Nicholas Reece: The momentous success of radical democracy

Nicholas Reece writes in The Age:

Experiment pays off: Melbourne People’s Panel produces quality policy

Citizen juries are one of the most promising innovations to emerge in the conversation about democratic renewal.

Melbourne’s radical experiment in democracy has reached a momentous conclusion, with the City Council announcing on Friday it will accept nearly all the recommendations of a 10-year financial plan developed by a citizens’ jury. That a group of 43 randomly selected Melburnians meeting over six weekends developed sound policy that is now being implemented is a profound result for anyone despairing at the state of our democracy. And it invites the exciting question, what’s next?

It turns out that having a plan “developed” over 6 weekends to guide the expenditure of billions of dollars over 10 years is considered a momentous success of radical democracy. What’s next, indeed.

Op-ed piece calling for a sortitioned Canadian Senate

Claudia Chwalisz writes in The Globe and Mail:

Replace this archaic institution with a citizens’ senate

While calling for unicameralism would be a mistake – it would reduce the government’s legitimacy due to lack of oversight – the more radical proposal of “abolition” leaves the path clearer toward true structural change that moves beyond tinkering at the edges (such as elected senators).

Why not replace the archaic institution with a citizens’ senate – a rotating group of randomly selected citizens that serve as a house of review? The random group could be stratified, to ensure representativeness of sex, age, race, socio-economic status and regional diversity, matching the makeup of Canadian society.

Granted that this is only an op-ed piece, but I have to admit I am rather amazed that the idea of a sortitionally-selected federal legislature is making it so rapidly into the mainstream.

The Irish vote for marriage equality was set up by the sortition-selected Constitutional Convention

Three Irish political scientists, David Farrell, Clodagh Harris and Jane Suiter, write in the Washington Post:

On May 22, Ireland became the first country in the world to introduce marriage equality through a national referendum to change the country’s constitution.

The vote was a world first in one other sense: Never before has a country changed its constitution as a result of deliberation involving a random selection of ordinary citizens. The government’s decision to call the referendum came because of a recommendation from the Irish Constitutional Convention, which had been asked to consider a range of possible constitutional reform questions.
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Short refutations of common objections to sortition (part 4 of 4)

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3

16. Why not use direct democracy?

“Direct democracy” is not a democratic mechanism – it suffers from much of the same fundamental problems of electoral systems.

Much in the same way that an electoral candidate has to have the backing of powerful people or organizations in order to become well-known enough to have a chance to be elected, so a proposition has to have powerful backing in order to become well-known enough to have a chance to appear on the ballot. Just like people have no real way to know how well a particular elected official represents their views and interests, so it is difficult to know what the effects of a particular proposition will turn out to be.

In addition, there is too much for government to handle for the cumbersome proposition mechanism to handle. Much of the business of government will necessarily be handled by professionals. “Direct democracy” offers no mechanism for controlling those professionals as they carry out the day-to-day workings of the government.

17. An electoral career provides training for statesmanship.

That is a very questionable assertion. An electoral career provides training for manipulation and self-promotion. A person habituated in such ways of thinking is not likely to pursue policy which serves the public.
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Short refutations of common objections to sortition (part 3)

Part 1 Part 2

11. Elections are a mechanism of accountability. It allows the electorate to reward or punish those with power. There is no way to hold government accountable using sortition.

Using elections as an accountability mechanism is like a bank’s board of directors appointing a new bank manager for a 4-year term and telling him that if he steals the depositors’ money then there is some chance that he will not be re-appointed to run the bank for another term (but he will get to keep the money he took). A manager who sees his job as a means for self-enrichment is clearly better off simply taking the money. No matter how many years of service he can secure if he stays honest, his salary will never amount to what he can steal in a single term.

Besides, if the replacement managers are all as greedy as the current manager, what good would replacing the manager do?

In short, seeing elections as providing an effective means of incentivizing a government to promote the interests of the average citizen is hopelessly unrealistic. It is remarkable that this view is standard in both popular discourse and professional political science literature.

12. The training and service experiences would likely cause people to change their minds about various issues and in this way become unrepresentative.

As the allotted delegates study issues it is indeed to be expected that they will adopt views on matters that they were not aware of before, and occasionally will even come to have opinions that contradict previously held ones. In this sense the allotted become unrepresentative – they are better informed and have spent more time and effort considering various matters of policy than the average citizen does.
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