Spectator call for nomothetai to decide Britain’s membership of the EU

Sir: Peter Jones (25 May) is right to draw an unfavourable comparison between ancient and modern democracy, but he is focusing on the wrong institution. The Athenian council was merely the secretariat for the general assembly, and the legislation passed by the assembly was often as erratic as modern referenda. After the restoration of democracy in 403 bc, legislation was entrusted to nomothetai — large randomly selected juries that, unlike modern parliamentarians, were obliged to listen to the arguments of well-informed advocates for and against the proposed law before deciding the outcome by secret vote

If David Cameron wants the people do decide. . .

read on: http://www.spectator.co.uk/the-week/letters/8921081/letters-285/

This proposal, written in response to André Sauzeau’s proposal for minimal reforms, was submitted as an article (see below) and originally accepted for publication by the Spectator, but ended up cut down into a short letter. The Spectator website has a comments section, so suggest we use that as an opportunity to kick-start the conversation on sortition there, rather than commenting on this forum.

Full article:

Put the EU on Trial

By Keith Sutherland

The answer to Britain’s EU problem is not a public referendum, it’s an adversarial judicial inquiry in front of a large citizen jury, selected by lot

The success of UKIP in the recent elections has led to unprecedented soul searching within the political class in general and the Conservative Party in particular, with no fewer than three former cabinet ministers arguing that Britain should leave the EU. David Cameron has committed the party to a referendum on EU membership, but the public often just use referenda as an excuse to put two fingers up to the government. There is an urgent need to find a more reliable mechanism to allow the people to make a well-informed decision on what is arguably the most important issue in contemporary politics.
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David Graeber: “The democratic way of choosing officials, if you had to do it, was lottery.”

David Graeber is an

American anthropologist, political activist and author. He is currently reader in social anthropology at Goldsmiths College, University of London, and was formerly an associate professor of anthropology at Yale University. David is a member of the labour union Industrial Workers of the World, and has played a role in events such as the 2002 New York protests against the World Economic Forum. His most recent book is Debt: The First 5,000 Years (2011)

He is also described as

a man of many talents. A longtime activist, a professor of anthropology at the University of London, and a prolific author, David also helped found the Occupy Wall Street movement in 2011. He even coined the phrase “We are the 99%.”

Graeber is not impressed with the electoral system:
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Sebastián Linares: El sorteo de cargos públicos: un método para mejorar la democracia

Sebastián Linares writes in Con Distintos Acentos (Google Translate with my touch-ups):

Lottery for public office: a method to improve democracy

The concept of democracy has been associated, in different historical periods, with two very different methods for selection of public officials and accountability: the popular election of representatives and sortition (drawing names at random). In the last two hundred years democratic theory has assumed that the only democratic method to choose public officials is the election of representatives by popular vote. However, from its origins in Athens (435 BC) until well into the nineteenth century, the concept of “democracy” used to refer to the use of sortition for the selection of public officials (Manin 1997).

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On a Lighter Note…

On a Lighter Note…

Google alerts brought this to my attention. The same paper (with no author indicated) can be found at http://www.handmenotes.com. At first, I thought someone had written some kind of working paper on my work. But it looks like this is intended for use by students trying to cheat on a term paper assignment. I had no idea that enough professors were assigning my work as to justify circulating a paper like this. I’m deeply touched.

Diversity Lottery

It appears that the U.S. Diversity Lottery may be in trouble. Thoughts?

A segment on today’s Take Two featured an interview with a immigration policy expert on the Diversity Visa Lottery, a quirky program based partly on random selection that rewards applicants from countries that are under-represented among the nation’s immigrant diasporas. The Senate immigration reform bill proposes doing away with the program.

If the diversity visa sounds familiar, that’s because a related fiasco made headlines two years ago: In the spring of 2011, thousands of applicants were mistakenly informed they’d won an immigrant visa by the U.S. government, and then — whoops! — told there had been a computer glitch and that the good news was a mistake.

Sortition for a constitutional assembly

Nikita Malo proposes selecting the members of a constitutional assembly using sortition:

Why constitution, why sortition?

Constitution is central to political systems; it is mainly aimed to define power. Who make the new laws? What powers have citizens? How are chosen deputies? What are their obligations?

We do not know yet what the new constitution will be (even though it could be possible to define a new constitution first, and then to support and empower it), but what is crucial is that a constitution has not to be written by the politicians, or they will write their own rules, and so be able to take advantage of the situation. That is why sortition is supported in this article, as a way to avoid conflicts of interests. On that question, I recommend this video.

Can Sortition really change this?

Civil government, so far as it is instituted for the security of property, is in reality instituted for the defense of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have none at all.

― Adam Smith (not Karl Marx as you might have thought!)

The Looking at Democracy contest has opened public

The Looking at Democracy contest has opened public voting until 16 May. I have three 3-minute video entries promoting sortition. Please vote for one.

Towards a Two Legged Democracy

Making Democracy Real – The argument for legislative juries

Making Democracy Reality

Economic Juries — whatever next?

Daniel McFadden of UC Berkley produced a paper in 2011 which is mostly about what he calls Economic Juries. This is just like the German CJs that we have heard about previously from Antoine Vergne which were tasked with deciding whether to go ahead with new public infrastructure projects. So it’s interesting to see economists picking up on this idea.

McFadden’s paper has the anodyne title The Human Side of Mechanism Design, and you can read the paper on my website www.conallboyle.com

I found it the paper his website, but academics could obtain it from Athens. McFadden is one of the better guys, an economist who understands a bit about real humans.

The main ‘mechanism’ he investigates is the use of a jury to decide issues of public spending. Apart from a passing reference to deciding if a new park should be established at Boulder, Colorado, no actual examples of Economic Juries are given. But the theoretical reasons for using an EJ, they methods that could be used to inform them and elicit their real opinions are explored — in other words can a jury work? can it decide correctly? can it evade the human failings of bias, framing, short-termism etc. etc.?

Warning! This paper is a bit wonkish (to use  Krugman’s phrase).

So CJs (or EJs to use McFadden’s term): They would be an alternative to the democratic, elected representatives deciding. Would EJs work better? At what? Discovering the General Will perhaps???

“They Can Do It All on a Computer”

“They Can Do It All on a Computer”

Google Alerts directed me to this brief article. Not particularly exciting, but I wonder what people think of the idea of random selection taking place entirely on a computer like this. Happens quite a lot, I gather–I think that’s how the Dutch medical school lottery is done. But it’s rather hard to verify that a lottery is fair when it’s just a guy typing commands into a computer in the comfort of his office. Thoughts? Does this matter?