Vincent Azoulay: An electoral campaign in reverse

An article by Vincent Azoulay, professor of ancient history in the University of Paris-Est/Marne-la-Vallée, in france culture (original in French, my translation [corrections welcome]):

An electoral campaign in reverse: the ostracism

Let us start from a finding that is at first surprising. We possess no detailed record of an electoral campaign in Athens – despite it being history’s first democracy! There are multiple reasons for this: first, elections may not have necessarily been important events, being considered an aristocratic selection mechanism, being the opposite of the more egalitarian mechanism of sortition. Most importantly, when elections were held – when selecting generals, for example – they were most often if not unanimous then at least less-contentious: because it was never for selecting a single individual, a bitterly competitive affair, but a board of ten magistrates, which made the competition not as harsh.

To find the real electoral campaigns in Athens, with their maneuvers and intrigue, we have to turn to a celebrated institution, the ostracism, which may be considered as an election in reverse, as it was for politicians who would definitely not be elected!
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A Graphical Illustration of Representation

How accurate will representation be with sortition? To illustrate this I wrote a short program to mimic choosing assemblies at random, and to show how members of a particular group or class are represented. In this example each assembly has 500 members, and the group forms 50% of the population. Typical output looks like this (I have left out twelve pretty boring lines):

Total number of assemblies drawn 400
Population 10 000 000
Assembly size 500
Proportion of class in population 0.500
Expected no of class members in assembly 250.0

251 242 244 251 263 237 257 241 239 232 256 235 244 253 229 241 257 256 250 268
276 241 222 267 270 256 247 …
… 238 244 243 259 263 245 216 260 235 250 240 241 245
227 271 249 263 224 237 251 238 249 263 260 238 247 255 239 243 255 254 237 249
242 246
265 232 252 249 241 259 239 268 252 247 242 227 246 240 237 245 240 241
263 250 241 247 257 278 248 257 257 244 236 256 233 257 243 260 263 250 238 235
251 246 260 267 257 250 258 254 247 242 250 255 250 235 273 255 247 252 260 240
261 235 250 248 247 252 233 266 252 252 257 261 253 258 272 252 249 234 261 235
270 249 251 244 247 256 253 248 239 258 256 250 245 273 253 246 253 247 259 234

Greatest deviation from the expected number of class members = 34.0 or 6.8% of assembly.
Standard Deviation (sigma) = 10.7.
Mean no of class members for all assemblies = 249.60.
2 × sigma = 21.4 or 4.3% of assembly. 95.5% of deviations will be less than this.
3 × sigma = 32.1 or 6.4% of assembly. 99.7% of deviations will be less than this.
Number of over-representations = 182.
Number of under-representations = 198.
Greatest number of consecutive over- or under-representations = 9 (in 400 assemblies).

Some explanations are necessary here. For simplicity, the results in the table above are presented as if all members were drawn at the same time, but there is no such assumption in the program code, and we might regard the results above as a series of snapshots of the assembly composition taken every time its membership is completely renewed. In this case I have taken the proportion of the class in the total population as 0.5.
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Against elections, the video

A surprisingly militant video from David Van Reybrouck.

Crowdfunding Anthony Barnett’s WHAT NEXT: Britain after Brexit

unboundAnthony Barnett’s new book WHAT NEXT: Britain after Brexit is available for pre-order on Unbound. He writes:

Dear Fellow Kleroterians!

Thank you for permitting me to join you on this blog. I’m writing with a shameless request, but in this post-Brexit world being polite and submissive and deferential in a British way seems to be for the birds. Towards the end of the last century I wrote a paper suggesting that a section of the upper chamber should be selected by lot. Peter Carty got in touch with me, as he had been writing a paper on similar lines. We developed it into a publication for Demos, then directed by Ian Christie, published in 1998. Ten years later we turned it into a book, The Athenian Option: radical reform of the House of Lords, published by Imprint.

There was a moment I’ll never forget – which we write about in the book. In order to put replacing the Lords into the long grass, Tony Blair created a Royal Commission in 1999 to take evidence across the country. Because our Demos paper had caused a stir we were invited to give evidence. On the way into the session I found myself in a small lift with one of its senior members, Douglas Hurd, at that point Baron Hurd of Westwell. He had been close to Edward Heath, had been Foreign Secretary under John Major, who he had failed to beat for the Tory leadership. A grandee, I think, was the term at the time. the very opposite of the kind of regular person who would have been chosen had the Commission been selected by lot.
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What’s the Point of Lotteries


I’ve done an interview for the BBC Radio show “The Inquiry.” The episode is now online under the title “What’s the Point of Lotteries?” You can find it here:

Most of the first half is concerned with lotteries as a form of gambling, but my interview (which starts at 17:23, in part 4) focuses upon the social and political uses of lotteries. I don’t think it came off half-bad.

The Irish Citizens’ Assembly on abortion: democratisation or dodging responsibility?


This was published on Open Democracy last week: The Irish Citizens’ Assembly on abortion: democratisation or dodging responsibility?

I find it very exciting, that the Irish government is returning for their second assembly using sortition – this time without politicians. Although we’ll have to wait and see what they do with the results.

It’s due to start next month.

Democracy talk – Episode 3: Brexit

Patrick Chalmers and I are offering our conversation regarding Brexit and related issues.