The Service Pool

I don’t think we pay enough attention to the executive branch on this blog, nor do we pay enough attention to the careers of executive branch officials. There’s nothing theoretically fun about it, but when democracies give way to dictatorships, it’s usually through some group of executive branch officials who commandeer the system for their personal benefit.

In part 2 of my never-ending series on the executive branch, I explore ways to create a more professional corps of executive officers. Perhaps one day a force organized along these lines will be able to steer the ship of state with no chance of crashing into the rocks of authoritarianism or running aground on the shoals of dysfunction.

15 Responses

  1. Alex: > if we use a separate jury for each vacancy, with three to five nominees per position, we are likely to get very homogeneous results. That’s because there are no points for second place.

    I of course am in favour of many public officials being chosen by jury, including all the independent and should-to-be-independent public officials now chosen by politicians, such as the ones chosen by the president and confirmed by the Senate.

    Proportional representation (PR) can be used to address the problem you mention (namely the lack of diversity that would result from using majority vote to choose each public official).

    For example, a six member regulatory commission could be chosen by jury three members at a time, for staggered terms, using a PR method. One jury would choose three members of the commission by a PR method, and half way through the term of those three another jury would choose the remaining three members. If someone left office before the end of their term, a jury could choose a replacement for the remainder of that term. The commission could choose its own chair from its members.

    Also possible would be for the chair of a commission to be chosen by jury by majority vote (I would prefer the use of Condorcet voting for that), and the other members of the commission by PR. Terms of office could be staggered.

    > If, say, ten vacancies come up at once, the jury should rank 20-30 nominees, with the top 10 making it. How does this promote diversity? Because second place (and third, fourth, etc.) counts. If the general population is split 70%-30% along some axis, then the jury will reflect this, and the final ranking will put the best candidates from the minority group somewhere in the range of third to fifth place.

    A PR method of voting would of course be needed to get the kind of result you would like. (Though you do not specify which form of PR voting might be used.)

    I am not in favour of any restrictions on who can seek office in a jury election, other than basic qualifications, such as possibly having a law degree and some years of legal experience in order to run in a jury election to be a judge, completing an application, and perhaps providing at least one written reference recommending the candidate for the office. There should be no veto-gates on who can run for office in a jury election, and those who run should be put on a fair and level playing field.

    A long time ago I saw a proposal that each member of a legislative assembly be chosen from a lottery of the votes in their district. The vote/ballot that won the lottery of the votes/ballots in each district would determine the representative for that district. I am not in favour of this idea. A perhaps better version of this idea would be to use ranked choice voting to choose the top four winners, and then to enter those top four in a lottery with the winner of the lottery getting the public office. I am not in favour of this idea either, but it is a way to make those who hold public offices more diverse.

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  2. Simon:> A PR method of voting would of course be needed to get the kind of result you would like. (Though you do not specify which form of PR voting might be used.)

    As always, I have in mind the Schulze method, based upon each juror providing a total ranking. The
    Schulze method is a Condorcet method, but unlike some Condorcet methods it doesn’t just pick a winner, it produces a total ordering.

    Simon\:> I am not in favour of any restrictions on who can seek office in a jury election, other than basic qualifications, such as possibly having a law degree and some years of legal experience…

    I disagree with this. Any requirements should come from the jury. Having an educational requirement introduces a highly undemocratic element. On the other hand, there should be some requirement that higher offices be filled with people who have been judged by multiple juries.

    The purpose here isn’t just to select officers. It’s to create an entire corps, with a well-defined career path and definition of merit.

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  3. Alex, from what you say the Schulz Condorcet method seems a good PR method to me (it is a while since I read about it).

    Alex > Any requirements should come from the jury. Having an educational requirement introduces a highly undemocratic element.

    I think that any education or experience requirement necessary to apply for a particular public office should be decided by juries tasked with deciding the procedures for the selection of public officials by jury.

    It might well be that in the informed judgement of a “procedures jury” some educational or experience qualification should be required in order to apply for certain offices, such as a law degree and legal experience in order to apply to be on the Supreme Court, or an M.D. or similar qualification in order to apply to be the head of the FDA.

    I’m not clear on why you think public officials should have to have been chosen by multiple juries instead of by just one, or how this makes them more qualified. I don’t see why it would for example be a problem for someone to run in a jury election to be on a regulatory commission, just because they had not run in a jury election before. (They would of course have to run in a jury election again if they wanted a second term.)

    We are though proposing different things. You are I think proposing that juries choose public officials without reference to any particular public office, with the allocation of particular offices being by lottery. Whereas I propose that candidates apply for a specific office, as candidates now do when they seek a popularly elected office. People also know what office they are being considered for or are accepting when they are appointed by a politician.

    Your idea is interesting. I have assumed that the people who might be optimal choices for one public office, might not be optimal for certain others. For example just because someone might be a good choice for the Federal Communications Commission, does not seem to me to mean they’d be a good choice to head the Food and Drug Admin or the Environmental Protection Agency or FEMA to be a US Attorney (federal district attorney or DA) or the Executive Director of the National Security Agency or the Inspector General for the Army or the Director of the National Park Service.

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  4. Interesting. I think the relationship between the executive and legislative branches is crucial (perhaps this will be the focus of part 3). It strikes me that the corollary of an ad hoc allotted legislature will be a substantial increase in executive power, given the interrelations between different aspects of the polity. And there’s also the point that, assuming that MMT stands for Magic Money Tree (rather than Modern Monetary Theory) someone has to pay for legislative largesse and this will inevitably increase the power of the apex minister — it’s no coincidence that the formal title of the UK “prime” minister is First Lord of the Treasury. This would make the head of the finance ministry primus inter pares who would, effectively, be able to veto the plans of spending ministries.

    Presumably government executives will have automatic advocacy rights before legislative juries — the modern equivalent of the Athenian assembly appointing officials to defend the existing laws. And would there be a need for formal constitutional principles (that could only be overturned by a substantial supermajority) that required fiscal parity over a certain term. This would suggest an original Legislator in the Rousseauian (founding fathers) sense, but all this is entirely contrary to democratic principles.

    Or could we leave it to the ambition of executive officers to have a long and stable career and would there be a need to introduce bonuses for executives that meet or exceed departmental targets? If we can learn anything from the private sector, we need to avoid the culture of short-termism that rewards executives on the basis of the share price.

    In sum, what I’d like to hear is how the whole system would hang together to produce a well-functioning polity, given that we both believe in legislation by ad hoc sortition panels. The buck has to stop somewhere and this is likely to be with the apex officer.

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  5. Simon:> …such as a law degree and legal experience in order to apply to be on the Supreme Court, or an M.D. or similar qualification in order to apply to be the head of the FDA.

    I have a fundamentally different notion of what the political layer of the executive branch should be. I don’t want the (political) head of the Justice Department to be a lawyer, nor do I want the (political) head of the FDA to be a doctor. This conflates subject matter expertise with leadership. Both of those departments have plenty of subject matter expertise. The purpose of leadership is to ensure that each agency is performing its public mission in a political sense. I see political officers as being part of a unique corps focused on that mission. Note that these agencies will end up having operational heads from the civil service, appointed by the political heads.

    Simon:> I’m not clear on why you think public officials should have to have been chosen by multiple juries instead of by just one…

    I just meant more than one jury over time. It’s a single jury for a particular office, but since terms of office are only two years, over a career they will be judged quite a few times. Also, the seniority levels mean that an officer at the cabinet level will have gone through at least seven jury selections (and likely more) before taking up such a high post. This leads both continuity and competence in executive leadership.

    I think you’ve highlighted the fact that my reforms for the executive aren’t just a new selection process, but a wholly different vision for the political layer within the executive. In my view, political officers exist to apply policy made in the executive, not make their own policy. Of course some amount of policy making in the executive is inevitable, but to me the unitary executive we have now is a holdover from the Divine Right of Kings.

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  6. Keith:> It strikes me that the corollary of an ad hoc allotted legislature will be a substantial increase in executive power…

    I don’t agree. On the contrary, the purpose of the proposal-jury system is to increase the bandwidth of the legislature, which will allow it to address the executive’s responsibility in much greater detail. This will have the effect of reducing the power of the executive. Admittedly, this is coming from the American perspective; parliamentary systems join executive and legislative. Even there, however, I think it will reduce the executive’s power, or at least it’s discretion.

    I also think the term “power” needs to be examined in this context. To me, power is the ability to use resources to a particular end. Since the executive I have outlined is highly pluralistic, there is almost no ability to commandeer the executive for the private benefit of the apex office holder (or any other office holder). That is the sense in which there will be a decrease in executive power. In terms of functionality, there should be no decrease, and even possibly and increase.

    Keith:> Presumably government executives will have automatic advocacy rights before legislative juries

    No, I would not advocate this. My executive has no role in the legislative branch. Of course, like anyone else, they can submit materials to the jury for consideration, but the jury has no obligation to consume them.

    Keith:> …would there be a need to introduce bonuses for executives that meet or exceed departmental targets?

    Absolutely not. The jury is the only judge of performance.

    Keith:> In sum, what I’d like to hear is how the whole system would hang together…

    Yes, there is more to come. Stay tuned!

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  7. Alex:> My executive has no role in the legislative branch.

    Surely the perspective of those who have to implement a policy should be taken into account by lawmakers — even if this is limited to saying “this will never work because”. (I accept that this is undemocratic and there is a danger of ending up in Yes Minister territory, where the deep state often wins in the end). I’ve always seen decision making as something of a dialectic between innovators and the forces of conservatism, and experienced political executives are inevitably going to fall into the latter category. In the parliamentary system there is an overlap between lawmakers and executives and the experience of the latter will be lost in a sortition-based system. If executives were given advocacy rights the juries can always decide against them, but surely they deserve a hearing?

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  8. Keith:> Surely the perspective of those who have to implement a policy should be taken into account by lawmakers…

    Of course, and like everyone else they can submit materials to the jury. Perhaps those materials can be “put on top” in some sense; in any case I suspect jurors will look at those materials first. I know I would. I simply mean they should have no special rights in the legislative process, such as any veto (a big problem in the U.S.) or any special proposing rights.

    I’m also trying to create a virtuous revolving door in the executive branch. Instead of leaving jury confirmed service to go into the private sector, I want them instead to work as policy analysts/writers for the proposing bodies. The typical career should be back and forth between these two. Therefore the people writing the laws in the first place will be real, live executive branch officials.

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  9. Alex and Keith, without going into all the details, it appears there is much we agree on.

    I do not propose abolishing the existing legislatures. Instead I propose that they be chosen by jury, and that they no longer have the power to decide laws. The members of such bodies would be able to propose laws to juries.

    I do not propose eliminating the office of president nor of state governor nor of mayor, but instead propose they be chosen by jury. Nor do I propose replacing the president or governors with an executive panel. The key thing to me is that they be chosen by jury.

    I very much agree with Alex (and I am sure with you too Keith) that there must be no presidential and gubernatorial veto over the decisions of legislative juries.

    The principle that legislative decisions of the people are not subject to executive veto is already embodied in the ballot initiative. A popular vote in favour of an initiative cannot be vetoed by a state governor. This is part of why I propose that legislative juries step into the shoes of the ballot initiative (have the power to make the same decisions that are now made by ballot initiative).

    Alex, I think we will continue to not agree re specialized knowledge for such offices as attorney generals (I don’t agree that leadership expertise and subject matter expertise can be separated with regard to certain offices). The federal AG and all the state AGs are lawyers. While “is” does not mean “ought,” that is wide agreement that AGs be lawyers.

    In what I propose, the PM and president would be far less powerful than they are now. On this point I am in accord with Alex (though some of the details we propose differ). (In what I propose, all of the the independent and supposedly independent officials now chosen by the executive would be chosen by jury. And laws would be decided by jury, with no executive veto.)

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  10. Blimey, agreement all round, that’s a first on this forum!

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  11. Many separate responses in this post…

    1. I don’t really understand what you mean by “leadership” if it is without regards to policy understanding (requiring deep knowledge of the specific field). Are you essentially talking about administrative skill? If the heads of ministries don’t have deep knowledge about what their department is focused on they will become captives of their underlings who DO have that expertise (the “Yes Minister” scenario Keith mentioned).

    2. Diversity in this context using your superminority may simply assure that some selected leaders are way outside the general consensus on policy (like a QAnon fanatic) essentially sabotaging a ministry. If you mean demographic diversity, you need a different tool.

    3. For a proportional representation voting method, Schulze is reasonable but not optimal. While the Condorcet Winner criterion has value for selecting a single winner, it is less relevant for proportional voting, and Schulze’s violation of the Later No Harm criterion (ranking a lower choice can cause one’s favorite to lose out) invites tactical game playing by the voters, eliciting false preferences.

    4. I share others’ concern about the lack of a place for the buck to stop.
    I actually have experience with a decentralized system ever so slightly like the one you are advocating. When I was first elected to the Burlington City Council in 1981 we had a unique hybrid commission form of government with a weak mayor. Each department was overseen by a five member commission appointed by the council. These commissions oversaw the budget and appointed the department executive, police chief, or whatever the top person was called. The City Council could only adopt ordinances, set overall budget figures (without internal detail), but could not direct commissions, departments or their leaders on specifics. The mayor had essentially no say at all in the running of these departments. Suffice it to say, it was a system where nobody knew who was actually in charge of anything. Some departments muddled along fighting with other departments they interacted with, some department heads completely captured their commissions because of their expertise and control of information flows, and their commissions acted like cheerleaders, with little understanding. I am not saying your system would work like this… but eliminating the risk of authoritarian seizure by a chief executive can also mean lack of accountability throughout the system. I am just saying, there may be more unintended consequences than you imagine.

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  12. Terry:>

    1. Leadership has never had much to do with “deep knowledge of the specific field”. FDR was an average student with no particular expertise in economics or military affairs, but he led us through the Great Depression and WWII. That’s perhaps a grandiose example, but even lower level leadership can work that way. Does it take a lawyer as Attorney General to emphasize civil rights over criminal convictions? Does it take a trained diplomat to focus on Asia over Europe? No, these are policy choices, not matters of expertise. The principle qualification is one’s ability to understand policy in the context of the larger national interest.

    I think of it this way: technocrats (no pejorative connotation, btw; I have tremendous respect for this group) have a vertical focus. They tend to look at the needs of a particular department or function. That’s fine, we need people like that throughout the civil service. But political leaders should have a horizontal focus. The first phone call that the operational head of a department should make in a crisis is down through the department to activate the necessary resources. The first call that the political head of the department should make is to the other department heads and leaders, to coordinate across agencies.

    2. I am concerned about the QAnon problem, but I guarantee you we have such people in political offices today. There is no procedure that can prevent that completely. I do have a requirement that political officers climb through the ranks, going through many citizen juries before attaining high office. I believe that over the course of many juries, such people will be weeded out; this assertion is obviously untested however.

    I disagree with you about the demographic diversity. Juries consider many offices at once, which allows small numbers of legislators to nominate candidates. If the House of Representatives were to nominate 30 candidates for various positions, it would take only 14 members to nominate one candidate. This allows for greater demographic diversity in the nominating process. The fact that second (and third, and fourth) place counts means that many of these candidates will make it through. This should guarantee more demographic diversity than we have today, though perhaps not as much as some might wish.

    3. I studied these methods extensively a while back, but upon reflection I was mostly focused on single-winner contests. I will take a look at this. Thank you for bringing it to my attention.

    4. The “buck stops” problem is a serious one; I plan to address this in a later post. Your example is a cautionary tale, although I think my system is quite different from the one you describe. And 1981…yes, I remember second grade well. Thank you for making me feel young again! :-)

    I should let you know that I am deliberately developing this system to be “minimally unitary”. Our current system is maximally unitary, to great destructive consequence. I’m basically trying to do the opposite, and see if I can make it work. At some point I may end up “tacking to the center” as they say in electoral politics. If so, I will start with the minimally unitary (or maximally pluralistic) system, and sprinkle in some traditional control structures to make it work. All of these objections help me do that.

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  13. Terry,

    > For a proportional representation voting method, Schulze is reasonable but not optimal. While the Condorcet Winner criterion has value for selecting a single winner, it is less relevant for proportional voting

    1. Do we all agree that Condorcet voting is best for electing a single stand-alone official such as president, state governor or mayor?

    I think Condorcet voting is more problematic for single winner elections to a multi-member body such as a legislature. For example, if there are three parties, Parties 1, 2 and 3, which differ along a single dimension and each have about 1/3rd of the vote, then if Party 2 is in the middle of that single dimension it will gain a disproportionately large share of the legislature because both Party 1 and Party 3 voters will tend to put Party 2 as their second choice. For reasons like this I think it is not really clear that Condorcet is the best method for choosing candidates from single member districts for a multi-member body such as a legislature. However, in a two party system like the US, where only one of two parties ever wins (with rare exceptions), I think Condorcet voting for each of the single member districts makes sense (because it ends vote splitting problems).

    I think that for multi-member bodies proportional representation and multi-member districts are better than single member districts with Condorcet voting. Does everyone agree?

    2. I can see ways in which Condorcet voting is problematic for multi-winner elections, in addition to the problem Terry mentions.

    For example, to illustrate a problem with a simple example, suppose we have a two winner election, in which the candidates are A, B and C. 41% rank A as their first choice, all of who rank C as their second choice; 39% rank B as their first choice, all of who rank C as their second choice; 20% rank C as their first choice, half of who rank A as their second choice, and half of who rank B as their second choice.

    In ordinary ranked choice non-Condorcet voting the two winners are A and B. However the Condorcet winner is C. About 60% prefer C to either of the other two choices in one-to-one match-ups. However, if A and B win, then 80% of the voters will have elected their first choice candidate (41% A, 39% B), which seems pretty democratic on the face of it.

    I am not sure what the Shultz result would be in this case. But i think either it has to reach a non-Condorcet result (C losing despite being preferred to the other candidates in one-to-one match ups), or if C is among the two winners then it has to prevent a result in which the first choice candidates of 80% of the voters win. (If for example the winners are A and C, then the first choice candidates of 61% of the voters win – 41% + 20% – rather than the first choice candidates of 80% of the voters that win if the winners are A and B.)

    I suspect Terry’s “not optimal” assessment of Condorcet for multi-winner elections is well-grounded in the literature (but I have not gone down the rabbit hole of that literature).

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  14. We must resist the temptation of going down the voting method debate rabbit hole (I spent years down there as a voting method policy analyst and in Wikipedia edit wars, etc.), since it is REALLY about as far off topic as we can get from sortition. I’ll just say, what many election method advocates (people have their favorites and attack others) miss is that the voting method can change the way candidates campaign, and voters behave. There isn’t a predetermined set of voter preferences that just need to be plugged into an algorithm. For those who have not been submerged in the voting method debate baptismal water, I’ll just say, it is a mathematical fact that NO voting method is free of flaws … NONE. Every possible voting method can be really bad in certain scenarios. In Condorcet methods, the appeal is that if a candidate would beat all of the other candidates in head to head pairwise contests, then surely this “Condorcet Winner” should be declared the winner. But this algorithm can encourage candidates to avoid taking controversial stands on any issue, because being most voters’ compromise choice is enough to win… indeed a candidate that NOBODY thinks is the best candidate might win under Condorcet rules. I am not saying that Condorcet methods in particular are bad, merely that EVERY voting method can have outcomes that feel terrible.

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  15. Terry:> We must resist the temptation of going down the voting method debate rabbit hole…

    I agree to a point. I will try from now on to just describe the decision to be made; for example, to say that the jury should select 10 winners from 25 candidates, without specifying the aggregation algorithm.

    Terry:> But this algorithm can encourage candidates to avoid taking controversial stands on any issue, because being most voters’ compromise choice is enough to win… indeed a candidate that NOBODY thinks is the best candidate might win under Condorcet rules.

    Yep. This is precisely why Condorcet methods are better. Voters often prefer extreme candidates of different stripes, in which case a candidate who is everyone’s second choice but nobody’s first choice should win. You have inadvertently stated precisely why Condorcet methods should be preferred, and why Instant Runoff Voting is dangerous.

    Ok, ok, no more rabbit hole. Starting…now

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