Sortition and accountability

Sortition relies on the people selected being themselves affected by the consequences of their decisions in order to ensure that those decisions are in the interests of the people they affect. I think advocates of sortition often underestimate the problem of cognitive and affective distance from the specific impact of those effects when the issues are treated in terms of very general policy decisions. We have a tradition of fairness as impartiality that can be very dangerous when combined with legalistic and bureaucratic top-down approaches to solving those problems of public goods that require organised solutions. Looking to the state to provide these solutions virtually guarantees that no matter how those making the decisions are selected, they will be constrained by the system to choose ways of conceiving and dealing with them that abstract from many things that are important to various sections of the communities affected.

The closer the people who decide are to the grass roots, the more likely they are to be responsive to the specifics of the diverse needs of a community and to evolve by negotiation between diverse interests solutions that offer as much as possible to each of them. In my view sortition must start at the grass roots with very local health, education and welfare institutions and programs, on a basis of constructive deliberation, designed to lead to better recognition of needs an possibilities rather than simply react to current opinion.

People know this, but regard it as unrealistic, because the crunch question is financing and the state ultimately controls that through its monopoly of taxation. I have a suggestion for getting around that difficulty. Let the state allocate funding to specific bodies (not just local but also national and international specialised agencies that are controlled demarchically) in much the way it does at present, but allow it only a very weak say in how the money is spent by the bodies so financed. Those bodies will often want to spend more than they are granted, given the ubiquitous outcries against underfunding of public goods and services. People often express willingness to pay more for public services if only they could be assured of getting the service they want.

If an authority wants to spend more than its allocation of taxpayer funds there could be an arrangement whereby those entitled to its services paid an excess on their income tax to cover the extra expenditure. As members of that constituency, statistically representative of its needs, the committee would be in a position to make a realistic judgement about whether they were willing to pay as a community for meeting those needs. That would constitute practical accountability.