Down With Free Elections! Part 2

Part 2 of a post by Campbell Wallace. Part 1 is here.

There are some matters that were not touched on, or were skimmed over, in my first article.

(Note: I shall continue to refer to the members of legislative bodies as MPs, which you may translate “representatives” or “deputies” or whatever. Similarly for “House”, “Chamber”, and “Parliament”; translate to what is appropriate in your country.)

One House or Two?

This will depend on the circumstances of the country involved. In a very small country, a city-state for instance, it might be adequate to have a single House chosen from all the community with no geographical circumscriptions. In a large country one might have one chamber chosen from the entire population, with a second chamber, chosen by geographic regions like today’s electorates, in order to protect local interests. Although I am not convinced of the absolute necessity of this latter approach, a good case can be made for an Upper House or Senate as a “House of Review” with powers limited to referring legislation back to the lower house with amendments. The fact that this slows legislation down is generally regarded as a good thing; laws should not be rushed.

Number of MPs

Again, this will depend on the circumstances of the country. There is nothing magical about the number 500 which I have suggested; more might be appropriate for a large country. For a small country some smaller number might be chosen, but it would be a false economy to make the number too small. It should be noted, though, that with a new ballot every six months, even a number smaller than ideal should give reasonable fairness; even if the representation is a bit skewed at any one moment, over a period of time things will even out. I think 200 might be a reasonable lower limit for a very small country.
Continue reading

Etienne Chouard

I spoke to Etienne Chouard for the first time last night. He recommended the following TED talk he did:

It is close-captioned with English subtitles.

He also pointed me to the following talk (again in French) which unfortunately does not yet have subtitles:

I’ve only watched the first talk, and I must say I think he overstates a bit the worthlessness of elections. There is a reason why people like Mugabe resist elections so vehemently–it does offer some checks on arbitrary power. At the very least, they prevent one faction of the powerful from running roughshod over everyone, including other powerful people, and that can provide a measure of protection to everyone else.

Chouard expressed great appreciation for the work of Bernard Manin. I wonder what he thinks of the claim that representative government has both a democratic and an aristocratic side? I hope we will discuss this further with him.

Down With Free Elections!

A post by Campbell Wallace:

It is universally accepted that free elections guarantee the happiness of a nation.

At a time when men and women risk their lives and die for democracy it may seem indecent, even sacrilegious to criticise it. I do not write in order to mock those who struggle heroically against tyranny. But where is the evidence that the longed-for democratic elections are any better than chance as a method of choosing leaders?

Of course, voting an unwanted leader out of office (when it works!) is much better than bombs, kalashnikovs, or foreign invasions. It is in choosing politicians that the vote fails so miserably. I hardly have to justify this statement: everyone can think of examples of incompetent, corrupt, dishonest – or worse – democratically elected leaders, even though we would not all draw up the same list.
Continue reading

Hall: Sorting out sortition

Matt Hall writes in the openDemocracy website:

‘Britain’s political system is plainly in trouble’ […] One solution that has been growing in support […], is the replacement of elections and politicians with the random selection of ordinary people. […] Too radical say some. Too naive say others. Familiar complaints, but is this really the case? In this article I’d like to provide some counterpoints to the main arguments against sortition.
Continue reading

David Chaum: Random-sample elections

Joshua Davis writes in Wired:

Roughly 2,500 years ago, the citizens of Athens developed a concept of democracy that’s still hailed by the modern world. It was not, however, a democracy in which every citizen had a vote. Aristotle argued that such a practice would lead to an oligarchy, where powerful individuals would unduly influence the masses. Instead the Athenians relied on a simple machine to randomly select citizens for office. It’s an idea whose time has come again.

Two separate research initiatives—one from a pioneering cryptographer and a second from a team based at Stanford University—have proposed a return to this purer, Athenian-style democracy. Rather than expect everyone to vote, both proposals argue, we should randomly select an anonymous subset of electors from among registered voters. Their votes would then be extrapolated to the wider population. Think of it as voting via statistically valid sample. With a population of 313 million, the US would need about 100,000 voters to deliver a reliable margin of error.

Continue reading

“Direct democracy” and mass politics – part 2

Part 1 is here.

Mass politics

Mass politics is the situation in which political decisions are made by a symmetrical aggregation of the actions of a large number of individuals.

The modern electoral system is an example of a mass political system. In this case, the actions of the individuals are (1) whether to run for office, (2) advocacy, and (3) voting. The political decision made is the selection of the officials.

Another example is the “direct democracy” situation – both in its modern “popular initiative” setup or in the ancient “Athenian Assembly” setup. In this case, the individuals can (1) propose legislation, (2) advocate, and (3) vote, and the decision made is the passing of pieces of public policy.

When the agenda is set externally (by the Ephors in Sparta and to some extent by the Boule in Athens, or by the elected legislature in Oregon System referenda), then the individual actions are limited to advocacy and voting. In some cases (e.g., the Spartan assembly) advocacy by individuals is also explicitly excluded from the process.

Due to the symmetry of its decision making process, mass politics has superficial similarity to democracy – a political system in which political power is distributed equally among the members – since both terms describe situations of equality. The difference is that mass politics is defined in terms of formal equality while democracy is defined in terms of equality of actual political power.
Continue reading


Found the following blog post recently: Random Politics and the Lords of Chaocracy.

It recommends some system called “Chaocracy,” which is discussed by Pete Carroll in a book called Psybermagick.

Apparently, “Chaocracy” is very similar to Burnheim’s “Demarchy,” although I doubt Burnheim would see his system as having much to do with chaos.

[I found the excerpt below in the Amazon preview of the book, -Yoram]
Continue reading

3rd Paris Sortition Conference

The third sortition conference will take place on May 24-25 at CEVIPOF, Science-Po, Paris. Programme:

Gil Delannoi, Update on the research programme
Bernard Manin, Principles of Representative Government revisited
Keith Sutherland, The triumph of election: Natural right or wrong?
Andrei Poama, Virtues and limits of judicial luck: Reasons for randomising the choice of jurors and verdicts


I’d greatly appreciate advance feedback on my own paper which challenges Manin’s central argument as to why sortition hasn’t been considered as a candidate for representative government.

Jacques Rancière on elections

Joshua Mostafa wrote to call attention to an interview with Jacques Rancière:

Jacques Rancière was interviewed by Le novel Observateur on the French presidential election. He argues that elections, despite being touted as the height of democracy, are anti-democratic, oligarchical procedures. He does not confine his criticism to the right, or to the likely winner of the election, François Hollande, whose weak-tea, centrist version of socialism cuts no ice with the philosopher, but also to the purported champion of the left, Front de Gauche candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon: ‘A true campaign of the left would denounce the office of president itself.’

In principle and in historical origin, representation is anti-democratic. Democracy was founded on the idea of equal competence of all. The usual mode of selection for office was drawing lots… Representation is an oligarchic principle: it has always been associated with power representing not the population but the status or competence that bases its authority over that population: birth, wealth, knowledge, etc.
Read more (in French) »

Proposal: Video Projects

A post by Tomas Mancebo, one of the people behind Partido Azar. A translation to English follows the Spanish original.

Proyecto Videos

El punto de partida de este post es una realidad desoladora: existen videos sobre el sorteo aplicado a la política, pero son muy escasos, de dudosa calidad, con apenas reproducciones, en solo algunos idiomas, poco atractivos,… y cualquiera puede comprobarlo buscando en Youtube. El déficit es tan evidente como encomiables las exiguas iniciativas que intentan llenar este vacío.

Supongo que para EBL la difusión del sorteo es uno de los principales objetivos. EBL difunde el sorteo y lo hace con la escritura, una herramienta de comunicación tan necesaria como insuficiente. No soy de los que piensa que una imagen vale más que mil palabras. Basta pensar en un enfermo con un tumor sospechoso que visita al medico en el momento del diagnóstico definitivo: cuando el médico dice “es benigno” las lágrimas del paciente serán bien distintas de las que brotarán con un “es maligno”. Sobran las imágenes.
Continue reading