The French Citizen Convention on the Climate

Le Monde reported on August 26th (original in French):

The citizen convention on the climate: the allotment of 150 participants has commenced

This citizen convention, which is one of Emmanuel Macron’s responses to the “Gilets Jaunes” crisis, will propose measures to combat global warming.

The allotment of 150 Frenchpeople who will take part in the Citizen Convention on the Climate has begun on Monday, August 26th and will last until the end of September, before meeting for the first time at the beginning of October. This citizen convention, aimed by Emmanuel Macron as one of the rseponses to the grand debate that followed the “Gilets Jaunes” crisis, will propose measures to combat global warming, as France is far from meeting its obligations.

Telephone numbers are going to be automatically generated – 85% mobile numbers and 15% landline numbers – and about 25,000 people will be called, in order to select 150. Some criteria have been set in order to get the best representation: 52% women and 48% men, 6 age groups (starting at age 16), levels of educational attainment, a diversity of professions. Regional population will also be taken into account with 4 oversea representatives, as well as representation of urban centers, their surrounding areas and the rural areas.
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Procaccia: Lotteries Instead of Elections? Not So Arbitrary

Ariel Procaccia, an associate professor in the computer science department at Carnegie Mellon University, has an opinion piece in Bloomberg News advocating sortition. Some excerpts:

Have you ever thought that 535 random people off the street would do a decidedly better job than the duly elected members of the U.S. Congress? If so, you’ve been scooped by a few millenniums; the idea of selecting government officials at random, known as sortition, is neither as outrageous nor as original as it seems.

In the fourth and fifth centuries BC, some of the central organs of the Athenian government were populated by selecting random volunteers. For example, the members of the Council of 500 — whose responsibilities included developing legislation, overseeing the executive branch and managing diplomatic relations — were selected at random for one-year terms.

During the Renaissance, sortition was all the rage. For centuries it played a key role in the process of selecting the Doge of Venice, as well as in populating the branches of the Florentine government. It was also employed widely throughout the Kingdom of Aragon, which is part of modern-day Spain. [King Ferdinand II of Aragon spoke highly of the virtues of sortition. Unfortunately, he also established the Spanish Inquisition and ordered the expulsion of practicing Jews from his kingdom, so he is hardly an authority on governance.] Sortition actually endured as a system of government into the 20th century: San Marino’s two heads of state were selected at random from 60 councilors as recently as 1945. [The two heads of state constitute a non-negligible fraction of the minuscule country’s population.]

Procaccia mentions in quick succession David Van Reybrouck, Terrill Bouricius, citizens’ assemblies, Ireland, and the German-speaking Community of Belgium, and finishes off with:

Admittedly, even the Belgian initiative is still a long way off from a Bouricius-style sortition utopia — and the jury is still out on whether we’d want to go that far. But it’s comforting to think that the best fix for our political chaos may be a bit of randomness.

Roslyn Fuller: Don’t be fooled by citizens’ assemblies

Highly recommended post by Roslyn Fuller on UnHerd.com:

I believe that the biggest threat to democracy is the belief among the current societal elite that what they want and what democracy is are the same thing – and that tweaking the rules of the game to get what you want is therefore right, just and somehow unto itself democratic.

This trend that sees democracy as a set of particular decisions, rather than just as a method for making decisions, has been well under way for some time and tends to divide the world between ‘informed’, ‘correct’ decisions, and ‘uninformed’ ‘incorrect’ decisions. ‘Correct’ decisions are automatically democratic; ‘incorrect’ ones are not.

One of the ways that is currently in vogue for ensuring ‘informed’, ‘correct’ decisions is to hold so-called citizens’ assemblies, a democratic ‘innovation’ that many leaders currently feel assured will bring them the results that they want.

This is followed by a nuanced (and sceptical) examination of the use and abuse of randomly-selected citizens’ assemblies, focusing on (wilful) misunderstandings of Irish CAs:

British politicians and intellectuals apparently feel themselves entitled to just blithely repeat these myths as a justification for holding such assemblies on all manner of decisions in Britain.

Sixty residents chosen for the Cambridge Citizens Assembly

CambridgeshireLive reports:

Citizens Assembly set up to inform Council transport decisions

A citizens’ assembly has been established by the Greater Cambridge Partnership to make recommendations which will inform its infrastructure development plans.

The assembly is made up of 60 residents “chosen through a civic lottery process so that it fairly represents the population”.

It will meet to address the following question: How do we reduce congestion, improve air quality, and provide better public transport in Greater Cambridge?

Its members will also hear from experts and be supported by an advisory group.
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Are citizens’ assemblies little more than institutional band aids?

The following are some excerpts from an article by Tom Gerald Daly, from the University of Melbourne, in Pursuit (a publication of the University):

Australian democracy: crisis, resilience and renewal

Given the global rise in authoritarian populist parties and political forces that are opposed to the key tenets of liberal democracy, Australia’s own democracy appears on the surface to be in relatively good health.

For instance, most democracy assessment indices (although far from perfect as reflections of reality) have not registered any declines for Australian democracy for the past decade.

That said, a dominant view has taken hold that Australia’s political system is in crisis, paralysis and even decline. The public images of both the federal government and parliament has been tarnished by a variety of factors, especially the regularity with which Prime Ministers have been ousted between elections – since 2007 Australia has had six prime ministers, when in the previous 36 years (1971-2007) there were only six.

Some polls suggest that public faith in the political system and democracy has plummeted. A broad survey of polling data in December 2018 showed that fewer than 41 per cent of Australian citizens are satisfied with the way democracy works in Australia, a stark drop from 86 per cent in 2007.

There is a strong case then for some reform of our political institutions.
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Sortition in the press

Some recent media items mentioning sortition:

Jack Hunter, a research fellow at think tank IPPR North, writes in PSE proposes to use the Northern Powerhouse to encourage greater social purpose among businesses in the region by having investment directed by an allotted citizen panel.

The Northern Powerhouse was created in Whitehall, but is increasingly something owned and championed by the north’s leaders. Because of this, there is also the opportunity to leverage the strength of the north’s history and culture, to develop a more civic role for businesses.

In a recent report, IPPR North set out how to make this happen. One idea we have put forward is the creation of a Northern Powerhouse Community Fund. We suggested that a pan-northern charitable fund should be set up, funded through a voluntary contribution of 1% of profits from northern businesses in order to help to fund voluntary and community activity in the region. Decisions about investment would be made by a panel of northern citizens, chosen by sortition.

Such a fund would give firms across the north a new opportunity to put their money where their mouth is. At the same time, it could be an opportunity to give people in the north a greater say in where money in their region goes.

Allotted citizen panels are part of Extinction Rebellion’s call to action:
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On the unrepresentativeness of representatives stretching back through time

Who Becomes a Member of Congress? Evidence From De-Anonymized Census Data
Daniel M. Thompson, James J. Feigenbaum, Andrew B. Hall, and Jesse Yoder #26156

Abstract:
We link future members of Congress to the de-anonymized 1940 census to offer a uniquely detailed analysis of how economically unrepresentative American politicians were in the 20th century, and why. Future members under the age of 18 in 1940 grew up in households with parents who earned more than twice as much as the population average and who were more than 6 times as likely as the general population to hold college degrees. However, compared to siblings who did not become politicians, future members of Congress between the ages of 18 and 40 in 1940 were higher-earners and more educated, indicating that socioeconomic background alone does not explain the differences between politicians and non-politicians. Examining a smaller sample of candidates that includes non-winners, we find that the candidate pool is much higher-earning and more educated than the general population. At the same time, among the candidate pool, elections advantage candidates with higher earnings ability and education. We conclude that barriers to entry likely deter a more economically representative candidate pool, but that electoral advantages for more-educated individuals with more private-sector success also play an important role.