Kolokotronis: Citizen jury for a job guarantee program

Alexander Kolokotronis, writing on the progressive website TruthOut, proposes sortition as a tool for managing a job guarantee program:

Projected 2020 presidential candidates are getting behind a job guarantee (JG). […] If we believe everyone has a right to employment with a living wage, the question is how such guaranteed employment should be structured and designed.

One criticism is that a job guarantee would be overly top-down and perilously unmanageable. However, for years JG advocates have called for a relatively decentralized structure, with locally-oriented rollouts and processes. This is not a lip service counter to JG critics. There are real options for a democratically decentralized JG program. In a recent policy paper and proposal, economist Pavlina Tcherneva devoted a subsection to “participatory democracy,” explicitly citing processes like participatory budgeting (PB). Tcherneva went as far as to assert that participatory governance “is a likely a prerequisite” for the “long-term success” of a JG program.

Fortunately, there are existing participatory institutional forms and processes for JG advocates and implementers to draw on — processes and forms that will not only provide a universal right to employment, but a right to employment under democratic means.

The three participatory mechanisms Kolokotronis offers are participatory budgeting, sortition, and cooperatives. Below is the section about sortition. There are some interesting links on the original page.

How it works: There is growing advocacy and experimentation in “sortition” processes. These processes range from “deliberative polling” to “citizens’ assemblies,” “citizens’ juries” and “planning cells.” Common to all these sortition processes is an assembling of randomly selected individuals to design or review a policy. Advocates and theorists point to the use of sortition in Venice and ancient Athens. This has led some to refer to the wording of “random selection” as a slight mischaracterization. A sortition body operating as a “mini-public” is typically constituted according to a “fair cross-section” of demographic representation. Sortition bodies can operate within individual institutions like hospitals or schools. In sortition bodies, ordinary community members have taken on topics as complex as nuclear energy, GMOs and an array of environmental topics. In terms of scale, they can operate at municipal, statewide and national levels. Until recently, however, sortition bodies designed policy without a binding mechanism for legislation or agenda-setting.

Recently, some efforts have been made to move toward effective policy evaluation and implementation. In British Columbia, Canada, a citizens’ assembly deliberated on electoral reform and their recommendation was voted on in a provincial referendum. In Mongolia, deliberative polling is now a central component of the constitutional amendment process. In Ireland in 2015, a random selection of ordinary people came together to deliberate on marriage equality. Their recommendation was then put to a national referendum. Citizens’ assemblies are now being established to tackle a variety of national questions that will then be put to a national vote.

How it applies to JG: As shown above, PB could be grafted onto a job guarantee program. A more targeted deliberative process for job creation could come through sortition bodies. A fair cross-section of residents could be assembled anywhere — from the neighborhood to the regional level — to determine where and what types of JG employment make the most sense within a particular area. Local and regional experts would have their knowledge tapped into through a policy governance format that centers ordinary community members.

Sortition bodies could also determine the locations of new “Community Job Banks,” with such job banks being offices where people apply for, propose or receive support for JG jobs. Sortition bodies could help determine how Community Job Banks can function according to issues of access and equity. Such sortition bodies could even help determine the physical and operational design of Community Job Banks, so that such sites become spaces of participatory democracy. For example, as spaces conducive to a PB idea-collection assembly, or for other kinds of co-production and collaboration between JG employees and program managers.

Sortition can also be combined with participatory budgeting, particularly in deepening the democratic character of the latter. For instance, budget delegates within a PB process need not be self-selecting, or at least, not solely so. Instead, budget delegates could be selected according to a model of sortition. That is to say, city-level or neighborhood-level budget delegates could be selected by lot, rather than through pure voluntary self-selection. If selected by lot, budget delegates could receive a stipend, receive more extensive training, and function as more neutral arbiters when it comes to reviewing project ideas and constructing a final ballot.

One could also apply this to Citizens’ Initiative Reviews (CIRs), in order to deepen existing ones and widen their practice. CIRs are panels of a fair cross-section of randomly selected residents that assess referenda ballot measures. CIRs have been identified as one corrective to direct democratic processes gone awry. For those critically supportive of ballot measures, CIRs are a tool for maintaining and even bolstering large-scale direct democracy. Operating in the state of Oregon through a public commission that is privately funded, the CIR concludes with a “Citizens’ Statement … published as a prominent page in the voters’ pamphlet as … [an] easily accessible resource for voters to use at election time.” CIRs result in more informed voting, and thus deepen direct democratic processes. With a JG, CIRs could be extended for longer periods, making for more thoroughgoing processes with a living-wage stipend provided for randomly selected participants. A JG would aid in the proliferation of processes like CIR and PB at municipal and state levels, as both processes would have key operational features covered. Randomly selected residents would deepen their knowledge and skills as civic agents, and large-scale publics would benefit from deepened democracy.

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