On the Citizen House: A Disquisitional Fiction

On the Citizen House: A Disquisitional Fiction is a novella of ideas in the form of socratic dialogue wrapped up in a road trip. Formatted as a proto-screenplay, description is sparse, characterization thin. Dialogue and visuals dominate.

The Citizen House is the world’s first national legislature chosen as the original Athenian democrats did — by sortition (by random selection). Two representatives face the challenges of advocating for their disparate views (eugenics / universal basic income) in a legislature demographically more reflective of the entire population than any other.

Amazon e-book: http://tinyurl.com/yao8lckx

68 pages, single spaced. 22,800 words.

A review of Landemore’s Democratic Reason

A review of Landemore’s Democratic Reason by Alfred Moore published in Contemporary Political Theory:

Landemore argues that rule by the many is better than rule by the few or the one because it can harness ‘democratic reason’. Democratic Reason refers to the collective political intelligence of the many, which in turn is a function of individual epistemic competence and the cognitive diversity of the group. [S]he claims that a group containing diverse perspectives, interpretations, heuristics and predictive models, will be better at making decisions than a less diverse group of people, even if they are individually smarter. As the key feature of democracy is that it is an inclusive decision procedure, and inclusion tends to increase cognitive diversity, democracies are likely to outperform rival regime types.

The difficulty of insuring accurate randomness

This article points to the problem of how to produce true representation in juries.

Dearbhail McDonald: The verdict is in – our jury selection process is a farce

Juries are meant to be representative of society as a whole. However, they are anything but, writes Dearbhail McDonald

Trial by jury is one of the last remaining sacred cows in the criminal justice system.

Born by accident to replace trial by ordeal and duelling, amongst other dispute resolution techniques, the random selection of 12 peers is still prized as the only anchor by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution.

Lord Devlin, the celebrated British judge whose father was from Co Tyrone, famously described jury trial as the lamp that shows that freedom lives.

Here’s the salient point:

For the most part, trial by a jury of one’s peers is as unquestioned as it is innate.

But our current system of selecting juries makes a mockery of jury trial as a bulwark against State power and other anomalies.

To fulfil their constitutional mandate, juries (which only featured women from as late as 1976) are meant to be representative and jurors drawn from a complete cross-section of the community.

They are anything but.

In practice, the burden of jury duty is disproportionately borne by Dubliners; the young, the old and retired, the unemployed, civil servants or those who can manage to undertake the difficult task. The recent empanelling of a 15-strong jury … brought home to me the challenges of achieving the “constitutional completeness” of the representative jury.

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“Lottery Voting: A Thought Experiment” by Akhil Reed Amar

Lottery Voting: A Thought Experiment” is a 1995 article by Akhil Reed Amar, perhaps the most influential Constitutional Law theorist in the US.

In the article Amar proposes using the lottery to determine representation only after a standard election campaign has determined the percentage of support each candidate has received.

In this case then, the ‘statistical representation’ (which he champions) would be only of those citizens willing to go through the process of standing for election.

This is much less representative — and less attractive to me — than eliminating campaigning altogether… and using only two parameters to enter the lot: 1.) registration for it, indicating a willingness to serve if chosen; 2.) a simple civics test (such as the Naturalization Test in the U.S.).

Op-ed piece calling for a sortitioned Canadian Senate

Claudia Chwalisz writes in The Globe and Mail:

Replace this archaic institution with a citizens’ senate

While calling for unicameralism would be a mistake – it would reduce the government’s legitimacy due to lack of oversight – the more radical proposal of “abolition” leaves the path clearer toward true structural change that moves beyond tinkering at the edges (such as elected senators).

Why not replace the archaic institution with a citizens’ senate – a rotating group of randomly selected citizens that serve as a house of review? The random group could be stratified, to ensure representativeness of sex, age, race, socio-economic status and regional diversity, matching the makeup of Canadian society.

Granted that this is only an op-ed piece, but I have to admit I am rather amazed that the idea of a sortitionally-selected federal legislature is making it so rapidly into the mainstream.

The Irish vote for marriage equality was set up by the sortition-selected Constitutional Convention

Three Irish political scientists, David Farrell, Clodagh Harris and Jane Suiter, write in the Washington Post:

On May 22, Ireland became the first country in the world to introduce marriage equality through a national referendum to change the country’s constitution.

The vote was a world first in one other sense: Never before has a country changed its constitution as a result of deliberation involving a random selection of ordinary citizens. The government’s decision to call the referendum came because of a recommendation from the Irish Constitutional Convention, which had been asked to consider a range of possible constitutional reform questions.
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Effect of salaries on legislative congruence with public opinion

This Salon article, This is how the oligarchy wins: Money, politics, and the perils of part-time lawmakers argues that a well-paid, full-time ‘professional’ legislature is more likely to enact laws that the majority of citizens support.

A professionalized legislature differs from a citizen legislature in several ways: Professional legislatures generally meet for a more extended period of time and are paid enough that they do not have other careers. Professional legislators have larger staffs, more money to research policy and more time to deliberate and hold hearings. Professionalized legislatures also tend to attract politicians interested in working their way to higher levels of government.

Political scientist Patrick Flavin has focused his attention on the question of equality of representation. He created an index of how equal legislatures were in responding to constituents across income groups. He tells me that his still-unfinished analysis suggests that professionalized legislatures might have more equal political representation. One reason may be that professional legislatures are less susceptible to organized lobbying interests.

In recent years, many conservatives have fought to weaken legislatures. Ben Boychuk of the right-leaning publication City Journal argues, “Priorities, ladies and gentlemen. Priorities. A Legislature with [only] 95 days to enact laws is one less likely to spend a great deal of time introducing and passing useless legislation.”

Although the citizen legislature has a certain appeal, seeming to reflect the democratic ideal, in fact such legislatures are more open to manipulation from professionalized interest groups.

The article doesn’t consider what a statistically-representative legislature — a non-professional but well-paid citizen legislature — might do.