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.

More generally, the natural tendency to see conflicts of interest as conflicts between mutually exclusive groups of people neglects the very important fact that those conflicts also exist within most individuals. I have an interest in my security and hence in those who might threaten it being subject to close surveillance. The trouble is that those who exercise such power inevitably are driven to expand and abuse it in the quest for effectiveness. I also have an interest in being free from surveillance myself and living among people who feel free. It is generally impossible for an individual to arrive at a reasonable compromise between such conflicting considerations without taking account of how they affect others. Discussion of those conflicting considerations needs to be undertaken in a cooperative way, as shared problem to be solved rather than a tussle in which there is only one winner.

So kleroterians face an interesting challenge of devising techniques whereby what are selected for certain purposes are not individuals as such, but representatives who see themselves as called on to join cooperatively in constructing solutions that give due weight to all of the conflicting considerations that affect the issues to be decided. One way of achieving this might be to ask candidates for selection to score themselves according to the strength of their interest in relevant connections. So a single mother with children and a dependent parent might rate highly in a body concerned with the design of a health care facility in virtue of her different roles, where a young man with no dependents would count only in one respect. The aim of a selection procedure based on such scores would be to secure a fair representation of relevant interests rather than of individuals as such.

Our interests change over time, often unpredictably. It is counter productive for people to pursue their own present interests without regard to other interests. It is in all our interests to have a richly diverse society in which all legitimate interests are catered for in one way or another. It is a great advantage if it is rich in public goods that underpin the opportunities to develop our potential, our multi-faceted identities and our freedom. From a narrowly economistic point of view, parks are a waste of money. Think of all the wealth that could be generated by building high rise apartments instead. But money is not the only consideration. It is not capable of expressing the value we attach to most of the things we cherish. Their value and relevance come out only in discussion and interpersonal negotiation.

Simple sortition is a method of sampling, a social technology. It needs to be seen in the context of the variety of ways in which according authority to appropriate samples of people can produce constructive decisions about specific public goods, resulting in a rich, flexible and highly participatory society. It may just arise not in virtue of some blueprint or prescription, but by small groups of people seizing on a range of social technologies and finding exciting and productive uses for them, opening their eyes to new things to do.

18 Responses

  1. JB:> So a single mother with children and a dependent parent might rate highly in a body concerned with the design of a health care facility in virtue of her different roles, where a young man with no dependents would count only in one respect.

    The problem is that young men without dependents already feel that the world is stacked against them, as they end up saddling the welfare bill for the single mothers with children and covering for them at work when their child-care commitments cause absenteeism. In modern states most people will have interests in most matters, so who is to decide which interest is worthy of representation — the single mothers or those who have to subsidise them? There is an old argument that those who benefit from the largesse of the state should have no hand in deciding how to distribute it.

    The resulting conflict between interests is what we call “politics” and, in a liberal democracy, the decision rule is a combination of majoritarianism and respect for private property, rather than the calculus of social theorists/moral philosophers as to who is and who is not a deserving case. So, whereas I found part 1 of your post quite persuasive as it was addressed at a crisis situation, I don’t see how demarchy is of relevance to run of the mill political decisions, where the decision rule is democratic (you did have the good grace to acknowledge in a past post that you were no democrat).


  2. Keith:> So your youngman thinks that he should get the lot from what he earns, and that people who expect him to help them are bludging.
    That is the individualist illusion that our consumerist culture spews over everything.
    That he is where he is today is almost entirely due to a huge range of public goods, knowledge, forms of expression and communication, a decent environment, a civil society including a range of institutions that have been built up and paid for by his forebears whom he is never going to be able to recompense.
    What he can do is contribute towards maintaining and improving that heritage as a mass of achievements with which he can identify and which give a meaningful context to rbry dimension fo his life.
    To live oblivious of those dimensions is to reduce life to the sort of self-diminishing, self-destructive self-indulgence that bedevils so many lives.
    Our deepest need is for meaningful activity. What I hope is that by finding ways in which ordinary people play a constructive role in matters that affect them a culture of awareness of the complex dimensions of our lives will emerge that is both sophisticated and inspiring. People may at last see how their well-being is dependent on all the multiple functions involved in our socioety being performed as sensitively and creatively as we can make them, with maximum involvement of those who can register most sensitively what needs to be improved.
    The point of scoring the young mother with dependents higher than the single man is that if we listen to her as she discusses the problems of priorities with others who have different interests the result is likely to be a health facility that better meets the needs of certain functions that have to be supported if we are to have a decent life.


  3. Thanks for the sermon Fr. John, but my concerns are what Mr. Youngman actually believes, not what Alasdair MacIntyre, Charles Taylor (or Jesus) thinks he ought to believe. In politics we need to start from empirical individuals, not communitarian exhortations. As for the educative benefits of demarchy, these will only affect the tiny number of souls who participate in person. My concerns are, as always, with the overwhelming majority who are disenfranchised by the lottery process.


  4. >”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.”

    Perhaps, but this is no less true of elected parliaments, or of any other system that I know of. You hint at the answer in saying:
    >”Ultimately, reducing its salience is a matter of breaking up totalizing communities.”
    I feel the influence of loyalty to party, religious community etc is likely to fade with sortition. For instance, if a certain Ahmed is chosen by lot he is not just a Muslim. He is also a small shopkeeper, a father of a family, a homeowner, a bowls player, and no doubt a lot of other things. So it is with all of us, and our views or vote on any topic (in most cases) will not be reducible to a rigid affiliation.

    >”Community is never reducible to uniformity or to any single objective.”
    Nor people to a single epithet.

    On the other hand, we can be reasonably sure not to have the situation which can happen with elections where a small minority holds the balance of power in a coalition, and is able to impose its will on the majority. You may remember the Australian DLP,(about 10% of the vote) which imposed the Catholic Church’s views on such matters as state aid for Church schools, Sunday trading, abortion, and trading hours for pubs. The same could be said to some extent of the former Country Party.

    >”It is counter productive for people to pursue their own present interests without regard to other interests.”

    Most adults realise this, surely. For this reason I would have allotted members vote “as they see fit”, which will not always be to their own immediate advantage: people tend to think of the interests of their children, their grandchildren, and often of the community or some group whom they see as acting for the benefit of others. Or (pensions or health benefits) their own interests at some future time.

    Suppose, in your example (parks vs high-rise buildings) I am the promoter of a high-rise development scheme, and stand to make millions if a zoning law is changed. I would vote for it, with no qualms whatever: it will benefit me and my heirs. What about the other (say) 499 of you? If you don’t see it as being in your (including your children’s, your mother’s, your friends’, that of the town of Tooraloo etc etc) then you will vote against it, and I will be defeated. Where is the problem?


  5. >”My concerns are, as always, with the overwhelming majority who are disenfranchised by the lottery process.”
    Really, Keith this is nonsense. They will be represented (stands for & acts for), which is not the case for many people in an electoral system.

    >”As for the educative benefits of demarchy, these will only affect the tiny number of souls who participate in person.”
    Not so, the whole community will benefit, just as I benefit from my doctor’s medical education.

    As far as Mr Youngman is concerned, most young people are fairly high-minded in my experience: altruistic and idealistic, if sometimes misguided.


  6. Campbell,

    A minipublic, by definition, stands for the political community from which it is sampled, but there are no grounds for assuming that individual members will act for the interests of the whole (for all the reasons that Hanna Pitkin provides in her book). Philip Pettit (drawing on Quentin Skinner) makes exactly the same point (note that he regards the two forms of representation as “fundamentally contrasting“):

    “There are two fundamentally contrasting varieties of representation, indicative and responsive. Indicative representers stand for the representees in the sense of typifying or epitomizing them . . . Responsive representers act for or speak for the representees, playing the part of an agent in relation to a principal; how they act is responsive to how the representees would want them to act.” (Pettit, 2010a, p. 65)

    As for the educative benefits of demarchy, I assume that John was referencing Mill’s arguments for the civic education resulting from political participation. This only affects the tiny number who participate directly (unless you assume an implausibly strong trickle-down principle). As for the moral qualities of Mr. Youngman, I’m not aware of many members of the public (young or old) eager to maximise their own personal contribution to the chancellor of the exchequer to redistribute for the benefit of the less fortunate (although they may well commend such altruistic behaviour in the abstract). If that had been the case then the Labour Party would not have needed to reinvent itself in the 1990s and Fr. John would have had no need to deliver his communitarian sermon.


  7. So many dimensions to things!
    Keith:> 1. I don’t for minute think preaching to people does much good. What is crucial is to change the frame in which people see their problems, change their experience of life. If a lot of ordinary people had first hand experience of working through common problems with others who have a different take on things in order to get a generally acceptable solution to their problems, even most people who had no such personal experience would come to see their problems in a more realistic perspective. Change the way things are decided and you change the culture.
    Merely consulting people about what they want invites them to tell you what sort of result they would like to get for themselves and those close to them “off the top of their head”. If they have to bear the responsibility for their decisions they have to face the problem in concrete detail, trying to reach a mutual accommodation with what others want in the light of what is possible in the circumstances, they get an entirely different perspective on things.

    2. One basic problem with democracy, especially in a consumerist culture with a highly centralised decision process, is that so many people who don’t understand or care about a particular problem have just as much say in deciding what is to be done about it as those who are vitally affected. That is what is tyrannical. Reaching a majority vote on a particular issues is a matter of cobbling together a majority by power-swapping deals. You vote for me on this issue I care about and I’ll vote for you on some issue I don’t care about. In parliamentary context, especially within parties, that means that what is decided is much more a matter of the power strategies of the players than of the merits of the case.
    We are all enmeshed in conflicting considerations on a whole variety of issues. Allowing those considerations to be reified and represented by mutually exclusive organisations leads straight to Prisoners Dilemma situation where both get a worse result than if they cooperated. On the other hand, most politicians could not possibly know enough to be able to make a sensible assessment of more than a fraction of the issues they have to decide. They rely on the result of the power-trading process. No matter how noble a politicians aims, getting anything done to achieve them means playing the power game.
    Replace them with a representative sample of amateurs and they will find themselves lost and bewildered. At best, as Keith realises, they might be able to accept or reject proposals put to them by parties. They would not have any input into those packages. The consumerist mentality that buys what is on offer mainly on the basis of brand names would rule the culture. It is the road to ruin.

    Campbell:> Yes, I’m very fond of Mill’s theme of the importance of political education, as you see from my reply to Keith. Not everybody needs to be involved. Many an artist or person whose life is focussed on achieving some particular sort of excellence makes an enormous contribution to the common good without devoting any attention to public policy. What matters is that enough people have hands on experience for demarchic procedures to become the accepted way of doing things. Getting there is a chicken and egg problem. I have tried to suggest how merely advisory bodies can come to have authoritative status. An interesting case is the development of the role of reserve banks.


  8. John,

    Whilst I’m entirely sympathetic to your aspirations, I just don’t see how they would work in practice — given the combination of our consumerist culture and sense of legal rights and entitlements (possessive individualism, as Macpherson called it). Citizens are generally only willing to alienate those rights to either acknowledged (independently verified) experts or else elected politicians. The reason that I’m sympathetic to your proposal for a demarchic committee to oversee climate science is that the sortition would be from an independently-verified knowledge elite (those with a PhD in a subject that demonstrated that they had the necessary critical faculties). I think citizens would accept this, especially if the only people excluded from the elite would be climate scientists. I also think this would be a very attractive proposal to politicians, most of whom accept the reality of anthropogenic global warming and would (rightly or wrongly) assume that the committee would endorse and thereby legitimise their calls for urgent action (including the sort of action that Jon Roland proposed — he would be an ideal candidate for the sortition base!)

    But it’s hard to think of other examples where the need for intellectual ability would trump the right of electors to choose the politicians to act on their behalf. Demarchy (“trying to reach a mutual accommodation with what others want in the light of what is possible in the circumstances”) is in fact an idealised description of what Naomi refers to as Lijphartian consensus democracy. Of course, in the real world it ends up as little more than pork trading, but that’s the political reality of fallen man.

    In addition I just don’t understand how it’s possible to differentiate between those with an interest in a particular political/social problem and everyone else, and I don’t understand how this can lead to disinterested judgment (assuming that this is the ideal outcome of any decision process). On top of this you have the problem of coordinating the output of the various independent demarchic committees and the additional problem of how to pay for the whole shebang. In your books you advocate a radical land-tax and (effectively) the replacement of the nation state by a combination of supra-national and local demarchic committees, but now we really are sailing off into utopian/anarchist territory. I don’t think this will get the trains running on time any time soon, whereas the Naomi-Keith compromise requires little more than a minor tweak of our existing political arrangements.


  9. Keith,
    I agree completely that nobody is going to give up their vote. In any foreseeable development the existing institutions will remain in place. The difference will be that a lot of important matters will have been decided by appropriate specific proceedings. They will no longer be victims of power-trading. By all means continue to vote for politicians to decide what residual matters are left or to give the equivalent of royal assent to what is already decided.

    People in my view are not giving up a vote on anything. They never had a vote on any of the specific matters that interest them. They were limited to choosing between package deals cobbled out of a mixed bag of ideological convictions, bureaucratic inertia, political deals and fashions in media coverage. Sometimes the problem is that politicians break their promises. Sometimes it’s that they keep them!

    In a demarchic context people can be assured that things that affect them directly are not decided by bureaucrats looking to preserve and expand their turf or promote ease of administration and cosmetic effectiveness, but by people who want to get the best solution from a point of view like their own. That should appeal even to the most consumerist.

    You think that at best my sort of procedures could handle only a small range of problems. I think they could handle just about all of them. That is an issue that can’t be decided by general theories. As every engineer knows scale is crucial. Take a successful design for a bridge of x dimensions and simply double them to the 2x scale and you have a design that is guaranteed to fall down.

    Of course there is no uncontroversial way of sorting out and quantifying the diverse interest people have in a particular matter. All we can do is begin with some workable scheme in a particular context and improve it in the light of experience in each area. We start by tackling obvious problems and that always turns up or even creates other problems that may need a different approach.

    If people make a case on an issue to their local member they usually come away with the feeling that there is little she can do about it and that in any case what she’s thinking is not :how good is this case? but: what are the politics of being seen to do something about it? On the other hand, one would expect that arguing a case to one’s peers, who are in a similar relation to the problem as ourselves, they will be much more inclined to ask: what light does this view throw on our problems? They may not listen, thinking they know it all already, but at least they have no other inbuilt agenda.

    I think there is no substitute for strong personal interest. So I think selection has to be not from all and sundry, no matter how reluctant they are, but from those who want to be involved. Not only does that not meet many “universalistic” theories of democracy, but practically it raises the spectre of government by activists and cranks. Obviously how significant that danger is is a matter of the sociology of particular constituencies. I think that such people flourish in a context of imposed decisions. In a context of carefully negotiated decision-making their futility soon becomes obvious.

    Oscar Wilde said the problem with socialism, by which he meant participatory democracy, is that it takes up too many evenings. He might have added that many of us find serving on committees hell on earth, having to be polite to idiots who love the sound of their own voice, persistently miss the point, etc. You do need to be motivated to put up with it. I’m accused of moralising, but the universalists are the really starry eyed moralists. In most things we are entitled to hope that somebody else is looking after our interests, doing the hard work.

    Reverting to the persistence of existing institutions, I think of that peculiar British institution the Queen’s speech. She come in pomp and ceremony and graciously informs her subjects of what she has decided that her government will do for them . Of course, everybody knows that she was not allowed to write a word of it. The ministers of the Crown are not her servants. She is theirs. But there is a certain romantic historical resonance in it all that people like. Even anti-monarchists can take comfort in it as a vivid demonstration of how the monarchy has been tamed. Like a circus tiger.


  10. John,

    I’m struck by how demarchy is the polar opposite of the Naomi-Keith hybrid. In your proposal the real work is done by the Guardians (the demarchic committee of experts) and then rubber-stamped by politicians in their wee pretendy parliaments. (I note your explicit comparison of the residual democratic husk with hollowed-out archaic practices such as the Queen’s speech and the royal assent). In our proposal the initial proposals are derived from a combination of voters’ preferences and political horse-trading and then rubber-stamped by a randomly-selected sample of the people. We both agree on the futility of “choosing between package deals cobbled out of a mixed bag of ideological convictions, bureaucratic inertia, political deals and fashions in media coverage”, that’s why my preference for policy initiation includes a strong role for direct-democratic initiatives.

    The principal difference is that your proposal is platonic, whereas ours in democratic, so let’s examine the pros and cons of both. I acknowledge that in your chosen case study (a supervisory body for climate science) the demarchic committee would best be selected from those with some chance of knowing what they are talking about. But most legislation is about the price of bread rather than requiring a consideration of scientific and technical matters, so there would be no obvious constraint on the selection pool, leading to your “spectre of government by activists and cranks”. In the Naomi-Keith hybrid everyone would have the opportunity to express their uninformed preferences (for the price of bread), politicians could then make their grubby trade-offs between the price of bread, the commercial interests of the bread-makers, the impact of the bread ovens on our carbon footprint, the calorific needs of the Third World and the overall impact on the public purse. They would then present their compromise proposal (and associated arguments) to the mini-public who would then vote it up or down.

    So the question is what do we want — Platonism or democracy? I imagine you are unhappy with my connection between Demarchy and the Guardians (“one’s peers”), but the only difference I can spot is that Plato specified a rigorous selection process whereas Demarchy is content with self-selection (sortition merely being an impartial mechanism to reduce the numbers to committee size). We’re all very well aware of the limitations of democracy but, given the nigh-universal availability of higher education and our scepticism that wisdom can be inherited, democracy sounds better suited to the modern age than guardianship. If Aristotle was prepared to admit that the aggregate wisdom of crowds was the best way of judging many issues in antiquity, then why any less in the modern world.


  11. Keith:
    A few points
    1. This platonic v democratic guff is , to put it politely, bullshit. It is even more futile than, say, a priori arguments about whether basic scientific laws must be deterministic. What we are talking about is particular kinds of decisions about the capacity of practically available decision procedures to make sound decisions about various matters in particular historical circumstances. Whether they will actually work in practice is something that can only be found out in practice, like a solution to an engineering problem.
    If there is a clear opposition between us it is that you follow the old theological , nationalist, centralist paradigm of top-down politics, where I follow a Darwinian, decentred, bottom-up direction. I don’t deny, but on the contrary emphasise, that there are questions that need to be addressed authoritatively at national and still more urgently at the global level. But I insist that these decisions are best made by very specific authorities, and that all-embracing authorities at any level are inherently tyrannical in the sense I have often explained.. I know that my approach is unprecedented. So I admit it is speculative. But what I’m proposing is starting with very limited experiments.
    Doing that is perfectly compatible with many other proposals, including yours. Of course we have different expectations, but at least in the short-medium term we can cooperate.
    2. The business about the Queen’s speech and parliament as a rubber stamp is just a bit of fun. As an evolutionist I’m sure it would take a catastrophic event like the one that wiped out the dinosaurs to wipe out parliaments. Meanwhile the little nocturnal mammals that were ultimately going to take over the whole ecosystem we quietly adapting in their little niches. So we are stuck with what we’ve got for the foreseeable future in regard to most decisions and we need ways of at least countering some of their faults, even if we think that their theoretical bases are ultimately as mistaken as the cosmology of Genesis or the monarchist ideology that preceded them, strands of which they perpetuate.
    3. Of course I’m not democratic, but it’s the “cracy” that I object to, not the demos, unless it is hypostasised. Unfortunately that is almost inevitable if you think that there is some mystical wisdom generated by crowds, in spite of all the empirical evidence about mob psychology. The best educated, most cultivated people in the world democratically handed power to Hitler and his thugs. A third of Russians still think Stalin was the greatest ruler they ever had. A rural crowd may be good at guessing the weight of a pig. The laws of overages. But the mob go for fundamentalist religion, racism and wars on whatever they see as their enemy. Schmitt was right in defining politics as resting on collective enmity. I want to abolish politics as we know it, but i know that can’t be done by confrontation, but only by better ways of collective decision making gradually easing politics out of the ecosystem.
    4. On practicalities. What I want to happen can be initiated piecemeal here and now, without any formal change in existing power structures. A surprising number of experienced politicians are amenable to experimenting with it. Unfortunately, when politicians propose it in particular instances it is seen as a ploy to duck fronting up for difficult decisions. It can only take off if people can see that it could be better for them. Some people are trying hard to get that message across, but it’s hard. People don’t have much faith in their peers.


  12. John,

    I think the real opposition between us is that I start from where we are and you are more concerned with where we ought to be (“abolishing politics as we know it”). If you want to describe that in terms of paradigms that’s fine with me, but realists merely acknowledge that the prevailing (theological, nationalist, centralist, top-down) paradigm is an accurate description of the modern worldview. I share your belief that incremental experimentation is the way forward, hence my support for your demarchic committee overseeing climate science. But why is not a committee composed from the great and the good (in your initial proposal, two nominees from every university) not a committee of guardians (or, in Yoram’s parlance, elitist)? Your evident contempt for the wisdom of crowds would suggest that my distinction between platonists** and democrats has some substance. Unlike Plato and yourself I share Aristotle’s faith in the aggregate judgment (emphatically not “mystical wisdom”) of my fellow human beings. To describe the deliberative polling methodology that I endorse — whereby a well-informed but statistically-representative sample of the population comes to a considered judgment on a particular topic — in terms of “mob psychology” is a tad on the harsh side (especially as the methodology rules out any kind of group behaviour other than voting in secret).

    ** My reference throughout to “platonism” is to his theory of politics, rather than forms. I’m certainly not suggesting that you believe a demarchic committee has some way of ascertaining absolute truth that is denied to ordinary mortals. That would just be plain silly (or bullshit as you put it).


  13. My basic problem with demarchy is the volunteer (self-nomination) principle. This is entirely contrary to the aleatorian spirit (think Arthur C. Clarke’s Songs of Distant Earth, where anyone who desires the job of head of state is automatically disqualified) and without precedent in public life. People generally have to demonstrate their competence in any domain via public examination or the vote of their peers — appointments to royal commissions and public enquiries involve a combination of the above (and are indirectly authorised by the public via the decision of the elected government). Even in small clubs where everyone knows everyone else, self-nomination is followed by a ballot. I also don’t understand how to operationalise the vague notion of “those with an interest” in a given domain and, even if it were possible to specify it, most of those with an interest wouldn’t dream of nominating themselves (it’s just not . . . English). All you end up with is rule by a bunch of interfering busybodies and do-gooders.

    John, you claim your model is based on existing practice — can you provide any examples?


  14. Keith, the theory and practice of testing a sample for representativeness of relevant factors is well understood and used wherever researchers are anxious to get it right.
    One of the first people to respond to my views when they were first published was a Danish professor of marketing, also interested in participatory democracy, who instantly saw the point.


  15. A basic point.
    The simple assumption that we all have the same legitimate interests as citizens of a polity and that all other interests are illegitimate, is both fallacious and pernicious. Unfortunately most concepts of democracy are predicated on it.
    Interpreted minimally it leads to the libertarian view that the only legitimate role of political authority is the protection of law and order.
    Interpreted maximally it leads straight to totalitarianism.
    The fact is that any matter of common concern involve many conflicting considerations, which affect different people differently.
    Resolving those conflicts is a matter of evolving solutions that give due weight to all the relevant considerations.


  16. The second basic point. For all my critics.
    How to resolve conflicting considerations is always difficult.
    It is a matter of paying attention to the specific consideration in a problem situation, of hitting the right level of generality in identifying the factors involved, starting from the very specific.
    The danger that perfectly true generalities may hide crucial factors is illustrated by my favourite joke:
    Lookout on Titanic: Iceberg dead ahead.
    Captain: Not to worry. It’s only water.


  17. John,

    there is an apparently compelling argument that the more a decision affects you the more say you should have…But that has obvious problems. Interest also means bias. If I own a large chunk of land in my town, and there is a proposal to take my land by eminent domain and use it to provide a more convenient road for a huge number of people, this affects me more than anybody else. In fact, if the benefits are distributed quite widely, by dilution, hardly anyone else has much interest at all. Perhaps I am the only person who will volunteer to serve on a body to decide whether to proceed.

    Might it not be more in line with a common understanding of justice to have people who DO NOT have a direct interest act as a jury to decide the matter? I should have a say as a witness, and hope that the jury will give my testimony weight (my family has been on this land for six generations, or whatever), but perhaps the deciding body should not be a place of negotiation between parties with intense interests, but more like a traditional jury. Would we want a murderer and the family of the murdered person negotiating the punishment for the crime?


  18. Terry.
    I think we have to distinguish two quite different kinds of questions:

    I. QUESTIONS OF JUSTICE, ranging from questions about who has a legitimate interest in an area of policy and what is a fair representation of that interest in a decision process to questions of what penalties ought to be attached to illegitimate means of pursuing even legitimate interests. These do need to be settled by impartial agents who have no particular interest in the outcome. I suggest such juries should be chosen by lot from a pool nominated by their peers on “type two” panels as having the requisite qualities to do that work intelligently and impartially. For the immediate future such question will continue to be decided by the existing political institutions, until people reach substantial agreement about the need to improve on them.

    2. QUESTIONS OF OPTIMUM USE OF RESOURCES FOR SHARED PURPOSES. These are a matter of negotiation between the different considerations involved, and are best decided by those who share the particular need that their decisions are supposed to serve. These arrangements can be introduced piecemeal in such matters as schooling, health care and local amenities, and extended to other areas in the light of experience.
    As I see it we may develop from ad hoc citizen juries to permanent advisory bodies, whose decisions should gain increasing authority.

    It would be useful to make further distinctions of kinds of questions to be decided and distinguish different procedures appropriate to their specific character, as in the proposal at the beginning of this sequence of comments. But for the moment I don’t want to get bogged down in detail. I hope I can stimulate people to do that for themselves.


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