Sortition: a democratic alternative to the electoral system

In order to achieve representative government political officers must be selected as a statistical sample of the population

This essay is an English version of an essay of mine that was recently published in Hebrew on the Israeli website Haayal Hakore. A lively discussion followed in the comment thread. I hope to pursue some the topics raised by commenters in upcoming posts.

2011 has seen an outpour of popular frustration with government. Mass demonstrations erupted in both Arab countries and Western countries. Over a year later, it appears that the results of the Arab Spring are very different from the results of the Western protests. While in some Arab countries the protests led to an overthrow of the government and significant political changes, the protest in the West dissipated almost everywhere leaving very little impact on the political structure. (Some claim that the protests in the West increased public political awareness and activism, but even if such claims are to be believed, political institutions were unaffected; the only exception is Iceland where some structural change has taken place.)

The difference between the outcomes in Arab countries and in the West can be explained by a fundamental difference in the agendas of the protests. The protesters in the Arab countries had a very clear and specific demand – removing an unelected, or only nominally elected, government and establishing an electoral system similar to the Western model. The Western protesters on the other hand expressed discontent with government policy, but had no clear demands about how things should be changed. The general message of the protest in the West was that public policy is not as it should be – it is serving the elites (“the 1%”) rather than serving the bulk of the population (“the 99%”). But while policy demands were sometimes presented (with varying degrees of coherence and emphasis) no program was laid out of how government should be changed in order to promote policy change.

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