Belgiorno-Nettis: “[The government] has stopped listening”

Luca Belgiorno-Nettis, the founder of newDemocracy Foundation, which designed and oversaw the nuclear dump citizen jury process for the South Australian government, has an article in the Sydney Morning Herald in the aftermath of the jury’s decision to reject the proposed dump. Belgiorno-Nettis softly criticizes SA Premier Jay Weatherill’s newly-announced intention to have a referendum on the dump:

From the time the royal commission report was handed down earlier this year, the South Australian government has been trying to listen, very carefully, to its community.

But now it has stopped listening, even after the citizen jury concluded their deliberations. A referendum has now been floated as a way to finally determine the question; never mind the most recent lessons from the Brexit experience. The jury tried to find common ground. A referendum won’t.

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Let’s reimagine democracy: replace elections with lotteries

An article by Joe Humphreys, in the The Irish Times, November 19th, 2016:

What’s happening to our democracies? Donald Trump’s presidential-election victory in the United States, after a bitter campaign characterised by deceitful and incendiary rhetoric, is not an isolated episode. It’s the natural outcome of what David Van Reybrouck calls democratic-fatigue syndrome.

One of the most worrying facets of electoral democracy is what political scientists call rational ignorance. Citizens have negligible chances of influencing which candidates get elected and of influencing those candidates once elected. “Citizens thus have no incentive to become well-informed regarding political affairs,” says Dr Peter Stone of Trinity College Dublin.

The answer, says Stone, is to find new ways of invigorating democracy, suggesting a much greater role for “citizen juries” randomly selected to serve public roles. This notion of governing by lottery rather than election is at the heart of Van Reybrouck’s book, which has sought to popularise a concept that stretches back to ancient Greece, the birthplace of democracy. In Athens, in the fifth and fourth centuries BC, the most important governmental offices were appointed by sortition, or the drawing of lots.

The U.S. Constitutional Convention Considered a Lottery to Select The Electoral College

convention-debatesWith Donald Trump winning a majority in the Electoral College and Hillary Clinton receiving the plurality of the popular vote, the role of the Electoral College is once again in the news.

For those interested in the history of the use and consideration of lotteries in political decisions making, here is an interesting little tid bit. During the debate at the Constitutional Convention about how the President should be selected, there was a lot of discussion of the pros and cons of various schemes for selecting the Chief Executive. Possibilities included allowing a national popular vote, having Congress elect (as in a parliamentary system), having the state legislatures elect, or having one-time electors (an Electoral College), choose the president of the United States.

According to James Madison’s notes, James Wilson, one of the most important and influential delegates to the Constitutional Convention, proposed that the electors for the Electoral College be chosen by lot from among the members of Congress.

Tuesday, July 24, 1787 notes by James Madison

Mr. WILSON then moved, that the Executive be chosen every — years by — Electors, to be taken by lot from the National Legislature, who shall proceed immediately to the choice of the Executive, and not separate until it be made.

Mr. CARROLL seconds the motion.

Mr. GERRY. This is committing too much to chance. If the lot should fall on a set of unworthy men, an unworthy Executive must be saddled on the country. He thought it had been demonstrated that no possible mode of electing by the Legislature could be a good one.

Mr. KING. The lot might fall on a majority from the same State, which would insure the election of a man from that State. We ought to be governed by reason, not by chance. As nobody seemed to be satisfied, he wished the matter to be postponed.

Mr. WILSON did not move this as the best mode. His opinion remained unshaken, that we ought to resort to the people for the election. He seconded the postponement.

Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS observed, that the chances were almost infinite against a majority of Electors from the same State.

On a question whether the last motion was in order, it was determined in the affirmative, — ayes, 7; noes, 4.

On the question of postponement, it was agreed to, nem. con.

Will the Australian citizen jury process survive the nuclear dump decision?

The SA jury on the nuclear dump proposal has handed out its report eliciting significant press coverage and a flurry of reactions. The Online Opinion reports:

Where to now, for Premier Weatherill’s nuclear dream?

On November 6th, to the surprise of all, South Australia’s Nuclear Citizens Jury came up with a report that overwhelmingly rejected the government’s plan for importing and storing high level nuclear waste. Over four days of witness hearings, and deliberations, the 350 members of the jury were tasked with producing an answer to this question:

Under what circumstances, if any, could South Australia pursue the opportunity to store and dispose of nuclear waste from other countries?

The jury’s answer:

Under no circumstances should South Australia pursue opportunity to store and dispose of nuclear waste from other countries for reasons of consent, economics, trust and safety.

But while the Online Opinion is worried about nuclear dreams, another dream is just as much in jeopardy: the dream of Citizen Juries. It seems very likely that Weatherill has promoted the CJ idea because he believed it would be useful for his political agenda, of which the nuclear dump was a part. It seems very likely that those who offered Weatherill the idea, some of whom got to run the process, implied that this would indeed be the case. It also seems likely that other elected politicians have been watching this process with some interest in order to determine to what extent CJs could be used as a tool in their own political box.

In the wake of this outcome, the academics and the political operatives and entrepreneurs would have to go back to the drawing board. They will have to work hard to explain to the politicians how they will re-engineer CJs to guarantee that such unwelcome outcomes will not re-occur.

Double Review: ‘Against Democracy’ and ‘Against Elections’

I recently reviewed two books ‘Against Democracy’ by Jason Brennan and ‘Against Elections’ by David van Reybrouck for the Los Angeles Review of Books. I wouldn’t say that I loved either book, but I did give Terry a shout-out in the review :-)

“Against Democracy” and “Against Elections”: Where Do We Go From Here?

AS THE UNITED STATES APPROACHES a most divisive presidential election, it is hardly surprising to see an upsurge in literature proposing to diagnose and cure the ailments of modern politics.

Against Democracy and Against Elections both fall into this category. Despite their provocative titles, they each present detailed plans regarding what they are for rather than focusing solely on what they are against. This willingness to explore alternative politics is a clear strength of both books and what sets them apart in a market clogged with tomes that tend to be heavier on rants than original thinking.

Antoine Bevort: Chouard and democracy: an intellectual and political fraud

The following is my translation of a recent article Antoine Bevort in the online French publication Mediapart. Like Tommy Lasserre’s Sortition in politics – the false good idea, which appeared in Mediapart two years ago, the article is a critique of Chouard and his proposals. Bevort makes some similar points, but, unlike Lasserre, doesn’t focus solely on sortition, and when he does discuss sortition he often deals with implementation details rather than with the principle itself to which he is not wholly hostile. Bevort also relies much less than Lasserre on canned Leftist rhetoric. As a result of those differences more of his punches land on target.

Chouard and democracy: an intellectual and political fraud
29 June 2016 Antoine Bevort

Étienne Chouard presents himself as the scholar of “real” democracy. His proposal of allotting of a constitutional assembly is however a fraud. It incorporates general principles which can be embraced, at least in part, but rests on largely specious argumentation, eventually leading to a strange and dogmatic conception of democracy.

Chouard considers himself the guru of “real” democracy. He feels he has found the “cause of causes” of the political crisis (“the political disempowerment of the citizens”) and proposes as a solution the allotment of a constitutional assembly. In his analyses, Chouard invokes general principles which can be embraced at least in part, but advances mainly through theoretical and historical shortcuts, simplifications or even misinterpretations, and through blunt claims and assertions. His dogmatic propositions are based on largely specious argumentation and lead eventually to a strange philosophy of democracy.

In order to deconstruct this rhetoric of mystification, we use a conference video available online[i], a text on the Gentils Virus website whose contents are very similar to those of the conference, as well as on the wiki of this organization, and particularly on the constitution drafted by Chouard. We first discuss his analysis of the existing political system, his claims that “we are not living in a democracy yet” and that “an electoral system is not a democracy”. Then we examine his conception of the “true democracy”, and his proposal of drawing by lot a constitutional assembly. We conclude with the mode of action which Chouard, the Gentils Virus (GV) and Les Citoyens Constituants (LCC), two organizations which promote his ideas, are pursuing.
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“A little bit manipulated”

The Adelaide news website InDaily has a report by Bension Siebert about discontent in the ranks of South Australia’s citizens’ jury on nuclear waste storage:

Some members of the 350-person jury have told InDaily they voted for a group of witnesses to present information about nuclear waste storage but the facilitator of the process, DemocracyCo, subsequently invited additional witnesses without explicit jury consent.

DemocracyCo concedes it did add further witnesses after a voting process, but says that is “standard practise” in citizens’ juries.

Juror Brett Aylen, an architect, told InDaily: “I do feel like I’m being a little bit manipulated by the process.” He said DemocracyCo facilitators were surprised by the jury’s witness selections and wanted to “balance it up by adding in some of the more pro-nuclear witnesses”. “They seemed a bit surprised at our selections,” he said. “If they had have declared that position in advance [that more witnesses may be added] it would have been more acceptable.”

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Workshop on sortition for the Canadian parliament at the CSDC

The Centre for the Study of Democratic Citizenship (CSDC) at the department of Political Science of McGill University is holding a workshop under the title “Representation, Bicameralism, and Sortition: With Application to the Canadian Senate” on December 9.

This workshop will bring together social scientists and philosophers with two aims: critically to evaluate our theoretical and empirical knowledge of the relative merits and defects of using sortition to select representatives to the second legislative chamber of bicameral representative democracies like Canada; and to contribute to public debate in Canada about Senate reform by evaluating the desirability of reconstituting the Senate as a randomly selected Citizen Assembly.

Papers will be presented by Equality-by-Lot contributors Peter Stone and Alex Guerrero, as well as by McGill professor Arash Abizadeh. It turns out that Prof. Abizadeh gave a seminar on “Democracy, Representation, and Sortition” in the 2016 winter semester.