New Website of Interest

Martin Wilding Davies, formerly of the Newid Party (which advocated rule by sortition in Wales) has a new website that may be of interest.

Beyond the principle of distinction

The primary negative effect of the electoral system is the obverse of its ostensible function. This effect is what Bernard Manin called “the principle of distinction” – the delegation of political power to people whose situation and outlook is significantly different from those of the population at large. As a result of this difference, the political elite serves interests that are different from, and often antithetical to, those of the average voter.

However, the electoral system is often presented by academic advocates and by electoral activists and politicians as providing a value to society above and beyond its function for selecting government officials. It supposedly encourages meaningful popular participation in government through voting, informed discussion, organized activism in electoral campaigns and awareness of the importance of compromise and coalition building. In fact, the electoral system encourages none of those patterns – on the contrary: it is antithetical to them. This is due to several characteristics of the electoral system that are not consequences of the principle of distinction.

  1. Politics as competition The electoral system is a mechanism in which groups compete for power. Allocation of power through competition has several related effects:
    • When political power is gained through competition, its attainment comes to be seen, primarily by the winners themselves but by others as well, as a reward. Corruption – use of the hard won political power to further the interests of the winners and their associates – then becomes a natural consequence of the achievement.
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Vote! or others will choose for you.

The Israeli elections are three days away and the campaign is reaching its inevitable crescendo. Something called “movement for social media” is adding its contribution to the cacophony with a celebrity clip whose message is “Vote! or others will choose for you.” (In Hebrew ‘vote’ and ‘choose’ are the same word.)

The campaign organizers explained back in October that it was prompted by falling voter turnout rates in Israel. Voter turnout has dropped from close to 80% throughout the second half of the 20th century to under 70% in the three elections of the first decade of the 21st.
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And Now for Something Completely Different…

There’s apparently a fictional newspaper online called the Mammalian Daily, which purports to cover the lives of a bunch of animals living in a zoo. Apparently, the animal leaders of the zoo are selected by sortition. See…

It is, however, a stratified sample by category of animal. We don’t want a ruling body dominated by amphibians, after all.

Brief Irish Appearance of Sortition

Short article by Stephen Kinsella, a lecturer in economics at University of Limerick, on Ireland’s democracy deficit. I am always happy to hear the word “sortition” discussed. I’m amazed by how many people–even academics, even political scientists, even scholars studying democracy–are not familiar with the term.

The process of selecting officials in ancient Greece was called sortition. All citizens – men of course – were eligible for elected office. Effectively, the citizens drew lots for ministries (the one with the shortest straw probably became minister for health).
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Realpolitik — according to the economists

The death of James M Buchanan, the notorious Public Choice Theory economist has sparked some interesting discussion on ‘Crooked Timber’, my fav. intellectual blog.

I found myself nodding in vigorous agreement with the following
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The Party’s Over: Metamorphoses of Democratic Government

Abstract: The contrast between ancient Greek democracy as direct rule by the people, and modern democracy as indirect rule by elected representatives is in need of modification (Hansen, 2013). (Lane, 2012) has characterized Aristotle’s ideal democracy as ‘proto-Schumpeterian’ and (Hansen, 1999) has described the 4th-century Athenian development of randomly-selected legislative courts as a conservative reaction against the direct rule of the assembly. In a new paper (Hansen, 2013) outlines the change of democratic emphasis over three centuries in Athens: elective (sixth century), direct (fifth century), and sortive, viz. selection by lot (fourth century).

(Manin, 1997) has suggested that modern representative government has also evolved over three stages: parliamentary democracy, party democracy and finally ‘audience’ democracy, in which politicians appeal directly to the public in a similar manner to stage actors (and where the audience writes the script in real time). In audience democracy, as with direct democracy, political parties are superfluous. In this paper I argue that both the classical (direct) and modern (audience) models of democracy are inherently unstable and suggest that modern democracy may well parallel ancient democracy in evolving to a ‘sortive’ stage, where citizen juries, selected by lot, play a key role in the determination of legislative outcomes, and the role of political parties is limited to innovation and advocacy.

This is the abstract for my paper for the Political Studies Association annual conference, The Party’s Over (March 2013). I’d greatly appreciate any feedback, full text available here.

Prof. Irad Malkin: Democracy without democracy

Prof. Irad Malkin, a professor of Ancient History in Tel Aviv University, writes in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz (my translation):

The days of democracy are short and few. In ancient Greece it lasted 200 years and its age in the modern era is similar. Modern democracy draws is ideological roots from ancient democracy, mainly from Classical Athens: since the people is sovereign, the government is called democratic, said Pericles the leader of Athens. But modern democracy does wrong to the basic democratic idea of equality and accessibility, since it chose to adopt some of the democratic ideas of Athens and reject the way in which Athens sustained its government. The Athenians did not think that it was possible to disconnect the governmental mechanism from its guiding principle; for the mechanism is what guaranteed democracy, the sovereignty of the people, the accessibility and the rotation: democracy, said Aristotle, is ruling and being ruled in turns.

So what did we forget? What did we give up? The lottery. More than anything else the democratic government relied on the lottery rather than on voting. Magistrates, cleric and jurists (that served as judges in Athens), and even government ministers – all were selected by lottery – and there was no “prime minister”. Please do not smile: “The rule of the people has the fairest name of all: ‘equality before the law’ (isonomia)… In this government, officials are selected by lot, and are held accountable and proposals are brought before the people… for all things are possible for the majority.”

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“Put the right man in the right job”

Burin Kantabutra writes to the Thai Nation:

Random assignments will make situation worse

Police chief Adul Saengsingkaew refuses to reconsider his order to select officers randomly from a pool of 4,000 specialist investigators nationwide and send them to fill vacancies in the strife-ridden South. This lottery is wrong from top to bottom.

The concept of a national police force goes directly against former prime minister Anand Panyarachun’s “Seven Pillars of Sustainable Democracy”, one of which is decentralisation. A police force must, by its nature, be localised, for each region differs from others – especially the South. For example, how many cops in Bangkok or Isaan speak Yawi and understand Islam and its culture? How will they communicate effectively with locals, let alone investigate? The cops from each region should be drawn from, and be accountable to, the region’s citizenry, through its elected representatives. Not only the police lottery, but the department itself, is built upon a false premise, one of national homogeneity.

Not surprisingly, those who are forced to do anything will not be willing workers, and are likely to be ineffective – further aggravating the volatile situation down south. Continue reading