The Jury of the Whole

In my latest post on the legislative branch, I look at what happens after a set of concrete proposals are made and published. This is the most transformative aspect of the proposal-jury model. It engages every aspect of a polity, from intellectual and business elites, to the news media, to ordinary citizens. And it is the closest that any large, modern society can come to experiencing direct democracy.

15 Responses

  1. Alex,

    You make many excellent points in your 3rd piece about how little policy is a factor in current elections. Voters delegate decision making rather than select representatives (who reflect the voters’ policy preferences), etc.

    The fact that politicians and parties (at least in the U.S.) view policy as merely the weapons with which they attack their opponents to gain or maintain power is readily apparent to those who are actually concerned with policy. Otherwise the Republican party could not turn on a dime and one day favor free trade and oppose deficit spending, and the next (okay it took a few months) support punitive tariffs and record-breaking deficit spending. The Democratic Party could not switch (although this took longer) from being the party of segregation and white power (some state Democratic Parties had charters that expressly prohibited Blacks), to being a Party that saw racial minorities as their “base.” It is because policy doesn’t actually matter to politicians who want power. Parties are about the tactics of winning elections and attacking opponents. Countries with proportional representation have a different experience, that I am not really qualified to discuss, but it is safe to say that parties there too have dramatically changed their policy prescriptions as electoral tactics.

    Your grand proposal changes the role of parties so much that it is difficult to talk about them as “parties” at all. So it is hard to know how they would morph in this environment.

    The biggest flaw I see in this piece is an apparent assumption that there are a manageable number of policy decisions to be made at any one time. In fact there are hundreds at a time, almost none of which the media currently mention. The idea that on any given week the media and the general public would be meaningfully debating the facts, pros and cons of multiple policy proposals on each of a hundred different topics, (and if replicated at the state and municipal level thousands) is ludicrous. You can’t overcome “rational ignorance” among the members of the general population, who have other things, like jobs, hobbies, and families to pay attention to. The Jury part makes sense, but this pause for the entire population to first consider things is a fantasy. All your pause for public debate can do is give elites an opportunity to taint the jury pool.

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  2. Terry:> The biggest flaw I see in this piece is an apparent assumption that there are a manageable number of policy decisions to be made at any one time. In fact there are hundreds at a time, almost none of which the media currently mention.

    So what? I didn’t say that every policy proposal will get the same attention. Some proposals will get almost no attention outside of some very narrow media circles (trade journals, etc.). Only major proposals will be headline news. Some will fall in the middle getting some minor attention from MSM. Some may get crowded out when there are multiple juries operating at once–which will be true most of the time. I fail to see how this is a flaw.

    Terry:> You can’t overcome “rational ignorance” among the members of the general population,…

    I’m not trying to. I’m trying to improve the general quality of policy discussion, as well as include (vicariously) those members of the general public who are motivated to follow a particular issue. The final decision will always be made by a jury with the time and resources to do their due diligence.

    Terry:> All your pause for public debate can do is give elites an opportunity to taint the jury pool.

    As I argued, “taint” in a jury pool is specific to trial juries, due to the need to maintain juror ignorance of the particular case. There is no similar requirement for legislative juries. I am concerned about special interest messaging, but I don’t see how a few ads are going to turn the entire general public into a bunch of zombies in favor of one particular proposal. Jurors are still going to spend a few weeks or more studying the proposals full time, with resources at their disposal. The benefits of airing the proposals in advance outweighs the costs. I believe the jury will make a better decision because it can look back on a public discussion in the media.

    Your criticisms are such that I’m almost wondering whether you misunderstand what I am suggesting. I’m just saying that there should be a pause between when proposals are published and when the jury is called. The media doesn’t have to cover any of it. Regulatory agencies propose rule changes all the time, with associated comment periods. The comments don’t really work because there is only one proposal and no jury, but the fact that agencies have to publish their proposals, then hit the pause button, is undoubtedly a good thing.

    What would you do in this situation? Require the jury to begin their work the day all options are submitted?

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  3. Alex,

    Love the idea of the Condorcet pause for public deliberation. One tiny comment:

    A trial has many other safeguards of a defendant’s rights; those safeguards are meaningless unless jurors are naive to the facts of the case.

    Might be better to rephrase that to say something like “in advance” or “beyond the courtroom exchange”. After all the task of the jury is to rule purely on the basis of the facts of the case.

    Terry:> Your grand proposal changes the role of parties so much that it is difficult to talk about them as “parties” at all. So it is hard to know how they would morph in this environment.

    Agreed. Although it’s tempting to come up with some new term — “Policy Advocates” or some such, the advantage of keeping the original term is that all Alex is asking for is a change in the decision threshold (and a jury), so let’s still call them parties. Hopefully they would morph away from the existing model to the extent that they are practically unrecognisable.

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  4. As the famous movie quote goes: “Show me the equality!”

    The process that you propose gives those with the widest, the most effective media reach another chance to use their power to get their opinions hammered into people’s minds.

    > This is the most transformative aspect of the proposal-jury model.

    This may be true. Your proposal seems to be aimed at the elite to retain all political initiative and all real political power, delegating the people to the role of spectators in a reality show.

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  5. Yoram,

    Alex’s proposal is to break up monopolies and duopolies. Would you not agree that at some point the change in the decision threshold enabling a wide range of opinions to be subject to media scrutiny means that the elite/masses distinction no longer applies?

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  6. Yoram:> The process that you propose gives those with the widest, the most effective media…

    Funny how everyone believes in democracy until the media gets involved. That leads to crypto-democracy (an oxymoron), in which procedures are designed to be deliberately obscure. Citizen assemblies are very susceptible to this, as the participation of ordinary citizens provides an excuse to close off the proceedings.

    This won’t work. Most citizens won’t accept a process that is opaque like that. Besides, hiding behind closed doors actually makes it easier to engage in corruption. Citizens assemblies will still need guidance, and the “experts” appointed to do this will wield enormous influence.

    The media is part of democracy. Get used to it. The question is, how can we design a system that favors honest journalism. The answer is to present an array of actual policies. That gives good journalists the material they need, and it creates inconvenient facts for bad ones.

    This won’t fix everything that’s wrong with the media. But it will improve the situation. That’s more than can be said for putting people into a locked room to engage in manipulative log rolling.

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  7. Alex:> crypto-democracy

    Interesting term — certainly would be applicable to any sortition-only system of governance and the MSM (suitably reformed) would be the obvious vehicle to bring the debate into the public domain. Given their struggle for viability in an online age, I imagine the MSM would rise to the challenge in an enthusiastic way and newspapers (etc) that studied all the proposals in a well-balanced manner might well prosper at the expense of more partisan outlets. And I imagine Murdoch et al would be principally concerned to sell as many copies as possible.

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  8. Alex,

    > Funny how everyone believes in democracy until the media gets involved.

    I am not sure what this even means. “Media” is like “government” in the sense that it is a fact of modern life. It is also like “government” in the sense that it can be democratic and can be anti-democratic. As someone who believes in democracy, I very much believe in democratic media. What we have now, and what you seem to be relying on for carrying out some sort of mass deliberation is decidedly anti-democratic media. Democratizing media can be part of a reform agenda, but whether or not it is, relying on media as it exists now to promote democracy is, to put it mildly, unrealistic.

    Again: “Show me the equality!” If you can’t, you are not proposing a democratic procedure.

    > hiding behind closed doors actually makes it easier to engage in corruption

    I very much agree. As opposed to other posters and commenters on this blog, I firmly believe that secrecy breeds corruption and is antithetical to democracy.

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  9. Yoram:> What we have now, and what you seem to be relying on for carrying out some sort of mass deliberation is decidedly anti-democratic media.

    That’s what we have now, but it’s not what I’m relying on. Instead, I’m counting on the fact that “the media” is actually a large collection of players; some good, some bad. My system favors the good and hinders the bad. Bad journalism is about ad hominem attacks and conspiracy theories, both of which thrive in fact-free environments.

    You seem to forget that the media is structured around the political system. Change the political system and the media changes with it.

    Yoram:> …I firmly believe that secrecy breeds corruption and is antithetical to democracy.

    Excellent! Then we agree on something. What could be more transparent than publishing candidate bills in advance?

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  10. > Bad journalism is about ad hominem attacks and conspiracy theories, both of which thrive in fact-free environments.

    No. Bad journalism is about serving powerful narrow interests. This is what we have now and unless some systemic change is made, this is what we will have.

    > What could be more transparent than publishing candidate bills in advance?

    I am not against publishing candidate bills in advance. (But of course this is happening today as well, if anyone wishes to inform themselves, or if the media wishes to discuss it, so expecting this to be “transformative” is unrealistic.) What I was pointing out does not make sense is considering the oligarchical media as in some way promoting democratic decision-making.

    More fundamentally (and related to the non-transformative effect of publishing bills): the notion that democratic decision making on specific bills (as opposed to considering matters of basic principle and general ideology) could be substantially helped by “mass deliberation” is false – this is just another example of the fallacy of perceiving mass politics as democratic.

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  11. Yoram:> No. Bad journalism is about serving powerful narrow interests.

    You seem intent on categorically contradicting me for no good reason. There is no contradiction here. Bad journalism involves both. Adding real proposals from all parties makes it easier to do journalism well, and harder to do it poorly.

    Yoram:> But of course this is happening today as well, if anyone wishes to inform themselves

    Not really. What we get are trial balloons and empty promises. What I’m talking about is proposals that will be considered for passage by a jury in a short period of time. We have nothing like that today.

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  12. > You seem intent on categorically contradicting me for no good reason

    Again, no. I contradict you because I categorically believe that you are wrong. I contradict you because I am not willing to go along with the standard superficial cliches about what’s wrong with the media, or with politicians, etc. Pretending that journalism would suddenly be just fine if only there were specific bills to discuss is at best naive.

    > Not really. What we get are trial balloons and empty promises

    Why not? Are the bills that get voted on in Congress not being published before they are voted on? Why don’t those get discussed in depth and breadth in the media? Why aren’t those discussions “transformative”?

    Or, if you wish, an even clearer example is propositions in California and various other US states. These are not only being published ahead of time, but are actually being sent to each citizen and the citizens are asked to vote on those propositions. Do you really believe that the ensuing discussion is “transformative”? Or is there some subtle distinction between that situation and what you are proposing that supposedly makes all the difference?

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  13. Yoram:> Pretending that journalism would suddenly be just fine …

    I’m not pretending it would be just fine, I am saying it would better. There are shades of gray, Yoram.

    Yoram:> Why not? …

    None of these examples is even remotely close to the situation I describe in my article.

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  14. > None of these examples is even remotely close to the situation I describe in my article.

    If you say so.

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  15. Yoram:> Bad journalism is about serving powerful narrow interests
    . . . the oligarchical media

    The Daily Express has typically lent to the right, but in 1996 it was acquired by Lord Hollick, who installed Rosie Boycott (the founder of Spare Rib, the radical feminist magazine) as editor and switched its support from the Conservatives to Labour. Unfortunately its readers then decamped to the Daily Mail and various Murdoch publications. Readers choose which media to support, irrespective of the editorial policies of proprietors. And the evidence also shows that the editorial policy of Murdoch’s paper closely track (rather than anticipate/manipulate) the preferences of his readers (for example when the Sun switched support to Labour during the 1992 election). Trevor Kavanagh, their political editor, told me he bitterly regrets his It’s the Sun What Won It headline as a) it has been demonstrated to be untrue and b) it helped fuel conspiracy theories regarding the oligarchical control of the MSM. The Spectator has recently turned on their former editor Boris Johnson not on account of a change of mind by its proprietors, but because the public has come to see him as incompetent.

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