A proposal to solve a very urgent problem – part 2 of 2

The first part is here.

There are very many matters that need to be regulated by independent international authorities, most obviously the international movement of money. Trafficking in money is worth more than the sum of all other international trading. Money makes money without being involved in any productive process. Many economists believe that some of the worst features of this situation could be removed by imposing a very small tax on such transactions. But it is difficult for any state to do so in the absence of any international authority in the matter. Choosing the personnel of a competent, independent and recognised authority by lot from a pool of nominees, subject to appropriate conditions and safeguards, is a key element in setting up the required kind of body. However, different procedures will be needed in different contexts.

One problem with simple sortition is that in situations where a large relatively homogeneous majority is accompanied by a number of differing minorities a sample that simply reproduces their numerical distribution may lead to a decision pattern that is very unfair to the minorities. The problem is distressingly familiar. Ultimately, reducing its salience is a matter of breaking up totalizing communities, not to destroy them as communities, but to enrich them by emphasising the variety of people within any community and their multiple connections to similar people in other groups. Community is never reducible to uniformity or to any single objective.
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A proposal to solve a very urgent problem – part 1 of 2

Global action on the global problem of human-induced climate change is stalled. In most countries action has become a victim to internal politics and also to the absence of any international authority capable of organising a concerted response. Everybody waits for others to do something.

The politics involved in the workings of the UN prevent it from providing a solution to the absence of an international authority, and attempts to get one set up by treaty seem hopeless.

In this situation even the scientific authority of the IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change) has come into question. It is alleged to be biased and complicit in the attempts of certain vested interests to exploit fear of catastrophe. Also it is not effectively answerable to anybody. There is obviously not just some plausibility but some substance in these accusations.

There is no doubt that everybody who works for the IPCC is already convinced that climate change is dangerous and that it is at least exacerbated by our use of fossil fuels. They want to find more evidence for their view. They may be nominally responsible to the UN, but in practice that is illusory.
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Americans don’t like the Congresspeople of their own districts

Approval ratings of U.S. congress have been stuck at single digits or low double digits for years. However, Americans tend to like Congresspeople elected in their own districts and states more than they like Congress as a whole.

A recent Rasmussen poll found that Congresspeople are quite unpopular even in their own districts:

[O]nly 25% of voters think their representative in Congress deserves reelection […]. Forty-one percent (41%) now say that representative does not deserve to be reelected, but 34% are undecided.

(This is still much better than Congress as a whole whose approval ratings are at 8%.)

Other findings from the poll:

70% think most [incumbents] get reelected because election rules are rigged in their favor, not because they do a good job representing their constituents.

[O]nly 14% of voters think most members of Congress care what their constituents think, and only slightly more (21%) believe their congressional representative cares what they think. These numbers, too, have been trending down over the last four-and-a-half years and are now at new lows.

Sixty-nine percent (69%) think most members of Congress don’t care what their constituents think, while 17% are not sure. Fifty-three percent (53%) say their representative doesn’t care what they think, but 26% are undecided.

Kleristocracy and Neoconservatism: Spot the Difference

Kleristocracy is a term, coined by Jon Roland, for the concentration of political power in sortition-based systems, and has been advocated by a number of commentators on this blog. It’s struck me recently that this has a lot in common with the neoconservative worldview that has led to such disastrous outcomes in (for example) Iraq and Libya and I want to use this post to explore the parallels.

Neoconservatives argue that the goal of foreign policy is the liberation of oppressed nations from tyranny – ideally through their own efforts, if not then with a bit of help from the “forces of freedom” – followed by the institution/imposition of democracy, enabling the self-organising powers of “the people” to operate in an unfettered manner. Kleristocrats also argue that “the people” should be liberated from tyranny (of the rich and powerful) and empowered by “real” democracy – the only difference between kleristocrats and neoconservatives being the use of an alternative balloting method.
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A Citizen Jury in Action: Report from Morris Rural Climate Dialog

Speaking of Citizen Juries, I’ve wanted to share something about this “Rural Climate Dialogue” since I attended as an observer last month in a small town in the Minnesota prairie. Below are excerpts from the participants. The the full report includes a statement to the public drafted entirely by the 15 randomly selected participants and an explanation of the CJ process as facilitated by the Jefferson Center.

Personally, I was quite impressed by what these regular people–the youngest a high school teenager, the eldest in her 80s–were able to do. They actually listened, engaged each other, and decided together. Unanimity was not required but almost always reached. Even their writing-in-committee was well done.

I was very impressed with this group’s ability to come together as community members, as neighbors, and talk about these things in an open, civil, and friendly manner.

I have to admit when I came here when people talked about climate [change] I thought ‘oh come on’ – did I ever learn a lot. I am grateful.

I think I’ll be a little bit more active and learn a little bit more in the future as a result of that. The overall experience was wonderful and the people were great.

We are the ones responsible for making these decisions…I’m thrilled and honored to be a part of a process that reminds me why this grand [democratic] experiment continues. And it’s not been perfect, and it will not be perfect, but we can always make it better, and things like this are a start. Thank you for the opportunity.

Just How Do CJs support ‘Freedom and Democracy’?

In a spate of moronic ‘reforms’ Education Ministers in England (of all parties) have vowed to set schools free from the dead hand of local (elected!) authorities. Hence there are Academies, Free Schools, Foundations including some for-profit schools. Yet all of these are funded by the State through taxpayer money.

So how should these ‘free’ schools be governed? A Governing Body, but chosen by election? No, no! Continue reading

Allocating speaking spots on mass media

FAIR’s survey of cable news discussion programs reveals predictable demographic biases:

A survey of major cable news discussion programs shows a stunning lack of diversity among the guests.

FAIR surveyed five weeks of broadcasts of the interview/discussion segments on several leading one-hour cable shows: CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360° and OutFront With Erin Burnett, All In With Chris Hayes and the Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC, and Fox News Channel’s O’Reilly Factor and Hannity.


Male guests widely outnumbered women on every show (730 to 285), making up 72 percent of the guest lists. Just 5 percent (46) of cable news guests were women of color. […] Women of color (about 18 percent of the US public) were strikingly underrepresented on most shows […] Non-Latino white men, on the other hand, were overrepresented on every show.

But, of course, the bias is not only gender- and race-based:

The largest category of guests were other members of the media: 55 percent of the guests were either journalists (400) or pundits (159). Current and former government officials were the next largest category, accounting for almost 10 percent of guests (107). There were 37 military guests (current and former), 35 representatives of think tanks and 32 academics. Other prominent guest categories were lawyers (21) and business representatives (17).

Such biases give certain groups in the population disproportional voice in politics, meaning they are undemocratic. The way to achieve proper representation is to allot speaking spots on mass media, giving each person the same chance of getting their worldview represented.

The Median Voter Rules — OK?

Cabinet reshuffle montage: ministers in Downing Street
David Cameron used his reshuffle to promote a number of women – and to sack Michael Gove

Francis Elliott, Michael Savage and Laura Pitel, The Times, July 16 2014:

Michael Gove was removed as education secretary after David Cameron’s election guru warned about his “toxic” polling. Mr Gove paid the price as the prime minister reshaped his cabinet into an election-fighting unit, more than doubling the number of women in a top team that he claimed “reflects modern Britain”. . . [P]olling showing that more than half of voters thought the education secretary was doing a bad job fatally undermined him. Insiders say that Lynton Crosby, the Tories’ election strategist, led a powerful coalition inside No 10 calling for Mr Gove to be removed.

Michael Gove was the architect of the government’s ‘free schools’ policy, which was intended to encourage state-maintained schools to aspire to the values and achievements of independent (fee-paying) schools. This was certainly not a policy designed to appeal to the ‘rich and powerful’ (who can afford the fees of independent schools) as it increases the competition for places in top universities. The toppling of Gove is, ironically, a victory for the rich and powerful, but it was instituted by the need to pander to the preferences of the median voter. The commitment of the government to free schools was ideological, as opposed to reflecting the interests of the ruling elite, and the overturning of it was in response to the perceived [i.e. short-term] interests of the median voter. The main reason that Gove appeared unpopular with parents in Crosby’s focus groups, was his insistence on rigorous examination standards and the attempt to return to a traditional (ie academically challenging) core curriculum. David Cameron and the vast majority of the cabinet supported Gove’s strategy but he was sacrificed for purely electoral purposes (another factor being the need to reduce the alienation of teachers and other public-sector workers).
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Michael Schulson: How to choose?

A few weeks back, I was interviewed for an article in Aeon Magazine. That article, entitled “How to Choose? When Your Reasons Are Worse than Useless, Sometimes the Most Rational Choice Is a Random Stab in the Dark,” has now appeared online.

Some interesting sources cited in it (and not just my book…).

Dixon: Why Elections Still Matter, Except When They Don’t

An excerpt from an article by long time political activist Bruce A. Dixon:

Can electoral campaigns morph into social movements?

The short answer is no. We have to avoid and actively argue against the delusion that electoral campaigns build social movements. They don’t. I used to believe that under some circumstances they could. But I’ve seen twenty or more campaigns close up, in many of which some or the key participants hoped to morph into permanent bottom-up organizations capable of running themselves and holding candidates accountable. For reasons that require a book chapter to explain, it almost never works. I think I’ve seen it happen, sort of, once in my entire political life.

Electoral campaigns have been the graveyard of social movements, not once, but many, many times.
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