The framing wars: Have the elites gone off on frolics of their own unsupported by the community?

Are you pro-choice or pro-life? Language like this shows us how fundamental framing has become to political combat. Political debate isn’t just ‘dumbed down’ or simplified. There’s a geography to the ground on which it’s fought and those with an eye to victory head for the high ground.

There’s much talk these days about the divide between political elites and ‘ordinary folk’. It’s tearing western democracies apart. I think that the elite lack respect for the hoi polloi and their view of the world. Hence my frequent reference to the ancient Greek political principle of isegoria or equality of speech.1

In Sam Roggeveen’s response to my review of his essay Our Very Own Brexit (which I recommend by the way), he isn’t the first to argue that I do my cause no favours by “aligning it so closely with causes that our political elites would endorse (e.g. welcoming of immigrants and refugees; against Brexit)”.2 This is definitely sound political advice if one ventures among the red meat folk at Quillette.

But for the record, while I think Brexit makes lousy economic policy and statecraft, I wouldn’t just respect the will of the British people if they chose the course they are embarked upon with open eyes. I’d be awestruck with admiration. I’d think it was a fantastic development in which people decided that there were more important things than money and power to live for. But I don’t think any of that. I think they’ve been sold on a particular framing of the story in which the EU is an elite project gone mad, and so something which is coming after their nationhood and something on which they can heap their rage.

Roggeveen’s response goes on:

The problem I identified in the book is that the party-political class in Western democracies has become a separate caste with few connections to a social or economic base; Brexit shows what happens when the policy preferences shared by that caste runs too far ahead of the public.

I’ll call this the ‘frolic’ school of analysis. The elites have just kept doing what elites do – pursuing various hubristic agendas until the inevitable Wile E. Coyote moment comes and they realise that they have, in their zeal, arrived at a place where there’s no ground underneath them. Now it has to be admitted that the EU has major flaws. It seemed to me that its treatment of Greece was and continues to be a disgrace, and even if you disagree with that – as Paul Frijters does – the whole Euro project was ill-conceived and devastating. 

The problem with this analysis is firstly that the UK dodged the bullet of the Euro (though it won’t dodge it when it comes back into the EU in a few decades). More fundamentally, if this break was the product of an elite frolic getting out in front of public opinion, you’d expect it to be about something else. In the UK you’d expect it to be about austerity, economic development in the periphery and so on. (I admit Brexit did carry some flavour of addressing what was seen by some to be excess immigration – though, as I understand it, it was only in London where EU immigration was seen as much of an issue. Brexit simply didn’t rate as a major concern until it was cranked up by a faction of the elite and their cheer squads in the media.

By the same token if the ‘elite frolic’ thesis were to explain Australia’s ‘Brexit moment’ in which we abolished carbon pricing, there were no shortage of fault lines between elite and mass opinion. More than half of the agenda of economic reform divided elite and mass opinion. In Australia that includes cutting protection and national competition policy, cutting corporate tax rates, and perhaps cutting the top marginal tax rate.

What was happening with carbon pricing in Australia and Britain’s relations with the EU was that the elite was managing a dilemma and choosing the lesser of various evils, though imperfectly. In the act of doing their job they encountered various dilemmas and solved them as best they could. In Australia we gradually accepted that carbon pricing offered the best prospect to meet most of the burden of meeting our emissions reduction targets. These agendas were not the source of division between the elite and the masses. But there were tensions between the right and left on them which were then able to be exploited for party political advantage when the occasion presented itself.3 On Brexit I’m fairly sure something similar can be said. The EU had been broadly supported by the public, and not much interest was taken in it.

In this context, the benefits I see in a citizens’ jury are not just the idea of greater consideration as an antidote to dumbing down and sensationalism. Rather it is placing those who represent the public in the position of having to choose between two concrete, considered and possibly difficult alternative pathways for their country – i.e. the position in which the elite was in when it made the choices it did. There’s very good evidence that all it takes is for this to occur – for ordinary people to be placed in the invidious position of having to choose (rather than munch popcorn and throw brickbats) for their rage at elites die down considerably as they set about trying to solve the same dilemmas that have preoccupied the elites.

In this situation participants realise it’s not as simple as the elites just looking after their own. In this way citizens’ juries engender far greater respect for our political institutions. Jurors’ opinion of their politicians and their officials rises strongly. There’s one exception. Jurors’ opinion of the media – already pretty low – sinks further as they come to see how misled they’ve been. The effect is particularly strong when they see their own deliberations put through the media grinder to produce a story of conflict and sensation they barely recognise.

So it seems to me that in characterising the EU as an elite project, a frolic which is not supported by the public Sam Roggeveen is falling for the framing of the Brexiteers. It’s not an elite project particularly. It’s the gradual enmeshing of the national economies of Europe. But its great vulnerability is not that it’s an elite project or that some aspects of it have been managed incredibly badly, but that its its various aspects are dull and difficult to explain in a sound bite. So they’re easily misrepresented when factions of the elite see some advantage and push comes to shove.


1. This article began as I gussied up my response to Sam Roggeveen’s response to my response to his Our Very Own Brexit.

2. I’m pilloried about that here for instance.

3. Precisely the same happened in the early 1990s when it became good party political tactics for Paul Keating to argue that Dr. Hewson’s GST was a Great Big New tax – the same tax for which he’d previously vigorously campaigned for years.

24 Responses

  1. “There’s very good evidence that all it takes is for this to occur – for ordinary people to be placed in the invidious position of having to choose (rather than munch popcorn and throw brickbats) for their rage at elites die down considerably as they set about trying to solve the same dilemmas that have preoccupied the elites.”

    Amen, brother. But choose between what? Who sets the options? If this question is not answered properly, then citizen juries become just another playing field for the framing wars.

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  2. Nicholas,

    > Frolic

    I think “frolic” does not capture the way most people think about what elites do. They don’t do things on a whim. They are self-serving. They do things that are good for them even if they hurt the average person. Specifically, the EU and other neoliberal projects oppress wages in various ways (imports of cheap labor, restriction of government policy).

    But the question of whether the EU is perceived as a good or bad idea is largely beside the point. Elections and referenda are such blunt instruments and so easily manipulated by the elites that it is extremely difficult for voters to use them in order to influence policy in any way they really want. (They would first of course have to figure out what it is they really want, which the system makes very difficult as well.) So it does not make sense to try and reason about the Brexit vote as if it reflects some sort of a policy choice by voters and then ask whether it was a good choice or not.

    Rage against elites on the issue of Brexit may die down when asked to make real policy choices, but this may very well be because at this point you realize that this is not the thing to be angry about. Do you really doubt that there are policy choices that were made by elites that would, upon close examination, give people very good reason to be angry about?

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  3. Yoram:> [Elites] are self-serving. They do things that are good for them even if they hurt the average person. Specifically, the EU and other neoliberal projects oppress wages in various ways.

    Nick:> So [the EU is] easily misrepresented when factions of the elite see some advantage and push comes to shove.

    So in other words both the EU and Brexit are elite projects? What would be the (sinister) interests served by the Brexit faction of the elite? A more parsimonious explanation is that both elite and popular opinion were divided on this issue. The referendum reflected the division (between “somewheres” and “anywheres”, as David Goodhart put it). This would also be the case with a citizens’ assembly on the theme, but it would be better informed.

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  4. Alex, I’m aware you’re trying to solve the question you pose in a systematic way. I think your efforts are commendable, even if I’m not sure I agree with your in principle solution. My general intent is to start proposing sortition based bodies as competitors for political legitimacy alongside existing institutions – as we can’t arrive at the solution in one jump – both because it’s politically impossible and also because it’s beyond our wit to work it all out without learning as we go.

    So I want to bring about a situation where there’s a standing citizens chamber which envisages itself as having at least advisory or declaratory power to surface the considered opinion of the people. I would be wanting them to express views that relate to the decisions the other chamber(s) of the parliament are making. This means the ‘system’ would frame the questions in the first instance. But nothing stops the chamber itself expressing its own contrary view as to how things should be.

    This doesn’t involve the separation between proposing and disposing that you envisage. I expect some kind of distinction of the kind you make makes sense, but it needn’t be arranged even conceptually as you do – let alone institutionally. For instance the ‘blind break’ that I understand is involved in the new Belgian model – between the Council and assemblies may work well. We’ll have to see. But in the meantime as I’ve said before, I’m trying to develop an activism of sortition.

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  5. Yoram, you write

    Do you really doubt that there are policy choices that were made by elites that would, upon close examination, give people very good reason to be angry about?

    No I don’t. If you look at the fine texture of what politicians do, they spend a lot of their time trying to keep powerful interests happy. No question about that.

    But at the same time, modern politicians live in terror of the electorate. So a great deal of government involves keeping the trains running on time, hospitals healing patients and so on and politicians try pretty hard to deliver on that stuff – at the same time as competing with each other to keep fares and taxes down.

    And yet our opinion of politicians is now much lower than it was when they were doing much the same thing in the 1960s. And our blaming politicians keeps the electorate from owning up to the problems that their own voting drives in the system – and accordingly understanding the need for reform to the system.

    Some of this is discontent about the economy performing poorly and favouring the wealthy – but then Donald Trump favours the wealthy and somehow that doesn’t hurt him.

    So I track a lot of this back to the deceptiveness and evasiveness of political campaigning and political speech generally. People can tell they’re being manipulated and they hate it. But they then tell themselves this story about how the politicians are all self-interested and somehow ripping them off – when, as I’ve said, to a substantial extent they are doing their jobs. The system has lost the feel that the politicians are delivering as they should but most of them live in too much fear not to try.

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  6. Nick:> it’s beyond our wit to work it all out without learning as we go.

    Sure, most successful constitutions are based on evolution rather than revolution. However the transition to a sortition-based system is revolutionary so we need to do the necessary conceptual groundwork, otherwise there’s a real danger of expecting sortition to undertake something that it cannot possibly achieve — and this will only give it a bad name.

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  7. Nicholas,

    > But at the same time, modern politicians live in terror of the electorate.

    No they don’t. They know they will be fine, whether they are in power or out of it.

    > And yet our opinion of politicians is now much lower than it was when they were doing much the same thing in the 1960s.

    For a very simple reason: the average voter has been systematically screwed since the ’60s. Politicians are blamed for this and for very good reason.

    > And our blaming politicians keeps the electorate from owning up to the problems that their own voting drives in the system – and accordingly understanding the need for reform to the system.

    No – the voting system itself is the problem, not the choices voters make within it.

    > Some of this is discontent about the economy performing poorly and favouring the wealthy – but then Donald Trump favours the wealthy and somehow that doesn’t hurt him.

    Trump is perceived as being against the system. It is true that much of this is based on empty rhetoric, but it is better than nothing. Also, what is the alternative to Trump? Going back to voting for establishment candidates? The voters are at their wits’ ends. It took voters decades before they turned decisively against the establishment – Trump has only been screwing the voters for 3 years so far.

    And in any case, again, trying to analyze voting as if it represents a rational choice is really not that useful. The real problem is with the system itself, not with the choices made by voters.

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  8. Nick:> So I want to bring about a situation where there’s a standing citizens chamber which envisages itself as having at least advisory or declaratory power to surface the considered opinion of the people.

    I think this has some potential to improve things. The question that arises in my mind is, are we setting things up in a way that gets politicians to act more like ordinary citizens, or that gets ordinary citizens to act more like professional politicians? If it is the former, then things will improve, but if it is the latter, then it will discredit citizens’ assemblies. I’m not familiar with the details of your proposal, but from what I see here, there’s nothing to suggest that it will get politicians to act more like regular citizens.

    The feature of our system that makes politicians so reviled is winner-take-all. Keith and I discuss a pretty simple way to reduce or eliminate this dynamic in another post. How does what your suggesting interrupt the winner-take-all dynamic? If you just put random citizens into a situation where winner-take-all still rules the day, you’re setting them up for failure.

    I think you are absolutely right about the need for doing something now, within existing institutions. The book I wrote suffers from being too abstract, and too maximalist. I am working to adapt my ideas to politics as it exist now.

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  9. Thanks Alex,

    There are a lot of moving parts here – as it’s life we’re dealing with :)

    I haven’t thought about your proposition that it’s the ‘winner take all’ system that creates the problems. This at least suggests that the log rolling necessary in most proportional representation systems is superior to systems that favour larger parties dominating. The log rolling in PR can generate some useful effects but it can also lead to lousy results and weak government – compare New Zealand and Italy for instance. So I’m not sure it’s the key.

    For me, I can’t think of what’s wrong without thinking of the whole process by which politics takes place – particularly through mass and now social media. This creates a race to the bottom in campaigning which guts the process of ethical content and meaning like the imperatives of selling fast food gut it of nutrition. I’m using ‘ethical’ here btw as in ‘ethos’ not as in ‘moral’. I don’t think politicians are more immoral than they ever were, but they’re dramatically less authentic.

    People cannot hear their own voice in politicians’ speech – particularly people without university educations. Today, politicians have to choose between two options. The first is bland evasion – to avoid making promises they can’t keep – or to avoid gotcha from their opponents or the media. There’s now a second option pioneered by Donald Trump and now Boris Johnson which is to say anything you like from time to time, but make it 100% authentic. Say it even if you just made it up and will say the opposite next time. The main thing is the way you say it.

    My own analysis of what is wrong is in this post with a basic aspiration for a declaratory citizens’ assembly as part of the stack of chambers constituting parliament is set out for a Westminster system here.

    The advantage of this is that progress can begin once we find the funding to get going. It addresses the current system trying to make a step-change in the current situation and get the people some experience with citizens’ assemblies. But it doesn’t require any politician to bless it. So it’s suited to activism from outside the system. It’s certainly not the only form that activism can take, but it seems to me that any serious proposal to improve things needs to consider some plausible pathway towards being introduced given where we are now.

    What kinds of ideas do you have for introducing elements of your own preferred model?

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  10. Nick:> But at the same time, modern politicians live in terror of the electorate.

    Yoram:> No they don’t. They know they will be fine, whether they are in power or out of it.

    I’m astonished that the convenor of this forum should dismiss the extensive political science literature on pandering in such an airy manner.

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  11. Nick,

    Thank you for alerting me to your post. I think you make a lot of good points; in particular, you have a number of similar dichotomies, most notably the one between competitive and unitary political institutions. I think your observations form a good foundation for creating a hybrid political system, composed of some elected parts and some parts chosen by lot.

    To me it appears that the traditional legislative chamber is structurally a competitive institution, in spite of some examples of unified action. And that has a role, as you state:

    “Of course, I understand the purposes it and the party system more generally serve as a means by which voters can project their will into the political process by expressing broad ideological and programmatic sympathies in their vote. Moreover, division and contest ideally serve to clarify and sharpen disagreement and that might help forge more considered resolution on the floor of the legislature.”

    I agree with this completely. But you immediately go on to say something I don’t agree with, namely: “Even so, opposition for opposition’s sake really is weird.” I don’t think it is. The traditional legislative chamber is set up as a fight for control; policy is just another weapon of combat. We want politics to be a policy contest, not a fight for control.

    With this in mind, I think the division between proposing and disposing is actually quite central to what you are trying to achieve. Bottom line: Proposing is competitive, whereas disposing is unitary.

    In our paper, Keith and I discuss how to deal with this dichotomy practically with legislative chambers as they exist now. It comes down to this: legislative chambers cannot do anything without a majority. Why not have a lower threshold? Because you might get multiple outputs. But if the chamber is just issuing proposals, multiple outputs are a good thing.

    For two outputs, the threshold is one-third, for three, one-forth, etc. My own view is that five is a good number of proposals to consider at a time, in which case the threshold would be one-sixth of the chamber. But there’s no magic number.

    With this in mind, I would take your proposed citizens’ assembly and give it one extra power. It could add a “Request for Proposals” agenda item to the elected chamber. This would be a topic for legislation, but the output would not be one proposal but five (or whatever number you wish). At that point the citizens’ assembly would deliberate on the options, and each member would rank the options in order of preference. These votes would be aggregated, and the winning proposal would go back to the elected chamber for an up-or-down vote, with no amendments.

    This procedure is kind of like soliciting bids for projects, both public and private. It is a true policy contest, as groups within the elected chamber must come up with something to appeal to ordinary citizens, rather than maximalist campaign manifestos directed at die-hard supporters. Indeed, just the transparency of forcing parties to “put up or shut up” would be a significant advance. Of course I would prefer the decision of the citizens’ assembly to be binding, but that is not realistic for now.

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  12. Ok – thanks for that.

    That’s interesting, but in the short-term, the elected representatives will have the lions share of power – both proposing and disposing.

    So I can’t see how you can carve out some special area for your mechanism, which otherwise sounds quite appealing – though simple majorities of an allotted chamber sound wrong to me – as they leave the prospect of a decision being the product of randomness rather than the representativeness of the allotment.

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  13. Nick,

    Under what conditions would the decision output of an allotted chamber be random, rather than representative?

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  14. Thanks Keith,

    That’s a tricky question. Judging by the impression I have of the way you think about these things, I’m thinking you want a number – some percentage. As I thought how to answer I was initially going to write that we need to take the advice of statisticians and we could specify some chance of a decision being the product of randomness as acceptable – like 1% – from which the magnitude of the supermajority required would be determined. I think that’s a reasonable first pass.

    But as I thought about it, it seemed to me that we’d be happy with that – and indeed with a higher chance of randomness for some actions and not for others. Thus for instance I’ve argued that a 60% supermajority should be able to impose a secret ballot on other houses. I don’t really care if the chances of this being random are higher than one percent – they could be five or ten as far as I’m concerned. If the body were directly determining law, rather than playing its role as a check and balance in a system I might well think differently. (I write ‘might well’ because I’m not going to put a lot of effort into thinking or arguing about scenarios that I think are ‘academic’ sense that they’re not politically viable or which don’t appeal to me as political projects even if they could be achieved.)

    What we’re engaged in here is a design exercise and there are numerous moving parts. The way I answer your question, as you’d expect adapted to my purposes which is to build a platform on which one might have some chance of introducing allotment to our existing system as a check and a balance.

    I haven’t thought about the kind of system that you and Alex are advocating. It’s good you’re thinking about it, but I can’t see any way in which it can plausibly be introduced. But if it could it might well justify a different way of thinking about this issue.

    I’d add that another way of addressing the “is this an artefact of randomness?” question is multiple allotted bodies of various kinds – and the blind break as instituted in the Belgian experiment.

    I need to think more about yours and Alex’s idea of structurally separating proposal and disposal. I’m afraid it hasn’t lodged properly in my intuition, partly because it seems foreign to our system. That means 1) I don’t have much intuition for it and
    2) It’s hard for me to summon much enthusiasm for working it through because I can’t see any plausible pathway by which, if one were persuaded it was a good idea, one could adopt a course of activism to bring it about.

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  15. Nick:> If the body were directly determining law, rather than playing its role as a check and balance in a system I might well think differently.

    The citizen assembly I was envisioning would vote for its favorite, but the final decision would be made by an up-or-down vote of the elected chamber. In that sense, the elected chamber has final disposal authority. In fact, this entire process could be done through the rules of parliamentary procedure (except for mandatory participation, which would need enabling legislation).

    I’m not sure if this meets your standards. As far as something that can be done exclusively through activism, that seems like an extremely limiting constraint. At some point some action to change the political system must be attempted. The history of activism operating entirely outside the system, with no “inside game” whatsoever, is not a happy one.

    I have posted a short blog post describing how a politician might incorporate such a procedure into her political platform. Perhaps a bit optimistic, but I think there might be a jurisdiction somewhere in which this kind of a pledge could sway a significant number of votes. The German-speaking areas of Belgium have already done this with a different model.

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  16. Thanks Alex

    Perhaps you misunderstand what I mean by ‘activism’. I mean simply that the pathway envisaged needs to be something which might plausibly become part of political campaigning (whether by insiders or outsiders) in party politics.

    For me, there’s no magical thinking involved in what I sketch which is
    1) campaigning for a citizens’ assembly
    2) seeking to fund one privately in the likely event that existing politicians won’t do it, and then run it all the while seeking to maximise its influence on party politics and party political government
    3) seeking to build from there with calls for government to a) fund a continuing citizens’ assembly and, over time b) build some formal role for it in the constitution. I’ve sketched the powers it might be given but different people will have different ideas by then based on experience.

    So when you wrote that “The history of activism operating entirely outside the system, with no ‘inside game’ whatsoever, is not a happy one”, I’m thinking it may have felt convincing when it was written, but it’s not about what I’m proposing ;)

    Similarly, when you write “As far as something that can be done exclusively through activism, that seems like an extremely limiting constraint”, I’m not sure what you have in mind, but indeed, it is limiting. Operating in the real world is like that. You can be right or wrong. But if you can’t envisage a realistic pathway through the world as it is towards the world as you’d like it to be, then you’re whistling Dixie aren’t you?

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  17. Nick:> But if you can’t envisage a realistic pathway through the world as it is towards the world as you’d like it to be, then you’re whistling Dixie aren’t you?

    I’m not so sure. Sometimes one can’t envision a realistic pathway because of lack of imagination. Another approach (my approach) is to ask the fundamental question, “What do we really need to govern ourselves?” I can’t answer that question properly if I am constantly worried about a practical path forward. That’s not to say that I don’t care about the real world, just that I don’t want be my own worst enemy by censoring myself when I come up with an unorthodox idea just because I can’t see how to implement it immediately.

    I see that you post your editorials to The Mandarin. Not being Australian (U-S-A! U-S-A!) I had never heard of that publication, but it advertises itself as a home for government professionals. Channeling my inner Sherlock Holmes, this suggests that you have government experience. I, on the other hand, do not suffer from such a debilitating handicap. I am a mere country squire; a former data scientist who was, by sheer luck, freed from the tyranny of my corporate overlords.

    In fact, I came to this topic not through politics, but through data science and math. My early musings related to the mathematics of voting systems (Condorcet methods, Arrow’s theorem, etc). Later, my interest was applying the principles of software design to human systems. Issues like modularity and referential integrity spurred me on, not political concepts like rights and representation. I only started blogging on the topic when I was freed from corporate servitude; prior to that my greatest accomplishment was the ability to clear my company’s break room with the mere hint that I might talk about this stuff.

    The point is, I don’t view creating any old citizen assembly as a step forward. If the assembly uses a selection method that is subject to manipulation (such as stratified sampling) and its resources and choices are determined monolithically (presumably by the ruling coalition) then the CA is worse than nothing. It is a sham, just another corrupt echo chamber for oligarchs.

    The real potential of CAs is their ability to convert the fight for control which has characterized government since time immemorial, into a policy contest. That’s the key for me. I have to admit, living through the election of 2016 pushed me further in this direction. The elevation (I can’t bring myself to call it an election) of our current president to office was followed by the complete capitulation of people who I had previously viewed as principled. Literally the day after the election, my boss, whom I had admired up to that point, casually went on to talk about what she though a Republican administration would do, as if we had witnessed just another boring election where the stakes were limited to a few minor changes to corporate regulation.

    I do believe there is good news on the horizon, however. The world is headed towards 4 degrees of warming at the very least, and possibly much more. The consequences of that are hundreds of millions of refugees, to say nothing of governments overthrown en masse. I’m hoping that someone, somewhere in all that chaos will remember one of my blog posts, or perhaps one of my (yet unwritten) books, and will realize the need to separate proposing from deciding. Perhaps in a hundred years, the rain forests of Greenland will host the first true democracy in world history.

    Call me an optimist.

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  18. Wow!

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  19. Thanks Alex

    Best of luck to you.

    It didn’t do Condorcet much good.

    But that was a cheap shot ;)

    Hopefully, our two perspectives will be mutually beneficial to one another.

    And Merry Christmas to you!

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  20. Alex’s path is interesting. I did work in government as an elected city councilor and then state representative for 20 years. I became a convert to sortition while working for FairVote: the Center for Voting and Democracy on ranked choice voting reform (after I left political office). I was a participant in endless debates online about the pros and cons of the Schultze Condorcet method compared to Approval compared to Instant Runoff Voting, etc. It was when preparing testimony for the British Columbia Citizens’ Assembly on voting reform that I had my sortition epiphany. Imperfect citizens’ assemblies CAN be beneficial, simply by expanding the imagination of what is possible. I wonder what might have happened if sortition had been well known as an option at the time of the Arab Spring (By the time I was in Egypt talking about sortition it was too late, and Sisi was firmly entrenched already). Writing about an ideal model may have value (we can’t know in advance), just as making practical incremental steps may have value. The thing that I am most pleased with, regarding my own work, is that my article on multi-body sortition has been downloaded more than 10,000 times, and in more than half the countries in the world.

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  21. That’s an impressive number Terry. My article outlining Alex and my approach was rejected by the editors of the same journal without even sending it out for review. I think your choice of the word epiphany is apposite, as it looks was if either you’re a “deliberative democrat” or else you’re still in league with the bad guys.

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  22. Nick,

    I think the policy competition idea holds some potential for political campaigns. In the U.S., we have this dynamic in which one party (the Democratic Party) cares about crafting substantive policy, and the other (the Republican Party) does not. “Bipartisanship” will never make progress, because one of the parties only cares about tearing down the other.

    The Democrats could challenge the Republican to a “policy duel” on some topic of electoral interest. An obvious one is tax rates, where polls show that the public is much closer to the Democratic side than to the Republican side. Basically, a policy duel would involve the legislative caucus of each party submitting their own plan to a citizen assembly, with a requirement that whatever the CA decides would be brought to a final vote.

    From an electoral point of view, this could call the bluff of the party that doesn’t really have a plan. Under ordinary parliamentary procedures, such a party can just obstruct, then complain that the process is unfair when obstruction doesn’t work. A policy duel flips the script, and forces an obstructing party to put up or shut up.

    Also, I have a mea culpa from my previous post. I described government service as a “debilitating handicap”. That’s too harsh, much harsher than I intended. I just meant that a view from outside the system can help. My apologies.

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  23. No offence taken – perhaps because I’m not within government and never have been. I’ve worked as a staff member of two ministers in government and was a Commissioner of a government-funded independent policy advisory agency called the Productivity Commission. But most of my time I’ve been teaching and doing other things and for the last twenty years have made my living as an economic consultant. I publish in The Mandarin as it’s a bigger audience than my blog and an audience that I want to influence.

    I’ve never been a public servant.

    On the question of a ‘duel’, I agree that this is the kind of thing we need to think about because it takes the ideas we both think improve democracy to democracy as it’s practised right now. I think we’ll have got somewhere on the day that one party challenges the other to some sortition based event of some kind such as the one you propose. I’m not holding my breath though.

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  24. That last comment which the platform attributed to ‘Anonymous’ was from me

    Nicholas Gruen

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