2011 review – sortition-related events

In response to my call for suggestions of mention-worthy occurrences relevant to the topics discussed on this blog, George Tridimas wrote to let me know that his paper Constitutional choice in ancient Athens: The rationality of selection to office by lot has made for a couple of weeks the list of 10 most downloaded articles from the SSRN repository in the categories of Welfare Economics & Collective Decision-Making, of History of Political Thought and of Models of Political Processes.

To me, two significant sortition-related developments that occurred this year, happened at two opposite sides of the mass-elite spectrum.

On the elite side, the newDemocracy foundation in Australia has been active in promoting policy juries and successful in garnering some press attention (1, 2). The main force behind this foundation, both intellectually and financially, it appears, is Luca Belgiorno-Nettis.

On the other hand, there have been several attempts to promote and use sortition associated with the global protest movement – the so-called Arab Spring, the Indignados, the Occupy Wall Street movement, etc. Back in February, Sa’ada Abu Bakr suggested sortition to the Egyptian revolutionaries. In June, the Greek activists in Syntagma Square were using randomization to distribute speaking turns. The idea of citizen councils appointed by lot was also featured in some May 15th platforms in Spain and in September a party which had the implementation of sortition as its main goal was organizing there. That party ultimately failed to qualify for the ballot. Finally, the People’s Senate Party promotes sortition in Canada.

Happy New Year, and best wishes for 2012.

Legislative activities tree diagram

I’m still thinking about the basic legislative activities, and the order of them.

In a previous post, I proposed a set of activities that drew distinctions between choosing issues to address, deciding the objectives and criteria for laws about each issue, and proposing laws. Despite what I said before, I now think this does represent a sequence of activities, but it’s an order of logic, and not meant to dictate the actual order in practice. For example, choosing issues is logically prior to writing bills, but often issues are discovered or clarified through the process of writing bills.

Terry pointed out that while there is value in this logical order, in actual practice advocates are likely to jump immediately into proposing laws, and that the lawmaking process should allow for this. So I wrote, “there ought to be a way to get the benefits of both the top-down and bottom-up kinds of thinking.”
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Thomas Fleming: [W]e need to adopt the model of the ancient Athenian democracy

Thomas Fleming advocates sortition in the Daily Mail, even though, with the sordid state of the national character, he seems unsure whether it would do any good:

If Americans ever needed a clear refutation of Churchill’s fatuous aphorism on democracy–an institution he, more than any man of his time, knew how to manipulate to his own benefit–they have it now. If modern democracy cannot do better than the presidential candidates of the two parties, we need to adopt the model of the ancient Athenian democracy, which selected political leaders by lot.

Even a national presidential lottery would not save us. We have the leaders we deserve, leaders who reflect the American character. American voters like to complain that they are dissatisfied with the politicians they elect, but Bush, Obama, McCain, and Gingrich are the political face Americans see when they look in their mirrors.

Congressional representatives are richer, Americans are not

Gap Between Americans, Congressional Representatives Grows Considerably Over Last 25 Years

A new investigation by the Washington Post has revealed the financial gap between Americans and their representatives in Congress has widened considerably over the past 25 years. Between 1984 and 2009, the median net worth of a member of the House more than doubled from $280,000 to $725,000 in inflation-adjusted 2009 dollars. Over the same period, the wealth of an American family has declined slightly, with the comparable median figure sliding to just more than $20,000. A key reason for the shift is the soaring cost of political campaigns. According to the Federal Election Commission, since 1976, the average amount spent by winning House candidates quadrupled in inflation-adjusted dollars, to $1.4 million.

Humiliated? When lotteries go wrong.

We have already seen one major catastrophe in 2011 with a lottery allocation procedure, when the ‘Green Card’ went wrong. There were a reported 22,000 people world-wide who thought that they had won, and were then told that they hadn’t.

How did these lottery-losers feel? ‘Humiliated’ according to a paper by two kleroterians Jon Dolle and Anne Newman.

Badly-run lotteries leave the participants, and even the winners, feeling humiliated. Even a properly-run lottery may leave both winners and losers feeling bad, if there is not complete transparency about the randomisation mechanisms used. Continue reading

2011 review – statistics

Below are some statistics about the second year of Equality-by-Lot. Comparable numbers for last year can be found here.

2011 Page views Posts Comments
Jan 901 8 108
Feb 2,085 17 392
Mar 1,437 11 156
Apr 1,499 10 115
May 801 11 73
June 1,048 16 104
July 805 9 110
Aug 994 6 54
Sept 1,120 5 103
Oct 1,930 7 151
Nov 1,205 5 32
Dec (to 23rd) 1,759 13 239
Total 15,584 118 1,637

Note that page views do not include visits by logged-in contributors – the wordpress system does not count those visits.

The system reports that posts were made by 7 authors during 2011, with one of those authors making only one contribution. (There were, of course, many other authors quoted and linked to.)

There are currently 28 email and WordPress followers of this blog.

Searching for “distribution by lot” (with quotes) using Google returns Equality-by-Lot as the second result (out of “about 23,000 results”). Searching for “sortition” returns Equality-by-Lot as the 9th result (out of “about 82,900 results”). Searching for “kleroterion” returns Equality-by-Lot as the 10th result (out of “about 4,600 results”).

2010 Page views Posts Comments
Jan 288 8 30
Feb 242 12 29
Mar 417 7 28
Apr 252 5 16
May 344 6 18
Jun 259 6 15
Jul 324 9 20
Aug 372 7 93
Sep 550 10 38
Oct 704 6 97
Nov 1091 10 133
Dec (thru 23rd) 458 6 41
Total 5301 92 558

Strategies to implement sortition?

I’ve been thinking recently about strategies to implement sortition – especially incremental strategies that start with relatively small, feasible steps, and then gradually build up to more ambitious goals. I have a special interest in strategies that could be feasible on a municipal level in or near the city where I live (San Francisco), because I’d like to be part of such a project, but I’m also very interested in any strategies people have suggested that might work in any part of the world.

Harald, you recently proposed two strategies:

  1. Add a small number of allotted members to an existing elected legislature, then increase the number of allotted members
  2. Conduct one-off sortition exercises (with the allotted bodies having some decision making power) on first a few issues, then more

Kevin O’Leary proposed starting by creating an allotted legislative body (the “People’s Assembly”) that would be advisory only, then later giving it legislative authority.

I’ve been thinking about three other strategies:

  1. Conducting a foundation-funded, local government supported experiment with a municipal level second chamber chosen by lot (in US cities, the legislative branch is usually unicameral).
  2. Creating an actual allotted second chamber in a municipality, with legislative authority; then doing the same in a few more municipalities, then replacing one branch of a state legislature with an allotted chamber in a small state or province.
  3. Creating a single purpose allotted legislative body (say, on health care or environmental legislation), then adding more.

What other strategies do you folks know of?

Lawrence Lessig: Democracy vouchers

Jorge Cancio drew my attention to Lawrence Lessig’s proposal for fixing government.

We should have seen this coming: if McChesney and Nichols offered us a fix for elitist media by using media vouchers, Prof. Lessig will have us fix elitist government using democracy vouchers (book, article, interview):

So long as elections cost money, we won’t end Congress’s dependence on its funders. But we can change it. We can make “the funders” “the people.” Following Arizona, Maine and Connecticut, we could adopt a system of small-dollar public funding for Congress.

Here’s just one way: almost every voter pays at least $50 in some form of federal taxes. So imagine a system that gave a rebate of that first $50 in the form of a “democracy voucher.” That voucher could then be given to any candidate for Congress who agreed to one simple condition: the only money that candidate would accept to finance his or her campaign would be either “democracy vouchers” or contributions from citizens capped at $100. No PAC money. No $2,500 checks. Small contributions only. And if the voter didn’t use the voucher? The money would pass to his or her party, or, if an independent, back to this public funding system.

Lessig apparently doesn’t perceive that his proposed fix is reproducing in dollars what the system already implements in votes. After all, if a candidate cannot win without money, the candidate surely cannot win without votes. If the rich are influential in the current system because it takes money to gather votes, why won’t they remain influential because it would take money to gather voucher money?

Rod Rylander: Thinking outside the ballot box

Rod Rylander writes in the OpEdNews website, offering a proposal similar to that of Callenbach and Phillips:

Only a True Democracy Can Meet The People’s Needs; We Need a New Way to Select Representatives to Congress

Given the legislative paralysis we now see in Washington, it is all too obvious that American democracy has been undermined by the influence of party politics, money, lobbyists, and the shallow bread-and-circuses quality of our mass communications.

To remedy things, we need to think outside the box — and I mean way outside the box.

My solution for reforming our dysfunctional, corrupt Congress — specifically, the House of Representatives — is to replace members now tied to the unproductive, toxic system of party politics with ordinary citizens who are qualified but randomly selected. The procedure I envision is this: In each precinct of a congressional district, one person would be selected at random from a body of citizen volunteers who meet qualifying criteria set forth in a Constitutional amendment. The district-wide representative to Congress would then be randomly selected from the body of those picked at the precinct level. No politicking would be allowed at either stage of the selection process — and would in any case be irrelevant to the totally random system of selection. The Congressional term limit would be six years, with staggered selections scheduled annually. The result would be that in each successive year one-sixth of the Congress would consist of new representatives.


Which actors for each activity?

In a recent post, I proposed a generic set of activities for a legislative process, as an aide to conversations about design. After getting some useful feedback from Jorge, Yoram and Keith, the structure now looks like this:

1.     Choosing issues to write bills for
1.1.  Choosing values and goals for the polity
1.2.  Choosing and revising categories of issues
1.3.  Reviewing current legislation and its outcomes against values and goals
1.4.  Proposing issues in each category to write bills for
1.5.  Deciding which issues to write bills for
2.     Writing bills
2.1.  Developing and revising objectives and criteria for bills
2.2.  Reviewing and accepting objectives and criteria for bills
2.3.  Developing and revising alternative bill “designs”
2.4.  Reviewing and accepting bill “designs”
2.5.  Writing and revising the language of bills
2.6.  Reviewing and accepting the language of bills
3.     Voting on finalized bills
3.1.  Education about issues and bills (learning by the decision makers)
3.2.  Advocacy (by advocates, arguing for and against bills)
3.3.  Deliberation (among decision makers, after hearing arguments)
3.4.  Voting on bills

I would like to ask anyone in this forum – especially those of you who have made specific proposals — which actors you would propose to carry out each of these activities (for example, an allotted chamber, an elected legislature, a single-purpose allotted “panel,” the whole electorate, etc.). I’m hoping to arrange your answers side by side in a matrix, like this:

Activity Actors  proposed by person 1 Actors  proposed by person 2
Activity 1
Activity 2
Activity 3

I think that if we could see everyone’s ideas about “who would do what” side by side, it would be much easier to see where we agree and where we disagree.

Are you willing to do this? And if so, what would be the most convenient way? I’ve created a Google doc that you could fill in, with columns written in for Terry, John, Jorge, Yoram, and Keith so far. Anyone else can simply log in, add your name in a new column, and fill in the actors that you’re proposing. Or, if you don’t use Google docs, I could send you a spreadsheet to fill out (please leave a comment below).

One other thing – if you disagree with my list of legislative activities, please feel free so say so, and to suggest improvements!