Umbers: Against Lottocracy

“Against Lottocracy” (PDF) is a 2018 paper by Lachlan Montgomery Umbers from the department of philosophy at the University of Western Australia.

Abstract

Dissatisfaction with democratic institutions has run high in recent years. Perhaps as a result, political theorists have begun to turn their attention to possible alternative modes of political decision-making. Many of the most interesting among these involve reliance on lotteries in one way or another – as a means of distributing the franchise, selecting representatives, or making social choices. Advocates of these ‘lottocratic’ systems contend that they retain the egalitarian appeal of democracy, while promising improved political outcomes. The aim of this article is to defend democracy (or, at least, universal suffrage and majority rule) against the challenge posed by these proposals. I argue, firstly, that lottocratic systems necessarily involve the establishment of objectionable social and political inequalities in a way that democracies do not. Secondly, I raise a number of doubts with respect to the purported instrumental benefits of these proposals.

The paper is an attempt to formulate a reasoned (negative) response to proposals for instituting sortition-based government as a substitute to elections-based government, and specifically (as its name indicates) to Alexander Guerrero’s proposals. By doing so, the paper represents a significant step forward in the Anglophone academic discussion of sortition. In English-speaking academia proposals for setting up “citizen juries” – i.e., allotted, one-time, limited-purview decision making or (more often) advisory bodies – are discussed at length. So far, however, proposals for setting up sortition-based government were either ignored or summarily dismissed (“Nobody is going to support replacing Congress or Parliament with a randomly selected assembly,” as Helen Landemore put it). As it turns out, Umbers argues for the same reformist academic position. Umbers, however, does break some new ground by devoting his energies to making a detailed argument rather than simply taking sortition-based government off the table at the outset.
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Hind and Mills: A citizen jury visits the secret castle

Dan Hind and Tom Mills write in openDemocracy:

Entering the secret castle: A small step towards democratic public media?

Last week the BBC gave a representative audience panel control of its Brexit output for one day. Could this ‘citizens juries’ type approach begin to transform our media?

It didn’t receive much attention, but last week the BBC tried something interesting. For one day, Friday 1st March, its Brexit-related output was overseen by a representative audience panel that would, as the BBC put it, ‘control’ coverage ‘across a range of BBC News outlets’. The initiative, branded Brexit: Your Stories, was intended, the BBC said, to reflect ‘how Britain really feels about Brexit’. Kamal Ahmed, the editorial director of BBC News, was quoted as saying:

Not only will it be a very different and thought-provoking way of reporting the news that day, but it will help inform how we shape our news coverage in the future. We want our news rooms across the UK to be less a set of secret castles where, to the public, mysterious things happen. We want to open up the process and this first day is just the start.

Does this unusual step from the BBC signal a genuine interest in organisational change? Will it be a first step in democratising its output, as the statement put it? Or was Friday’s experiment more an exercise in PR?

Time will tell. But the rather narrow focus suggests a significant motivation was to help the BBC navigate the choppy waters of Brexit reporting, which has presented enormous challenges for the broadcaster.

[…]

Two proposals for representative representation

Representative representation: a citizens’ jury appointed by sortition (v 2019.03.11). (For a fuller context, see the paper released by democratie.nu: ‘Sortition as a democratic system for the appointment of a real parliament, also called ‘Citizens’ Jury’).

Introduction

Proposal I: The principle of our proposals is derived from some aspects of the jury in its judicial application. The ‘Legislative Citizens’ Jury’ is only called when necessary and has a short term mandate with the power to make a decision in just one specific case.

During the national elections, voters can allocate a number of additional parliamentary ‘seats’ to a descriptively representative Citizens’ Jury of at least 500 citizens, appointed by sortition[1]. This Legislative Citizens’ Jury will vote, along with the elected parliamentarians, on all bills and proposals for implementing decisions that citizens consider to be of sufficient social importance. A new jury will be summoned for each vote.

Questions and answers

Q1. What does the legislative power look like after summoning a ‘Legislative Citizens’ Jury’?

A1. The Citizens’ Jury presents itself like a ‘party’ in the political structure. The citizen himself determines the balance of power during free elections.


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Lottocracy among 5 ideas to upgrade democracy

NJ.com presents “5 ideas to upgrade democracy” by 5 “of America’s leading political philosophers”. One of those is Alexander Guerrero, professor of philosophy at Rutgers University-New Brunswick’s School of Arts and Science, who offers the readers his ‘lottocracy‘:

Maybe America’s problem stems not from the fact that we aren’t picking the right people, but from the fact that we aren’t picking them in the right way.

Maybe — bear with me here — we should get rid of elections. I believe that you — that each of us — has something to offer, and that we can find ways to work together.

I propose we use a new system that uses random selection, rather than elections, to select political representatives.

I call it lottocracy.

For it to work, we must agree that having an elected, generalist legislature has run its course.

We should instead have randomly-chosen citizens selected to serve on single-issue legislatures, each covering specific areas such as immigration, transportation, education, agriculture and so on.

Each of the proposals was evaluated by 3 political scholars from Rutgers’ Eagleton Institute of Politics: Ashley Koning, Elizabeth C. Matto and John Weingart. Here is what they wrote about lottocracy:

Why won’t this work?
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A first article is published by BIRDS

Bard Institute for the Revival of Democracy through Sortition (BIRDS) was recently founded by Jonas Kunz and Hans Kern.

Kunz and Kern have now published a lengthy article in which they offer sortition as a tool for taking action on climate change:

Sortition: The Key to Globally Coordinated Climate Change Action?

Climate change by human industry (anthropogenic warming) has been known to scientists at the highest levels within the U.S. government, at least since 1979. That year, the ‘Charney Report’ — Carbon Dioxide and Climate: A Scientific Assessment — presented the research of nine atmospheric, meteorological and oceanographic scientists convened at Woods Hole Institute, to the National Research Council. The introduction to this report by Werner E. Suomi pronounces: “If carbon dioxide continues to increase, the study group finds no reason to doubt that climate changes will result and no reason to believe that these changes will be negligible. The conclusions of prior studies have been generally reaffirmed. …[“]

[Natheniel Rich writes in a New York Times article:] “in the decade that ran from 1979 to 1989, we had an excellent opportunity to solve the climate crisis. The world’s major powers came within several signatures of endorsing a binding, global framework to reduce carbon emissions.” To arrive at a clear understanding of what went wrong, we must first do away with the common misconception that big industry is and always has been the main culprit. In fact, as the article reveals, the oil industry was the first, to take due diligence measures, on the dangers of climate change and was preparing to adapt to policy changes. The policy changes, however, never came. Resistance did not come from the outside, it came from within the political structures themselves.

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Primitive (innate) ideas on randomisation, divination and lotteries

No-one would accuse the classical Greeks, our heroes of the klereterion, of lacking insight into abstract, nay philosophical concepts. Yet it was not until Pascal & Co. in the 1600s that formalised concepts of Probabilty were established. So we can only speculate that the Athenians knew(?) that a lottery was best for implementing fairness, equal chances, descriptive representation — democratic values — across the citizenry. Even so we surely would never describe them as ‘primitive’?

But what of the widespread ‘folkish’ practise of divination, where some natural random phenomenon is used to decide—a lottery, in others words. This could be to  choose a course of action, or even decide guilt or innocence in trials. Many of its  practitioners would be pre-literate, and in the grip of a range of irrational, some might say primitive religious beliefs. What did they think this ‘lottery’ was doing?
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New permanent sortition assembly in Belgium

Parliament of the Belgian German-speaking community

The parliament of the German-speaking Belgian community (Ostbelgien, 77.000 inhabitants) – which enjoys some political autonomy in the Belgian federal system – has officially and unanimously decided on February 25 to use sortition on a permanent basis, starting after the next elections in the fall.

Two different institutions will involve sortition. First, a permanent “Citizen council” (Bürgerrat) composed of 24 randomly selected citizens serving for 18 months. This council will have the mission to select topics and set the agenda, each year, for several “Citizen assemblies” (Bürgerversammlungen). These assemblies (maximum 3 per year) will be composed through sortition and age, gender and education quotas. The council will decide both their size (between 25 and 50 citizens) and the duration of their work (e.g. 3 weekends over 3 months).

These assemblies will produce recommendations to the German-speaking Parliament, the latter having the obligation to discuss the proposals (provided that they reach a 4/5 majority support in the citizen assembly) and to justify its decision to follow them or not.

Topics discussed in the citizen assemblies will usually concern the competencies of federated communities (culture, education, scientific research, development aid) but could exceptionally go beyond if the citizen council recommends it. Non-selected citizens can easily propose topics to the council, provided that they gather 100 signatures.

The selection method will be the following: First, a mail will be sent by the local parliament to a large number of randomly selected citizens. Second, a new public random selection will be made among those who responded positively, with quotas and a 17 years old threshold. Interestingly (compared to Ancient Athens), participation will be open to non-Belgian residents.
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