How to design a democratic legislative system? (part 1 – activities)

I am new to this forum, and new to the study of sortition. I’m fascinated by the ideas and debates presented here, somewhat overwhelmed, and trying to formulate an organizing framework that can help me – and hopefully others – make sense of it all.

I’ve read with great interest the recent debates about Keith and Terry’s ideas in “Athenian Democracy Reincarnate,” and the recent exchange between Yoram and Alex about election vs. sortition. Rather than plunging into the debates, I’ve been asking myself “what are the basic questions that must be answered in order to design a democratic legislative system; what are the answers that people are presenting here; and what are the main points of agreement and disagreement?”

So far I can think of four highest-level questions for designing a legislative system:

  1. What criteria should define a “democratic” (and “good”) legislative system?
  2. What are the essential activities of the legislative process?
  3. What actors should carry out each activity, playing what roles?
  4. What processes should be used for each activity?

(Note: this is assuming a given structure of political units, and that’s a huge design issue in itself, but beyond my scope here)

I’m not going to start with criteria, because I’m afraid that the resulting discussion wouldn’t be useful. Instead, in this post I’m going to start with activities, then (hopefully) actors and roles in my next post, then processes, and then criteria.

Continue reading

Statistical Sampling

On many occasions I have argued that the representativity of political assemblies constituted ‘descriptively’ (i.e. by statistical sampling) only applies at the collective level, and that this requires members of such an assembly being limited in their function (in contrast to the mandate of elected members). This argument has failed to persuade some participants in this forum, so this post makes the point in a rather stark manner, in the hope that it will challenge my opponents to refute it or else accept it – ‘ to put up or shut up’ – as opposed to merely ignoring it. I’m puzzled as to the continuing necessity to labour this point, as its veracity derives from the meaning of the word ‘statistical’, nevertheless I will seek to hammer the nail in one more time.

Statistical sampling via random selection is widely used for proportionate opinion polling, but the problem with using random selection for relatively complicated issues like political representation (as opposed to preferences over different brands of washing powder) is that such surveys are inevitably of ‘raw’ (unconsidered) opinion. Nevertheless the representativity of the proportional sampling techniques used is hard to deny, hence James Fishkin’s attempt to seek to establish a ‘deliberative’ assembly using random sampling techniques, which combines representativity with informed deliberation in order to represent the ‘considered judgment’ of the whole population. However this requirement leads Fishkin to advocate a very thin form of the deliberative ideal, in which members effectively listen to balanced pro–anti arguments and then decide the outcome via secret ballot, as opposed to the rich active deliberation preferred by Habermasian deliberative theorists. Why should this be?
Continue reading