My feeling is that the future of politics doesn’t have any elections in it

The Huffington Post has an article which mixes some standard issue techno-progressivist messages with a rejection of elections and a proposal of government by policy juries:

Jim Gilliam, CEO and co-founder of NationBuilder, […] and his co-founders Jesse Haff and Joe Green created the service to help people organize their own communities. As Gilliam said in the first part of our interview, he sees the primary political divide in our country not as one of “left vs. right. The divide is the people vs. the powerful.” This is something that Gilliam sees as not standing for long in an age of instantaneous, ubiquitous communication.

“The internet will reset all of that,” said Gilliam. “There’s no question it has to, because the internet has this really difficult relationship with power. I have deep emotional issues with power, and I believe that the way to deal with it is to give it to everybody. The biggest way to destroy it is that everybody has it. So build tools so that you can build your power base. and everybody wants that. That’s the currency of 21st century, it’s less all the money you have and it’s more how big your nation is.”


“My feeling is that the future of politics doesn’t have any elections in it. […]”

“No elections” runs against the grain of the way we currently think of democracy. Yet our own system already contains the framework of what Gilliam sees as a better, more participatory solution that addresses the issues of corruption and ignorance that he sees as plaguing our current democracy.

“Get rid of elections and model the legislative process more like the judicial process. Where issues are brought before a jury, but you have two opposing councils. We’ve got tons of lawyers in this country, so we’ve got plenty of people who can do this, and the jury might be twelve people or it might be a thousand people. Whatever number it is that kind of makes it work. And then you solve the corruption issue because you have no idea who these people are going to be. You get rid of the ignorance problem because you’re actually forced to hear all sides of an issue, and it is true representative democracy done in the internet age.”

The idea of a jury instead of an elected deliberative body struck me as strange initially. Who would make up the juries? Could random selection create a truly representative democracy? Would it be the best people? Whoever was available? Gilliam posits that there would be some form of jury selection process, as there is now, and that this kind of system would actually be more representative.

“Here’s the reality we’re in right now: it’s self-selective who [votes], right? It’s based upon who can get manipulated the most by one side or who has time or who is rich enough that they can take off work or all sorts of things are factoring in that aren’t representative of all of the actual people in that area. There’s no doubt that the system would not be perfect in the same way that the judicial system is not perfect; but considering how completely and utterly broken the current thing is, I’d argue that it’s dramatically better, and it’s fundamentally keeping with the concepts of the founders created this country.”

6 Responses

  1. I agree, but what’s your opinion on shrinking the size of bodies responsible for making the laws?

    A month or two ago I made the case for a much larger legislature in which random selection would play a role, but I also looked into the possibility of provincial and higher levels of government adapting the city council model.

    This means, say, one combined body of two dozen or so members, or two or three separate bodies of a dozen members each (separate for state affairs, social affairs, industrial affairs, etc.). Any larger “legislature” would only be a Consultative Conference of sorts. This was the state of affairs in pre-1954 People’s Republic of China, in pre-1976 Cuba, and would have been a far more effective state of affairs in the early RSFSR.


  2. Jacob,

    A small enough body (with members selected at random, I presume) runs the risk of being non-representative due to random fluctuations of the sampling.

    Beyond that, when the group is too small there is a risk that an atmosphere of corruption and unaccountability would result – either within the entire body or within sub-groups within the body. This is the standard “power corrupts” dynamic, which becomes stronger as power becomes concentrated in fewer hands.


  3. Yoram, that’s why I said two dozen or so members per combined body. I still recall my basic statistics stuff about sample sizes of 24 or 25 to 30 sample units being enough to represent some broader statistical population.

    There’s also the opposite argument: if a body is too big, too unwieldy, informal centers of power emerge. A more compact body would eliminate these informal centers.

    One key reason why the Paris Communal Council was able to combine legislative and executive-administrative power was its compact size of 92 members, yet there was still a lot of ineffectiveness because it wasn’t smaller, unlike the Sovnarkom (which, as I stated above, should have been the full-fledged Revolutionary Provisional Government).


  4. >I still recall my basic statistics stuff about sample sizes of 24 or 25 to 30 sample units being enough to represent some broader statistical population.

    That would be a very crude representation. The normal minimum size for a reasonably accurate mini-public is an order of magnitude bigger.


  5. Jacob,

    Regarding random fluctuation: The chance that a given minority of one third in the population would win a majority in a sample of 25 is about 4%. Not terrible, but seems rather high.

    > if a body is too big, too unwieldy, informal centers of power emerge. A more compact body would eliminate these informal centers.

    I completely agree. In fact, this is the main function of sortition – moving away from mass politics (the politics of large bodies) and into a situation of small-group politics.

    The question is how small should “small” be, and the answer depends greatly on the context. In any case, I think that having a body of more than, say, 300 hundred people is probably counterproductive. But, on the other hand, in any high stakes situation I think that a body of 25 people would be too small for the reasons I gave in my previous comment and would like to see a group of at least 100 people.


  6. […] Chouard (and here, here, and here), Lawrence Lessig, David Chaum, Jacques Rancière, Clive Aslet, Jim Gilliam, Loïc Blondiaux, and Andrew Dobson and other readers of the […]


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