Allotted bodies better than referenda

Two new articles argue that allotted bodes are a better democratic tool than referenda. Both criticize the referenda system for asking the public to make uninformed decisions and both invoke the Athenian precedent. There are also some differences for the sharp-eyed reader to pick out.

Simon Threlkeld writes in Truthout:

Let Juries Legislate: Why Citizen Juries Are Better Than the Ballot Initiative for Citizen Lawmaking

Twenty-four US states have the ballot initiative. Unfortunately, the process is heavily skewed in favor of rich interests and unsuitable for making informed decisions. A much better method of citizen lawmaking is needed.

[…]

Classical Athens, often called the birthplace of democracy, sheds light on how citizen lawmaking can be done in an informed, fair and highly democratic way. In Athens, much of the decision-making was done by various juries chosen from the citizens by lottery. This kept a wide range of decisions in the hands of the citizens, prevented elite rule and provided a more informed version of citizen rule than popular vote.

Keith Sutherland writes in openDemocracy:

The Brexit lottery

On June 23, Britain will go to the polls to decide whether or not the country should remain a member of the European Union. David Cameron’s in–out referendum on EU membership is, ostensibly, about finding out what the people want. But there is a better, and more democratic, way.

[…]

Referendums are swayed by irrelevant issues, are “very blunt instruments” and the outcome would be “a lottery”, [Peter Mandelson] said. In a sense, Lord Mandelson is right – the experience of countries like Ireland, where referendums are commonplace, suggests that they are often used to give the government of the day a kicking, rather than deal with the issue at hand. And yet a different kind of lottery could be more representative of public opinion than a referendum vote.

[…]

One option would be a public enquiry with a large representative jury selected by lot. Public inquiries have, on the whole, a good track record – the Hutton Inquiry being praised for its balanced and open proceedings. The problem was the lack of democratic participation, as there was no jury to determine the outcome.

[…]

Why not adopt this approach as an alternative to a referendum? There is nothing new about the juristic approach to policy-making. In 403 BC the Athenians, the inventors of democracy, established a system of legislative courts, and every new law had to run the gauntlet of adversarial debate in front of a jury of several hundred citizens selected by lot. The decision of the jury was deemed to represent the considered view of the entire citizen body.

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74 Responses

  1. The principal difference between the proposals by Simon and myself is that his is a replacement for the citizen initiative whereas mine is a replacement for government-mandated referenda. It would be interesting to see if either proposal were to be viewed in a positive light by the political class. Citizen initiatives can be manipulated by moneyed interests, whereas the odds in government-inspired referenda are stacked heavily in their own favour (e.g. the £9 million taxpayer-funded “information” brochure sent out a week ago, which has no counterweight from the Brexit side). But referenda are often decided on entirely irrelevant issues and the odds are currently finely balanced. It would be much better if decisions of vital national interest were taken by a well-informed microcosm of all citizens, rather than everyone in a climate of fear and misinformation, but an even playing field would not suit the government. If the referendum were over a controversial issue of social policy, such as the legalisation of drugs, the government might be a lot more sympathetic to decision-making by lot as the Pontius Pilate option can be attractive to politicians under certain conditions.

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  2. Keith, I much like your article.

    Prior to the intro of the initiative and veto referendum, it was fairly common for measures from the government (in US states) to go on the ballot for a popular vote, and still is. That seems to have been part of the background that created the groundswell of support for bringing in the initiative and veto referendum. Some imagine there was a golden age for such citizen lawmaking when it was not corrupted by moneyed special interests, but there never was, it was corrupted from get go (for the easily predictable reasons).

    One of the key factors to getting the initiative and veto referendum in many of the states was that interest groups with large followings supported it in hopes that they could get their measures supported by the people.

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  3. Simon,

    That’s very interesting — what you are suggesting is that a key reform of the “Progressive” era was in fact regressive, in that it handed more power to interest groups.

    >Prior to the intro of the initiative and veto referendum, it was fairly common for measures from the government (in US states) to go on the ballot for a popular vote, and still is.

    Thanks — I wasn’t aware of that. Is there any evidence as to what sort of measures were/are put to the popular vote? My hunch is that it would be mostly “Pontius Pilate” issues, in that the government would be unlikely to consult the people over an uncontroversial matter or one on which it had a strong view. The only reason David Cameron very reluctantly called a referendum on the EU was because he had little choice, as Conservative voters were decamping in large numbers to UKIP.

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  4. Well Keith, I would not say that the initiative and veto referendum are regressive in comparison to lawmaking power being a monopoly of elected politicians. But of course I think it a very regressive idea compared to using legislative juries, (which so far as I know were never considered in the Progressive Era).

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  5. 49 US states have have in place the legislatively referred constitutional amendment (by which the state can change its constitution). The history of this goes back to the beginning of the Republic, but I can’t do it justice at all.

    https://ballotpedia.org/Legislatively_referred_constitutional_amendment

    My recollection is that this book was good on the pre-initiative use of legislatively referred constitutional amendments and measures:
    A government by the people : direct democracy in America, 1890-1940 /
    Thomas Goebel.

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  6. Simon,

    >I would not say that the initiative and veto referendum are regressive in comparison to lawmaking power being a monopoly of elected politicians.

    If it’s the case that the former was the province of [moneyed] interest groups whereas the latter was the chosen representatives of all the people then it sounds pretty regressive to me. Progressive intentions can have entirely regressive consequences.

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  7. Simon,

    Yes – elections, government-initiated referenda and “popular initiative” are all mass-political mechanisms and therefore suffer from the same inherent oligarchical tendencies.

    The scheme you suggest, however, seems susceptible to much the same problems that mass politics face. Since the system will need to handle a large number proposals, each proposal on average will have little attention paid to it. These cognitive constraints are exactly what is at the root of the problems of mass politics – decisions are made on an a-rational basis, opening the door to propagandization and other forms of elite manipulation.

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  8. Keith,

    >If it’s the case that the former was the province of [moneyed] interest groups whereas the latter was the chosen representatives of all the people then it sounds pretty regressive to me. Progressive intentions can have entirely regressive consequences.

    In the US both popular election and the initiative are very regressive – both are dominated by, or heavily skewed by, moneyed interests, and it was the same in the 1890s and early 20th century. US electoral democracy may be even more oligarchic than the initiative.

    There is, as I am sure you know, a recent and famous study showing that US public policy and electoral democracy is oligarchic, not democratic. http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-echochambers-27074746

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  9. Yoram,

    Yes, agreed, popular vote both in the form of popular election and the initiative and veto referendum is largely oligarchic rather than democratic.

    >The scheme you suggest, however, seems susceptible to much the same problems that mass politics face. Since the system will need to handle a large number proposals, each proposal on average will have little attention paid to it.

    No matter now many jury trials there are each receives the full attention of the jury for that trial. The fact that there may be many jury trials does not in the least diminish the amount of attention a trial jury pays to the trial it hears and deliberates about.

    Similarly, no matter how many measures are qualified to go to legislative juries, each qualified measure receives the full attention of the legislative jury that hears that measure. Each measure is heard by one legislative jury for as long as it takes, and in the context of procedures designed to ensure an informed decision. The fact that there may be many legislative jury hearings/trials does not in the least diminish the amount of attention a legislative jury pays to the one measure that it hears and deliberates about.

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  10. Simon,

    The arithmetic doesn’t add up here. If one person out of a hundred comes up with a proposal every year, and each proposal takes a jury of 500 people a week to deliberate, then the average citizen will spend 5 weeks a year – about 10% of their life – on a legislative jury. Note that (1) at this rate the average person writes less than one proposal in a lifetime, (2) a week is a very short period for evaluating proposals independently and the jury will inevitably have to rely on the information provided by the proposers and the opposition (if any).

    But this is just the beginning of the problems. What would be the rate of proposal acceptance? If we say that 10% of the proposals make it to the second stage and 10% of those make it to the legislation, then every year there would be n / 10,000 new laws, where n is the number of citizens. In a country with 10 million people, that would imply 1,000 new laws every year. Do you think that any system could handle this rate of new legislation? What about countries with 100 million citizens?

    Or else, the rate of acceptance would be extremely low and both proposers and jurors would know that they are essentially wasting their time because the chance that a proposal would be accepted is tiny. The jurors would pay very little attention to their job knowing that it will likely amount to nothing. Proposers would resort to various tricks to increase the chance that their proposals would be accepted, and inevitably those with access to resources would be more successful, leading to yet another elite dominated system.

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  11. Simon,

    >There is, as I am sure you know, a recent and famous study showing that US public policy and electoral democracy is oligarchic, not democratic.

    The Gilens/Page paper has been subjected to intense critical analysis on this forum: https://equalitybylot.wordpress.com/2014/04/17/commentary-on-gilens-and-page-average-citizens-have-no-political-influence/

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  12. Keith,

    Whether that study has a problem or not (and I am not saying I think it does), surely there is no serious doubt that American electoral democracy is a oligarchy with the rich interests and billionaires that fund elections, superPACs, and lobbyists having a very disproportionate influence on legislation and policy?

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  13. Yoram,

    You raise one or more good questions that I will be happy to answer in the morning.

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  14. > intense critical analysis

    Heh.

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  15. Simon:

    >billionaires that fund elections, superPACs, and lobbyists having a very disproportionate influence on legislation and policy?

    Although the US electoral system is more open to the sort of manipulation that you describe than, say, the UK system, I would dispute the “very” in your claim. Given that the campaign funding of Clinton and Sanders is in the same ball park, most commentators would conclude that Sanders is likely to lose as Clinton’s policy proposals are more in line with public preferences than those of Sanders. The primary currency of democratic politics is votes, whereas (according to your analysis) the primary currency of citizen initiatives is dollars.

    Yoram:

    >Heh

    There were 187 comments in this thread, including some from a couple of professional statisticians, and the debate became heated at times, hence my “intense critical analysis”. How would you describe it?

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  16. Keith,

    I think we disagree on US oligarchy, and also re Bernie. Re Bernie Sanders, his policy preferences may be more in line with what Americans want than are Hillary’s. He is also far ahead of Hillary in terms of trustworthyness and likability, according to polls, and I believe far ahead of her in polls of who Americans want for president (that’s polls of Americans, not for example polls of only Democrats), and does much better than her in polls against the Republican candidates. Also re campaign spending, if we include the fact that the mainstream media are to some extent campaigning for Hillary against Bernie, and giving her much more air time, if you take into account the value of that, I believe her side (which more or less includes much of the media) is outspending Bernie by a wide margin. Also, the primaries have been systemically biased in favor of Hillary in various ways (oligarchic ways I would say) – for example Bernie would have likely won in New York if they had an open primary, or if it was possible to register as a Dem right up til election day, instead of the cut-off for registering as a Dem (and being allowed to vote in the Dem primary) being, I believe, October 9, 2015, before most people knew much if anything about Bernie. There were also many registered Dems who were not able to vote, I gather.

    Here is a fine collection of quotes from politicians on the oligarchic and bought nature of US politics (as you have gathered I consider US electoral democracy just as oligarchic and bought, if not more so, than the initiative).
    https://theintercept.com/2015/07/30/politicians-admitting-obvious-fact-money-affects-vote/

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  17. It’s interesting to see how people on the left will look for every imaginable excuse as to why their candidate is unelectable. Trump is equally despised by the media and the party establishment, and hasn’t spent much cash and yet is on top. No doubt you view this as another expression of “oligarchy”, whereas Occam’s razor would suggest that he is simply reflecting (primary) voter preferences.

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  18. Simon and Yoram,

    The question is how to filter a plethora of proposals down to a manageable number worthy of a full detailed jury consideration. I presume the preliminary hearing jury would be handling a large number of proposals in quick succession, since otherwise Yoram’s math becomes problematic.

    I’m not sure the petition filter needs to be completely rejected (at least as a supplement). While a large petition requirement clearly favors those with access to financial resources (to pay signature gatherers), a small signature threshold would place a small burden on the initiator, but could at least weed out many of the weakest proposals.
    In ancient Athens proposers of laws that turned out to be bad might be punished or even put to death. Athenians who initiated political trials against some rhetor who proposed a law might win or lose their case, but they had to win at least one fifth of the votes from the trial jury or face a penalty (financial). — but we probably don’t want to take that route. But there are other means of discouraging flippant proposals…

    Other, better filters (than simple petitions or punishments) could be invented. Perhaps the people signing the petition would need to also pay a nominal fee (like one dollar) along with their signature to indicate earnestness. Perhaps a proposer would need to organize a number of people to perform some public service/ charity work instead of just sign a petition. Perhaps an online crowdsourcing web site could allow all citizens to give thumbs up or thumbs down, where the RATIO of ups to downs was controlling (rather than merely the raw number of up thumbs as in a traditional petition) thus combining a petition with an anti-petition. Or, each proposal could be randomly assigned to a small group random from a large pool of random readers, so that each reader only has a small number of proposals to really dig into and digest, and then advance those that seem worthy.

    My personal idea is to have an allotted Agenda Council that could bring forward expert witnesses and advisors as well as receiving petitions. The Agenda Council would have the sole job of selecting the items that should get fully drafted and go to a policy-making jury. A problem with all petition-like filters is that they are biased towards “sexy” current issues, while issues like infrastructure maintenance lanquish.

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  19. Yoram,

    I believe one of the good questions you raise can be stated something like this: “Won’t there be, in the system you propose, an avalanche of proposed laws that will overwhelm the juries at the preliminary hearing and legislative stages, and the statute/law books?”

    I’ll call this the “avalanche problem” if that’s o.k. with you.

    The short answer is no, because the problem is less than you suggest, and a well designed jury legislation system can deal with it effectively. A fuller answer is below.

    I call the juries at the preliminary hearing stage “qualifying juries” (“preliminary hearing juries” is an equally good name).

    An important part of the proposal I put forward is that jury lawmaking be well designed and constantly improved upon over time, and in a very democratic way (I have suggest a directorate chosen by jury to work out the best design they can, and to improve on it over time, with all final decisions about design and arrangements being made by juries).

    I do not get to it in the article, but there needs to be arrangements in place to ensure that the case against each proposed law is well made, both at the qualifying jury and the legislative jury stages. To this end a commission chosen by jury can be tasked with making sure this is done (“the commission”), either by doing it itself, or hiring or approving others to do so, with experience and greater competency in this task built up over time. (This has some things in common with Athens, where five citizens were chosen by the Assembly, and I think paid, to present the case against the proposed law and in favor of the existing law. This ensured the case against proposed laws was not left to chance, and made ensuring the case was well made a public responsibility carried out by democratically chosen public officials. The Athenians got it right I think, and these basic characteristic should apply to jury lawmaking today.)

    Here’s the longer answer to the above question. Basically screening and efficient use of juries and jurors is the answer.

    1. Self screening stage prior to filing.

    Drafting a law is a daunting task, as is writing concise statement of why it is needed (which will be required), as is committing to represent the proposed law all the way to the end of the legislative jury hearing if it gets that far. Few will undertake this task, and it generally won’t be done by individuals in their spare time, but rather for example by public interest groups with staff.

    It is also irrational and waste of time to bring forward proposed laws that have little chance of getting the informed support of a full legislative jury of 500 to 1,000 citizens. Few will waste their time and energy on proposals that have little or no chance of success.

    Some other things can be done to encourage self-screening, but that are not so onerous as to stop serious proposals that have good chance of winning approval.

    A filing fee can be charged on a sliding scale, say $100 for public interest groups of modest means with just a few staff, and say $25,000.00 for surrogates of Exxon corporation or the Koch brothers.

    Another filing requirement can be that say at least 15 citizens have to sign an affidavit saying they support the proposal.

    Another filing requirement can be full and thorough disclosure of who is behind the proposal and who funds them – so that special interests will not be able to hide when they are behind a proposal.

    Another filing requirement is that the proposers provide a statement of any existing laws that will be over-turned or affected.

    Those who file a proposal but who, with no good excuse, fail to show up for the subsequent jury hearing can be fined (to discourage frivolous proposals from being filed).

    These things will result in a lot of non-serious proposals, and proposals with little chance of success, being screened out by those supporting them, before they are filed.

    2. Competent drafting assessment stage.

    Once filed, proposals can be reviewed by independent legislative drafters chosen by the commission. Poorly drafted proposals and those with misleading titles can be rejected. Ditto for proposals that cover multiple un-related topics rather than just one topic.

    Proposals on the same topic can be grouped together so that they will be considered by the same drafter, and go to the same jury. (One reason for this is to prevent proposers from trying to increase their chances by getting their proposal, or similar versions of it, before multiple juries in the hopes that the luck of the draw may favor them in at least one of those juries.)

    (Legislative drafters can also advise about proper drafting before proposals are submitted. This will not help to srceen proposals down to smaller number, but is perhaps good policy.)

    3. Small qualifying juries stage.

    Proposals that get past 1. and 2, need not go straight to a full qualifying jury of say 500 citizens. Instead they can all go first to a small qualifying jury or subjury of say 10 citizens. Proposals that don’t get the endorsement of say at least three members of such 10 member juries are rejected (screened out, disqualified, do not go forward).

    The 10 member qualifying juries hear from the proposers and from whoever the commission has sent or approved to oppose the proposal. Such hearings should be as short as they reasonably can be. If it makes very little difference to the outcome whether a hearing is one day than whether it is say 10 days then let them be just one day as it was for a nomothetai trial in Athens. (I don’t know how long is appropriate and best – that is for the said Directorate to work out.)

    4. Larger qualifying juries stage.

    For proposals that get past 3. they can go larger qualifying juries for a second hearing. This could be a full qualifying jury of say 500 citizens. However, if say a proposal got endorsed by 9 or 10 of those on the 10 person jury, perhaps it would suffice for it to go to a jury of say 100, and if say 60% of that jury qualify it, the next step will be the legislative jury. If if fails to get 60% of the said jury of 100, it can go to a qualifying jury of say 400, with the aggregate majority vote of the two juries (100 + 400 =ing 500) determining whether it qualifies or not.

    (Because smaller juries are less statistically reliable random samples, their decisions to screen out a proposal need to be more than 50%, so that we can with some confidence say that it is highly likely that they would have got at least 50% support were the jury say 500 citizens.)

    5. Legislative juries stage.

    On the same principle of supermajorities in smaller juries having a certain equivalence to 50% + 1 majorities in larger juries (in the way indicated in 4.), proposals that got overwhelming support at the qualifying stage can go to say a legislative jury of 100 to see if they can win a solid supermajority there (say 60% or 65%), and if they do they are passed, if not they go to a larger legislative jury where there fate is decided by majority vote.

    Other things being equal very important proposals should go to larger juries than not very important ones, because it is more important “to get it right” for very important matters. How important a proposal is can be decided at the qualifying jury stage.

    6. A maximum number of topics can be set.

    What if the above arrangements and screening is not enough? If that is the case, and the above does not fix the avalanche problem, other steps can be taken.

    For example, a maximum number can be set on the number of proposals that can be qualified. If there are multiple proposals on the same topic they will, as said, be grouped together and go to the same jury at the same time. So the maximum number could refer to the number of topics, sometimes with there being one proposal on a topic, sometimes several.

    In such a case the maximum number would be decided by jury, perhaps after hearing the views of the Directorate on the topic.

    Maybe the number chosen might be 100, maybe 200, maybe 300, maybe 50. But whatever it is, it needs to decided on the basis of informed rule of the people, that is, by jury.

    In such a case, if the qualifying juries approved more proposals than allowed by the maximum number of topics, then the qualifying juries would have to further decide which of the topics they wish to qualify. The Directorate can work out good and appropriate ways/procedures for them to do so. Basically the qualifying juries would have to decide which of the topics before them (that have one or more approved proposals in those topics) would go to the legislative juries.

    Remember that (in the article) I am envisaging the qualifying juries convening once every two years to consider all the proposals citizens file.

    7. Priority areas of legislation can be determined.

    Jury lawmaking could also be focused on areas of lawmaking in which leaving it to the legislature may be especially inappropriate. For example, given that one of the basics of fair and democratic legislation is that those who decide do not have a conflict of interest, areas in which politicians have conflicts of interest could be priority areas for jury lawmaking.

    For example, laws governing elections, and laws governing government transparency and whistleblowers, should not be decided by politicians because of the conflict of interest they have in these areas. Lawmaking in these areas can be a priority for jury lawmaking, with proposals in such areas getting priority.

    That is, proposals in areas where there is no reasonable basis to suppose the legislature has a conflict of interest, could be screened out, or screened out except in exceptional cases. (I am not in favor of this, as I think informed rule by the people is a much better basis for the final say in all lawmaking, than rule by elected politicians, but it is a way to reduce the number of proposals in a jury lawmaking system.)

    In areas of lawmaking where the legislature has no conflict of interest the expectation can be that the legislature should decide. The appropriate response at the qualifying jury stage might be to refer such proposed laws to the legislature for consideration. This could be done at stage 3.

    At the qualifying jury stage, proposers and the reps of the Commission can speak to whether proposals are inappropriate for the legislature because of conflict of interest.

    ————

    >Or else, the rate of acceptance would be extremely low and both proposers and jurors would know that they are essentially wasting their time because the chance that a proposal would be accepted is tiny. The jurors would pay very little attention to their job knowing that it will likely amount to nothing.

    If proposers know the chance of their proposal being accepted is tiny, they likely will not waste their time trying, and will in that way screen out their proposal before filing. If they do proceed with a proposal that is junk or unpopular it’ll probably be screened out at stage 2 or at stage 3 (the suggested 10 person qualifying jury stage).

    Jurors at both the qualifying and legislation stage will be making real decisions, and will be paid to do so for their period of service.

    More to say, and more to respond to in your comment, but I think I need to leave it at this already long post for now.

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  20. Keith,

    >It’s interesting to see how people on the left will look for every imaginable excuse as to why their candidate is unelectable.

    Regarding Bernie I am simply stating facts. It is not my fault if you do not like the facts or prefer to ignore them. As said, he does far better than Hillary in polls of Americans, and also against the various Republicans running for nomination. I’m not sure what you can mean by “unelectable” other than perhaps that you prefer Hillary or something.

    Trump is a different story. But lack of media coverage during the primaries and before the primaries is not a problem he has had. Last time I noticed something on the topic, he had gotten far more media time than any other candidate, including Hillary.

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  21. Keith,

    >The question is how to filter a plethora of proposals down to a manageable number worthy of a full detailed jury consideration. I presume the preliminary hearing jury would be handling a large number of proposals in quick succession, since otherwise Yoram’s math becomes problematic.

    Interesting post.

    I think the question is not so much whether “a plethora of proposals [can be filtered] down to a manageable number worthy of a full detailed jury consideration” but rather how best to do it.

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  22. Doh, sorry tbouricius and Keith,

    tbouricius, my previous post was meant to be in reply to your post from which I quoted (it should have been addressed to you rather to Keith).

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  23. Simon’s proposal has most of the needed elements for a well-functioning and SELF-IMPROVING democracy.

    A. Multiple juries (mini-publics), each with a manageable-sized piece of the the decision-making process.

    B. A separation between the mini-public that decides on the agenda (which proposals to advance), and the mini-public that has the ultimate authority to pass a law.

    C. A separate mini-public that establishes, and improves over time, the procedures and rules for all mini-publics, to optimize good decision-making without regards to the members’ attitudes regarding any specific issues that may come down the pike.

    This division of labor, which also provides a series of checks and balances is completely unlike the all-purpose unified “legislature” that all modern elective governments use. The obvious cut and paste option to simply substitute an allotted legislature for an elected one would forfeit many of the potential benefits of the jury model.

    All of that being said, I have to admit that I was talked into writing a piece ( http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2016/04/05/imagine-democracy-built-lotteries-not-elections/ideas/nexus/ ) that has been picked up by a number of newspapers that used an allotted upper house as an example of how sortition might work… and all I can say in my defense is that it was drafted to appeal to editors (and get printed) and intended to get the creative juices flowing and get people to start thinking of alternatives to elections in general.

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  24. Terrill,

    I like your brief statement of guiding ideas A, B and C, and of course agree.

    I imagine your next article will more fully reflect your considered views. The one you wrote or co-wrote is I think engaging, interesting, reads well, and is a good short explanation/indication of what is wrong with rule by popularly elected legislatures, and why it may be preferable for lawmaking to be based on something that actually is is accord with what John Adams said: “in miniature, an exact portrait of the people at large.” I have always found that quote rather ironic as a justification for popularly elected legislatures, when it so obviously points to sortition, and I imagine you have felt the same.

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  25. Simon and Terry,

    Your proposals are an attempt at overcoming the laws of arithmetic, and therefore have very little chance of succeeding.

    Yes – filtering the set of proposals down to a manageable number is of course easy to do. But once this is done, the “participative” aspect of the process is eliminated. The average citizen will never have their proposal seriously considered.

    Once filtering is applied, the resulting process is such that there is a select group of people that can really expect to have their proposals considered, while the rest are essentially excluded from the process. The only remaining question is whether this group with agenda-setting power represents elite interests (as things are arranged now) or the people at large (by using sortition).

    So the real question is why have the public agenda determined, or at least significantly influenced, by non-representative bodies? Why not have the agenda, as well as the final up-or-down vote, set by a representative – i.e., allotted, deliberative, fully empowered, well-resourced – body? (The agenda-setting allotted body may or may not be the same one making the final up-or-down vote – this is a separate question.)

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  26. Yoram,

    I absolutely favor having an allotted body in control of the agenda, and as I understand it, that is part of Simon’s proposal as well. That does not rule out providing additional ways in for those NOT selected for the agenda-setting body to offer suggestions… but in both my and Simon’s designs those proposals (which may or may not have elite backing) have to be approved by a alloted body to advance to a final jury.
    The only value for sortition where the agenda is established by an elected legislature is for the benefit of gaining wider public awareness of the possibility of non-electoral representative decision-making… But of course elite control of the agenda in the long run does not satisfy my definition of democracy.

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  27. Terry,

    Naturally, nothing stops citizens from publicizing their ideas and proposals, sending letters to the decision makers, or promoting their agenda in any such non-institutionalized way.

    However, institutionalized channels allowing the non-allotted to force consideration of their proposals are inevitably ways for the elite to attain disproportional political power.

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  28. Simon,

    >[Sanders] does far better than Hillary in polls of Americans, and also against the various Republicans running for nomination.

    Is your suggestion then that Sanders is being crushed by the Democratic Party oligarchy? (in the sense of Michels’ iron law). As I mentioned earlier, Sanders’ campaign spending is in the same ball-park as Clinton’s and he has the advantage of being untarnished by association with scandals and the compromises of executive office. Given that those who vote in the primaries are enthusiasts and party activists (the kind of people who elected Jeremy Corbyn to lead the Labour Party) then Sanders ought to be a shoe-in for both the Democratic party candidacy, and subsequently, the presidency.

    Occam’s razor, of course, would suggest that Sanders is losing because his socialist policies doesn’t reflect public preferences (or do you have another conspiracy theory to explain why the US has never had a socialist party?), and party leaders oppose him because he hasn’t got a snowball’s chance in hell of getting elected (at least not against a regular Republican candidate). People will say all sorts of things in polls, but what counts is the mark that they make on the voting slip. But that explanation runs counter to the Marx/Pareto/Mosca/Michels elite theory that still dominates university political theory departments (one of which I am a member) and left-wing activists. When my PhD research flagged up a conflict between elite theory and empirical results (which tend to support the median-voter theory), the advice of my upgrade committee was simply to ignore the polsci evidence (thereby committing 12 months of research to the trash bin). Who needs evidence when you’ve got a perfectly good theory that has gotten along just fine without any for over 100 years? The reason that theorists and activists have been frantically plugging the Gilens/Page paper is that this is about the only scrap of evidence they have in their favour, notwithstanding the drubbing it has undergone on this forum (which nobody bothers to read). Have you read the thread yourself? I’m surprised that the paper got past the referees of the journal that published it, as it is seriously flawed.

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  29. Yoram,

    1. I take it that we agree the avalanche problem can be solved, if there is an avalanche of proposed laws being filed for jury lawmaking. It of course needs to be solved in a way that as much as reasonably possible ensures the proposed laws that have the informed support of the people (or would were the people to all become informed about them) do get to a legislative jury for a final decision so they can be passed. (Such a legislative jury could, as said, number 500 to 1,000 citizens and decide by majority vote. Or, as said, a smaller legislative jury could pass them by a supermajority vote, with close calls {less than a supermajority either way} going to a larger jury for a final decision by majority vote.) As said, the details would be worked out by the jury chosen directorate for procedures, with juries for procedures having the final say, and with the arrangements being constantly improved over time. These juries need to be fully empowered to fulfill their mandate to decide the best procedures and arrangements possible, ones that are highly democratic, ensure informed results, are fair and which provide a level playing field (very much unlike the initiative and popular election).

    2. You raise a very good question re elite and oligarchic power being used to skew jury lawmaking by preparing and bringing forward a disproportionate number of proposals tailored to serving their interests.

    This problem is real, and needs to be dealt with in how the said Directorate and juries design jury lawmaking. Here are some thoughts on the topic – on things they might do and on how serious the problem is.

    a. Whatever proposals make it through the qualifying (agenda setting) stage, they will be on a level playing field before a legislative jury and will be rejected if they cannot win the informed consent of the people as expressed by the microcosm of the people that a legislative jury is. So, whatever self serving things, say Big Pharma, may wish to propose, they have to first be qualified and then they have to win the informed consent of the people in a fair process. Good luck Big Pharma on getting any self-serving proposals that are not in the public interest through that process. (Sorry, no popular election campaigns to fund and no politicians to buy.)

    b. Although the “billionaire class” and big money interests (such as Wall Street) can pay for staff to prepare and bring forward proposals to serve their own interests, they are not at all the gatekeepers of the system (unlike in popular election where there is a “wealth primary” and unlike in the initiative where the very high cost excludes the average public interest group, and heavily skews everything).

    Any capable public interest group with a few staff can prepare and advance good public interest proposals. For example, the ACLU, NAACP, Center for American Progress, Greenpeace, Sierra Club, fair tax groups, anti-surveillance groups, net neutrality groups, trade unions, anti-poverty groups, churches, women’s groups, democracy groups and so on. Also, capable individuals can organize the drafting and bringing forward of public interest proposals, such as for example Ralph Nader, Edward Snowden (in the spare time he may have on his hands in Russia), Senator Elizabeth Warren, Senator Bernie Sanders, Jill Stein of the Green Party, public interest oriented law professors such as, litigator, law school dean and author Erwin Chemerinsky who has brought a number of pro bono public interest cases to SCOTUS (which has, disgracefully I think, decided against all but one of them).

    c. The current Dem primaries are instructive. Hillary Clinton has been able to raise a lot of money from the rich which is of course oligarchic, with for example a handful of rich Wall Streeters, or just one of them, easily able to donate more than thousands of ordinary citizens can. While this is certainly oligarchic and a problem, the Bernie campaign has raised tens of millions of dollars with the average donation being between $27 and $28.

    What this shows is that it is likely public interest legislative committees could attract the relatively modest sums of money (modest compared to running an election campaign or an initiative campaign) needed to draft and bring forward good public interest proposals. Many people might be quite happy to send $27 to for example the “Elizabeth Warren Legislation Committee for Jury Lawmaking” or to a Bernie Sanders, Ralph Nader, Jill Stein, Edward Snowden, Greenpeace, Common Dreams, or Noam Chomsky one.

    d. The Directorate and juries deciding the arrangements for jury lawmaking could see fit to establish a jury with the power to grant funds to pay for the drafting and bringing forward of good public interest proposals that might be unlikely to otherwise find even the relatively modest amount of funds needed. Anti-poverty groups and anti-poverty law professors, for example, could apply to develop, draft and bring forward anti-poverty proposals.

    The power of such a funds granting jury could also include the power to convene a jury (perhaps of 100 citizens) to work out proposals on a particular topic and then bring them forward into the jury lawmaking process. An example of this sort of jury is the Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform in British Columbia, and the subsequent one in Ontario. (As I imagine you know they worked out what they thought the best electoral system would be for their respective province.) If such a jury could not reach a consensus or strong majority in favor of one particular proposal on the topic they are asked to address, they can propose the several that received the most support and let the legislative jury decide which of them to pass, if any.

    It will tend to be a good thing if a legislative jury has several proposals before it on each topic, (several mutually exclusive proposals), as that is more democratic in that it increases the chance of the one best in accord with the informed judgement of the people being among the proposals being considered.

    e. Other things could also help, for example things that would help reduce corporate money in politics in general, such as banning profit seeking corporations from making political contributions, whether to superpacs or as the case might be (of course that would be contrary to the highly oligarchic views on free speech held by the SCOTUS conservative/Republican 5 to 4 majority that existed prior to the death of Scalia).

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  30. Keith,

    We are not likely to agree on the reality of US oligarchy, as I think I said, nor have I advanced a conspiracy theory.

    If you wish to reject the quotes re the corrosive role of big money in US politics in The Intercept page I referenced, from Al Gore, Mitt Romney, Chris Dodd, Joe Biden, Ted Cruz, Bernie Sanders and other politicians, that’s your choice. Noam Chomsky is also excellent on the topic of oligarchy in the U.S., but I assume you don’t agree with him either, if you have listened to what he says about it.

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  31. Keith,

    >party leaders oppose him because he hasn’t got a snowball’s chance in hell of getting elected (at least not against a regular Republican candidate). People will say all sorts of things in polls, but what counts is the mark that they make on the voting slip.

    Perhaps you could take up fortune-telling as a sideline, as you apparently know better than the polls how Bernie would do against the Republican candidates in the general (the polls of course saying he’d do much better than Hillary, and would win in a landslide against most of them).

    The fact “party leaders” who support Hillary say she would do better than Sanders in the general is I think of about zero evidentiary value.

    No, I’ve not read the said study, nor am I likely to any time soon. I agree with the BBC article’s complete lack of surprise concerning the study’s conclusions.

    Liked by 1 person

  32. Simon,

    It seems to me that we agree that in the system you envision it is inevitable that while there will be some proposals representing popular interests, the average citizen will never initiate or play any instrumental part in bringing forth even a single legislative proposal. On the other hand, it is also inevitable that, a disproportionate number of the qualified legislative proposals would represent elite interests (due to the fact that elite groups would have the resources to bring forth a large number of proposals).

    What then is the reason for the entire mass proposal-generation mechanism? Why spend all this effort building up a mechanism that is not participative and is inherently tilted toward the elite? Why not just have an allotted body that generates the legislative proposals? (That body may or may not be separate from the allotted body that makes the final up-or-down decisions on adopting proposals into law.)

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  33. Yoram,
    Why have a formal means for any citizen who wishes (even if not drawn by lottery) to have the opportunity to at least try to initiate a new law? It is the spirit of non-exclusion.. what the ancient Greeks called Ho Boulomenos – the right anyone to initiate. This is not just an individual right but a collective benefit. The person with a good idea or insight should have a route for presenting it. With the kinds of safeguards Simon proposes this route cannot be dominated by a privileged elite (unless you want to classify any and all citizens with a new idea as “elites.”)

    Liked by 1 person

  34. Simon,

    While I share a fondness for the (left) examples you list for public interest groups that might initiate legislation, in the interests of inclusivity, we should also mention groups like the NRA, Right to Life, Anti-immigrant, White supremacists, etc. will also bring forward proposals. Indeed, it is important to remember that democracy will reflect the society. Though I would dread it, a randomly drawn directorate might decide that only Christians should be allowed to give testimony (or in Iran only Muslims and Israel only Jews, etc.). It is hard to STRUCTURE a democracy so that it is liberal rather than illiberal… The rules of a democracy evolve and reflect the society as it evolves and educates its youth.

    Liked by 1 person

  35. Simon,

    >If you wish to reject the quotes re the corrosive role of big money in US politics in The Intercept page I referenced . . .

    The scientific method is generally based on testing hypotheses, as opposed to relying on quotes from Tom, Dick and Harry. If this is true for the physical and biological sciences then why not political science? Reliance on quotes from politicians is particularly suspect as political speech is a branch of persuasive rhetoric, rather than sober analysis. Noam Chomsky is a competent linguist (although his work has been surpassed some time ago) but his political writing is that of a partisan activist. I don’t know what sort of law you used to practice, but the criminal law involves the evaluation of evidence rather than just relying on opinions and “quotes”.

    >No, I’ve not read the said study, nor am I likely to any time soon.

    How can you use the article to support your case, if you haven’t even read it? In fairness to Gilens, he set out to test three hypotheses, but his methodology/interpretation was deeply flawed, as the statisticians involved in the thread on this blog pointed out. But then you wouldn’t know that, as you’re happy to rely on the report of a BBC journalist.

    >the polls of course say [Bernie] would do much better than Hillary, and would win in a landslide against most [republican candidates].

    Then why don’t the voters in the Democratic primaries unite behind Sanders? The comparison with the partisans who elected Jeremy Corbyn leader of the Labour Party is apposite, so if Democrat primary voters prefer Sanders’ policies and think he could win, then why don’t they vote for him? If this is an example of Michels’ thesis then the oligarchy would appear to include all the voters in the presidential primaries. “Oligarchs” would appear to be a term for people who don’t share your political convictions.

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  36. Terry,

    >Indeed, it is important to remember that democracy will reflect the society.

    More accurately the voluntarist proposals you advocate will represent the views of activists. In the context of one of John Burnheim’s threads, Naomi pointed out that voluntarist committees in the US are likely to be dominated by the Tea Party. No doubt Simon will view this as another example of oligarchy in action as his views on what qualify as democratic appear to be limited to left-leaning activists.

    Liked by 1 person

  37. Terry,

    > On the other hand, it is also inevitable that, a disproportionate number of the qualified legislative proposals would represent elite interests (due to the fact that elite groups would have the resources to bring forth a large number of proposals).

    Maybe. But such proposals may generally not even qualify. For example, if a proposal comes from say Wall Street, and is designed to put Wall Street’s interests ahead of the 99%, it may not qualify. Ditto for proposals from other rich special interests that are not in the the interest of the 99%, or for that matter of say the 60%.

    Public interest groups that do not represent rich special interests, and also trade unions, are capable of bringing forward good proposals, and as their proposals will often serve the interests of the many rather than just the few, they will be more likely to qualify and to pass, and this will tend to motivate public interest groups to bring forward more of them.

    Possibly public interest groups and trade unions will be able to formulate and bring forward more of less all of the progressive laws that might be needed that are likely in accord with informed consent of the governed.

    Also such things as those I mentioned above under d. could be used to help “level the playing field.”

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  38. Terry,

    >What then is the reason for the entire mass proposal-generation mechanism? Why spend all this effort building up a mechanism that is not participative and is inherently tilted toward the elite? Why not just have an allotted body that generates the legislative proposals?

    Because I think drafting good laws is in most/many cases a specialized task. For example if we want good laws to regulate Wall Street, it makes more sense to see what for example Elizabeth Warren and some of her friends/colleages who are capable and knowledgeable on the subject might suggest, as well as what others with relevant expertise might suggest, rather than relying on a random sample of citizens to draft a law regulating Wall Street.

    In Athens it was like that – individuals drafted proposed laws, and the Assembly acted as the democratic qualifying (agenda setting) body that decided which proposals would go to a legislative jury.

    The initiative and veto referendum are like that too (albeit a bad and oligarchic version of it). In the veto referendum the laws come from the legislature and governor, and a petition can be used to send such laws to a binding popular vote (rather than the politicians having the final say). (In a juries analog of the veto referendum, a qualifying jury would review laws passed by the politicians, and if in doubt about them could refer them to a legislative jury.)

    Under d. above I say that a jury could also be put in place with the power to fund the drafting of proposals, and say that that such a jury could also have the power to convene juries to formulate proposals (I mention two examples of juries of that kind being used in Canada – the electoral reform juries). Maybe it is appropriate for juries to formulate some proposals, or maybe not. On the topic of how politicians are elected (PR of various kinds, ranked ballot of various kinds, and so on) maybe it is useful to have a jury formulate a proposal which could then go to a legislative jury. Or maybe (thinking of Canada) it would be better to let Fair Vote, Democracy Watch, each of the federal political parties, and other groups, formulate proposals on the method of election, and let a legislative jury look at them all (or at least all of the ones that qualify) and decide which one will be implemented.

    If you had to go to court on a serious matter as a criminal or civil defendant, you would want your defense handled by a good lawyer familiar with similar cases and the relevant law. You would not want your defense handled by a random sample of your fellow citizens who know nothing about the relevant area of law, nothing about the law of evidence, and who never set foot in a courtroom before. But you might be quite happy to have a trial jury decide the verdict.

    It seems to me that we need a similar division in jury lawmaking, with capable experts drafting good laws, and with juries deciding which side of the case is best – which of those proposed laws goes into effect.

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  39. Simon,

    You again swapped Yoram and me in who your comments were addressed to… Yoram was the skeptic, I was the supporter. ;-)

    Liked by 1 person

  40. Terry,

    Thank you for tell me. Sorry about that Terry and Yoram!

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  41. Terry,

    > Why have a formal means for any citizen who wishes (even if not drawn by lottery) to have the opportunity to at least try to initiate a new law? It is the spirit of non-exclusion.. what the ancient Greeks called Ho Boulomenos

    “In the spirit”, meaning a completely symbolic gesture? It cannot have any substance since we know that – just like in ancient Athens – the large majority of citizens will never play any active part in initiating proposals. The kind of argument you are offering was exactly the one offered by the Progressives who promoted the “popular initiative” system.

    > The person with a good idea or insight should have a route for presenting it.

    The notion that “good ideas or insights” are the critical rare political resource that has to be carefully collected for society to function well is an elitist idea. In reality good, or at least reasonable, ideas are common. What is problematic is making sure that those with power represent the popular interest and are therefore interested in implementing good ideas.

    > With the kinds of safeguards Simon proposes this route cannot be dominated by a privileged elite

    Quite the contrary – those safeguards can, at best, negate some of the effects of the inherent elitism in the system.

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  42. Simon,

    > I think drafting good laws is in most/many cases a specialized task. For example if we want good laws to regulate Wall Street, it makes more sense to see what for example Elizabeth Warren and some of her friends/colleages who are capable and knowledgeable on the subject might suggest, as well as what others with relevant expertise might suggest, rather than relying on a random sample of citizens to draft a law regulating Wall Street.

    Sure. But no one is expecting random citizens to draft laws in a closed room. Just like you would the have the good sense to consult with experts when writing legislation, so would any allotted group of people. If the group reaches the conclusion that they want to legislate Wall Street regulations, they would surely go and consult with experts and follow their advice to the extent they find it convincing.

    > Under d. above I say that a jury could also be put in place with the power to fund the drafting of proposals

    Yes – that, if I understand you correctly, is what seems to me to be right way to have the legislative agenda democratically controlled. The question then is why have an additional path for agenda setting which is inherently biased toward elite interests?

    > If you had to go to court on a serious matter as a criminal or civil defendant, you would want your defense handled by a good lawyer familiar with similar cases and the relevant law. You would not want your defense handled by a random sample of your fellow citizens who know nothing about the relevant area of law, nothing about the law of evidence, and who never set foot in a courtroom before.

    All this is very true. However, your analogy misses the mark. You seem to conceive of the people as being the client having either the jury or the experts at their lawyer. Instead, the jury should be conceived as playing the role of the client with experts being its lawyer. The process of sortition guarantees that the jury can play the role of the client effectively, a role that the people as a mass cannot.

    Liked by 1 person

  43. Simon,

    In the light of yesterday’s primaries are you prepared to modify your oligarchy/plutocracy doctrine, seeing as:

    1. Trump is loathed by the GOP oligarchy, most of the commercial media and the entire commentariat, has spent comparatively little and yet is close to victory. Joe Public thinks the sun shines out of his arse, largely on account of his claim to be rich, powerful and to pack a large weiner.

    2. Clinton and Sanders have raised similar amounts of campaign funding (Sanders outspent Clinton in television advertising by a two-to-one margin in yesterdays’ contests); Sanders is unscathed by scandal and compromise and, since 2008, Wall Street backing is a decidedly mixed blessing, see: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election-us-2016-35788116 Yet Democrat primary voters prefer Clinton.

    A dispassionate observer would conclude that, on this occasion, the outcome of the primaries is likely to be determined by voter preferences, notwithstanding the views of Noam Chomsky. The only thing that can deny Republican primary voters their clear preference is a stitch-up between Cruz and Kasich in the remaining primaries. As for Sanders’ claim that the system is stacked against him, this overlooks the fact that the primary is to select the Democratic party candidate, and this would suggest that it should be decided by registered members of the Democratic party (as opposed to the oligarchs that run the party).

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  44. Yoram,

    >Yes [re: d. … a jury could also be put in place with the power to fund the drafting of proposals…] – that, if I understand you correctly, is what seems to me to be right way to have the legislative agenda democratically controlled.

    We seem to agree that that would be a good approach.

    Your next sentence is:
    >The question then is why have an additional path for agenda setting which is inherently biased toward elite interests?

    Let’s continue with Wall Street regulations as an example.

    We both agree that we should not expect a random sample of citizens to come up with and work out regulatory legislation for Wall Street on their own. Citizens will need expert advice and suggestions to do this in a competent informed way. I think what a jury is competent to do is to evaluate competing proposals in the context of a well designed process (not entirely unlike what a trial jury does, or what the nomothetai did).

    I think if we simply let the experts on Wall Street regulation prepare and draft proposed laws on the topic we will get a good set and range of proposals. Bernie, Elizabeth Warren, Ron Paul, Ralph Nader, Senate Republicans, groups funded by Wall Street, also perhaps public interest oriented Wall Streeters (like the very prominent one who recently said Bernie’s economic plan was, no question, by far the best economic plan put forward by the candidates running).

    Those proposals that don’t serve the public interest will be rejected in the jury legislation process. The fact that Wall Street has tons of money to put into formulating proposed laws to serve their interests will not stop a legislative jury from passing a law from for example Bernie or Ron Paul that serves the interest of most Americans, and prevents another crash and bailout, and another case of massive fraud.

    If however it turns out that good proposals from public interest groups (that are not in the pocket of rich interests) are not coming forward on some topics, then something along the lines of d. will need to be implemented. A funding jury could decide to fund legislation on specific topics (such a public education of children, or ways to reduce and alleviate child poverty), or it good fund people to run legislative committees that have the mandate of putting forward good public interest proposed laws that might not come forward without public funding. Perhaps a jury could choose a few people to head up such legislative committees and do so on a PR basis (such as single alternative vote) – maybe for example Ralph Nader, Ron Paul, and Ian Millhiser, or such, might be chosen to head up three legislative drafting committees with such a mandate (to draft good public interest laws that would not be funded by rich interests nor by existing public interest groups nor by trade unions).

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  45. Keith,

    Keith,

    >1. Trump is loathed by the GOP oligarchy, most of the commercial media and the entire commentariat, has spent comparatively little and yet is close to victory. Joe Public thinks the sun shines out of his arse, largely on account of his claim to be rich, powerful and to pack a large weiner.

    Trump has received massive media coverage. He also is of course seen as “anti-establishment” and as someone who “cannot be bought”. These are important reasons for his success. However, he is also a billionaire Republican and can I think be counted on to more or less represent the best interests of the “billionaire class,” and as such is not exactly a break with oligarchy, even though some of the conservative establishment, including it seems the Koch brothers, don’t like him.

    Re Bernie vs. Hillary. I’ve already mentioned that the corporate media has in general been more or less campaigning for Hillary and against Bernie, and that the value of that to her campaign is enormous. She is also backed by the Dem establishment, another huge advantage that may include voter suppression (fraud and manipulation, not just massive incompetence). She is also funded by rich interests which is totally oligarchic – just because Bernie and his millions of donors have managed to do well against this oligarchic funding reality does not mean it is not oligarchic (just because the peasants may have sometimes got the better of their feudal lords by virtue of their larger numbers, does not mean that feudalism was not in place). The fundraising of the Bernie campaign is amazing and shows just how sick and tired so many are about corporate funded candidates like Hillary.

    Some primaries are open primaries in which independents can vote, and others are, as I understand it, very close to open as people can register as Dems right up to election day. So your following view is not at all something on which even all Dems agree >the primary is to select the Democratic party candidate, and this would suggest that it should be decided by registered members of the Democratic party (asopposed to the oligarchs that run the party). [and as opposed to people who may be or may have been independents, but who wish to vote for Bernie]

    In any case, closed primaries are very much part of a rigged system. In a democratic system the candidate with the most public support, which is Bernie if independents are included, should be able to run for president. Also, as independents, who are now about 42% to 45% of the public, are going to determine the election, a Dem party actually interested in maximizing its electoral prospects in the general election would have open primaries – because, guess what, as of course you know, independents get to vote in the general.

    It also happens that the primaries are publicly funded. If they are to be only for Dems who were registered Dems months before the primary, then perhaps the Dems should pay for them.

    Another part of the rigged game is that ranked ballots are not used in the general election, something which is totally undemocratic and disrespectful to voters, in particular because it creates the anti-democratic vote splitting problem. All the crocodile tears from Democrats blaming Nader for Gore’s defeat were a farce when the Dems have always opposed ranked ballots, an obvious democratic way to respect the voters and to end vote splitting.

    Liked by 1 person

  46. Simon,

    I don’t claim any detailed knowledge of American politics, but if the people choose Trump, against the wishes of the establishment, then that’s what is normally called (electoral) “democracy”. If the people choose a billionaire, then why do you refer to that as “oligarchy”? Most political scientists would see it as a form of caesarism — when the charismatic leader unites with the people against the oligarchs (there’s a long history of this phenomenon). As for Sanders, the most parsimonious explanation is that a majority of voters in the Democratic primaries don’t like his policies. Putting all the blame on the false consciousness created by the media would suggest that you have a very low view of the intellectual powers of your fellow citizens.

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  47. Keith,

    Again, Bernie is the most popular candidate with Americans (a category that includes independents and people who would like to become Dems to vote for him). It is not a majority of Americans that prefer Hillary, but rather a rigged or skewed system that favors her. The “intellectual powers” of most Americans have led them to prefer Bernie to the other candidates, despite the heavily stacked deck against him and them.

    Caesar was an oligarch and dictator who came to power in a military coup.

    American’s elections do not mean that it is not an oligarchy. Nor do Iran’s elections mean that it is not an oligarchy/theocracy.

    Corporate rule in the news and public affairs media is undemocratic, and makes society less democratic.

    You won’t likely agree with this spirited rant, but anyway:

    Like

  48. Keith, Link did not work (not a big deal): https://www.facebook.com/ajplusenglish/videos/721962624611914/

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  49. Simon,
    Sanders has reasonably high favorability ratings. True. But that doesn’t mean most people want him to be president (or even know much about him). He’s the quirky uncle of the race. Most Democrats who care enough to vote in the primaries clearly prefer Hillary. The idea that a self-proclaimed socialist will prove more popular with the average voter than with the passionate (primary voting) subset of the Democratic Party is not a defensible position.

    The reason Trump has had more success than Sanders is because of how fractured the Republican field was early on. There were ELEVEN other candidates still in the race when the primaries started. Even so-called “proportional” states have winner-take-all conditions that can be triggered and absurd 10-20% thresholds to win delegates. If Trump had faced a single opponent from day one he would have been clobbered.

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  50. Simon,

    > I think what a jury is competent to do is to evaluate competing proposals in the context of a well designed process

    Why should it be easier to evaluate a set of proposals than drafting one? Especially if the set is large, it seems that the former could be much more difficult.

    More important, however, is the difference between the role of active directors determining the plot of the play and passive spectators switching channels. Putting the people’s representatives in the passive position of having to choose from a set of options provided to them by elite groups is the opposite of where they should be in a democratic system.

    Relatedly, what about introducing amendments? Would the jury be forced to take one of the proposals as is, or would it be allowed to introduce changes?

    This raises another important issue: the all-or-nothing nature of the process you propose (and this applies even if amendments are allowed). A legislative body (and any decision making body) should be able to make decisions knowing that the results would need to be examined and changes or follow-up legislation may need to be introduced. By creating a prolonged process which involves multiple bodies and a large number of people such an experiment-and-correct process becomes impossible. This is a major hindrance to effective democratic government.

    > Bernie, Elizabeth Warren, Ron Paul, Ralph Nader, Senate Republicans, groups funded by Wall Street, also perhaps public interest oriented Wall Streeters

    Look who you are pinning your hopes upon: those few elected politicians or activists who manage to gain some power or some public attention despite the oligarchical nature of the electoral system. So you are hoping that the occasional crack in the oligarchical structure of the existing system would be the basis upon which a democratic system can be built. A highly unpromising arrangement.

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  51. Simon,

    > Corporate rule in the news and public affairs media is undemocratic, and makes society less democratic.

    Yes – this is a very important issue. The non-trivial task of coming up with a democratic structure for mass media is an important part of democratizing modern society.

    Liked by 1 person

  52. Simon,

    I would endorse Naomi’s response regarding Sanders. In electoral democracies with universal franchise “popularity” is operationalised through the number of votes cast by citizens who go to the trouble of registering, not respondents to an opinion poll.

    >Corporate rule in the news and public affairs media is undemocratic, and makes society less democratic.

    Your claim is a sign of the long tail of Harold Lasswell’s communications thesis in media studies and related neo-Marxist disciplines. Bear in mind that Lasswell formulated his model in 1927 (around the same time as Mosca’s venerable “ruling class” thesis) as a result of his study of Nazi propaganda. The alternative perspective (developed from empirical studies of modern commercial media in the UK) is that a competitive free press has an essential role to play in representative isegoria. This is because, in a truly competitive market, the press are obliged to refine and enlarge the views of their subscribers, otherwise they would go out of business. For example the political class and the “public” media (i.e. the BBC) have conspired against the “masses” in the imposition of high levels of immigration, multiculturalism and a “liberal” social agenda and it has only been the much-maligned “corporate” media that has represented the interests and values of ordinary people against the cultural elite. The US suffers from local monopolies (I don’t know about Canada) so the principle doesn’t really apply. I’ve spent over a year researching this and have written extensively on the topic but I don’t imagine you would be interested in reading it as you don’t even have the time and inclination to read papers that you rely on to support your case (e.g. Gilens and Page), but prefer journalistic summaries and internet rants.

    Yoram: >The non-trivial task of coming up with a democratic structure for mass media is an important part of democratizing modern society.

    The mass media are democratic in so far as there is wide choice so people can vote with their feet.

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  53. Naomi,

    >The idea that a self-proclaimed socialist will prove more popular with the average voter than with the passionate (primary voting) subset of the Democratic Party is not a defensible position.

    It is based on the best available evidence there is, the opinion surveys of Americans. In these Bernie wins against Trump in a landslide, and does better against Trump and the other Republican candidates than Hillary. He already has proved more popular with the voters, (according to the polls).

    The other factor is that again and again, the more that people are exposed to Bernie the more they like him, despite the stacked deck against him (corporate media, Democrat establishment, Clinton machine). In state after state he has come from behind to defeat Hillary in open primaries, sometimes by a landslide, and to close in on her lead in closed primaries (some of which, like the one in New York, she only won because of the disenfranchisement of independents, and of those who would have liked to become Dems to vote for Bernie after the Dems’ October cut off date for New York).

    Also, he is a self proclaimed “democratic socialist” which is not the same as the description you use.

    Like

  54. Naomi,

    Describing Bernie as the “quirky uncle in the race” is part of the media spin against Bernie. There are any number of factual descriptions which could be used to describe Bernie rather than the said disparaging description you mention. The Senator with the highest approval rating from the people of his state in the US Senate, the presidential candidate with the highest likability and honesty rating from the US public, the only presidential candidate in history to raise however many millions it has been with the average donation being $27, the only candidate who supports federal $15 and free college tuition, the underdog in the Dem primaries, the people funded candidate, the preferred candidate of younger citizens, the candidate that would do best in the general election according to polls, are among the factually accurate descriptions that come to mind – not hard to think of them, if the purpose is something other than to disparage and discredit him.

    Liked by 1 person

  55. Yoram,

    >Yes – this is a very important issue. The non-trivial task of coming up with a democratic structure for mass media is an important part of democratizing modern society.

    On that we are in complete agreement.

    Liked by 1 person

  56. Keith,

    >For example the political class and the “public” media (i.e. the BBC) have conspired against the “masses” in the imposition of high levels of immigration, multiculturalism and a “liberal” social agenda and it has only been the much-maligned “corporate” media that has represented the interests and values of ordinary people against the cultural elite.

    I believe the rule now exercised over public broadcasting by politicians needs to be transferred to juries, as I wrote and argued in my article about Canada’s public broadcaster the CBC in October. Although the article was about the CBC, the principles are basically the same for all public broadcasters.

    I don’t think corporate media especially represents “the interests and values of ordinary people” nor do I think our societies are run by a “cultural elite” whatever exactly that is supposed to mean.

    Like

  57. Keith,

    My views on the corporate media are based in part on the analysis of Noam Chomsky, who is not a Marxist.

    The US corporate media coverage of for example the primaries is indicative of the interests that they represent.

    Liked by 1 person

  58. Yoram,

    >Why should it be easier to evaluate a set of proposals than drafting one? Especially if the set is large, it seems that the former could be much more difficult.

    Whether evaluating proposals is difficult or not, it needs to be done by juries, if it is to be done in an informed and democratic way (as opposed to being decided by popular vote).

    However, drawing up proposals need not be done by juries, as long as the best proposals (the ones most likely to be passed by a jury, hopefully including the one a jury would most prefer) are put forward.

    The question re the drawing up of proposals is how to get the best proposals (the ones most in accord with the informed judgement of the people).

    Thinking of the example of Wall Street regulation, an open contest of ideas (proposals) in which anyone (which in practice means anyone or any group with the right set of skills and abilities, and the time to do it, or a source of money to pay them to do it) may be the best way to get the a set of proposals that includes those that are most in accord with the informed judgement of the people.

    IF there just are not people in Congress and in public interest groups and interested academics and such who are currently capable of producing good proposals (in accord with the informed judgement of the people) then this model would need help. One way to help it would be a funding jury which could fund several individuals or groups (of the jury’s choice) to produce good proposals that might not otherwise be produced.

    Another way would be to have a jury work with hired experts (presumably chosen by jury as there is not any other democratic way to do it) to come up with a proposal or set of proposals (on Wall Street regulation). However, I am not convinced that this process would yield the proposal that would be most preferred by a legislative jury. So, even if a jury working with experts is used, the ability to put forward proposals on Wall Street regulation should be open to all.

    Yes, there are concerns because of the unequal distribution of resources in society (and in particular the concentration of money in Wall Street), but a jury lawmaking system will filter out the rubbish and hokum, and will pass the proposal that most accords with the informed judgment of the people (as expressed by a legislative jury).

    Like

  59. Simon,
    “Quirky uncle” was certainly not intended to be disparaging. I love my quirky uncle. Sanders gives off that exact same nice-but-unusual-older-gentleman-I’d-like-to-go-fishing-with-but-wouldn’t-want-to-be-president vibe. That said, I certainly appreciate how the comment sounded and apologize if it seemed like I was being dismissive of him and his supporters.

    Regarding his electability… you have to step back and see the forest for the trees. The election is seven months away. Polls at this point are crap. People know Trump and have a negative opinion of him. What percentage of people polled could articulate a single one of Sanders’ policies? A name made up by a random name generator could probably out-poll Trump with low-information voters in a one-on-one match-up at this stage. Sanders is likely too far from the position of the median voter to be competitive. That’s the reality of the situation. He’s to the left of the Democratic Party. He can’t even get the average democrat on board with him. But somehow he’s supposed to do a better job than Hillary of getting millions of people who occasionally back Republicans to vote for him in the general?

    Not that any of this should actually matter here on this blog. We all agree that the electoral mechanism is not good enough to be the only democratic tool. This is not the right place to hash out American politics.

    Liked by 1 person

  60. Yoram,

    >Putting the people’s representatives in the passive position of having to choose from a set of options provided to them by elite groups is the opposite of where they should be in a democratic system.

    O.k., well, I don’t think making the final decision about which proposal to accept is “passive.” When a jury decides the verdict in a trial would we say the jury is passive?

    I don’t know what you mean by “elite groups.” If you mean “elite groups” representing rich interests, well those are not the only groups that proposals are going to come from. Proposals are also going to come from those who represent the public interest (not the interest of Wall Street, or Exxon, or Monsanto or whatever). Even juries that work with experts can be said to be relying on “elite groups” if the term is used so broadly that it includes all experts.

    >what about introducing amendments? Would the jury be forced to take one of the proposals as is, or would it be allowed to introduce changes?

    Juries would be free to reject all proposals before them, and keep the status quo. It may also be a good idea for the jury to be able to call for more proposals, or to invite amendments to the existing proposals, if none of the proposals before them were to their liking.

    My own feeling is that a legislative jury should not get into the business of drafting amendments itself. However, individual jurors could ask pointed questions, asking why such and such was not in a proposal, or why it did not address this or that. In the absence of answers satisfying the jury, the jury could reject the proposal, and perhaps give those bringing it an adjournment to come back with some revised versions for the jury to consider.

    I am uneasy about juries making amendments. One reason for that is that people can tend to like their own ideas, and may therefore be biased in favour of a proposal that includes their own amendments. Another is that I’m not sure that it is within the competence of a jury, and perhaps especially not of a large jury of 500 to 1,000 jurors.

    But, my own thoughts on such details are secondary. What is key is that there be a good system in place to design jury lawmaking in an informed and highly democratic way, and with the capacity to make improvements over time, and to correct shortcomings and flaws, and to decide such details as whether a legislative jury can propose and make amendments or not.

    >This raises another important issue: the all-or-nothing nature of the process you propose (and this applies even if amendments are allowed). A legislative body (and any decision making body) should be able to make decisions knowing that the results would need to be examined and changes or follow-up legislation may need to be introduced. By creating a prolonged process which involves multiple bodies and a large number of people such an experiment-and-correct process becomes impossible. This is a major hindrance to effective democratic government.

    I am not quite sure what you mean. When a legislature (British parliament or whatever) passes a law they pass a law, and that does have an “all-or-nothing” nature does it not?

    Jury lawmaking has to involve a large number of people as you of course know, otherwise a legislative jury won’t be an accurate sample/microcosm/miniature of the people.

    >Look who you are pinning your hopes upon: those few elected politicians or activists who manage to gain some power or some public attention despite the oligarchical nature of the electoral system. So you are hoping that the occasional crack in the oligarchical structure of the existing system would be the basis upon which a democratic system can be built. A highly unpromising arrangement.

    The specific examples I mentioned are just examples to show that public interest oriented people and groups are out there who could draft good public interest proposals regarding Wall Street (or whatever).

    Good proposed laws are going to have to come at least in part from people who are exceptionally skilled or knowledgeable. That is true of any system of good lawmaking. I grant that the unequal distribution of economic power is a problem, but I’m not sure it is as big a problem for jury lawmaking as you may think, and even if it is there are solutions to that problem which I have suggested above.

    Like

  61. Naomi,

    o.k. :o)

    Like

  62. Simon,

    >The US corporate media coverage of for example the primaries is indicative of the interests that they represent.

    In the same way that the median voter theorem requires a plurality of political parties, the representative isegoria model presupposes robust competition between commercial media. This is very evident in the UK, less so in the US, where local monopolies often apply. This would suggest that the solution is more commercial media, rather than so-called impartial public media, notwithstanding the views of Noam Chomsky. As to the role of random selection, I would love to see an indictment of BBC political bias decided by a jury.

    Like

  63. Keith,

    >This would suggest that the solution is more commercial media, rather than so-called impartial public media

    Having the mainstream news and public affairs media under the rule of one narrow sector of society, specifically large profit driven corporations, conglomerates and billionaires, is extremely undemocratic, and is not at all a formula for democratic media.

    It is contrary to democratic basics, including rule by the people (as opposed to rule by large profit driven corporations and billionaires), the consent of the governed, the equality of citizens, independence of news and public affairs media from powerful special interests, and media’s public interest function of holding the powerful to account, exposing falsehood, deception, corruption and injustice, and telling the truth.

    Granted it is even worse when there is extreme corporate concentration, but even with less corporate concentration it far from democracy.

    Liked by 1 person

  64. Simon,

    >Having the mainstream news and public affairs media under the rule of one narrow sector of society, specifically large profit driven corporations, conglomerates and billionaires, is extremely undemocratic.

    1. Most open-minded people on the left have, albeit reluctantly, accepted that competitive markets (and the profit motive) are the most efficient way of providing goods and services in the real world — obvious examples being the provision of motor vehicles and consumer electronics. The competition between large corporations has helped drive innovation and drive down real-term prices. Anyone old enough to remember the PC market before Apple, IBM and Microsoft (I have been involved in the sector since the late 1970s) will attest to the benign influence of these corporate behemoths, particularly with regard to connectivity and data transfer.

    2. Empirical studies of the corporate media in the UK have concluded that newspapers’ political preferences follow the public, rather than the other way round. The claim that it was the Sun “wot won it” for the Conservatives in 1992 was not just hubristic, it was factually incorrect. I would be happy to forward you the supporting evidence.

    My question to you in this respect is simple: do you accept point 1) and, if so, why do you claim that the provision of news, information and informed opinion is the exception that proves the rule?

    >the media’s public interest function of holding the powerful to account, exposing falsehood, deception, corruption and injustice.

    Exactly. The corporate media have a good track record in this respect, especially in the UK. As for the US, one word will suffice — Watergate. Or if you’re not old enough to remember that, then what about the role of the Boston Globe in exposing the scandal of sex abuse in the Roman Catholic church?

    Like

  65. Keith,

    We have very different views on corporate media which we could I believe discuss at quite some length.

    >1. Most open-minded people on the left have, albeit reluctantly, accepted that competitive markets (and the profit motive) are the most efficient way of providing goods and services in the real world — obvious examples being the provision of motor vehicles and consumer electronics.

    I disagree with this broad claim on at least two levels. Markets and profit motive are highly inappropriate and undesirable in a fair number of cases, as just about any reasonable person who gives it a little thought will agree ;o)

    a) No sensible person prefers a private competitive markets approach to everything. Examples: i) Very few would think it a good idea for all roads and sidewalks to be sold off to the highest bidder with whoever buys them being free to charge whatever price they like for their use, and with maximizing profit being the objective. ii) Would it be a good idea to privatize the police, firefighters and all hospitals and clinics, selling them to the highest bidder and having the owners sell their services to the public on the basis of maximizing profit? iii) Would it be a good idea to sell the seats in parliament to the highest bidder, with the corporations and billionaires who buy the seats then selling their services on the basis of profit maximization (such as the service of passing legislation that people might like to pay for, or providing constituency work to members of the public for a fee). Would it be desirable to sell all of England’s coast and parks to whoever would pay the most for them, and then charging people for access to and use of the beaches, coastline and parks on the basis of maximizing profit? How about selling the judiciary to private corporations to run them on the basis of maximizing profit? How about selling all publicly owned schools, colleges and universities to private corporations to run them on a basis of profit maximization? Well you might say these examples are absurd, we don’t want corporate rule, privatization and the maximizing of profit to be the how these things are organized. That is of course exactly the point, there are cases in which corporate rule and maximizing profit are extremely bad ideas, and very much contrary to the public interest.

    b) We generally want private markets and corporations to be well and effectively regulated, at least if we have a bit of sense. Re the motor vehicles example you mention, among the regulations we might want are emission controls to reduce pollution, having seat belts in cars and perhaps airbags as well, having cars that don’t explode on impact (think Ralph Nader’s book Unsafe At Any Speed), banning the use of asbestos in cars (asbestos laden break pads, and so on), banning leaded gasoline, making car manufacturers liable for defects that kill and injure people, having protections for the workers that make cars such as health and safety regulations for example, or as in Germany even giving the workers representation on the board of directors.

    >2. Empirical studies of the corporate media in the UK have concluded that newspapers’ political preferences follow the public, rather than the other way round.

    Sounds highly improbable to me. I am sure good some that study British media have a different opinion on the topic.

    >As for the US, one word will suffice — Watergate.

    In Watergate Nixon trampled on powerful establishment interests, namely the Democratic Party, one of the two major parties in the US, so Watergate is an example of how the media represent powerful establishment interests.

    During the same general time period Nixon and Kissinger launched a murderous assault on Cambodia which the media declined to cover (the bombing was a secret only in the sense the U.S. media did not cover it). The Nixon admin also overthrew democracy in Chile in 73 but were not taken to task by the media for the end of democracy in Chile and the resulting reign of terror with thousands murdered by the state, many more tortured, and many fleeing into exile. Nor was the Nixon admin taken to task by the media for COINTELPRO in which non-establishment political and public interest groups were targeted in a far more vicious and extreme way than Watergate targeted the Democrats. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/COINTELPRO

    >what about the role of the Boston Globe in exposing the scandal of sex abuse in the Roman Catholic church?

    Spotlight is, by the way, an excellent movie (as you may well agree). Although the Spotlight team at the Globe did eventually break the story, which was a very good thing, the Globe had previously sat on and ignored the evidence for years. The sex abuse had been going on for many decades, and it was only the Globe (of the major US media) that finally after all those years broke the story. The fact that even the horrible abuse of children was left unreported by the corporate media for decades is not exactly a good example of them holding the powerful to account.

    The evidence on the US media points very much in the opposite direction to what you suggest. The invasion of Iraq and the lack of coverage on wealth inequality are among the many examples.

    Like

  66. Simon,

    >We have very different views on corporate media which we could I believe discuss at quite some length.

    Happy to if you are prepared to extend your reading beyond the confines of Noam Chomsky and American experience. I can email you the relevant material if you so wish.

    >No sensible person prefers a private competitive markets approach to everything.

    Your examples refer to the disposal of natural monopolies (sidewalks, police, parliament) and are orthogonal to my point — that ongoing competition, where people can vote with their feet, is the best way of supplying goods and services and that there is, in principle no difference between the markets for consumer electronics and information/commentary. This presupposes of course that there is no such thing as an impartial god’s eye perspective on information and commentary and that the best way of arriving at the “truth” is via a dialectical exchange of opinions — ideally within, but if not then between different media outlets. Whilst the regulation of goods and services is important for safety reasons, it’s not at all clear how this might be possible in the field of information without prejudicing the free flow of information and opinion. Support for the first amendment is not just the province of the political right, although some commentators on the left appear to have forgotten the lesson of John Wilkes.

    >Watergate is an example of how the media represent powerful establishment interests.

    Forgive me if I’m wrong, but my understanding is that the Watergate conspiracy was revealed by investigative journalists at the Washington Post, Time and New York Times (aka “corporate media”).

    >The evidence on the US media points very much in the opposite direction to what you suggest.

    As I’ve mentioned several times before, the US media is characterised by high profitability and local monopolies. My thesis is based on the UK, where the opposite is the case.

    >Sounds highly improbable to me.

    All I can do is suggest you read it.

    Like

  67. >Your examples refer to the disposal of natural monopolies (sidewalks, police, parliament) and are orthogonal to my point — that ongoing competition, where people can vote with their feet, is the best way of supplying goods and services and that there is, in principle no difference between the markets for consumer electronics and information/commentary.

    I don’t think what you say about natural monopolies is correct in most of the examples I gave. Let’s take fire fighters, it could be privatized with privately run fire companies set up to each run their own business. If your house is on fire you can call one of them, if the price is too high you can call around and see if you can get a better deal elsewhere. Or you could shop around and buy fire insurance from one of them (which would cover you in the event you needed their services, subject to the terms and conditions of their contract, possibly with a deductible…), or maybe for good measure two of them, as two fire trucks hopefully trying to get there before the house burnt down might be better than one.

    Similarly for buying seats in parliament. Various corporations could solicit funds to buy the seats in parliament for the next few years (the upcoming term of office, or until the next election is called within that term), and then buy them. They could also just buy them outright with their own money for the next few years, and then offer their legislative and other services for sale. For example they could ask the public how they would like to decide the Brexit issue, invite the public and private corporations to offer them money, and then vote whichever way offered them the highest profit, the best return on the investment they made when they bought the seats for a few years.

    For the police it would be the same as the firefighters. When you are robbed or assaulted or someone you care about is murdered you can call up a police corporation, pay them a fee and they’ll come over and investigate, maybe charging you a premium if they actually get someone convicted. Or maybe you could take out a police insurance plan with one of the police companies.

    In all of these cases there is ongoing competition, with people able to “vote with their feet,” or more accurately with their dollars/pounds/euros.

    The news and public affairs media business is very different from for example the fridges and microwaves business. First of all media has central public interest roles to play in democracy and freedom. Secondly private media customers are primarily advertisers, typically other large corporations, and to to some extent government and political parties.

    >Forgive me if I’m wrong, but my understanding is that the Watergate conspiracy was revealed by investigative journalists at the Washington Post, Time and New York Times (aka “corporate media”).

    That was not disputed. What was pointed out is that they were protecting powerful interests, namely the Democratic Party, one of the two major parties in the US. I gave you examples of things the corporate media did not choose to hold the Nixon admin accountable for. I take it you have no explanation as to why there was such a discrepancy. In any case, we know very well why, it is because the media was far more interested in exposing and opposing the Nixon admin’s relatively minor crimes against powerful establishment interests, than in doing the same re the far more serious crimes (mass murder, overthrow of a government, targeting dissidents for dirty tricks and repression) against those who were not part of the US establishment.

    If you wish to send me a link re British media I’ll be happy to add it to my reading list. I have read some of what James Curran (and others) have said about the British media a long time ago, but I doubt you agree with him. Regarding the Iraq invasion, my guess/impression is that the British media were more or less a propaganda arm of the government, as was the case in the US.

    Like

  68. Simon,

    You should get a job writing copy for the von Mises Institute — Murray Rothbard would be proud of you. Personally I would not want to shop around for quotes while my house was burning down, but then I’m not a dogmatic free market libertarian.

    >First of all media has central public interest roles to play in democracy and freedom.

    And who is to decide what is in the public interest? In the UK it’s the BBC, but they have been tried and found wanting. The public interest is best served by a dialectical process, hence the need for robust competition.

    >Secondly private media customers are primarily advertisers, typically other large corporations, and to to some extent government and political parties.

    This is increasingly true as we move towards internet-only sites, paid for by advertisers. In the Good Old Days in the UK, newspapers were beholden to their subscribers, and there was a firewall between the editorial and advertising departments. I’ll send you the chapter of my thesis summarising the serious polsci evidence supporting this argument.

    As for the UK media’s treatment of Iraq the coverage was mixed, but you have to remember that many people actually believed the government’s case at the time — that’s an inherent problem when dealing with arguments based on evidence supplied by the intelligence services which are not open to journalistic scrutiny.

    Like

  69. Keith,

    >Personally I would not want to shop around for quotes while my house was burning down,

    That of course is precisely the point. There are areas where leaving things to free market competition between corporations is bad public policy.

    >And who is to decide what is in the public interest? In the UK it’s the BBC, but they have been tried and found wanting. The public interest is best served by a dialectical process, hence the need for robust competition.

    As you know, or may remember, I do not support the BBC model, and consider it wanting in terms of democracy and freedom (which is not to say the BBC does not do a lot of excellent work, just that we can do much better, at least or especially when it comes to news and public affairs).

    Nor do I support the regulatory and legislative model that now applies to broadcasting. (I want the members of the broadcasting regulatory authority chosen by jury, preferably by a PR method, and I want the final say about legislation regarding broadcasting transferred to legislative juries, subject to judicial review by judges chosen by jury on a PR basis, and with jury-based PR {proportional rep} being part of the equation for news and public affairs programming.)

    Re “robust competition,” I believe in open democratic public discussion uncurtailed by the self interest and ideology of corporate and billionaire media owners (such as Rupert Murdock who I believe continues to own a considerable chunk of Britain’s media), and the influence of corporate and government advertisers.

    We agree that arrangements need to be made to keep editorial separate from advertising. I think corporate and billionaire ownership is also a problem regarding editorial.

    >As for the UK media’s treatment of Iraq the coverage was mixed, but you have to remember that many people actually believed the government’s case at the time

    Many had the sense to see that the government was lying at the time, and at least in the US such people and the views they expressed were systemically censored out by the corporate media.

    As you mentioned the Boston Globe, here’s an article from them pointing out some of the misinformation we seem to be getting about Syria here (I don’t know if it is any better in Britain): https://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2016/02/18/the-media-are-misleading-public-syria/8YB75otYirPzUCnlwaVtcK/story.html

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  70. Simon, at root it’s a question of causality — are the political leanings of a newspaper dictated by a) its readers or b) its proprietor? There have been a number of empirical studies on this issue demonstrating that under conditions of robust competition and low profitability (that pertain in the UK) the former is more true than the latter. The evidence goes against the dominant Lasswell doctrine in media/cultural studies and suggests that our fellow citizens are not quite as stupid and gullible as adherents of critical theory and other post-Marxist creeds would have us believe.

    Let me have your email address (contact me at keith@imprint.co.uk if you like) and I’ll send you the chapter summarising this research (including the argument for US and Italian exceptionalism). Then, if you read it, we can have a properly informed conversation.

    Like

  71. Simon,

    I just happened across a video that is relevant to a point we discussed. You asked:

    > O.k., well, I don’t think making the final decision about which proposal to accept is “passive.”

    Here is how Chomsky put things: https://youtu.be/XyTp1vxStk4?t=1m54s.

    Liked by 1 person

  72. Yoram,

    Always a pleasure to hear Chomsky’s analysis. Thanks!

    What he says is of course part of why legislative juries, not elected politicians, need to have the final say in lawmaking, and why there needs to be an open process (open to all) re what gets on the agenda, perhaps including juries that consider what topics need to be on the agenda, and perhaps also working out some of the proposals on those topics that should be considered.

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  73. >I believe in open democratic public discussion uncurtailed by the self interest and ideology of corporate and billionaire media owners (such as Rupert Murdoch who I believe continues to own a considerable chunk of Britain’s media).

    Simon, how do you reconcile this claim with the fact that in next week’s EU referendum two of Murdoch’s three UK newspapers (The Sun and The Sunday Times) support Brexit, whereas the third one (The Times) supports Remain? The divergence would indicate that the three publications are an important source of representative isegoria for their respective readerships and that the editorial independence of each has not been compromised by the political preferences of its ultimate owner.

    However what I think we both will agree on is the fact that the referendum outcome is likely to be decided by popular revulsion against the murder of an MP in the Remain camp is a good reason to reject referendums in favour of the informed verdict of a large randomly-selected jury.

    Like

  74. We also learned yesterday that The Mail on Sunday has endorsed the Remain camp, whereas The [Daily] Mail is pro-Brexit. In parallel with the Murdoch example, both these papers are owned by Lord Rothermere’s DMGT group. The obvious explanation of this phenomenon is that a competitive free press reflects (and refines and enlarges) the views of the population that it serves and the UK is evenly split between In and Out in the forthcoming referendum. Any fair-minded commentator should reject the Chomskyite dogma that the press is dominated by the “self interest and ideology of corporate and billionaire media owners” and start to examine the alternative (representative isegoria) model.

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