

  5. Some countries subsidise political campaigns at taxpayers’ expense, ostensibly in order to reduce the effect of donations by wealthy groups. Unfortunately this leads to an unfair advantage for some parties, generally the largest, since the money is usually given in proportion to the votes that each party receives, or is limited to parties that gain more than a certain percentage of the vote. This serves to strengthen already powerful parties and discourages small parties with new – or at least different – policies. The American Political Action Committees, by donating only to the two major parties, have a similar effect, indeed it is sometimes even argued – absurdly – that they are necessary in order to exclude minor parties, in the name of stability.
  6. The motivation of candidates is open to question. There is a saying that “no man who seeks power is fit to exercise it”. Does your candidate want to change the laws to feather his own nest? Or is he high-minded and honest, and merely gets a buzz from making up rules for other people to obey? Or is he a complete “power-freak” in the early stages of megalomania?

    It happens often that the politicians’ only aim, once elected, is to hang on to power and position by any means available. We can’t blame them too much: it’s perfectly understandable if they have been in politics – and out of the real world – for a long time, so that politics is their only way of making a living and supporting a family.

  7. Party politics always involves compromise. By joining a party, or voting for its candidate, we are obliged to compromise. We don’t all think alike, so the aims of any candidate or party will be different from ours. In the hope of furthering our principal political goals we have to vote for someone who will not attempt to bring about our other goals, which we thus effectively sacrifice, presumably because we regard them as less important.

    Once elected, the politician will achieve nothing without cooperating with other elected members, and that entails more compromise. Your candidate may promise to act as you would wish on a particular issue, and may even completely agree with you on that issue, and yet make a contrary vote, following the party line. The “representative” will justify this by saying that in order to get anything useful done, she or he and the party must stay in power, and if a compromise is necessary to stay in power, then so be it, that compromise must be made. Which is all quite true in pragmatic terms, but what has happened to the candidate’s integrity?

    Where, as in the US, politicians are not held to vote strictly according to the party’s dictates, the need to compromise in order to achieve anything can lead to a bizarre form of horse trading. “Will you vote for the new aircraft carrier?” “I can’t possibly do that. I promised to work to reduce government spending.” “Suppose you got a subsidy for planting new wheat varieties and a 150% tax rebate on farm machines?” “Throw in a four-lane bridge across the Muddy River and I’ll vote for the war against XXX as well.” And so important decisions depend on matters that have nothing to do with the question being considered, and usually nothing to do with any promises made at election time.

  8. Slogans rule! A candidate who says clearly what he or she means to do is immediately at a disadvantage with respect to those who offer meaningless formulas. A well-defined policy can be attacked, misrepresented, quoted out of context, and ridiculed. Slogans like “It’s time” “Yes, we can” and so forth have too little meaning in them to be capable of being distorted, though they help to rally the party faithful.
  9. The information the public receives from the media is always incomplete and biased, often grotesquely so. The media depend on advertising revenue, and even in the absence of overt pressure, self-censor their news content. To keep their readership or audience, and hence their revenue, they sensationalise their reports: nothing sells like fear. Also, given the pressures on editors, it is not surprising that even the best sometimes uncritically reprint or broadcast propaganda prepared by “spin doctors”. The media’s tendency to treat elections as sporting events, besides polarising the electorate, focuses on the fortunes of the candidates and the parties, not on their policies. (Even in this shallow treatment they can be grotesquely wrongii). Commercial television, in particular, favours the 10 second “sound bite” rather than any detailed discussion of policies or past performanceiii.
  10. Even if we had politicians with clear policies which the politicians honestly intended to implement , and which were accurately presented to us by the media, those policies could not take account of future events. Should we then vote for the declared policy, or for the person likely to make the best decisions in unknown circumstances? Either way, you cannot know what a politician will do once in power. This problem is inevitable because we vote for a person or a party, never on an issue except (rarely) in a referendum.
  11. It is all too easy for elected politicians to abusively influence school curricula, and a strong motive for doing so is to persuade future voters to favour the ideology of the politicians’ party or group. The tinkering with curricula by some US school boards to include creationism is notorious, and Japan’s reluctance to acknowledge its militarist past is a consequence of the influence of nationalist politicians. The present Turkishiv and Hungarian governmentsv are also accused of fiddling with the school syllabus for political and ideological ends.
  12. Voting systems and counting methods are never perfect, and often very far from ideal. Even in the absence of corruption or tampering with the ballot, votes don’t count equally: a vote in a swinging electorate is more valuable than one in a “safe” seat. For example, in a system with one seat per electorate, a party with 30% of the popular vote will win no seats at all if its voters are evenly distributed in all electorates. On the other hand, it will win a very comfortable majority if its supporters make up 51% of the population in 59% of electorates.

    People with similar political views or interests tend to be grouped in certain areas. This makes possible the gerrymander, where electoral boundaries are drawn to favour one or another party vi. Unfortunately, even without the gerrymander, electoral boundaries can never be perfectly fair. Many countries have inequality of the vote “built-in”, as in the case of the US Senatevii, and the Australian Senate, where each state has the same number of votes, regardless of population.

    Some countries have adopted quite complicated voting systems to try to reduce such unfairness. Nevertheless, it is still common for a government to be elected which is not preferred by the majority of votes cast, even when there are no irregularities.

  13. In the common case where there are two large, approximately equal parties, a small party may exercise power that is out of all proportion to its size, if it is needed to form a governing coalitionviii. Conversely, if it is not needed, its voice will not be heard.
  14. There are fundamental philosophical problems with elections. One of the most important is known as the “Mandate-Independence Controversy” and has been summarised thus:

    “Should a representative do what his constituents want, and be bound by mandates from them, or should he be free to act as best seems to him in pursuit of their interests.”ix

    If we adopt the first position, and say he is to act as the mere instrument of his constituency, how can the representative get the opinion of each of thousands of constituents on every issue, and how is he to balance a large number of lukewarm “Yeses” against a few strongly-held “Noes”?x

    On the other hand, if we think he should be free to act as he sees fit, in effect we accept the idea that he should act as the “guardian” of his electors, that is to say we approve the extremely dubious notion that the representative knows better than the constituents what is in their best interest.

  15. In the usual case where a politician is supposed to “represent” a constituency and not the people as a whole, another theoretical question arises: Should he act always in favour of the narrow interests of the constituency which elected him, or should he attempt to follow the “national” interest, as he sees it? Usually, of course, he will do neither, and will follow the interest or the instructions of his party.
  16. There are also mathematical problems. Two candidates (much less one!) cannot embody all possible political tendencies. Where there are more than two candidates, it has been shown mathematically that it is not possible to design a fair system, either for ranking the candidates, or selecting an outright winnerxixiixiii It is true that this mathematical problem applies whether voters vote for alternative candidates or alternative proposals. However, it is sometimes possible to present proposals in the form “A” or “not-A”, so that the question of ranking does not arise, or to amend a proposal to make it acceptable to a clear majority, by removing parts that offend some voters. (If only we could do this with candidates!)
  17. The costs of voting will normally exceed the expected benefits to the voter, because the chance of exercising the “pivotal” vote (the vote that decides the election) is minusculexiv. Why then should the voter take the trouble of studying either the candidates or their professed policies? (This is the problem of “rational ignorance”). It is for this reason, and not from indifference, that many of us don’t vote.
  18. A spectacular event which stirs emotions can swing an election in a way that voters later regret. The media’s need of sensationalism exacerbates this. Perhaps the most obvious recent example is the destruction of the World Trade Center in 2001. (“9/11”)
  19. In spite of being called “representatives”, in practice our elected politicians are not typical of the people they are supposed to represent; they are not the “portrait in miniature”xv of the people, since they do not have the same problems, aspirations, standard of living, and so forth. In short, they are an elite, and cannot be expected to vote as would the public they “represent”.
  20. The adversarial nature of electoral politics means that for reasons of saving face politicians may become “locked into” a policy which they later realise is undesirable; they become victims of their own prior propaganda. Admitting an error may be fatal to their chances of re-election.
  21. The low turnout that we commonly see (frequently around 60%) means that a candidate or party is often elected with the vote of only about 30% of those eligible to votexvi. Compulsory voting does not solve this problem, as it is impossible to enforce, and those who would not otherwise vote may make a blank or invalid vote, or where preference voting (“Instant Run-off Voting”) is used, may vote 1,2,3 . . . straight down the page (the “donkey vote”).
  22. Attempts to buy votes on election day are made – sometimes veiled, such as by arranging taxis to take elderly voters to the polls – sometimes blatant, such as by handing out cans of beer to voters.

    In countries where the secrecy of the ballot is not respected, voters may be intimidated, and fear violence if they do not vote for a certain candidate.

    In some countries the influence of religion is so strong that voters may be intimidated by it and fear fire and brimstone in the after-life or reincarnation as a cockroach if they do not vote for a candidate approved by the clergy. Religious leaders may dictate policies to candidates, and candidates or parties may find it to their advantage to ingratiate themselves with the clergy by making undertakings which remain undisclosed to the public. The influence of the Catholic church on such topics as birth control, abortion, and Sunday trading, for example, is notorious, but the Catholic church is far from being the only religious institution which has used its influence in this way.

    All these practices mean that the true wishes of the voter are not reflected in the vote.

  23. We are sometimes told that elections serve to hold politicians accountable for their actions. This argument is breathtaking in its naivety – or its cynicism. In the time between elections, typically between three and six years, hundreds of decisions are made by the legislators. For any citizen, some will be desirable, some irrelevant, some undesirable, and some grossly immoral or inequitable. How then are the electors to hold the politicians accountable? In any event, the electors’ concern is presumably with the years to come, not the mistakes of the past. How are they to know that the alternative offered by the other party will be better in the future?

    In fact, as far as accountability is concerned, we are in the situation of passengers in a bus driven by a drunk, in which all the seats face the rear. After a period of blundering into every conceivable obstacle along one side of the road, the bus halts briefly. Aghast, we implore another driver to take over: we can’t know what he will do, but surely nothing could be worse than what we’ve just been through. The new driver takes the wheel with a smile, swears that all will now be well, and promptly drives us into the ditch on the other side of the road. What do we do next? Do we then ask the first driver to take over?

  24. Finally, there is the question of the moral responsibility of electors. At election time politicians of all parties urge us to vote. If we do not vote, they say, we are irresponsible. “Every nation has the government it deserves” we are told; if we do not vote we deserve poor government. But if we do vote, we still get poor government. And by voting, we have approved the monstrous charade that we call elections. Either way, we are guilty!

To summarise:

Elections are wide open to abuse. (§§ 1, 2, 21).

In general, the ordinary citizen cannot be a candidate (§1), cannot vote for the person or (generally speaking) the policies he or she wants (§§ 1,6,21), the elector is kept uninformed and cannot know what a candidate will do once elected (§§ 2, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 12, 22).

The election is always inequitable (§§ 11, 12, 15, 16, 17, 20), and the person elected will not act in the elector’s or the public interest (§§ 4, 10, 17, 18).

We cannot hold politicians to account in any effective way (§22); and even a politician whose heart is as pure as the driven snow cannot know what he or she ought to do when elected (§§ 13, 14).

The nature of the political process is divisive, polarises the electorate, and can lead to violence. (§3).

It may also prevent necessary adjustments of policy (§19).

And at the end of the day it’s all our fault! (§23)

O wonderful world of elections!

There are no new discoveries here, of course. These defects are well-known to political scientists and, in part at least, to the rest of us, though we tend to forget them. As my barber said the other day, the problem is that we do not vote on issues, we vote for – or against – people.

It is important to realise that the problems above are also inseparable from elections: they cannot be fixed by tweaking the system.

In spite of this we still (thoughtlessly!) assume that free elections mean democracy and freedom. We call our system “representative democracy” although, as even the cursory review above shows, modern states are neither representative nor democratic.

And yet Aristotlexvii and Montesquieuxviii recognised that elections lead to oligarchy, not democracy!

(Because the term is established although it is a complete misnomer, I shall continue to use “representative democracy” to describe the type of elected government that we find in “western” and similar nations – including Japan and India, for instance.)

To avoid being misunderstood, I must emphasise that it is not the concept of democracy that I attack here. What I am attacking is the assumption that our present regimes involving elections are the best way – or indeed even a successful way – to ensure democracy. There is a better alternative, but before considering that alternative,we should look at some criteria of democracy, and consider how well representative democracy fulfils them.

Elections and Criteria for Democracy

Two highly regarded political scientists, James Fishkin and Robert Dahl, have each given a list of conditions which they believe are necessary and sufficient for democracy. Taking Fishkin first, he gives three criteria, which he calls “Political Equality”, “Non-tyranny” and “Deliberation”.xix

(Note: In what follows, the references in the form (§5) are to the numbered paragraphs above).

Fishkin’s Criteria

1 Political Equality

Fishkin defines this as follows:

“By political equality I mean the institutionalisation of a system which grants equal consideration to everyone’s preferences and which grants everyone appropriately equal opportunities to formulate preferences on the issues under consideration”xx

He expands this with the following subdivisions and explanations:

1a Formal Political Equality

This comes about:

“when every voter has an equal probability of being the decisive voter”

In other words, all votes must have equal weight, there must be no gerrymander, or electoral fraud.

As we have seen, with elections fraud often occurs, and voting methods always give unequal weight to votes depending on where the elector lives, or which party or candidate he or she supports.(§§ 1, 11, 12, 21)

1b Insulation

Voters must be protected from threats, and attempts to bribe them:

“threats or bargains outside the political sphere should not determine results within the political sphere”xxi

Thus there must be no carrots or sticks – not “even in the afterlife “, as he says, not frivolously, for the influence of religious promises and threats should not be underestimated. (§21)

We have noted that voter intimidation occurs (§21). “Pork-barrelling” – as in our example of the Muddy River bridge (§6) – is common; we may consider that this is “outside the political sphere” because it is external to the question of whether the aircraft carrier is justified. Attempts to buy votes occur (§21) And in the parliament members are apt – or obliged – to put the preferences of their financial supporters before those of the electors (§2). There need not be an explicit threat; politicians know very well which policies suit their backers.

1c Effective Hearing

Voters must have access to all the information necessary to make a decision, and the capacity to use that information:

“Unless the media permit the full range of views . . . to get access to the media on issues of intense interest to the proponents of those views, then full realisation of political equality has fallen short”xxii

This assumes

“appropriate background conditions of education preparing everyone for some minimal degree of autonomous citizenship”xxiii

We must ask how this effective hearing is possible when media coverage of elections is trivial, biased, and self-censored, when nearly meaningless slogans take the place of policy statements, and when deals are made of which the elector can have no knowledge? (§§ 3, 6, 7, 8, 16, 21)

2 Non-tyranny

“By tyranny I mean the choice of a policy that imposes severe deprivations when an alternative policy could have been chosen that would have imposed no severe deprivations on anyone”xxiv

“Non-tyranny” is in fact the hardest condition to ensure in any system. Unfortunately it is widespread. To take examples only from the second half of the 20th and early 21st centuries, there are:

The harassment of US citizens by the Commission on Un-American Activities.

The conscription of youths under voting age for the war in Vietnam.

The eviction of the inhabitants of Diego Garcia, in the Chagos Is, by the British government.

Actions by the Israeli government, including the forced expropriation of land for the establishment of Israeli colonies, destruction of property, and reprisal killings in the Occupied Territories of Palestine.

The forced removal of children from their parents in Australia (the “Stolen Generation”)

The violation of the civil rights of blacks in the South of the US, in South Africa, and Australia.

The reader can probably think of dozens of other examples drawn from the last 60 years, without including the abuses inflicted by “democratic” regimes on their overseas subjects during the colonial period.

We can only conclude that elections are a very imperfect barrier to tyranny.

3 Deliberation

For this, Fishkin gives a definition drawn from Jurgen Habermas:

“a situation of free and equal discussion, unlimited in its duration, constrained only by the consensus which would be arrived at by the “force of the better argument” “xxv

As he notes, this is somewhat utopian, since time constraints will always exist in practice. Nevertheless, its succinctness makes this a good point of departure. He adds that:

“Participants must be willing to consider the arguments offered on their merits. “xxvi

Here, it seems, Fishkin is talking of debate on issues, rather than on candidates. But the representative system, with its attendant parties, essentially gives us a choice of candidates, not of issues (§3). We can hardly “deliberate” about them, because we do not receive all relevant information (§§6,7,8) and so we are left to speculate about what their actions might be, and to hope that we will not be let down as badly as we were last time. There is, of course, the stage-managed discussion that occurs on TV panels, and radio talk-back shows, but it is mainly window-dressing and succeeds mostly in influencing people who have no power to decide.

As for the possibility of deliberation on issues within the elected body, it is severely limited by party tactics and strategy (§6), by party whips, by the “guillotine” and by the filibuster. In practice, important decisions are made behind closed doors, and the discussion in the parliament is largely a matter of scoring points off the opposing party, and not at all about finding good policies.

So such deliberation as influences policy generally takes place out of the public’s view, while public deliberation has little or no practical effect.

Dahl’s Criteria

In his 1989 publication “Democracy and its Critics” Robert Dahl gives similar requirements, five in number:

1 Effective Participation

“Throughout the process of making binding decisions, citizens ought to have an adequate opportunity, and an equal opportunity, for expressing their preferences as to the final outcome. They must have adequate and equal opportunities for placing questions on the agenda and for expressing reasons for endorsing one outcome rather than another.”xxvii

At election time, ordinary citizens in our representative democracies have almost no chance of placing questions on the agenda, and very limited opportunities for expressing reasons for endorsing one outcome (election of one candidate or party) rather than another. This is reserved to a very small group: politicians themselves, political journalists and editorialists, celebrities, and media proprietors. Still, we can indulge in the pleasure of writing a letter to the editor, and not seeing it published, unless it suits that eminent person’s notions. And then there is always the opportunity to wear a silly hat and daub our cheeks with a party’s colours, or to write on toilet walls . . .

Once the election is over, of course, we can march in the streets with a few tens of thousands of our close friends; this is likely to have no effect at all unless the numbers are sufficient to terrify the politicians, when they are quite likely to abjectly give in, without any possibility of knowing whether the demonstrators represent a majority of the electorate or not.

2 Voting Equality at the Decisive Stage

“At the decisive stage of collective decisions each citizen must be ensured an equal opportunity to express a choice that will be counted as equal in weight to the choice expressed by any other citizen. In determining outcomes at the decisive stage, these choices, and only these choices, must be taken into account.”xxviii

We have seen (§§ 1, 11) that this requirement is breached when candidates are elected. Since this means that representation in the parliament is biased, clearly it is breached when issues are decided in parliament. If we were in doubt as to this latter point, we would only have to consider §§ 2, 5, 6, 12, 18, 19, and 21. In any event, as far as our preferences on individual issues are concerned, §§ 9, 13, 14, and 15 mean that it is meaningless to pose the question of whether our preferences are taken into account fairly. It is simply not possible!

3 Enlightened Understanding

“Each citizen ought to have adequate and equal opportunities for discovering and validating (within the time permitted by the need for a decision) the choice on the matter to be decided that would best serve the citizen’s interests.”xxix

Citizens almost never vote directly on issues, so the only “matter to be decided” is the election of parties and “representatives”. Although candidates and parties often have a “platform”, it is anybody’s guess which parts of it they will choose to honour, and which undeclared policies they will spring on the unsuspecting public once they are in power. We can only conclude that no enlightened understanding is possible under representative democracy.

4 Control of the Agenda

“The demos must have the exclusive opportunity to decide how matters are to be placed on the agenda of matters that are to be decided by means of the democratic process.”xxx

(“demos“, in Dahl’s usage, is the voting public and does not include children, or persons excluded from voting for whatever reason.)

Clearly Dahl here is referring to the issues: proposals for laws and so forth rather than the election of candidates. The agenda is decided by the party leaders, usually behind closed doors. Not even the rank and file elected members have much say on the agenda, much less the demos. Issues which arouse strong views in the public may end up on the agenda, if it suits the party in power. We have no control of the agenda at all!

5 Inclusion

“The demos must include all adults . . . except transients and persons proved to be mentally defective.”xxxi

This is the one requirement which representative democracy comes close to meeting in some states, though only very recently. France excluded women – half the population – until 1946, Switzerland until 1971, Australia excluded aborigines until 1982, the southern states of the US put so many difficulties in the way of blacks wishing to vote that they were effectively excluded until at least the 1960s, and Israel still does not permit residents of the Occupied Territories to vote for the Israeli parliament, although it holds effective power over them.

On the whole, must we not say that representative democracy scores rather badly?

Two solutions, or rather two groups of solutions, have been proposed to remedy the defaults of representative democracy, direct democracy and sortition.


i For instance:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Campaign_finance_in_the_United_States ” . . . In 2008, candidates for office, political parties, and independent groups spent a total of $5.3 billion on federal elections. The amount spent on the presidential race alone was $2.4 billion”.

ii Many political pundits incorrectly predicted a win for Mitt Romney in the 2012 US Presidential election, based, it would seem, at best on “gut feeling”, at worst on wishful thinking compounded with the desire to make a self-fulfilling prophecy. The honourable exceptions were Nate Silver, who correctly predicted results in 49 out of 50 states, and staff of University political science faculties. http://techcrunch.com/2012/11/07/pundit-forecasts-all-wrong-silver-perfectly-right-is-punditry-dead/.

iii See Fishkin, James S, Democracy and Deliberation, 1991, Yale University, p 63.

iv Dinç, Erkan, “some authors argued that the previous Turkish History Curriculum possessed a nationalistic and ethnocentric approach (Behar, 1996; Copeaux, 1998; Millas, 1998). The Turkish curriculum was criticized as aiming to inculcate particular socio-political or ideological perspectives (Dinç, 2001) and to introduce a nationalistic version of history through its content and the aims and objectives it presents (Aydin, 2001; Dinç, 2006; Özbaran, 1997; Tekeli, 1998 . . .” https://www.questia.com/library/journal/1P3-2546614681/a-comparative-investigation-of-the-previous-and-new.

v “To curriculum critics, politicians are using the education system to play to these [nationalist] sentiments.” – Peter Murphy, http://www.tol.org/client/article/23245-hungarys-new-curriculum-writing-wrongs.html “A few days ago I noticed a new attempt by the Christian Democratic People’s party (KDNP) to shove religious education down the throats of a basically secular Hungarian society. . . Zsolt Semjén, the chairman of KDNP, makes no secret of the fact that his party is the political arm of the Catholic Church.” – Eva S Balogh, https://hungarianspectrum.wordpress.com/2013/04/02/introducing-religion-as-part-of-the-curriculum-in-hungarian-public-schools/

vi For instance: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steele_Hall ” . . However, by the 1960s, even though Adelaide accounted for two-thirds of the state’s population, a vote in Adelaide was effectively worth only half a country vote. . .”

vii See Dahl, Robert A, A Preface to Democratic Theory, University of Chicago Press, 1956, p 116.

viii For instance the Democratic Labor Party in Australia held the balance of power between the late 50s and 1972, with less than 12% of the popular vote, and was able to keep Labor out of office, and impose its policies on the ruling Liberal Party (notably on the issue of State Aid to Church schools). See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democratic_Labor_Party_%28historical%29

ix Pitkin, Hannah F, The Concept of Representation, 1967, University of California Press, p 145

x See Dahl, op cit, p 48 sqq.

xv John Adams, “Letter to John Penn” in Works IV, 205. Available at http://oll.libertyfund.org.

xvi According to Wikipedia, in the 2012 US Presidential election, the turnout was 58.2%, and Obama won 51.08% of the popular vote, which means 29.7% of eligible Americans voted for him,. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2012_us_presidential_election#cite_ref-VEP12_1-0 citing McDonald, Michael (March 25, 2013). “2012 General Election Turnout Rates”, . George Mason University. Retrieved April 12, 2013.( This link is broken now.) The US Census figure for turnout was 61.8% (http://www.census.gov/prod/2013pubs/p20-568.pdf), which means 31.6% of the electorate elected Obama.

xvii Politics Book IV, Ch 9 “it seems correspondent to the nature of a democracy, that the magistrates should be chosen by lot, but an aristocracy by vote,” (tr Ellis, W., available: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/6762.

xviii Esprit des Lois, Livre II, ch 2: “Le suffrage par le sort est de la nature de la démocratie; le suffrage par choix est de celle de l’aristocratie.”

xix Fishkin, op cit, Ch 4.

xx Ibid, pp 30, 31.

xxi Ibid p 32.

xxii Fishkin, op cit, p 33.

xxiii Ibid, p 33.

xxiv Ibid, p 34.

xxv Ibid, p 36.

xxviIbid, p 37.

xxvii Dahl, Robert A, Democracy and its Critics, 1989, Yale University, p 109.

xxviii Ibid, p 109

xxix Ibid, p 112.

xxx Ibid, p 113.

xxxi Ibid, p 129.
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64 Responses

  1. Very nicely put Campbell (though a little long for a blog post). Only one point:

    >It is not surprising that the voters often support their party (and abhor the opposition) in a “tribal” fashion, fervently and uncritically, like some supporters of football clubs. Whether or not this helps the candidate, it often leads to serious violence, and never to thoughtful consideration of issues.

    Historians might suggest this puts the cart before the horse, and that parties are an attempt to civilise pre-existing antagonisms, by converting swords into ballot boxes.

    >Party politics always involves compromise.

    Unfortunate to kick off the argument of this section with this phrase, as compromise is generally seen as a good thing. You make it clear later exactly what you mean, but better not to get people’s backs up.

    But a great introduction, and look forward to seeing the follow up.

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  2. PS, just in case you think I’ve gone soft, I absolutely HATE the title! Putting the word “pure” into political proposals always makes me think of Pol Pot.

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  3. Good stuff. I’d suggest modifying slightly your statement in the summary of the 24 points where you say: “they cannot be fixed by tweaking the system.” A few of them (like § 3) might be fixed or made significantly better (like replacing campaign contributors with public financing)… and a reader who realizes this “error” may discount your conclusion… perhaps you could say “even if a few of these could be remedied through various tweaks, the overall system of elections cannot be fixed”… or something like that.

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  4. > I shall continue to use “representative democracy” to describe the type of elected government that we find in “western” and similar nations

    This is counter-productive terminology. Now you have to argue that “representative democracy” is not a democracy. Why not just say “elections-based government” or “electoral government”?

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  5. First, thanks to everyone for the comments, I appreciate them.

    >”Historians might suggest this puts the cart before the horse, and that parties are an attempt to civilise pre-existing antagonisms, by converting swords into ballot boxes.”
    Yes, I’ve heard this suggestion before, but I can’t agree with it.

    >”but better not to get people’s backs up.”
    I shall think about this. Compromise can be both good and bad.

    >” I absolutely HATE the title! ”
    It’s not the title. It’s a description. It’s also only approximately true, as you’ll see later.
    >”Putting the word “pure” into political proposals always makes me think of Pol Pot.”
    Elections make me think of Hun Sen.

    >” I’d suggest modifying slightly your statement in the summary of the 24 points where you say: “they cannot be fixed by tweaking the system.” A few of them (like § 3) might be fixed or made significantly better (like replacing campaign contributors with public financing)”
    I don’t really agree that public financing improves things, but thanks for pointing out something that could be picked on.

    >”Now you have to argue that “representative democracy” is not a democracy.”
    That’s actually the whole thrust of my diatribe. (Maybe I’m not strident enough?)

    The terminology is definitely a PITA, and it’s because of the assumption that elections = democracy. On the one hand, I feel (strongly!) that they don’t. On the other, who am I to say that accepted usage of English is incorrect?

    >”Why not just say “elections-based government” or “electoral government”?
    “representative democracy” seems to roll glibly off so many tongues and pens.

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  6. anonymous wuz I, of course. Oops

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  7. Interesting post. I look forward to reading the rest.

    I believe we’ve already gone several rounds over a few of these things. I won’t bother you about them.

    Regarding 12) and 16), the modern electoral system designer has a remarkable toolkit. Issues like you describe have more to do with institutional inertia than anything else. If your target audience is the US, then arguments about gerrymandering and Condorcet’s paradox will carry weight. That said, they aren’t really arguments against elections in principle.

    Regarding 7), it is difficult to imagine politics without compromise. You have to get to a majority somehow. Everyone has different preferences and the strength of their preferences should come into play as well. In a sortition based government all compromise must come after the selection process. In an elected government some portion (or practically all) of the compromise happens before the selection process (election), depending on the party system. The pre-selection compromise/post-selection compromise slider is moved all the way to the post-selection side. Trade, be it in a market or a parliament, gives advantage to both participants. If it didn’t, they wouldn’t agree to it. The question is whether elected representatives can serve as effective surrogates for their constituents and whether allotted individuals would be able to do so more effectively.

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  8. Campbell,

    >> ”Now you have to argue that “representative democracy” is not a democracy.”
    > That’s actually the whole thrust of my diatribe.

    I know – that’s exactly the problem. This terminology makes your point seem self-contradictory.

    > “representative democracy” seems to roll glibly off so many tongues and pens.

    Again, that is exactly the problem. This needs to be changed, not accepted.

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  9. >”If your target audience is the US, then arguments about gerrymandering and Condorcet’s paradox will carry weight. That said, they aren’t really arguments against elections in principle.”
    My answer to this, as far as gerrymandering is concerned, is the last sentence of §1:
    “without elections these abuses could not occur, so this is a weak argument: it amounts to admitting that elections are vulnerable.”

    >” the strength of their preferences should come into play as well.”
    I find this extremely dubious. There are people out there who feel _very_ strongly that women ought to be obliged to wear a chador, and that infidels like me should be blasted away with a burst from a Kalachnikov. Should those views prevail because they are held passionately?
    How would you measure the strength of their preferences in practice?

    >”In a sortition based government all compromise must come after the selection process.”
    Yes, and it can come on each issue in turn, not on a sort of package deal, where you can’t even see the contents of the package.

    >”that’s exactly the problem. This terminology makes your point seem self-contradictory.”
    Perhaps a change is called for. I’ll give it more thought, Yoram. The argument must not only be logical, it must be seen to be logical.
    Right now, though, I’ve got some (un)-formatting to do.

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  10. Hi Campbell,

    Did you mention the main reason why elections don’t work very well?

    I think that the main reason why elections don’t work very well is the fact that in some cases politics does n’t work very well in itself Take, for example, the illegal immigration in the US. They, the politicians, simply cannot do anything about it. Should they expel all illegal immigrants by force? They will never do so, because they will never decide for what they think that the electorate considers as an ‘immoral act’. You have the same problem with the illegal immigration in West Europe from Africa. Should they send back all the boats coming from Africa? Do you think, that the North African countries would allow this? Another example is unemployment. Unemployment is mainly caused by economic factors, which are outside the influence of politics. It is not by chance that some Arabic countries are very rich (no unemployment) simply because they have oil and some other Arabic countries are very poor because they simply have no resources. A third example is discrimination. Politicians cannot change what’s going on in the mind of the citizens. A fourth example is the distribution of income. Why not equal incomes for everybody or for every household. The latter would be a problem, because people might start to get more children in order to get more money. But okay, Why not equal incomes?  If from one day to the other this would be implemented then probably many people would start not to work anymore. Anyway, that is what politicians would think. Therefore, no serious actions regarding income distribution measures. One thing is very strange. Searching the Internet for sites with “Why Not Equal Incomes? “ resulted in only  three websites. It seems that people even do not want to think about is. A fifth example is the immediate closing of all carbon dioxide emission power plants. Of course, this would result in a severe energy problem for which no one has a solution at the moment.
    In all of these cases, politicians cannot do much about it,

    I’m curious for your answer!

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  11. > “My answer to this, as far as gerrymandering is concerned, is the last sentence of §1”

    Yes, but you also say: “It is important to realise that the problems above are also inseparable from elections: they cannot be fixed by tweaking the system.”

    Anyone knowledgeable about electoral systems will know that this is not the case for some if the items on your list, throwing doubt on the rest of your points. If your target audience is average Joes… including such things may be helpful. If it includes fellow reform-minded individuals you stand to put potential allies on the defensive.

    > “Should those views prevail because they are held passionately?
    How would you measure the strength of their preferences in practice?”

    Willingness to trade one’s vote shows the strength of one’s preferences quite elegantly. People give up their votes on the things that matter little to them to get the things that matter more. Minorities, for example, get leverage in proportion to their numerical strength. Avoiding “tyranny of the majority” is the first concern of an oppressed minority population. They are happy to trade their votes for relief at every opportunity, providing a natural self-protection mechanism that does not depend on the whims of a court and the willingness of the rest of the political system to obey the court. In the case of your example, chadors and blasting infidels, the majority still has to vote in favor. You still have majority rule. The scope is simply higher. Package agreements over individual details.

    Package deals are how circular preferences are conventionally resolved. Say you have three incompatible policies, A, B, and C. All three can win a majority, but most people prefer A over B, B over C, and C over A. Which one prevails? Normally, the scope of a package will simply expand until the entire compromise plan has stability. How else can you break free of this paradox without introducing more factors?

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  12. avanderven: “I think that the main reason why elections don’t work very well is the fact that in some cases politics does n’t work very well in itself”

    Agreed. People are generally upset about not getting the policies they want, rather than the process. Would changing the process give people the results they want? Maybe. As the effect of sortition is still unknown, it is all to easy to assume that things will be more likely to go in the direction we personally favor. Kinda like the institutional equivalent of Obama circa 2008.

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  13. Nevertheless I am strongly in favor of mondial lottocracy, go to:

    http://www.socsci.ru.nl/advdv/leonbook/node16.html

    You really should read this.

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  14. >”In all of these cases, politicians cannot do much about it,”
    Yes, but a government chosen by lot could, except possibly for discrimination.
    I think some politicians get very good mileage out of encouraging fear, and hence hatred. At least members chosen by lot would have no reason to cynically make matters worse.
    Immigration, economic policy, social policy, energy policy are all very involved issues. In later posts I shall explain why and how I think a sortition-based government could come up with fairer and more effective policies.

    >”Anyone knowledgeable about electoral systems will know that this is not the case for some if the items on your list, throwing doubt on the rest of your points.”
    Could you be more specific? If there are factual errors in this I should very much like to know precisely what and where so I can correct them. Terry seems to agree with you, and I’d like to hear more from him too.

    >” If your target audience is average Joes… including such things may be helpful.”
    Whether the Joes of the audience are average, moronic, or geniuses, I don’t wish to say things that are untrue.

    I touch on tyranny of the majority later. I don’t give a lot of time to the question of the Condorcet paradox. It’s insoluble in theory, but not often a problem in practice (as far as I know), and I think the structure I propose for a government based on sortition will give a very good chance of sidestepping circular choices.

    >”People give up their votes on the things that matter little to them to get the things that matter more.”
    Naomi I think I have already adequately said this in §7. The problem is that you don’t know what you’re getting in your package deal when you vote for a party or a person. Some people actually thought Obama would close Guantanamo. Some people thought they would get a Labour government with Tony Blair. Some people thought the Bush administration (and the Reagan one) would reduce government spending. Did that happen?

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  15. Naomi:

    >People are generally upset about not getting the policies they want, rather than the process. Would changing the process give people the results they want?

    That’s highly unlikely, absent some very strong assumptions about common interests and the general will of ordinary citizens that really don’t pertain to pluralistic multicultural societies. As a consequence the most important thing is the procedural legitimacy of the political system. Free and fair elections are, for the most part, perceived as legitimate by the losers as well as the winners, so I hope Campbell will be addressing the need for the ongoing legitimation of his proposed “pure” sortition system (as opposed to the initial social contract initiating the process, presumably by some form of public referendum).

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  16. I agree with Naomi and others that headlining “compromise” as a failing of electoral systems strikes a sour note for many readers, since compromise is generally viewed as a positive thing. You explain why it isn’t (to some extent) in your paragraphs that follow…but … Maybe headline it with “deal-making” which has a more sinister connotation, and better captures your point?

    In response to Naomi, who wrote… “Trade, be it in a market or a parliament, gives advantage to both participants.” Yes, but the “participants” are not the electorate, but rather partisan politicians intent on re-election, and the deal they strike on some vote swap might be very bad for nearly everybody else in society. Many on the right point to this vote swapping as a cause of the ratcheting up of inefficient or even counterproductive government spending (a Congressman agrees to fund a wasteful project in another District in exchange for a vote for a wasteful project in her own district, etc.) The specific situations in which compromise is genuinely a net positive depends on countless details, and cannot be asserted as a general truism.

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  17. > Could you be more specific?

    Sure. 12 and 16 apply almost strictly to single seat districts. Circular electoral preferences are fixed by a move to multiwinner systems. Circular policy preferences are something which are inherent in the body politic itself. Whether representatives are elected or drawn by lottery, a circular preference is reflected in a representative assembly unless you happen to have a selection system which artificially suppresses the representation of such things. Gerrymandering is a danger only in small district systems without a national-level compensation mechanism. With modern allocation methods it’s not hard to get a degree of proportionality limited only by the size of the overall body while still using arbitrarily small districts if you so desire. “Built-in” malapportionment is a design choice, and you could build-in malapportionment into any representative government if you were so inclined.

    Campaign finance is not really my specialty, so I’ll leave that one to Terry.

    > The problem is that you don’t know what you’re getting in your package deal when you vote for a party or a person.

    I was actually referring to packages agreed to by the legislature in negotiations internal to the legislative process. The potential for agency-loss in the electoral mechanism is great and undeniable, but ultimately unrelated to the compromise issue. A member of a legislature (no matter whether they got their by lottery or election) who trades their vote on a specific bill knows exactly what they are getting all the way down to the exact wording in the bill. Circular policy preferences are a non-issue in modern governments because policies are passed by stable majorities built around a common platform or coalition agreement. The single issue approach (outside the context of a larger agreement) with an assembly of nonpartisans is basically untried. To give an example, Coordination in the legislative process is vital, and the ability to generate and manage broadly agreeable trade-offs is probably central to efficient coordination.

    The Guantanamo Bay issue illustrates the damage that veto gates do to accountability. Obama won election on a platform of that included closing Guantanamo Bay. However, doing so requires an act of Congress for reasons of funding. He’s been dramatically reducing the number of detainees held there, ostensibly in the hopes of making the facility as expensive as possible on a per-prisoner basis to encourage Congressional action. How absurd is that? He still gets blamed for reneging on his promises, of course.

    Keith: “so I hope Campbell will be addressing the need for the ongoing legitimation of his proposed ‘pure’ sortition system”

    Me too. The transition period is of great interest to me as well. I accept that there *may* be viable legitimization mechanisms that could give free and fair elections a run for their money. We won’t know for sure until we try and see how they fair under stress. However, moving from one mechanism to another is an *extraordinarily* nontrivial process. The force of precident and public expectations stick like nothing else.

    Terry: “Yes, but the “participants” are not the electorate, but rather partisan politicians intent on re-election”

    Absolutely. That’s why I emphasized that this process is dependent on the degree to which the officials who make the trades can serve as surrogates for the electorate. Preventing excessive focus on local districts is one of several reasons why iron-clad party discipline is so important in a healthy electoral democracy. Having more actors than is necessary to represent the national-level policy dimension is problematic, be they in the form of a multitude of microparties or individual representatives who are free to act against the party’s own policy program. When you have too many actors, assigning blame for the actions (or inactions) of the assembly is difficult. No one is responsible for the behavior of the body as a whole. Each politician is only responsible for their own votes and the behavior of the body as a whole is an emergent property that arises from the interactions of the individual politicians that cannot be pinned on anyone in particular. Each politician is held accountable to a trivial fraction of the electorate. The actors are incentivized to act in a fashion consistent with keeping this trivial fraction of the electorate happy even at the expense of the big picture issues. Thus, in an election based system, each actor should represent a meaningful subdivision of the electorate on the national-level policy dimension. If the number of effective actors is only five or six, a compromise struck between two or three participants is a compromise struck between the representatives of a majority of the electorate.

    The question of how to consolidate preferences and coordinate policy in a pure sortition framework is much more difficult. The same problem of too many actors still exists. They don’t face district-level pressures but they will all certainly have their pet issues that they can hold out for.

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  18. Naomi:

    >The question of how to consolidate preferences and coordinate policy in a pure sortition framework is much more difficult. The same problem of too many actors still exists. They don’t face district-level pressures but they will all certainly have their pet issues that they can hold out for.

    Yes, that’s why sortition is only suitable for ad hoc legislative juries. Political parties can, in theory, provide a policy coordination role, but in practice you end up with Guantanamo and pork-trading. That’s why I apportion this role to the executive (especially as parties no longer represent stable long-term interests and are led by third-rate wannabees).

    >I accept that there *may* be viable legitimization mechanisms that could give free and fair elections a run for their money. We won’t know for sure until we try and see how they fare under stress.

    But we need to understand how they work in theory first (unless you are a follower of the Ben Bernanke school of making it up as you go along: “The problem with QE is it works in practice, but it doesn’t work in theory”). Sortition could only be legitimate in theory if different samples of the population return consistent verdicts, otherwise they cannot be said to be functionally representative. It’s no good just looking like America, they also need to act like America, and that requires a highly-constrained mandate. So my objection is not just to the title of Campbell’s piece (“pure” sortition), it’s to the substance (only a mixed constitution can be truly representative). So he’ll need a big gun if he’s going to despatch the elephant in the room (perceived legitimacy).

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  19. Thought the below email I just received was relevant — Campbell why don’t you apply?

    =================================

    As part of the new Sir Bernard Crick Centre for the Public Understanding of Politics the Department of Politics at the University of Sheffield is offering a fully-funded PhD studentship to work in the area of democratic reform and political (dis)engagement.

    This studentship will give an outstanding social sciences graduate the opportunity to pursue research under the Crick Centre’s research strand on ‘Political Institutions and Democratic Reform’. Prospective applicants are invited to propose a suitable topic for study under this broad heading. This might, for example, include the analysis of political parties in a context of falling membership, the use of new deliberative mechanisms, the role of ‘political listening’ as opposed to ‘political voice’ as a driver of institutional change or the role of non-traditional institutions in facilitating political engagement. Projects do not have to be focused on the UK and comparative research is welcomed. Studies that adopt an explicitly inter-disciplinary perspective are also encouraged, as joint supervision with academics from beyond the Department of Politics is possible.

    The Crick Centre is an externally facing research centre that operates on the basis of a commitment to ‘talk to multiple audiences in multiple ways’ and all applicants should therefore emphasize both the academic and non-academic relevance of their proposed project.

    Crick Centre for the Public Understanding of Politics: Fully Funded Research Studentship, 2015-2018

    University of Sheffield – Department of Politics

    The proposal should be succinct with a focus on the specific intellectual question at the core of the project and why this question matters. No more than three sides of A4 in length, the proposal should also outline suggested theories, methods and scope. We appreciate that many ideas will be embryonic and that applicants will need future supervisory assistance in sculpting their ideas into a suitable and coherent Ph.D. Therefore please be aware that the primary aim of the proposal is to allow applicants to demonstrate that (1) they have the germ of a really interesting project (2) a creative and ambitious approach to scholarship.

    The studentship is tenable for three years from October 2015 and will be based at the Department of Politics, under the supervision of Dr Kate Dommett. The studentship covers the cost of home/EU rate tuition fees together with a tax free maintenance grant (£13,863pa in 2014/15) and a Research Training Support Grant (£750pa).

    Informal inquires can be made to either Dr Kate Dommett (k.dommett@sheffield.ac.uk) or Professor Matthew Flinders (m.flinders@sheffield.ac.uk).

    Applications for the studentship should be made via http://www.shef.ac.uk/politics/prospectivepg/research/apply. Applicants should indicate on the application that they wish to be considered for the Crick Centre studentship.

    For more information on the Department of Politics see http://www.shef.ac.uk/politics

    For more information on the Crick Centre see: http://www.crickcentre.org

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  20. Naomi,

    >Each politician is held accountable to a trivial fraction of the electorate. The actors are incentivized to act in a fashion consistent with keeping this trivial fraction of the electorate happy even at the expense of the big picture issues.

    At least the pork-trading House Representative can legitimately claim that she is acting in the interests of her constituents (albeit at the expense of the general good). An allotted rep. proposing her pet project (or, more likely, the proposal of the lobbyist who has covertly purchased her initiative rights) is just representing her own interests (or those of her client), as descriptive representation only applies to the aggregate judgment of the whole group. And, in the absence of party discipline, much pork will be traded as each rep. seeks to ensure the passage of her own initiative.

    So a “pure” sortitition system will suffer a greater democratic deficit than our existing (deeply flawed) arrangements. Needless to say I’m anticipating the details of Campbell’s proposal, but I can’t imagine what the word “pure” can mean, other than sortition-only.

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  21. Naomi,

    While I agree that strict party discipline is a logical necessity for electoral accountability… isn’t that even LESS likely to achieve popular acceptance (legitimacy) in America than sortition? To limit the number of actors to five or so (parties – not representatives – as you point out), why maintain the charade of a legislative chamber, when all the deals would be cut behind the scenes any way.

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  22. Terry,
    If it’s just done by fiat, sure. But things have been trending in that general direction for a while. Straight ticket voting is on the rise, indicating a growing voter preference for national-level policy over local matters.

    http://fivethirtyeight.com/datalab/the-2014-senate-elections-were-the-most-nationalized-in-decades/

    Preference for national-level policy incentivizes consolidation, as a diffuse party is not one that is very able to articulate and enact a policy platform. Politicians who don’t fit in ideologically with their own party are being squeezed out on both the left and the right. Voting in Congress has consolidated along party lines.

    http://news.yahoo.com/the-splitting-of-the-senate–now-in-convenient-gif-form-213908185.html

    I think this process feeds back into itself. The more the parties consolidate and function effectively as drivers of policy, the more voter expectations focus on parties which in turn means the parties have to grow in their ability to act collectively to deliver on expectations. I may be wrong, but I imagine the number of people who rely on local news programs and newspapers as a major source of information is rapidly dwindling. People’s focus is on national and international issues and this is only set to increase with the younger generation’s reliance on the Internet. Will people know or care if their representative brought home the bacon or not? How many votes hinge on such things today compared with 30 years ago? All we really need is the right set electoral system tweeks and instutional incentives.

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  23. Yes, perceived legitimacy requires consistent fidelity of representation. That works with strong parties and FPTP, but not with PR based coalition government or full mandate sortition, as both lead to random outcomes. The perceived legitimacy of allotted juries will require the demonstration of consistent outcomes. This has the advantage over FPTP, in that legislative decisions are unbundled, so will better approximate to informed public preferences. If there is a majority for, say, liberal fiscal policies, but conservative social policies (or vice versa), then this will be accurately and consistently reflected by the decisions of allotted juries. As the juries have no initiative powers and vote in secret, there will be no pork to trade. Full mandate sortition would mean the random generation of policy proposals and a marked increase in pork.

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  24. Keith,
    There is absolutely nothing random about PR coalition governments. They are agreements made by the authorized representatives of a majority of the people. They are generally predictable because parties generally have a history of predictable coalition preferences. The parties will be judged on they actions.

    I don’t know why you persist in this. You got burned by the UK’s one bad example of a coalition government. The large majority of European governments operate on this principle and they have better politics than you guys. Maximizing pre-electoral compromise maximizes the cognitive burden on the voters while simultaneously minimizing their ability to shift their votes to punish misbehavior without shooting themselves in the foot on matters of policy. It maximizes their ability to see who is at fault, yes, but either way you have a majority propping up the government through confidence votes. That majority is unambiguously responsible for the actions of the government whether composed of a single party or several.

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  25. I hate that I can’t edit my posts. I always write them on my phone, so there are always typos. Anyway, whenever there are pros and cons (in this case between pre-electoral and post-electoral compromise) how often is the optimum configuration going all the way to one extreme?

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  26. Naomi,

    I bow to your superior knowledge on coalition politics, although it never worked very well for the Italians and my understanding of Swedish politics is that voters are dissatisfied with their effective lack of control over deals done behind closed doors.** But I can understand that in the long run such betrayals will be punished by the electors. However my main argument is against the total randomness that would be generated by pure sortition (ie when allotted reps have the power of initiative), the only predictable being outcome being an increase in the power of rich and powerful lobbyists. The deficiencies of “electoralism” will pale into insignificance compared to the annihilation of the democratic rights of the disenfranchised masses in the brave new aleatocracy.

    **In England we’re looking forward with interest to the next election, after which policy is likely to be in the hands of a party that wasn’t even on the ballot ticket (the SNP). Even in the absence of such constitutional anomalies, in a close result a tiny party can often have the casting vote and that doesn’t strike me as particularly democratic.

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  27. Bravo Campbell. I will “reblog” & come back here with questions if any.

    Like

  28. I’m going to take some time to examine all the issues raised.. Thanks to everyone for posting. For now, though:

    >” I hope Campbell will be addressing the need for the ongoing legitimation of his proposed “pure” sortition system (as opposed to the initial social contract initiating the process, presumably by some form of public referendum).”
    Campbell is concerned about the ongoing lack of legitimacy of the various flavours of electoral “democracy”, and wishes that the same high standards were applied to it that critics apply to the notion of sortition.

    >”I agree with Naomi and others that headlining “compromise” as a failing of electoral systems strikes a sour note for many readers, since compromise is generally viewed as a positive thing. You explain why it isn’t (to some extent) in your paragraphs that follow…but … Maybe headline it with “deal-making” which has a more sinister connotation, and better captures your point?”
    In my little head “compromise” can be good, bad, or neutral, depending on the context. I’ll think about rephrasing it, though.

    >”Yes, but the “participants” are not the electorate, but rather partisan politicians intent on re-election, and the deal they strike on some vote swap might be very bad for nearly everybody else in society. Many on the right point to this vote swapping as a cause of the ratcheting up of inefficient or even counterproductive government spending”
    I couldn’t agree more! Do you really need 20 000+ nuclear warheads to frighten the Russians (and your allies)? Do you really need 11 aircraft carriers to defend the legitimate interests of the US? Some on the left object, too.

    >”Sure. 12 and 16 apply almost strictly to single seat districts
    There are a lot of single seat districts in the world, and in 12 I did say I was talking about them. I take the point about 16. And multi-candidate districts also have their problems.

    >”Gerrymandering is a danger only in small district systems without a national-level compensation mechanism.”
    If you really wanted to get rid of gerrymandering and unequal weights of votes generally, it would make sense to abandon districts based on geography, and to randomly (that word again) assign electors to groups: “apple”, “banana”, “cherry”, “datura” etc. . . or some such. (Kleisthenes, where are you?) Or get rid of districts entirely.
    This wouldn’t make elections preferable to sortition, though.

    >”and you could build-in malapportionment into any representative government if you were so inclined.”
    And a lot of politicians are so inclined, and do so.

    >”Circular policy preferences are a non-issue ” This much I agree with, as long as we’re talking policy preferences, not candidate preferences.

    >”I was actually referring to packages agreed to by the legislature in negotiations internal to the legislative process.”
    Which tend to happen behind closed doors. I give an example in a later post.

    >”However, doing so requires an act of Congress for reasons of funding.”
    Ah, that wicked Congress! (All elected, too).
    Are you suggesting that Obama didn’t know this before the election? Come on, Naomi. The “average Joe” was told that Guantanamo would be closed. That was part of the package.

    >” We won’t know for sure until we try and see how they fair under stress.”
    Certainly. But we know that elected governments do pretty badly. Zimbabwe, anyone?

    >” Campbell why don’t you apply?”
    Three years in the UK for fomenting sortition? That sounds both cruel and unusual. I know you have some funny ideas about the House of Lords, but I didn’t know you wanted to bring back transportation.

    >”I can’t imagine what the word “pure” can mean, other than sortition-only.”
    *Of course* that’s the sense I intended, though if you’re going to be niggly, it’s not quite pure.

    >”An allotted rep. proposing her pet project (or, more likely, the proposal of the lobbyist who has covertly purchased her initiative rights) is just representing her own interests (or those of her client), as descriptive representation only applies to the aggregate judgment of the whole group. And, in the absence of party discipline, much pork will be traded as each rep. seeks to ensure the passage of her own initiative.”
    I’m bemused by the way advocates of elections attack proposals for sortition as hypothetical, and then trot out this sort of completely unsubstantiated supposition. Besides, you haven’t read the whole essay yet.

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  29. Campbell

    Comments are disabled on your second post; I’ve mentioned it to Yoram, so hopefully will be enabled soon.

    >Campbell is concerned about the ongoing lack of legitimacy of the various flavours of electoral “democracy”, and wishes that the same high standards were applied to it that critics apply to the notion of sortition.

    The literature critiquing electoralism (including your own excellent contributions) is legion. But the burden of proof on those offering alternatives is higher, on account of the precautionary principle/better the devil you know etc.

    >If you really wanted to get rid of gerrymandering and unequal weights of votes generally, it would make sense to abandon districts based on geography, and to randomly (that word again) assign electors to groups: “apple”, “banana”, “cherry”, “datura” etc. . . or some such. (Kleisthenes, where are you?) Or get rid of districts entirely.

    That’s the essence of Andrew Rehfeld’s widely-discussed proposal for non-geographical constituencies.

    >I’m bemused by the way advocates of elections attack proposals for sortition as hypothetical, and then trot out this sort of completely unsubstantiated supposition.

    I’m not an “advocate of elections”, I’m a fellow-proposer of sortition (I just like to think things through properly and modify my own proposals in the light of criticism). Although our current arrangements are sub-optimal they work in the sense that most of us aren’t starving and we haven’t had a civil war for quite a long time. So anyone proposing changing things in an unprecedentedly radical manner has to accept that their proposals will be rightly subject to close scrutiny. You can’t just throw your hands in the air and dismiss criticisms as hypothetical if the critic has taken the trouble of demonstrating exactly how they might come about (lack of accountability to either political party or electors).

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  30. >”That’s the essence of Andrew Rehfeld’s widely-discussed proposal for non-geographical constituencies.”
    Thanks for the reference.

    >” I’m a fellow-proposer of sortition (I just like to think things through properly and modify my own proposals in the light of criticism).”
    Yes, Keith.

    >”Although our current arrangements are sub-optimal they work in the sense that most of us aren’t starving and we haven’t had a civil war for quite a long time.”
    So as long as most of us are alright, it doesn’t matter about the others? Ukraine, ex-Yugoslavia, India, Pakistan, the Philippines, Palestine, Mexico, South Africa, Colombia . . . Elected governments. Of course, the heads of those governments often blame the Western powers. More elected governments. How can anyone be so cynical as to imagine that all is not for the best in this best of all possible (elected) worlds?

    >” You can’t just throw your hands in the air and dismiss criticisms as hypothetical if the critic has taken the trouble of demonstrating exactly how they might come about”.
    The exact demonstration is exactly what is lacking in your comments.
    My comment ” this sort of completely unsubstantiated supposition. ” refers to your glib assumption that allotted members will be corrupt as a matter of course, which you do not prove by any stretch of the imagination. And rigid party discipline certainly does not prevent corruption. You might have a look at the history of government in Queensland on this score. (under Joh Bjelke-Petersen and Campbell Newman)
    A: “If we don’t cut greenhouse gas emissions now, there is a high probability that the world will be unliveable at the end of the century”
    B: “Yes, but cutting them might have an impact on the economy. Don’t upset the applecart!”
    Your argument is like that of speaker B.
    I deal with corruption and accountability later.

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  31. Campbell,
    As usual you focus on the worst possible examples (Zimbabwe? Really?) and act as though it is a given that a sortition based government would have done better under similar circumstances. You have exactly zero concrete evidence to that effect. None. Would one have done better? It’s entirely possible. I’m NOT saying they would not have. I’m saying that all this is just speculation. In the absence of evidence we can justify any belief we want. In your main post you have many good points: take a deep breath and stick to those points. In the comments you come across as having a profound lack of appreciation of the magnitude of the stresses that fall on a real government. You have to acknowledge that an untried system – no matter how good it may seem to you – could easily end up working very badly in practice.

    > If you really wanted to get rid of gerrymandering and unequal weights of votes generally … And a lot of politicians are so inclined [toward malapportionment]

    I couldn’t care less about gerrymandering. It’s a minor problem that was solved well over a century ago. There are VASTLY more elegant solutions than divvying up the electorate into arbitrary groupings. Malapportionment is a constitution design choice that has nothing to do with the way in which the individual members of a body are selected. Most elected governments have no issue with malapportionment. That fact alone makes your insistence on listing it among the *inherent* flaws of electoral democracy rather odd.

    > Ah, that wicked Congress! (All elected, too).
    Are you suggesting that Obama didn’t know this before the election?

    He did his best but cannot be held accountable for the actions (or inactions) of another institution. Congress has the more powerful hand here. It’s also a fickle beast. I don’t think it was at all a given that it would not cooperate.

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  32. Campbell,
    “My comment ” this sort of completely unsubstantiated supposition. ” refers to your glib assumption that allotted members will be corrupt as a matter of course, which you do not prove by any stretch of the imagination.”

    Some portion will be corrupt because some portion of the people are corrupt. This much we can all take as a given. Furthermore, power corrupts. One part in 500 of a nation’s political power is a very significant amount of power. Full-mandate sortition is only possible if the body is sufficiently trustworthy to be allowed to act on its own initiative without an accountability mechanism. What portion of the body will behave in a manor we would describe as ‘corrupt’? Do we know it will be small enough to make little difference?

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  33. To be fair, I’m not actually sure if “most” elected governments have no malapportionment. Malapportioned Senates on the American model are remarkably popular in Latin America. It was a mistake to use the word “most” without an awareness of the exact numbers involved. Still, my point stands.

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  34. Campbell,

    >your glib assumption that allotted members will be corrupt as a matter of course

    My observations were purely structural in nature — if the system does not have built-in anti-corruption mechanisms then it will be open to exploitation by the self-interested. If you assume that randomly-selected persons have an intrinsic moral superiority to greedy politicians, then if you are wrong all you have to rely on is the police.

    Naomi,

    >You [Campbell] have exactly zero concrete evidence to that effect. None.

    Absolutely. Proposals for constitutional change should be both theoretically coherent and based on some historical example of a well-functioning system. Year-zero proposals based on nothing more than deductive logic (grounded in a misunderstanding of single phrases from Aristotle and Dahl), along with highly optimistic assumptions about human nature lead inexorably to the Killing Fields. Given Campbell’s (and Yoram’s) contempt for expertise (sorry, “experts”), the irony of grounding “pure” sortition proposals in these two misunderstood phrases from first-rate political theorists is nothing short of delicious.

    >[Obama] did his best

    Exactly. I’m no friend of “progressives” but I don’t subscribe to the wild conspiracy theories circulating on this blog (all elected politicians are mendacious and self-serving scumbags).

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  35. >”As usual you focus on the worst possible examples (Zimbabwe? Really?) and act as though it is a given that a sortition based government would have done better under similar circumstances.”
    No doubt Zimbabwe is a bad example, an appalling example of what can happen with elections.
    It strikes me that those who defend elections need a better argument than “this is a bad example”. It merely shows that elections are no barrier against bad government.
    Perhaps you would care to find some good examples.

    >” act as though it is a given that a sortition based government would have done better under similar circumstances. You have exactly zero concrete evidence to that effect. None. . . . I’m saying that all this is just speculation.”
    Any proposal for a new system of government *must* be speculative. When it is tried, we will have some evidence.
    (I back up my proposal with some reasons in the later parts of the essay, if you care to read them.)

    Do you suggest that Keith’s
    “An allotted rep. proposing her pet project (or, more likely, the proposal of the lobbyist who has covertly purchased her initiative rights) is just representing her own interests (or those of her client)”
    and
    ” in the absence of party discipline, much pork will be traded as each rep. seeks to ensure the passage of her own initiative”
    are anything other than hypothetical? Where is the concrete evidence for these statements? In particular, I can show that the first is complete nonsense, in the context of this proposal.

    What we do have is an immense amount of evidence that shows that elections are hopelessly flawed. Apart from §§7, 12, and 16, (not the most important objections to elections) no one has contested the flaws I have set out. In §12, I said expressly that it applies to single-seat electorates, so there’s no error there, in §16 I shall add words to that effect, and §7 I shall rework to express my point better. But the bulk of what I said has gone uncontested, so it appears that those who read Part 1 agree that elections are flawed.

    >”I couldn’t care less about gerrymandering. It’s a minor problem that was solved well over a century ago.”
    In some *hypothetical* nirvana, perhaps, but gerrymandering still exists in the real world, and I would say that any form of political corruption is more than a minor problem.

    >”Most elected governments have no issue with malapportionment.”
    A large number do.

    >”Some portion will be corrupt because some portion of the people are corrupt. This much we can all take as a given.”
    I talk about corruption later.
    >”Furthermore, power corrupts. One part in 500 of a nation’s political power is a very significant amount of power.”
    Isn’t this little calculation a bit naive?

    >” if the system does not have built-in anti-corruption mechanisms then it will be open to exploitation by the self-interested.”
    You haven’t read everything yet.

    >”If you assume that randomly-selected persons have an intrinsic moral superiority to greedy politicians”
    >” Year-zero proposals based on nothing more than deductive logic (grounded in a misunderstanding of single phrases from Aristotle and Dahl), along with highly optimistic assumptions about human nature lead inexorably to the Killing Fields.”

    1 I make no such assumptions about human nature.
    2 Do I have to point out that the second statement is pure speculation?

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  36. Campbell,

    >it appears that those who read Part 1 agree that elections are flawed.

    But, with the exception of Naomi, you are preaching to the converted.

    >1 I make no such assumptions about human nature.

    Then you need to disassociate yourself from your earlier speculations on Obama’s cynical and self-serving motivation and (by contrast) the ability of randomly-selected citizens to safely make speech acts in the absence of the normal constraints on corruptibility. The contrast would suggest that you apply one rule of human nature to one group (the elite) and another to the masses (as did Machiavelli).

    2 Do I have to point out that the second statement is pure speculation?

    Actually it was more of a rhetorical outburst, although it is based on a historical example the (ground zero) beliefs and (killing fields) actions of Pol Pot. A similar case could be made for Robespierre, Lenin, Stalin and Mao (psychopaths on the right tend not to dignify their genocidal acts with philosophical arguments).

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  37. > But, with the exception of Naomi, you are preaching to the converted.

    I agree elections are flawed, but in the same way laissez-faire capitalism is flawed. Chucking them and starting over seems to make about as much sense as chucking capitalism and starting over. In the time of Marx there were many examples of the failings of capitalism… enough failings to where many concluded capitalism was fatally flawed. Was pointing out these failings enough to justify the idea that Marxism was better? No. Of course not, and the consequences of diving head-first into something that was not well-understood were dire. The fact that elections are flawed says absolutely nothing at all about sortition. I’m risk averse by nature. Perhaps this is why I believe what we really need to do is to take a surgeon’s scalpel to elections, not scrap them and start over almost from scratch.

    > In some *hypothetical* nirvana, perhaps, but gerrymandering still exists in the real world … A large number do [have malapportionment].

    I swear, you are being purposely obtuse. You listed these items as flaws that are inherent in the use of elections to constitute a government. Both the CHOICE of an electoral system vulnerable to gerrymandering and the CHOICE of malapportionment to give disproportionate representation to regions with relatively few people (typically as part of a federal system where subunits have some measure of sovereignty independent of their population – giving them political significance not necessarily in proportion to their population) are design choices. Period. They are problems that can, to borrow your own words, “be fixed by tweaking the system.”

    > Isn’t this little calculation a bit naive?

    Yes. The amount of power a member of the body wields will in practice depend in the degree to which she is able to network with other members and form a block able to act collectively. In any case one seat out of 500 is undeniably a lot of power.

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  38. Naomi,

    >In any case one seat out of 500 is undeniably a lot of power.

    Yes indeed (in any respect other than voting). Lobbyists will naturally target allotted persons with the highest status and persuasive skills in order to best influence the votes of the others. This makes a mockery of the notion of statistical representation.

    Needless to say I entirely agree with your risk aversion, both for temperamental and pragmatic reasons. The best we can hope for is to introduce sortition for those things that we know juries do well, hence the need to distance ourselves from the calls for “pure” sortition offered to us by the lunatic fringe.

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  39. “Lunatic fringe?” While all advocates of sortition may be fringe (for now), I do not accept the label of lunatic.

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  40. Terry,

    My comment was aimed at the Celtic fringe, but I do believe that any proposal for “pure” sortition is way beyond the pale as it is 1) theoretically indefensible, 2) without historical precedent and 3) impossible to implement. For those of us who work in the real world (such as university politics departments) and are fully paid-up members of the sortition fringe, all such utopian proposals are deeply unhelpful, hence my resort to hyperbolic language. Whilst utopian dreams may appeal to a tiny number of anoraks on an obscure internet forum, they don’t cut the mustard for anybody else.

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  41. Keith, that comment is going too far. I may not advocate for “pure” sortition models for practical reasons but they appear at least as “theoretically defensible” as anything else we take for granted today. Utopian are proposals we don’t agree with, reactionary are those who defend the status quo.

    It is easy to criticize any reform as unrealistic. But at the end of the day, corruption in the status quo is a certainty, while possible defects in someone else’s reform is only a probability.

    It’s also odd these when studies are posted of actual experiments with citizen deliberation, and peer-reviewed evaluations thereof, they are hardly discussed. It is also odd that the studies of juries are also given short or selective shrift.

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  42. >I may not advocate for “pure” sortition models for practical reasons but they appear at least as “theoretically defensible” as anything else we take for granted today.

    Not unless they treat with the acting for/standing for distinction at the heart of the analysis of the concept of representation in political theory. Campbell acknowledges this by starting off his first-class explanation of descriptive representation using the notion of standing for, but then smuggles in acting for by the back door. This is the conceptual mistake that Peter Stone takes Callenbach and Phillips to task for, and I have yet to hear a plausible rejoinder. If you want to mount a theoretical defence then you need to do the work properly, irrespective of Campbell and Yoram’s dismissal of the need for professional expertise in political theory. You want to do a PhD in political theory, so I would encourage you to make this your research proposal, so that we can have a proper discussion.

    >Utopian are proposals we don’t agree with.

    Utopian are proposals that don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of becoming implemented in the real world.

    >corruption in the status quo is a certainty, while possible defects in someone else’s reform is only a probability.

    The job of political science is to study the institutional obstacles to corruption. If those obstacles are removed then there is a substantial probability that ex-post corruption will be increased (sortition only preventing ex-ante corruption).

    >It’s also odd these when studies are posted of actual experiments with citizen deliberation, and peer-reviewed evaluations thereof, they are hardly discussed. It is also odd that the studies of juries are also given short or selective shrift.

    Do you mean on this forum, or in the general media? If the former then my concern, as you know, is always what factors would be required to ensure that the procedures employed would be a reliable proxy for the considered judgment of the whole population? In my experience the only experiments that come anywhere near fulfilling this demanding requirement are ones using the Deliberative Polling methodology or similar.

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  43. Keith,

    idealized (or “pure”) sortition democracy proposals are useful as thought experiments at least. An important goal is to disenthrall readers with the magic of elections.

    You argue that a pure system is

    1) theoretically indefensible, 2) without historical precedent and 3) impossible to implement.

    I can certainly defend it as MORE theoretically defensible than a purely electoral system. Electoral systems have only the fig leaf of “consent of the governed,” which is only a fiction. In reality there is no mass society who have ever actually given genuinely informed unanimous consent to an electoral system (“informed” means they understand the alternatives). you make a big point of representatives who “stand for” vs. “act for” the people… but isn’t this exact same conflict equally present in all electoral systems? Elected or randomly selected representatives can legitimately ACT for the people if the people approve of that delegation (in some way authorize it). Either system can just as legitimately be accepted by the people. If not how can a random jury be allowed to order the imprisonment (or even execution) of another citizen. It is because the random selection process has been authorized to allow a random group of citizens to stand for and act for the people.

    As for historical precedent…In the second Athenian democracy the vast majority of legislative decisions were made by allotted juries (nomothetai and courts), with mass assemblies deciding almost exclusively matters of foreign policy. Elections were limited to essentially executive functions (generals and financial officers) and never for legislative functions.

    As for impossible to implement… It may be many generations before the time is ripe for a pure sortition system, and I agree with you that implementing mixed systems is an appropriate near-term goal… But I am inspired when I read about Condorcet advocating equal rights for women during the French Revolution, or Ancient Athenians who advocated against slavery even though these proved “impossible to implement” for generations thereafter.

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  44. Terry,

    Thought experiments are normally the province of philosophy rather than empirical science. Since the publication of Rawls’s Theory of Justice they have infected and colonised the field of normative political theory but, since Jeremy Waldron’s inaugural lecture at Oxford, the tide is beginning to turn towards political political theory, based on Aristotle and Oakeshott’s policy of adumbrating from the facts, rather than the philosopher’s armchair. Needless to say I support Waldron’s counter-revolution, as human beings and the societies they produce are culturally-embedded historical creatures, not abstract tokens.

    Turning to your response to my three objections:

    1. Theoretical Indefensibility
    =====================
    I agree that election-only systems are theoretically indefensible for all the reasons that you (and Campbell) have so eloquently stated; that’s why I’ve devoted the last 10 years of my life, two books and my PhD research to the study of sortition. But why do you insist it has to be either/or? Human societies have always been subject to a mixed form of government, that’s why I’m opposed to the use of the word “pure” in this context. I would like to see a sensible balance of election, sortition and appointment, each process doing what it’s best suited for, hence the centrality of the acting for/standing for distinction. Note that my call for mixed government is a principled one, not a short-term expedient.

    2. Without historical precedent
    =======================

    I agree 100% with your focus on 4th century Athenian legislative practice, that’s why I have chosen to put the nomothetai at the centre of my own proposal for sortition in the modern world. But the role of legislative juries was strictly limited to silent deliberation and voting, that’s why the Athenians were confident that their verdicts represented the considered will of the whole citizen body. The prosecution and defence — those who acted for the citizen(s) proposing a change in the law and those who argued against the change — were not appointed by sortition. In the former case it was ho boulomenos and in the latter election by the assembly.

    3. Impossible to implement
    ====================

    Like you, I have no interest in mythical or hypothetical social contracts whereby systems of government are supposedly legitimised by an act of will of the whole political community in the year dot. My concern is real-time (ongoing) legitimacy. Given that (in practice) all but a tiny minority of citizens will have been disenfranchised by the aleatory coup, the only way that I can see decision by allotted assembly being viewed as democratically legitimate (in the eyes of the disenfranchised) is if it can be demonstrated — both theoretically and in practice — that it makes no difference to the outcome which individuals are included in the sample. If two samples come to opposing decisions on the same issue, then which decision are the disenfranchised deemed to consent to? This has concrete implications for the deliberative mandate of the allotted assembly (standing for) and the representativity of the prosecution and defence advocates (acting for), which brings us back to point 1. I think you fully accept this distinction* and your response is to use a complex hierarchy of allotted bodies that I have described as “byzantine”.** Whilst I think most citizens accept that representative juries have an essential role to play in judging the outcome of a decision process, I don’t see any possibility of your pure sortition proposal ever being accepted, especially as it requires the turkeys to vote for Christmas (or Thanksgiving). My preference is to work with due caution and with the grain of the political system, rather than to take to the barricades.

    I’m very grateful that, despite our political differences, you are prepared to engage fully with my argument and don’t just dismiss it as “incoherent”. I in turn appreciate that you, unlike everyone else on this forum, have direct experience of lawmaking and duly defer to this (although I think your Pauline μετάνοια against election is something of an overreaction!). I only wish that others on this forum would follow your (and Naomi’s) example of full and sympathetic engagement with your intellectual opponents.

    *In your example of the trial jury it is the police, the DA, the defence attorney, the judge and the executioner who act for the people. The jury, standing for people, merely determine the outcome. This is also true for an “Act” of Parliament — the speech acts of those proposing the amended law (government ministers) and those defending the existing law (Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition) are judged by the representatives of the people. Unfortunately the hybrid nature of parliamentary (and congressional) systems conflates these functions, and that leads to corruption (as observed by Madison in Federalist 10). This is why I argue for a return to 4th century Athenian practice in which acting for and standing for are strictly separated.

    ** This is not intended in the disparaging sense — Byzantian civilisation lasted for the best part of 800 years. It was just a bit . . . complicated!

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  45. Dear Keath,

    You wrote:

    “Thought experiments are normally the province of philosophy rather than empirical science.”

    For Einstein this was the normal way to develop a new theory. His contribution to empirical science was abundant.

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  46. avanderven,

    Interesting. The traditional practice in the human and social sciences was to adumbrate theory on the basis of empirical evidence. I suppose this was the methodology of Aristotelian “big data” science that was overturned by Bacon. But the Aristotelian approach to political science survived right down to Rawls’s attempt to replace it with thought experiments (even Marx described his theory as data-driven). Strongly recommend Jeremy Waldron’s attack on this new-fangled “Einsteinian” way of studying zoon politicon.

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  47. @Naomi
    Returning to this point:
    >”Sure. 12 and 16 apply almost strictly to single seat districts”

    I was about to put a phrase in to that effect in 16.
    However, suppose you have four candidates for a three-member district. This is exactly the same as trying to rank four candidates in a single seat district, except that you’re picking the loser, not the winner. So Arrow still applies.
    I’m sure you’ll correct me if I’m wrong.

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  48. No, you’re right, that is technically possible. I stand corrected.

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  49. Thank you

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  50. […] Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 […]

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  51. […] Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6 […]

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  52. Some questions for the assembled wisdom.
    1 Does anyone have a strong opinion about the use of “elective” as opposed to “electoral” for describing the “representative” government with elections? Both seem to have disadvantages:
    “elective” is also used to mean “optional”, which hardly fits government.
    “electoral” means “pertaining to electors”, as in “electoral college”, and thus not necessarily to elections and the elected (or “elect” as we used to say.)
    I’m tempted to coin “electional”, but it’s ugly, and I would not wish to be thought part of the lunatic fringe. Oh dear me, no!

    2 Items §7, §12, and §16, have been criticised, also the summing up. (I am making changes in response to these criticisms)
    Do I take it that the remaining items, which have not been criticised are unexceptionable?

    3 Does anyone disagree with the criteria for democracy of Dahl and Fishkin? I find Fishkin’s definition of tyranny a little idiosyncratic. Does anyone argue with the examples of tyranny that I give? And does anyone disagree with the judgements I make on “electional” (please excuse; just trying it out) democracy? (See also Part 3)

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  53. My failing to offer objections to various specific points in your numbered points doesn’t mean I think they are completely valid or correct… It would be far too time consuming to do a full response. BUT they are mostly fairly good.

    As for terminology… I have used “electoral system” and I think in context “elective is just as good. I DON’T like electional.

    My bigger concern is finding a good term instead of “sortition” (sounds like “sedition”)

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  54. I agree with Terry on the need for better terminology: if there were separate terms for pure sortitionists and those of us making modest proposals to improve our political arrangements then I wouldn’t need to ask the likes of Campbell to remove any references to my work from their manifestos. Given that oligarchic plots are generally viewed as seditious, perhaps you purists should be the ones to find a new word, especially as this would help you cast off the shackles of past practice in pursuit of doctrinal purity.

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  55. Campbell,

    Regarding Fishkin and Dahl:

    I find Fishkin’s list arbitrary. In particular, his “non-tyranny” is nonsensical.

    Dahl’s list, on the other hand, makes a lot of sense to me. See here and here for something I wrote about this some years ago.

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  56. Terry,

    > My bigger concern is finding a good term instead of “sortition” (sounds like “sedition”)

    According to Wikipedia:

    In law, sedition is overt conduct, such as speech and organization, that is deemed by the legal authority to tend toward insurrection against the established order. Sedition often includes subversion of a constitution and incitement of discontent (or resistance) to lawful authority. Sedition may include any commotion, though not aimed at direct and open violence against the laws. Seditious words in writing are seditious libel. A seditionist is one who engages in or promotes the interests of sedition.

    Sounds perfect.

    In fact, having read this I am now thinking that “sortition sedition” is a more catchy label for my political activity than “sortition advocacy”.

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  57. Yoram,

    >In fact, having read this I am now thinking that “sortition sedition” is a more catchy label for my political activity than “sortition advocacy”.

    Great, then those of us who abjure Citizen Smith’s call to the barricades will not be tarnished by association with those who share these seditious aims. Campbell, I have no wish to be accused of seditious libel, so would ask you again to remove any reference to my work if you are considering publishing it elsewhere. We’re clearly dealing with an entirely different topic, especially in light of the partisan nature of the call for sortition that we have seen in the latest post from Occupy Democracy.

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  58. @Terry
    >”. I DON’T like electional.”
    Nor do I much, to be honest. (Just the same, try saying it softly to yourself a dozen times before you go to sleep. Remember that we already have “correctional”, “exceptional” and . . . “insurrectional”! And if I plug it enough, I could have my name in the Oxford English Dictionary one day as the first recorded user of it. My only chance of glory!)

    >”My bigger concern is finding a good term instead of “sortition””
    If only the French had even that! The expression “tirage au sort” is very cumbersome, and besides, you can’t make a noun from it that would fit in the Marseillaise, for when we mount the barricades.

    @Keith
    >”oligarchic plots are generally viewed as seditious . . . I have no wish to be accused of seditious libel”
    Yes, beware of the Court of Star Chamber.

    >”so would ask you again to remove any reference to my work if you are considering publishing it elsewhere.”
    I think you’re taking a very Cavalier attitude.
    Actually I was thinking of asking you to write the Foreword.
    What better chance to disassociate yourself from sedition and any fringe that bothers you. In the meantime, I’ll look out for a cellar on this side of the Manche in case you need to hide from the redcoats.

    @Yoram
    >”I find Fishkin’s list arbitrary. In particular, his “non-tyranny” is nonsensical.”
    It, or rather his definition of tyranny certainly seems incomplete.
    Had a look at your links, but I’d need time to comment without saying something stupid.

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  59. Campbell,

    >I think you’re taking a very Cavalier attitude.

    Actually I’m more of a roundhead, in that I’ve devoted most of the last 10 years of my life to labouring away at this project and I don’t want to see serious work on sortition tarnished by association with a few loose cannons. I’m sorry that this has caused me to be so negative, but I just find your whole project of working out all the byzantine details of an entirely untested proposal an entirely crazy way to proceed. At least Yoram’s approach, while equally misguided, has the merit of simplicity — establish a descriptively-representative sovereign assembly by sortition and leave everything in their hands. Period.

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  60. @Keith,
    >”I’m sorry that this has caused me to be so negative,”
    No need to apologise, I certainly didn’t expect you to be otherwise.

    Like

  61. […] for the princely sum of 99c US or equivalent. It’s a revised and corrected version of the articles published earlier on this […]

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