Elect leaders by lottery suggests David Van Reybrouck

The Soapbox feature on BBC2 Daily Politics was today (29/10/2014) handed to Dutch historian David Van Reybrouck.

Electing leaders via a lottery may be a crazy idea, but it is being carried out now in parts of Europe, says a Belgian author and academic. David Van Reybrouck said with trust in politicians at a record low, and party memberships and the number of voters falling, it could be an idea to renew interest in politics again. He said lotteries have been a longer-standing tool of democracy than elections, which he claims could be an “obstacle to democracy”, and only been around for 200 years.

Full version with Q&A starting at 01:16:45. Truncated YouTube version.

The rich or the powerful?

There has been a lot of debate on this blog recently as to whether or not political outcomes are unduly influenced by the rich; in this post I want to consider the influence of other nondemocratic agents – activists, civil society pressure groups, non-corporate lobbyists and academics in the social sciences and humanities. The reason for the inclusion of the last category is because most political leaders are educated in these disciplines – unlike, say, in China, it’s hard to identify political leaders who studied the natural sciences or engineering – so academics in these fields will have had a powerful influence in their formative years. There are more Oxford PPE (politics, philosophy and economics) graduates in the House of Commons than Old Etonians (35 to 20) and 50% of ministers and 28 percent of MPs were educated at Oxbridge, the vast majority in the above-mentioned subjects. Jeremy Waldron, in his inaugural lecture for his (Oxford) chair of social and political theory argued against the focus of the PPE syllabus on the ’57 varieties of luck egalitarianism’ as opposed to ‘political’ issues like representation, sovereignty and the rule of law, and it’s the resulting influence of the equality lobby that I want to address in this post. Some of the material is anecdotal, and some evidence of partisan influences in the formulation of a UN convention on disabilities equality.

The primary school in my village (pop. c.300) has recently constructed, at considerable expense, a ‘sensory room’ to meet the needs of one part-time disabled pupil. (Bear in mind this is happening at a time when local authority budgets are squeezed to the extent that rural residents are being told that they will need to grit their own roads this winter (and pay for the materials) as the council does not have the funds.) This is the result of government policy that insists that the disabled must be fully integrated in regular society, and has closed down most of the special schools that accommodated the specific needs of disabled children. Speaking to two parents of disabled children (one Aspergers and one cerebral palsy), they both volunteered that this politically-motivated policy has been disastrous for their children because, unlike their peers in special schools, their everyday growing-up experience provided a constant reminder of their neediness.
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English translation of part of David Van Reybrouck’s book Against Elections

A section of Belgian author David Van Reybrouck’s sortition book, Against Elections has been translated into English and posted online:

Representative democracy is in crisis. Low voter turnout, abstention, falling party membership, and the phenomenal rise of populist parties – these are the symptoms of Democratic Fatigue Syndrome. Considering democratic innovation from classical Athens to present day, it becomes apparent that our democratic institutions haven’t been updated since the late 18th century. How to renew the centralised, hierarchical party system to reflect the horizontal power relationships of the hyper-connected, interactive society of the 21st century? A bi-representative system, combining elections with the democratic principle of sortition, or drawing of lots, could steer democracy into smoother waters.
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Two items by Equality-by-Lot regulars

Arthur D. Robbins:

To quote Sean O’Casey, “Th’ whole worl’s in a terrible state o’ chassis.” Why is it that way? Does it have to be that way? What can be done to set it straight? These are the questions the intellectual should be asking.

There are many factors creating the “state o’ chassis.” Most of them can be traced to a combination of action and inaction on the part of government. Government promotes the exploitation of fossil fuels. It favors the private car over public transportation. It diverts to war critical resources that could be used to develop alternative sources of energy. All of these policies are humankind’s contribution to global warming. These policies can be reversed, but not without transforming government. And I am afraid yet another election will not do the job.

Currently, there is considerable discussion and some experimentation exploring the possibilities of using sortition as a means of restructuring government. In ancient Athens, sortition was used as a means of selecting magistrates. We could substitute sortition for elections as a means of selecting our representatives and senators.
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‘Lottery’ system would improve access

A lottery system would help poorer children access better education

Collaborative research by the University of Cambridge, the University of Bristol and the Institute of Fiscal Studies has suggested that a lottery system of admissions could make the intake of Britain’s leading schools and universities fairer.

The research was based on the Millennium Cohort Study, which follows the lives of 19,000 children born in the United Kingdom in between 2000 and 2001.

You can read the whole article here:



British public wrong about nearly everything, survey shows

This is the clever headline of an article in The Independent about a survey by the Royal Statistical Society and King’s College London measuring public perceptions of various public policy related facts:

A new [2013] survey by Ipsos MORI for the Royal Statistical Society and King’s College London highlights how wrong the British public can be on the make-up of the population and the scale of key social policy issues. The top ten misperceptions are:

1. Teenage pregnancy: on average, we think teenage pregnancy is 25 times higher than official estimates: we think that 15 per cent of girls under 16 get pregnant each year, when official figures suggest it is around 0.6 per cent.

2. Crime: 58 per cent do not believe that crime is falling, when the Crime Survey for England and Wales shows that incidents of crime were 19 per cent lower in 2012 than in 2006-7 and 53 per cent lower than in 1995. 51 per cent think violent crime is rising, when it has fallen from almost 2.5 million incidents in 2006-7 to under 2 million in 2012.

3. Job-seekers allowance: 29 per cent of people think we spend more on JSA than pensions, when in fact we spend 15 times more on pensions (£4.9bn vs £74.2bn).
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No government responsiveness on economic inequality and minimum wage

A recent international study of inequality by Michael Norton and Sorapop Kiatpongsan was already mentioned here for its findings about how uninformed the public was about matters of public policy. The study collected the opinion of people about what the CEO-to-average-worker pay ratio should be, and their best guess of what it actually was. A summary of the findings are shown in the table at the bottom.

Interestingly, not only do median estimates of the pay ratio in all countries grossly underestimate the true values, but there is essentially not correlation between the two (R2 = 14%, 3.5% after dropping the U.S. outlier):

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Citizen initiative review panels debut in Colorado and Arizona


Morrison Institute hosts citizen’s initiative review to help inform Arizona voters
By Emi Kamezaki, September 21, 2014

ASU’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy partnered with Healthy Democracy to host Arizona’s inaugural citizens’ initiative review, which discussed pension reform among a small group of residents Sept. 18-21.

Arizonans will vote on Proposition 487, which favors a shift from public direct benefit systems, to private defined benefit pension systems, at the Nov. 4 election. The CIR brought together 20 randomly selected Phoenix voters of various backgrounds to learn about the different sides of the issue and create an unbiased resource for voters.


First Citizens’ Initiative Review delivers guidance for voters
By Clarissa Arellano, September 30, 2014

The Colorado initiative process is a powerful one that allows voters to be their own lawmakers but also puts voter education at a premium for a fair and effective election.
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Stokes, Dromi and democracy

Susan C. Stokes, a professor of political science at Yale university, is the author of a book called Mandates and Democracy: Neoliberalism by Surprise in Latin America.

I find the following excerpts from a chapter called “Explaining policy switches” generally amusing and rather illuminating about the practice of political science (I introduced some light editing to improve readability of the excerpts):

[B]oth qualitative evidence from campaigns and statistical analysis of cross-sectional data offer evidence that fear of losing elections induced politicians to hide their policy intentions.

Yet evidence of this belief structure does not adjudicate between the representative and the rent-seeking model of policy switches. Both kinds of politicians are expected to hide their true intetions to win office. The critical question is, Did they dissimulate and switch because they thought efficiency policies were in the best interest of voters or because they found efficiency policies advantageous for themselves, whether or not they would be good for voters?
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