Why sortition is not enough

In over forty years of advocating sortition, the reaction I have most frequently encountered is: “No thanks. I’m not surrendering my vote to a faceless ragbag of the sort of people I have to put up with every day. Politicians may be full of faults, but at least they have gone through a selection process that ensures they aren’t complete idiots.”

I reply that it is not a question of personnel, but of structured roles and the way they work. Most people do attempt to meet the requirements of the roles entrusted to them. Not everybody succeeds, but in a representative sample they will do at least as well as a corresponding sample of voters at the task of making the right decisions. One of the basic defects of voting is that people are reduced to choosing what is on offer, and it is often the case that none of the options on offer is satisfactory, because the party system subordinates considerations of policy to the wheeling and dealing of the struggle for power. Sortition removes policy from any such struggle.

One would expect people who have no career at stake to look at proposals on their merits, as they affect people like themselves rather than as a matter of political tactics. But that is not enough. Already in the early 1980s when I wrote Is Democracy Possible? I realised that even very intelligent open- minded people often don’t understand the problems of minority groups such as Aboriginal people or the long-term unemployed. The advice of experts is often of limited value; based on theories that concentrate on one aspect of a problem, where the difficulty is how to relate incommensurable aspects of that problem.

There is no substitute for giving the basic initiative in dealing with a problem to those who are most directly affected by it, for good or ill. So I emphasised the importance of specific sampling in setting up groups to handle the development of solutions that address the specifics of a problem. Some kleroterians have taken that concern on board. Obviously there are various possibilities in combination with other considerations.

Only belatedly did I realise that such developments are still not enough to ensure good policy, much less to generate a positive sense of the political process as an achievement that people identify with, a common good in which we all share. not just something we have to put up with. To cut a long analysis short: people are prepared to accept that in the long run an adjudication must be made between conflicting claims, and that a jury of their peers is the best way we have of performing that task. What they do not accept is that any form of representation can be relied on to understand and promote their particular concerns.

Of course, in a free country they can make their concerns known in many different ways, individually or in association with others, but any particular voice gets drowned in the noise. Only a few get heard. The bodies that frame policy do ask for submissions and seek expert advice. But what happens to those items is utterly obscure. Before a final decision is made proposals are published or comment. But at this stage all that is possible is tinkering with this or that aspect of them. It is too late to go back to the drawing boards. I suspect that it is generally assumed that this sort of consultation is all that is possible. Inevitably the proceedings of the deliberation and decision processes must appear from the outside as a sort of black box. We have to trust the people within the box to deliberate and decide on appropriate grounds. Sortition warrants trust.

My rejoinder is that the black box is outdated technology. The internet makes it possible for every move in the processes of identifying a Particular problem, getting all the relevant data and considerations, deliberating on the merits of various possibilities and coming to a final decision can be made in public on the internet, available to anybody to comment on at any stage. That sounds like a recipe for chaos. In The Demarchy Manifesto: for better public policy, I have suggested away in which it might be done in an orderly procedure. Naturally it is without precedent . So it looks most unlikely. But perhaps one day other people will come to the same conclusion.

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44 Responses

  1. “Politicians may be full of faults, but at least they have gone through a selection process that ensures they aren’t complete idiots.”

    I predict that sortitionists/demarchists must address – not ignore – this valid criticism, as stated by this personified Sovereign in your initial statement. The method we propose is a prediction test as a pre-condition for sampling, while still fully complying with stratification. Demonstrably better accuracy of one’s predictions, compared to future actuals in a subject matter, can ensure objectively that committee/jury members aren’t complete idiots.

    To the contrary, if we look at the recent events in the United States, many observers seem adamant that we just encountered a falsification of the currently dominating theory regarding complete-idiot-proofing by elections.

    “The internet makes it possible for every move in the processes of identifying a Particular problem, getting all the relevant data and considerations, deliberating on the merits of various possibilities and coming to a final decision can be made in public on the internet, available to anybody to comment on at any stage.”

    John, I think it will happen almost unavoidably as you deescribed, rather sooner than later. Two indispensable additions I want to make:

    1. Before deliberating on the merits, there is a crucial missing step: the idea for a possible solution. This needs but a single social entrepreneur, a Schumpeterian destroyer who will propose and persist to change or tear down some manner in which the all-powerful government did things so far. From experience in the economic world, we have to expect that these will be the true heroes of a new demarchic age, initially laughed at, but equipped with the required perseverance in the face of bad odds and an army of critics.

    2. The final decision must be made in public and publicised (on the internet), alright. However, the individual decision is where transparency must stop, and full anonymity be protected by all technical means. This follows from logic: If we can accept Mises’s praxeologic principle that every individual decision maker’s goals (also in a collective decision body) must reign supreme, s/he cannot and must not be challenged on grounds of alleged rationality or irrationality in relation to current normalcy. Transparency about individual decisions without the protection of anonymity has been shown to foster groupthink and produce flawed decisions.

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  2. John,

    > people are prepared to accept that […] What they do not accept […]

    Statements such as those are a standard tool of conservatives. But, of course, what people accept or do not accept is not an inborn trait but a social construction. It is our job, as sortition advocates, to make the change in what is acceptable in society.

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  3. hjhofkirchner,

    > “complete idiots.” […] valid criticism

    No, this criticism is not valid unless one believes that the majority in the population are complete idiots (since the proportion of idiots in the allotted chamber would be very the same as their proportion in the population).

    In any case, I’d rather have idiots in power trying to help me than towering geniuses trying to exploit me. No, this criticism is no more than a transparently false rationalization of the status quo.

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  4. For Yoram

    My text is structured as a series of reports of points that people make and my replies to them. Perhaps I could have made that clearer. After reporting the generalisation about people trusting juries in the role of adjudicating, but not to advocate their particular concerns, I do go on to explain what I see as good reasons for supporting that view, reasons that ought be pretty familiar to readers of this discussion. As a long term advocate of unpopular causes, I know very well how hard it is to get people, no matter how intelligent and sympathetic to understand what you are saying. We all have a natural tendency to pigeon hole what we take people to be getting at, instead of looking at what they actually say. That is why I insist that it is not enough to have the opportunity of making a submission to a sortition committee. You have to be able to come back and correct misunderstandings, modify what you said to make explicit things you had taken for granted but others think you missed and so on.

    You seem to me to be taking it that I agree with the assumption that most people are idiots. All I admit is that the selection process makes it unlikely that many politicians are complete idiots. That’s all. Granted that there are idiots n the population sortitionmust put some of them in the selection. In spite of the fact that nearly half of US voters fell for TRUMP, I INSIST IN BELIEVING THAT EVEN THEY ARE NOT COMPLETE IDIOTS, BUT VICTIMS OF AN ELECTORAL PROCESS THAT RELIES ON ADVERTISING AND RAZMATAZ and confronts people with badly constructed alternatives.What I see as crucial is to get a decent process of clarifying the issues.

    Don’t use such rhetorical devices as your choosing idiots rather than malicious geniuses. That sort of rhetoric is very dangerous. In any case it has nothing to do with the questions at issue here.

    John

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  5. for Hubertus.

    Starting at your last point on Mises’s principle, I agree to the extent that: a) in a public discussion people have to appeal to grounds that others accept if they are to influence them. But thaey may also have their own reasons for taking up that view, Others may be inclined to dismiss what they say on the suspicion that they are not revealing their real reasons. That is inappropriate. What they actually say is what matters in a public discussion. Thei advocates other beliefs are irrelevant. Sometimes one’s opponents, even if not very frank, have a valid point to make. But b) it is desirable that every consideration that is in fact influencing some people is out in the open and evaluated. A presumption of tolerance of heretical opinions is needed, but it cannot be an absolute right. Nobody has a right to have the mere fact that he hold certain demonstrably false opinions for inadmissible reasons justify there claiming equal status for that opinion in a serious discussion. People may be entitled to privacy about certain of their beliefs, but not to public status for them

    On the importance of creative thinking, I agree completely. That is one reason for my suggestion that a completely open public debate must precede and accompany the process of deliberation in a sortition committee that does its own discussion in public.

    As for selecting for competencies such committees, I am not entirely convinced that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. Popular legitimacy is important, and many people will feel uneasy that tests have consequences that result from unnoticed features of the way they are constructed or the incidence of other factors. People who are good at predicting may in fact be good at it because their focus is on what usually happens. So they may be disinclined to look at more unusual proposals. I’m wary.

    John

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  6. Dear John:

    “it is not enough to have the opportunity of making a submission to a sortition committee. You have to be able to come back and correct misunderstandings, modify what you said to make explicit things you had taken for granted but others think you missed and so on.”

    Agreed, this a very important feature of the process, and will improve efficiency significantly. As this also may require another round or Pro/Con after the innovator clarifies or iterates a modified proposal, we’d still need a limit such iterations, maybe to just one. Also, an innovator can always come back with a modified proposal.

    An argument by a (unknown) nayvoter (although we must never know who voted nay) will be public, there seems to be a misunderstending. It is merely the actual vote or consent which must be protected by anonymity. The nayvoter has an incentive to share his counter-argument, as he must try to convince others.

    As regards a competency test, from what I have experienced with predictive testing, I am quite confident that it will produce better, well-considered policy than mere random choice.

    Yes, we must remain sceptical. What is of overriding importance is that the competency test is a falsifiable approach, it is scientific.

    As scientists, we must not judge between good or bad, fair or unfair which is all non-empirical. We look for falsifiability. If the goal is G, and you do action A to achieve G, but out comes failure F, then A was false. If out comes G, it was right.

    So if a competency-tested committee makes decisions which are demonstrably significantly more right, whereas a random committees’ decisions are significantly more false (i.e. random), we should chose to follow the competency test.

    If I compare this approach to the rather tautological concept of legitimacy from pure randomness in the light of the logarithmic nature of knowledge, I know which one I would chose.

    Last, from our 20 year’s worth of data, good human predictors are not only consistently good in “what usually happens” but precisely also for “unusual developments”. This follows from logic, because reality always works in a probabilistic fashion where human action and re-actions come to play.

    All the best,
    Hubertus

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  7. John,

    > You seem to me to be taking it that I agree with the assumption that most people are idiots.

    Not at all. Why do you say that? (It seems that Hubertus agrees with this assumption, at least partially, but I saw no indication that you do.)

    My point was in response to your “people accept this but don’t accept that”.

    As for:

    > You have to be able to come back and correct misunderstandings, modify what you said to make explicit things you had taken for granted but others think you missed and so on.

    That is simply something that cannot be done on a mass scale. It is not a matter of technology, but a matter of constraints on human cognition. One cannot have a meaningful discussion with more than a few people, where “few” can be stretched under very favorable conditions to a few hundred. Anything beyond that is pretense.

    > VICTIMS OF AN ELECTORAL PROCESS THAT RELIES ON ADVERTISING AND RAZMATAZ

    The main problem with electoralism is not the sloganeering and manipulation (although that is bad enough), but the lack of credible candidates that can represent the interests and values of the average person (i.e., the principle of distinction). Voting for Trump was a response of disgust and desperation with the whole system due to a lack of any constructive alternatives.

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  8. Yoram,

    >the lack of credible candidates that can represent the interests and values of the average person (i.e., the principle of distinction)

    Why, in principle, can a distinctive person not represent the interests of average persons? This would suggest that all human conduct is determined by self-interest. I seem to remember that you viewed Bernie Sanders as the exception to Gat’s Law, but that strikes me as a distinctly partisan view — many Americans voted for Trump because they believed that he was prepared to act in their interests (and he probably believes that himself) and there’s no good reason to think that these votes would have all decamped to Sanders if he had won the Democratic primary.

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  9. I’m sorry I gave the impression of imputing to you the very silly idea that most people are idiotic. You are the last person to think that.

    As for the importance of the chance to get back and correct misunderstandings, this is a good example. I do think that you have a different picture of how the open discussion would work. It is not in the first phases a matter of attempts to influence the jury or to elicit responses from the,. but a matter of people who disagree with what you say objecting and you replying to them. From such discussions I imagine there would emerge a fairly clear picture of the various considerations that people rely on as relevant to the specific problem. The task of the editors would be to single out texts that are clear statements of the significant considerations. ( their selections would be open to challenge, of course.) The jury would then have the task of trying to reach a n acceptable compromise where valid considerations conflict. It is not to be wiped that everybody will agree on a particular compromise, but only that they are concerned to get action and are willing to go along with the proposed decision to get things moving. Often in such matters only time will tell who is right. Nearly all serious collective decisions in any collective enterprise are like that.

    As for your point about the lack of candidates, there is the fact that politics is not a pleasant career for those who lack a grandiose ego. You re free game for anybody to chuck mud. People expect too much of politicians and politicians are forced to pander to their expectations. Sortition frees us from all of that.

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  10. For Hubertus. My previous post should have been noted as for Yoram

    I don’t think you have addressed my concerns about the scope of the fields involved in many public matters. As I understand it the ability to predict that you test relates to fairly narrowlyl-defined fields.

    In any case, predicting is only parit of what is involved in evaluating consideration of public policy. Considerations of fairness, systemic viability and cultural acceptability are very important. The very skills that make for good predicting maybe psychologically counter to the skills required to address such non-factual questions.
    An empirical question, of course.

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  11. Yoram:

    It seems you are unable (or unwilling) to answer simple questions

    As you also appear to suffer from this problem, let me repeat my question to you:

    Why, in principle, can a distinctive person not represent the interests of average persons? This would suggest that all human conduct is determined by self-interest. I seem to remember that you viewed Bernie Sanders as the exception to Gat’s Law, but that strikes me as a distinctly partisan view — many Americans voted for Trump because they believed that he was prepared to act in their interests (and he probably believes that himself) and there’s no good reason to think that these votes would have all decamped to Sanders if he had won the Democratic primary.

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  12. Sutherland,

    Yes – when it comes to you, I am often unwilling to answer simple questions because it seems to serve no purpose. You never seem to be able to understand simple answers to simple questions.

    I will make an exception here.

    > Why, in principle, can a distinctive person not represent the interests of average persons?

    There is no reason in principle, and this does happen occasionally. Yes, Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn come to mind. This is however the exception. People tend to represent themselves well and to represent others who are very different from them much less well (whether or not they think of themselves as self-promoters or not). Having a few exceptions in a system dominated by self-promoters does little to change its overall effects.

    Not so hard to understand, it seems. Did you really need me to explain this?

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  13. Yoram,

    >Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn [are persons of distinction who can nevertheless represent the interests of average persons]

    Thank you for confirming that your perspective on such matters is a thoroughly partisan one.

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  14. As always, Sutherland, when you have been stumped, you find refuge in idiotic non-sequiturs. Or maybe it is simply that when the name Corbyn is mentioned you reflexively react by frothing at the mouth.

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  15. John,

    I of course have no objection to people posting their opinions and having a discussion. If the allotted choose to read some of those discussions, that’s perfectly fine. Moderators refereeing submissions sounds much more problematic, but this is still beside the point, IMO.

    The point is that thinking that in this way many thousands, or millions of people can effectively participate in decision-making is completely unrealistic. This is no more than one particular version of the “participatory democracy” fantasy/canard.

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  16. for Yoram

    There is noquestionof millions of active posts. Numbersdon’t count, only evidence and arguments. Millions of people can check whether somebody gas already made the point they would lure to make, and if so just continue to follow the debate, not intervening unless they need to. Our present system tends to confuse the amount of noise certain groups make with the validity of their claims.

    Of course, it matters that a larger number are affected in a certainway

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  17. for Yoram

    I’m sorry my clumsy geriatric fingers somehow pressed the wrong key and cut off the last sentence, but i hope the sense is clear..

    I thought you would be uneasy about the essential role of editors in what I’m proposing. Clearly, it is desirable to have posts classified by subject matter, so that people who are interested in advancing certain considerations can fined the relevant posts without having to go through an impossibly huge mass of stuff, and most people will appreciate having those within a certain group that have something distinctive to say singled out for their attention. No doubt a lot of people will persist in making points that have already been made.

    Professional editors can make a pretty good fist of such tasks. But they are also sure to make mistakes, and there must be under each section a special place where posters can dispute either the classification itself or their not being accorded due attention.

    That, of course all costs money. The whole debate will need to widely publicised. Getting it up and running as the recognised forum that commands attention is not going to be easy.

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  18. Yoram,

    >when the name Corbyn is mentioned you reflexively react by frothing at the mouth.

    As you know, this blog is dedicated to structural considerations — how best to appoint political representatives and how best to discern the general will/will of all. Any claim that particular politicians and their political programmes (whether on the left or the right) represent the interests of average persons is out of place on this forum. I have long suspected that full-mandate sortition is just a placeholder for the advocacy of hard-left policies and your view that Sanders and Corbyn are exceptions to the Iron Law of Electoralism confirms this (particularly as Terry is an ex-colleague of Bernie Sanders). People on the right (including myself) argue that competitive markets, rather than socialism, are the best way to ensure the wealth necessary to protect the interests of average persons, but the political prejudices of Gat, Bouricius and Sutherland are of no relevance to the subject matter of this blog.

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  19. Happy frothing, Sutherland.

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  20. I’m not frothing, merely trying to point out to the nature and scope of this blog. There are thousands of other forums for the dissemination of political opinions and we need to be vigilant in ensuring that EbL does not morph into a wolf dressed in sheep’s clothing. You really don’t advance your case by being rude about your opponents and also run the risk of driving fair-minded people from this blog.

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  21. John,

    I just don’t see how your proposal, be its details what they may, can be a crucial component of reform. It seems we agree that mass participation is a myth – decision making power will always be concentrated, so we are really talking about a communication system, not a decision making system.

    Having open communication among citizens and with government is great. But everybody assumes, correctly, that such channels would be in place – as they exist now. Yes, they can probably be improved. But thinking that one form or another of communication would make-or-break the idea of sortition is very much a mistake, I believe.

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  22. Sוutherland,

    > thousands of other forums for the dissemination of political opinions

    Heh. Presumably that’s where one would go to commiserate about Corbyn and the “hard left”, along with the cut-and-paste clippings of the ritualistic hand-wringing op-eds on the Sunday Times.

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  23. Yoram

    My discussion has mainly been framed by the assumption that power to decide what is actually done continues to be in the hands of elected politicians. My proposals are directed at attempting to confront them with a policy recommendation that is thoroughly debated and formulated by open discussion followed by formulation of a practical proposal by a suitable committee chosen by a form of sortition. I have explained why I think that is worth trying as a first step towards more radical changes.

    I have recently been saying that some considerations that lead to my suggestions also apply to cases where a sortition body is not just making recommendations, but has legislative and executive powers. In this case it is, as you say, a matter of communications rather than bringing pressure on an unsympathetic government. We assume that a sortition body will consist predominantly of people who are anxious to get a fair and efficient solution to the problem that faces them and to be seen to do so. They will ask for submissions from the wider public. Any such body is naturally tempted to shelter itself from an overload of submissions, most of which are inevitably very partial and half-baked.

    If I were on such body I would welcome a well-conducted public discussion in which initial submissions were refined and clarified by mutual criticism so as to present me with much more precise and well-considered cases to consider. The deciding body usually has enough to do withour having to clear up a lot of unnecessary confusions and mistakes.

    On the other hand, if I were not a member of the deciding body and in a minority with special problems I would know that it is not enough for the decision-makers to be sympathetic to my concerns to ensure that they will understand the case I want to put. People in such minorities are continually faced with people saying: “I can’t see why they can’t just…….” And, of course, such minorities are often themselves deeply divided about how to deal with their concerns. There is no guarantee that there is a solution to every problem, but a thorough discussion open to anybody and everybody, but strictly focussed on a partivular problem is the only hope.

    Again, in our very complex technologically constructed world, commonsense is not enough. Many aspects of many problems are highly technical, and it is crucial to get the facts right. The experts are often divided to some extent. Our decisions are going to depend on disputed assumptions. If people are to have confidence that at least those assumptions are justifiable probabilities, that have been thoroughly investigated. Otherwise they will not have confidence that the decision is a sensible gamble, which is all we can reasonably expect in practical matters in a changing world.

    I’m acutely aware that what I see as desirable may not work in practice. So many things area matter of what works on a certain scale, at a certain pace and at an affordable cost.

    But above all in communications we face a situation that is utterly unprecedented and only a few years old. We need to experiment.

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  24. Yoram,

    >cut-and-paste clippings of the ritualistic hand-wringing op-eds on the Sunday Times.

    Presumably this is what you are referring to:

    I doubt any political party will again make the mistake of producing a responsible manifesto. They will all return to the hallowed custom of bribing the voters with their own money and making pledges they hope they are never obliged to redeem.

    This was not posted for partisan reasons; it was an illustration of one of the malign effects of electoral democracy — the need for political parties to bribe voters with their own (or their children’s) money. All parties are guilty of this and the only reason the dominant party chose to act differently is because they thought they had a clear lead. It also supports your perspective that people (both the masses and elite politicians) act in their own (short-term) interests, hence my posting it on this forum.

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  25. > This was not posted for partisan reasons

    But of course. Unlike other people on this blog, a serious scholar such as yourself would not be mindlessly repeating partisan talking points.

    > the need for political parties to bribe voters with their own (or their children’s) money

    Right. If the Sunday Times says this is so, then it must be true. It cannot simply be a partisan talking point.

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  26. Yoram,

    It’s one of the common criticisms of mass electoral democracy, along with the theory of rational ignorance. I think you are probably in a minority of one in denying the latter (most sortinistas regard it as a key part of the case for stochastic representation); as for the former it’s hard to argue with Denis Healey’s claim that general elections do not change the laws of arithmetic.

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  27. > common criticisms of mass electoral democracy

    I see: assertions that are repeated often enough in elite discourse, are elevated into “common assertions” status, thus making them allowable on this blog. Assertions that are rare in elite discourse are “partisan opinions” and are not allowable on this blog.

    Thanks for making the rules of censorship that you are enforcing so clear.

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  28. Hi John,

    You are making various claims, many of which I agree with. I don’t see however what it is that you are aiming at.

    Again:

    1. I agree that communication is good to have,

    2. I don’t think that the main problem with our current government is a lack of communication. The reason government does such a poor job of representing people is because it has conflicting interests, not because of lack of communication,

    3. The reason for the conflicting interests is that the decision makers are selected by elections, and the only way to resolve this issue is to replace elections with sortition,

    4. Surely sortition-based government will have various communications channels for the decision makers to become informed and to take advantage of the domain-expertise of various experts, just like elections-based government does. The crucial difference will be in the interests that the decision-makers will have, not in their openness to communication.

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  29. Yoram,

    >Assertions that are rare in elite discourse are “partisan opinions” and are not allowable on this blog.

    The assertion that I’m objecting to is your claim that two named (hard left) politicians are the exception to your general rule that elections necessarily return politicians who don’t represent the interests of average persons. To describe such a claim as “partisan” is entirely uncontroversial — in fact it’s little more than a tautology. This sort of claim has no place on a blog devoted to structural (rather than policy) matters.

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  30. For Yoram
    I agree with almost everything you say in your last two rejoinders . In your second one, I doubt if you really mean that you can dismiss a claim simply because it is prejudice commonly held in certain circles. If it’s wrong it meeds to be refuted.

    Agree that governments (and others) neglect considerations, not through ignorance, but because those considerations run counter to their interests. But it cannot be assumed that popular opinion in some matters, especially about minorities that are regarded as inferior, is defensible. In Australia we used to have an immensely popular “White Australia Policy”. It required a lot of courage and powerful argument to unseat it. It is a very implausible assumption that any fair sample of citizens would contain people who would fight that case effectively. More unfortunately still, sympathy, as I argued, is often not enough. Since we got self conscious about our treatment of Aboriginal peoples, we have e thrown billions of dollars at their problems with little effecting many cases, because we have not understood their problems. e.g. sortiton.Even in non-contentious matters common opinion is frequently based on oversimplifications, by experts just as much as ordinary people. Really robust debate needs to be open to mavericks. A deciding body is inclined to look for consensus and so to gloss over differences as not really important. We all do it on occasions.

    If we are looking for good solutions to out problems and for discussion in which can have full confidence, the deciding body must not just come to convenient compromises behind closed doors, but stand up to scrutiny from unpopular quarters. Many of the most serious problems that face us areproblems that face us must be got right, not just reflect common opinion. The process of deliberation must educate us, not just flatter us.

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  31. John,

    > But it cannot be assumed that popular opinion in some matters, especially about minorities that are regarded as inferior, is defensible.

    I agree. Popular opinion, even informed and considered popular opinion, is not necessarily a just opinion by an objective standard, if such a standard can be assumed to exist, and not even necessarily democratic (a lower, but possibly more objective bar).

    > It is a very implausible assumption that any fair sample of citizens would contain people who would fight that case effectively.

    Unless the case is represented by a tiny fraction of the population, there will be some people in the sample who will sympathize with cause and will be willing to try to promote it. That said, I agree that there will probably be more impassioned and outspoken activists outside the allotted sample.

    But I still don’t see your point: on the one hand no one is going to shut those activists up. On the other hand having an official moderated discussion forum is very unlikely to change the effectiveness of their campaign. So what is it exactly that you are arguing for?

    The same is true for the issues requiring expert opinion. I don’t see why an allotted chamber will not seek expert opinion. How would having a moderated official discussion forum change anything?

    Again, I am not against a discussion forum (although, if it is official I think that any kind of moderation is dangerous). It is just that I don’t see this issue as central to the reform agenda.

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  32. Sutherland,

    So it is “non-partisan” to name a specific “hard-left” politician as an example of a politician “bribing the electorate”, but it is “partisan” to name that same “hard-left” politician as an example of an elected official who represents the interests of the people.

    Thank you for tying yourself into knots trying to present your personal (and class) biases as being a matter of high-minded principle.

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  33. All political parties bribe voters with their own money in close-fought elections; the only reason the leading UK party failed to do this in the last election is because they thought they would have a clear win anyway.

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  34. So the fact that you mentioned Corbyn was a partisan faut-pas, which you regret, humbly apologize for and commit not to repeat?

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  35. I only recall referencing your own invocation of Sanders and Corbyn as the exceptions to Gat’s Iron Law. Can you recall where my original Sunday Times comment is? If I did make a partisan point, naturally I apologise, but I don’t recall doing so.

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  36. So you may have been partisan, breaking your own rules of censorship, but the matter is of so little importance to you that you neither recall having done so, nor are you sure that you have not done so, nor are you going to take the time to search for evidence that you have or have not done so?

    I am quite distressed that you take the grave matter of partisanship so lightly when all serious scholars should recognize its importance and centrality to the validity, objectivity and seriousness of Science.

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  37. I did search, but couldn’t remember which thread it was on and see no good reason to spend a long time searching for evidence to convict myself of a crime that I don’t believe I committed. By all means find the link and let the prosecution prepare its case. But, irrespective of past crimes, the main thing is that we should all agree not to use this forum to promote our own partisan political agenda.

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  38. Joining this discussion quite late… A little side-note, though interesting…at the very top hjh makes reference to the danger of groupthink… I recently saw an interesting study on how groupthink might be avoided in online discussions, and the danger of having “opinion leaders.”
    Becker, Joshua, Devon Brackbill, and Damon Centola. “Network dynamics of social influence in the wisdom of crowds.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. (June 2017). http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2017/06/06/1615978114.abstract

    It seems to me the danger of leaders generally (especially elected leaders with inflated self-confidence) is that even if they lead well on issue A, they will be followed on issue B, C, and D even if they have no clue about those topics. The study found that “opinion leaders” will lead groups astray more often than they help find the best solution.

    I think John is right that the Internet can be used in new ways. We can allow people directly affected by some problem to help formulate and propose possible solutions. I think that rather than having the decision makers ( a random mini-public in my model) negotiate a compromise, they might better be seen as arbitrators judging which “compromise proposal” of all those that get generated is fairest. I am really drawn to the idea that the authors of a proposal should NOT be the judges of it as well.

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  39. Yoram,

    I suspect some misconception, Terry’s explanation about different people being good at different things (not to speak about different points in space and time) perfectly summarized the crucial issue in different words. Please do not misunderstand me in this meaning that “most people are idiots”. If person A knows about topic A but not B C D E … Z, this still is a Perfect candidate for deliberating in A.

    Also, John’s argument above about the efficiency of political processes is key. Once a certain number of arguments has been said and deliberated, the marginal utility of a further arguments will be less than the logarithmically growing effort to find it. It is absurd to demand huge numbers of decision makers if a certain number can perfectly well decide sufficiently and optimally good for us all.

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  40. For Terry

    A characteristically pertinent point and reference to other sources. There is always a danger of group think in face-to-face deliberations, where personalities and different skills are very prominent. The cold context of the internet can help limit it, but I have to admit that when people say that discussion is never going to generate agreement my reply is that there is a pressure on them to arrive at an agreed conclusion or fail to have any influence. Obviously there is a tension here between the desire not to make decision more difficult by challenging existing assumptions and the need to look critically at those assumptions in case they stand in the way of sound decisions.

    I am increasingly aware, when I reflect on lifetime of grappling with popular but pernicious assumptions that vigorous debate can change popular opinion for the better very effectively. I have seen and participated in complete about-turns in so many matters ranging from racism and sexism to the treatment of children and of the disabled that I/m very optimistic, in spite of recent backsliding reactions towards chauvinism and narrow perspectives. But all those changes arose out of the work of very small minorities who were initially seen as dangerous and aberrant.

    So I want to see the tendency towards group think balanced by opportunities for the UNREPRESENTATIVE to get their arguments into consideration. Sortition cannot ensure this.

    Radical critics of popular false assumption are often seen as elitist and resented as piddling on ordinary people. Sometimes we are no doubt guilty. But even the most rational are often guilty of radically wrong false assumptions. The history of science is history of normal science, based on well-supported assumption, such as no action at a distance, the homogeneity and invariance of space and time, no indeterminism and so on, and great upsets where those foundational assumptions were overturned, opening up new vistas of understanding. No assumptions are exempt from CONSTRUCTIVE criticism. We must set sortition in the context of a broader collective self criticism. In the long run we do have to reach a working agreement and get on with implementing it, even if we have our doubts. Only time and resting will tell if were right.

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  41. Yoram

    it’s just that I don’t see the issue as central…..

    See my comment to Terry above.
    Perhaps it is just difference of emphasis between us, inevitable, given differences of perspectives.
    However I think my insistence on an open forum that anybody can enter is also important in countering some of the attractions of voting as self-expression, which are very influential with some people I encounter.

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  42. Terry,

    >It seems to me the danger of leaders generally (especially elected leaders with inflated self-confidence) is that even if they lead well on issue A, they will be followed on issue B, C, and D even if they have no clue about those topics.

    This is unlikely to happen in subject-specific demarchic councils. As for randomly-selected minidemoi, so long as these are ad hoc (dealing with one issue only) advocates with expertise in each particular area will naturally be selected. Aristoi cannot (and should not) be abolished by fiat.

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  43. John,
    yes sortition (and majoritarian democracy generally) does not assure that oppressed minorities will be adequately respected…but like you I think there IS potential for good design and basic human decency to work here. One element is to get the decision-making body into the mindset of being the judges of fairness, rather than the majority faction being the winner of a battle. Jurors in a criminal trial may fail to do this, but often DO overcome their own biases (with regard to race or other traits). Interestingly it was the randomly selected constitutional review body in Ireland that proposed legalizing Gay marriage, while the elected legislators had been unwilling to go there in a Catholic country.

    I like the idea of allowing anyone who wishes to join or form an Interest Panel (of perhaps a dozen members each) to draft proposed laws on a topic, which will eventually go before a random mini-public. An ideological group may propose an extreme or “pure” proposal, and may persuade the jury of its merits… but more likely will tailor its proposal in such a way as to maximize the chances of passage by a jury. Thus each of a huge number of Interest Panels will compete to draft the most appealing compromise that can carry the day before a jury of citizens. This also encourages Interest Panels to be diverse and have members from different sides of an issue to seek common ground and compromise, because this increases the chances of crafting something that can pass muster. A jury will likely be more interested in a proposal that has satisfied conflicting interests. I am excited about this idea, that allows anyone who wishes to participate because it will generate the most variety and also the best proposals for society to consider.

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  44. for Terry

    I’mglad to hear the idea of the open forum appeals to you’

    Just a couple of points I would like to add.

    The first is the importance of strict focus on a single problem. It is often the case that people who are inclined , for example, to reject any proposal that increases the scope of government will see the need for that in a particular case. Talk of “getting your priorities straight” can be dangerous to giving proper consideration to the specific case. Too many atrocities have been committed in the name of principle,

    The second point is that people must be encouraged to state clearly their particular concerns about aspects of the problem. They must not be dismissed just because they have nothing to say about another aspect of it. They can still demand that the deciders take their concerns into account. This is very important for participation by ordinary people, who may have no idea, e.g., how to finance a proposal. This is one of many reasons to separate the initial discussion process from the final decision process, though each must be public and open to comment all the way. In my view “confidentiality” is dangerous. It is designed to protect the deciders from pressure, but sortition takes care of that, with no careers at stake. Secrets are valuable to special interests and breed corruption and irresponsible decisions. Protest comes too late.

    .

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