How Lotteries Affect Choices

Watched a TED talk this evening featuring a Stanford Business School Professor.  (We’ve never met.) He presented a study suggesting that people might have more difficulty with certain types of tasks if they are presented with a difficult choice in advance than if the choice is made for them–even if the choice is made for them randomly. The argument isn’t completely clear to me, but that’s par for the course for TED. The talk is here–

Baba Shiv: Sometimes it’s good to give up the driver’s seat

Political Studies Association: “The Party’s Over”

The theme for the (UK) 2013 PSA conference (Cardiff, 25-27 March) is The Party’s Over. Oliver Dowlen is organising a sortition panel under the auspices of the PSA specialist group on deliberative and participatory democracy. The deadline is tight (abstracts need to go to Stephen Elstub, the group convenor by October 5), so anyone interested please contact

Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained: The True Meaning of Democracy

Has anyone come across this new book by Arthur Robbins:

At a time when people around the world are rising up to demand self-determination and Americans are locked in debate about the role of government in society, PARADISE LOST, PARADISE REGAINED: The True Meaning of Democracy offers a fresh look at what democratic governance really means.

The story begins in ancient Athens and then turns to Rome and the Italian City States. Democracy in the United States, prior to the signing of the Constitution, is explored in detail. There is a section devoted to the effects of war on emergent democracy in the Middle Ages and in France at the time of the Revolution. The book concludes with a review of recent experiments in democracy, especially in India and Latin America.

Early Americans have much to teach us. We study some of the essays, letters, and articles written by the Anti-Federalists, those who were opposed to ratification of the Constitution. They were articulate and impassioned on the subject of democracy. They understood the nature of political power and of those who would abuse it.

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“Why Occupy Fizzled?”

September 17 was marked as the anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. While the dismissal of the movement as a spent force by its opponents including corporate mass media is only to be expected, it seems that the feeling that this movement has reached the limits of what can be achieved with its past tactics is shared by sympathetic observers.

Matt Taylor at The Daily Beast offers an analysis that is to a large extent an establishment point-of-view, but makes some valid points as well:

As Occupy Wall Street protesters geared up to mark their first anniversary in Manhattan on Monday, they found themselves operating almost alone, without much of the outside support from celebritieslabor unions, and other progressive groups and leaders that had helped to create a palpable sense of momentum last fall.


But it would appear that, some tepid local union supporters in the city notwithstanding, the broader progressive coalition—including organized labor—is sitting this one [the anniversary] out, having seen the Occupy movement descend into internal squabbling in recent months over how, and whether, to engage the political system directly.

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Chouard: No democracy without sortition

An interview with Etienne Chouard in Ragemag magazine (translation by Google Translate, with my touch-ups):

Is sortition the future of democracy?

Sortition is not the future of democracy, it is inseparable from democracy; it is a much stronger link than a chronological phase: there is no democracy without sortition.

Chouard also considers the popular initiative mechanism as a major democratic component (mistakenly, in my opinion):

What is a popular initiative referendum?

PIR (or CIR: Citizen-initiated referenda) is the institution that guarantees the people that it is possible, on the people’s initiative at any time, to regain control of the legislative process and components. It is central. The popular initiative referendum exists in a few countries in the world: in Italy, half of the United States, Venezuela and Austria, for example. In France, in 2008, the parliament, by government orders, revised the constitution to establish what they fraudulently called (I weigh my words) a “popular initiative referendum.” Just read Article 11 to find that this is a referendum on parliamentary initiative. Our so-called “representatives” so openly mock us. We do not have a democracy: we have a plutocracy.

Thomas Fleming: Down With Democracy!

Thomas Fleming, editor of the American monthly Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture, author of several books on ethics (The Morality of Everyday Life) and politics (Socialism, The Politics of Human Nature), contributor to newspapers, magazines, and academic journals on both sides of the Atlantic, and formerly a professor of Greek and Latin at several universities, is again proposing following the Athenian example.

It turns out that the American political system had been in reasonably good shape until Martin Van Buren copied the party system from the UK, and in doing so put the US government on the path of corruption. The final nail in the coffin, Fleming asserts, was the institution of primaries, replacing the corrupt but still useful party leaders as the determinants of party candidates.

Taking a break in dispensing dubious historical synopses, Fleming moves to the present:

If this is democracy, I am ready to try an alternative.  Whenever anyone dares to criticize democracy, he is inevitably slapped down with Churchill’s witticism that democracy is the worst form of government except for all those others that have been tried.  What neither Churchill nor his millions of quoting admirers have ever explained is what they mean by democracy. Indeed, after decades of studying political theory–and discussing such matters with the learned and the wise–I still have no clue as to what people mean when they use the word, other than their opinion that democracy is decidedly a good thing.

Cheerleaders for democracy, the American way of life, and my sweet old etcetera tell us that the principles of one man/one vote and representative government are the essence of our democratic liberty. Interestingly, the people who are credited with inventing the institution and certainly gave us the word–I mean of course the Greeks–did not regard elections as particularly democratic.

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Nicholas Wood has been reading Andrew Dobson

A letter to the Kenyan Sunday Nation:

Let’s do away with elections altogether

Saturday, September 1, 2012

I agree with columnist Murithi Mutiga’s argument last Sunday about elections. Do away with elections and go for selection by lot.

In a stroke, party/tribal politics loses all meaning. Campaigning becomes obsolete.

A body of people representing all walks of life without vested interests sits in the House.

The process is simple, cheap and fair. It is not on the Western liberal model either.

As Prof Dobson of Keele University (UK) wrote in The Guardian recently [see here], if this was good enough for the ancient Greeks, who invented democracy, why not for us?

Nicholas Wood, Mombasa.