A real democracy would use sortition – the video!

The Sortition Foundation‘s take on what is sortition, how it might work, and why they like it – all in a very short video!

Sortition on ideochina.com

The Chinese language blog ideochina.com – 思想中国 – has an article about the troubles of the elections-based system of government (what may be termed “eklogocracy”). Among other ideas for reform, the article mentions proposals involving sortition.


In the past quarter of the century,democracy has won the day,with most countries in the world claiming themselves to be democracies. However, the glory is fleeting. In exactly the same period of time, the advancing step of western democracy starts faltering, and its theory is being challenged in an unprecedented way. The idol of democracy is entering into twilight, surrounded by more and more pessimistic views. Theorists of democracy have now started to reflect on the inherent deficiencies of representational democracy, rethink electoral democracy, and seek to return to real democracy by exploring various institutions that can involve the participation of the populace.

The author appears to be an Equality-by-Lot reader.

News: Democratic Reason wins 2015 Spitz Prize for work in democratic theory

Hélène Landemore’s book Democratic Reason won the 2015 Spitz Prize for work in democratic theory.

That makes the second Spitz (for outstanding work in democratic theory) to a Sortinista in three years, following John McCormick’s Machiavellian Democracy in 2013.

Coming Soon – Sortition in the UK

This is a repost from the Sortition Foundation blog.

Sortition is coming soon to the UK!

Or at least three citizens’ assemblies and one forum presenting aspects of sortition are happening in the coming months:

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How to make your $$$$ lose value — randomly

Imagine that the Fed were to announce that, a year from today, it would pick a digit from zero to 9 out of a hat. All currency with a serial number ending in that digit would no longer be legal tender. Suddenly, the expected return to holding currency would become negative 10 percent.

This, was the suggestion put forward in 2009 by the economist N. Gregory Mankiw, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President George W. Bush, to overcome the ‘problem’ that the dollar/pound/euro in your pocket could not be taxed when inflation falls below zero.

Class, not party

Ray Fisman, a Boston University economist, and Daniel Markovits from Yale Law School write in Slate about “The distributional preferences of an elite”, a study they recently published in Science magazine. In the final paragraphs they say:

Elites’ preferences matter. The American elite overwhelmingly dominates both campaign finance and political lobbying, and American policymakers themselves come overwhelmingly from elite circles—the powerbroker Yale Law alumni mentioned above represent just the tip of a vast iceberg.

Our results thus shine a revealing light on American politics and policy. They suggest that the policy response to rising economic inequality lags so far behind the preferences of ordinary Americans for the simple reason that the elites who make policy—regardless of political party—just don’t care much about equality. Hemingway’s illusory but widely shared view that the only thing that separates the rich from the rest is their money thus disguises a central pathology of American public life. When American government undemocratically underdelivers economic equality, the cause is less party than caste.

Democracy gives the mass of citizens a path for protest when the gap between ordinary views and a closed rank of elite opinion grows too great. The populist insurgencies that increasingly dominate the contests to select both the Republican and Democratic candidates in the upcoming presidential election show the protest path in action. Elites—in both parties—remain baffled by Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders’ appeal; and they prayerfully insist that both campaigns will soon fade away. Our study suggests a different interpretation, however. These bipartisan disruptions of elite political control are no flash in the pan, or flings born of summer silliness. They are early skirmishes in a coming class war.

The ancient Greek view on what democracy is

This topic came up recently. Here is the most thorough discussion of this matter in the primary sources that I am aware of. Aristotle is describing here (Politics, 1317a-1318a) what he considers as the conventional wisdom of his time:

And for this inquiry we must take into view all the features that are popular and that are thought to go with democracies; for it comes about from combinations of these that the kinds of democracy are formed, and that there are different democracies and more than one sort. In fact there are two causes for there being several kinds of democracy, first the one stated before, the fact that the populations are different (for we find one multitude engaged in agriculture and another consisting of handicraftsmen and day-laborers, and when the first of these is added to the second and again the third to both of them it not only makes a difference in that the quality of the democracy becomes better or worse but also by its becoming different in kind); and the second cause is the one about which we now speak. For the institutions that go with democracies and seem to be appropriate to this form of constitution make the democracies different by their combinations; for one form of democracy will be accompanied by fewer, another by more, and another by all of them. And it is serviceable to ascertain each of them both for the purpose of instituting whichever of these kinds of democracy one happens to wish and for the purpose of amending existing ones. For people setting up constitutions seek to collect together all the features appropriate to their fundamental principle, but in so doing they make a mistake, as has been said before in the passage dealing with the causes of the destruction and the preservation of constitutions. And now let us state the postulates, the ethical characters and the aims of the various forms of democracy.
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Papirblat: Getting selected to the Belgian Senate via the lottery

Shlomo Papirblat reports from Brussels in the Israeli newspaper “Haaretz”:

A proposal to select the members of the Belgian Senate at random gains surprising support from politicians in Brussels. The chairperson of the socialist party: “Traditional politics is ailing and new ways have to be considered.”

Senior politicians in Brussels are supporting a legislative reform that could revolutionize Belgian democracy: according to the plan members of the Senate – the upper chamber of the nation’s parliament – would be selected in a lottery that would be held once every four years among the citizenry. The chairperson of the socialist party in the Belgian parliament, Laurette Onkelinx, a former vice prime minister, is saying that “traditional politics is ailing and new ways have to be considered.”

In an interview prominently published Wednesday in the highly regarded “Le Soir” Onkelinx explains that “today’s politicians are generally required to get involved in burning social issues but they are behind – they can’t keep up. On the other hand, more and more grassroot and activist-developed social initiatives are involved in generating solutions.” When addressing the question of who can democracy of “professionals” can be combined with present-day requirements, she said that she thinks that “sortition needs to be adopted to bring normal people to the legislature, at least half the members of the house.”

Parliament members standing outside the federal parliament building in Brussels, 2012

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Timo Rieg: Why a citizen’s parliament chosen by lot would be ‘perfect’

Sortition makes an appearance in the German public discourse. swissinfo.ch has an English translation of a German article which proposes short-term allotted bodies with decision making power whose agenda is externally determined. The article’s author is described as follows:

Timo Rieg, a German journalist and biologist. He developed and tested the “Youth Citizens Jury”, a form of youth parliament in which members are selected through a draw. He is the author of 18 books. His most recent publication, Democracy for Germany, examines a combination of citizens’ parliament, a directly elected government and referendums.

An excerpt from the article:

‘Citizens’ parliament’

One could firmly establish [a] procedure, which could be called the “citizens’ parliament”. Week by week, 200 new members, selected each time by a draw, could meet in the citizen’s parliament. They could listen to experts and lobbyists in a plenary session, have discussions with their jury and small groups, ask questions, suggest changes and entrust the governing authority to make improvements.

The outcome of this process would be a clear recommendation, a law (or its repeal), and the result is, unlike today’s parliament, always representative! Thus the citizen’s parliament is a “mini-populus”, an almost exact miniature replica of the general public.

All schools of thought, all social backgrounds, all occupations, artistic interests and hobbies would be proportionally represented. No one and nothing would be forgotten, and yet it’s both technically and financially a manageable size.
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The corrupting effects of “money in politics” – campaign finance and lobbying – are a frequent target for political reform. The underlying idea for this agenda seems to be that elected officials promote particular interests because they expect monetary reward, either as contribution for their re-election campaigns or, through some other channel, to their personal pockets.

Lawrence Lessig, law professor at Harvard, has now announced a presidential campaign that he presents as being based solely on the notion of tackling the corrupting influence of money in politics. Lessig seems to believe that a wide consensus among US voters can be created around this issue and that this issue would be compelling enough for voters to de-prioritize other issues to support this one since – as Lessig presents things – the issue of money in politics is preliminary to all other issues because until it is dealt with the corrupting influence of money makes progress on other issues unfeasible.

Lessig’s presents three items in his reform agenda. Two of those items – changing the way electoral districts are created, and reducing obstacles to voting – are commonplace electoral reform items and seem not to have much to do with money in particular. The third item is about pouring more money into electoral campaign – either by using public-funded matching or by using campaign funds vouchers. Those are presumably supposed to decrease the corrupting influence of money because the additional campaign funds are not a-priori unequally distributed.

Lessig seems to believe that with his activism and with this campaign he is striking at the root of the problem of modern politics. There are several reasons to infer that he is misguided.
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