Random Selection for the Supreme Court

In an opinion piece in The New York Times, Yale law student Melody Wang lays out an extremely cogent argument for random selection in choosing cases. She emphasizes the power of random selection to prevent corrupt practices, and to focus advocates on directing their arguments to the general good, rather than to specific decision makers.

Claude Sicard: Replacing representative democracy with participative democracy is dangerous, Part 1

A translation of an article from Le Figaro.

Replacing representative democracy with participative democracy is dangerous
Claude Sicard, economist and international consultant
July 6, 2020

Seeing his popularity ratings decline, Emmanuel Macron appeals to the French people for a reform. For this economist, the head of state’s seemingly bright idea is a mistake because making decisions concerning the future of a country requires thorough study and the assistance of experts.

Macron at the Citizen Convention for the Climate at the Élysée, June 29, 2020.

The distance in our country between civil society and the institutions never stops increasing. In every democratic system it is the law that the majority prevails: the dominant fraction imposes its will on the minority, and the electoral moment is decisive for the duration of the mandate of the elected representatives. These principles are increasingly questioned these days. Minorities are increasingly unwilling not to be heard, and moreover they too often observe that the elected do not always have the virtues which they claimed to have during the campaign. Pierre Rosanvallon, a noted researcher of democracy, tells us that we are seeing in our modern democracies the rise of the “people as a judge”. The “monitoring citizen”, he says, is replacing the “voting citizen”. In this way a tendency has developed in our modern societies toward the creation of “counter-democracies”.

CEVIPOF surveys confirm this claim: 70% of the French think that in our country democracy “does not function very well”, and assert that they have no confidence in the ability of members of parliament to address issues that the country is facing. The American political scientist Yascha Mounk, a Harvard professor, writes in his book The People vs. Democracy published in 2018 that “in North America and in Western Europe, a growing number of citizens are turning their backs on democracy: they are feeling that they have less and less influence over political decisions”.
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Consent of the governed

A few months ago I offered the following operational definition of “democracy”:

A regime is democratic to the extent that the people who are governed by that regime believe it serves their interests, where their opinions are equally weighted.

This definition is (quite close to being) an objective operationalization of the notion of democracy, I claimed. (It is not a full operationalization since the method by which people’s opinions about the regime are collected still needs to be fully specified. That, however, is an open-ended research program, so it cannot be fit into the space of a blog post.) It is certainly much more specific than the “essentially contested” literal “people power”. It is also more specific and less open for subjective interpretation than procedural definitions such as Schumpeter’s or Dahl’s, as well as having the advantage of not making quite absurd a-priori assumptions about the value of elections (or any other institutional procedure).

The proposal garnered some mixed reactions. Along with some support, there was a lot of criticism. Several commenters were concerned that this metric would indicate that China, Russia or other rivals of the West are more democratic than the West itself, a notion which they found patently absurd, it seems. Another objection was that an outcomes-based criterion for democracy cannot be satisfactory because any outcome can be produced by a dictatorship. It was also argued that according to this definition those who expose corruption in government and thus reduce trust in government could be blamed for destroying democracy. Occasionally the tone was that such a definition was a revisionist innovation and that whatever the definition of democracy is (no real alternative was offered, I believe), this obviously does not come close.

This seemed to lead the discussion to a dead-end. Yes, Prof. Wang Shaoguang has a pretty similar definition for what he calls “substantive democracy” and a survey he cites shows that this idea has wide support in China and its surrounding. But Prof. Wang and the Chinese are Chinese, so clearly they have nothing to teach Westerners about democracy (or maybe these are not even their true opinions and they are merely saying whatever they are saying in order to please whoever is eavesdropping). Moreover, even Prof. Wang still leaves room for “formal democracy” that would be defined differently.

It is only with great and inexplicable delay that I have recently realized how solid and respected is the pedigree of the proposed definition. Continue reading

What is a Majority?

My latest post discusses citizen juries from the perspective cognitive science. Starting with the argumentative theory of reason, I argue that final decision makers must be insulated from any requirement of justifying their decisions. This is precisely what juries do in trials: they apply a community standard, one that is inscrutable to advocates within the system, who operate on the basis of rules. The lack of such a function in democratic systems is an existential flaw that sortition must aim to correct.

Yamaguchi: Lottocracy: Considerations on Representative Democracy by Lot

Akito Yamaguchi is a second-year doctoral student at the University of Tokyo, Japan, specializing in political philosophy, especially lottocracy. This is the author’s summary of a paper by Yamaguchi published in the Japanese Journal of Political Thought (May 2020).

Lottocracy: Considerations on Representative Democracy by Lot

This paper aims to examine the relevance of “lottocracy” as a lawmaking system. Lottocracy is the idea of a representative system in which representatives in the legislature are appointed by lottery rather than by election. This paper compares lottocracy and electoral democracy in terms of instrumental value, i.e., the value of the outcomes of these procedures. It assesses the value of both systems in terms of the interests of the people: how well do the systems promote the interests of the people?

To assess the instrumental value of the electoral and lottocratic systems, I use two methods. First, I use two criteria to assess the interests of the people: the criterion of equal reflection and the criterion of competence. The criterion of equal reflection is a criterion for assessing the extent to which the system equally reflects the will of the people. The criterion of competence is a criterion to assess for assessing how competent a legislator is in terms of lawmaking.

Second, I assess the electoral and lottocratic systems in both an ideal condition and a non-ideal condition. In the ideal condition, I assess each system in the condition in which it functions best. In the non-ideal condition, I assess each system in the real world in which we live.

Section 1 assesses both systems in the ideal condition. In the ideal condition, the electoral system is superior to the lottocratic system. This is because representatives who are superior to others are elected in the electoral system and so the electoral system is higher in terms of the criterion of competence. Continue reading

New edition of Down with Elections!

The latest edition of “Down with Elections! a plan for Democracy without Elections” is now available. The paperback is at https://www.amazon.com/DOWN-ELECTIONS-plan-DEMOCRACY-WITHOUT/dp/B0851M9H3F.

Users of this forum can obtain a free digital version (epub, mobi or PDF) directly from me (email to cwallace@free.fr).

Changes from the last published version (V3) are mainly explanatory, there are no major changes to the model of government proposed. (Changes from earlier versions are too numerous to list here.) Nothing I have seen or read recently has persuaded me that the overall design of the system proposed in the book needs changing, and events of the last few years – indeed of the last two hundred years – have only reinforced my opinion that we cannot have true democracy until we replace elected parliaments by ones chosen by lot.

Une version française est maintenant disponible (en broché) :
https://www.amazon.fr/démocratie-sans-élections-Campbell-Wallace/dp/B085R72PK5 (5,38 € + livraison)
https://www.thebookedition.com/fr/democratie-sans-elections-p-372653.html (7,23€ + livraison)

On peut avoir la version digitale gratuitement en envoyant un mail à cwallace@free.fr.

Deliberative assemblies are finding their feet – but also facing political barriers

On Friday the 16th of October, the Hannah Arendt Center at Bard College hosted a webinar entitled ‘Revitalizing Democracy: Sortition, Citizen Power, and Spaces of Freedom’, which you can watch here. The workshop heavily featured people putting sortition into practice right now, and so the overall focus was very much on deliberative assemblies in advisory roles, rather than non-deliberative juries or lawmaking roles. If you’d rather not spend the whole day watching a videoconference, here’s the CliffsNotes:

David Van Reybrouck, who gave one of the keynotes, helped design the new citizens’ council and assembly system in the parliament of the German-speaking region of Belgium – an area with only 76 000 citizens, but devolved powers similar to Scotland’s. The system involves a permanent citizens’ council and temporary citizens’ assemblies, both selected by sortition, as well as a permanent secretary who acts as a sort of ombudsman for the system. The council sets the agenda for the assemblies, and chases up their conclusions in the regional parliament – essentially acting as an official lobby group for the assemblies’ recommendations. Politicians have to report back to the council a year after each assembly, setting out how they’ve acted on their recommendations and, if they’ve deviated from them, why. In this respect it is a major step forward in the institutionalisation of sortition. Under the Belgian constitution, however, sortitional bodies cannot be given legislative power, so the assemblies are restricted to an advisory role until and unless momentum can be built for a constitutional amendment.

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View from participants of a citizens’ assembly

This is published with a few days’ delay – too late for readers to join the meeting being announced. If you are a contributor submitting a time sensitive post, please email Yoram Gat to make sure it is published promptly.

The US Chapter of the Sortition Foundation, now known as Democracy Without Elections, have 2 special guest speakers at our Chapter Meeting on Tuesday 13 October at 9pm Eastern US time; both were participants in a citizens’ assembly. They are from opposite ends of the political spectrum, and became friends.

If you would like join us and hear their perspective of being on the inside of a citizens’ assembly, contact me.

Sortition to select a Board of Directors

The US Chapter of the Sortition Foundation is changing its name to Democracy Without Elections. We are still affiliated with the Sortition Foundation.

We will be using an online democratic lottery on Sunday to select nine Directors for our new Board from our 80+ members. No stratification will be used, and no preference given to whether a person is active or not. Do you know of any Boards who use sortition to select their Directors?

We have a new website: https://www.democracywithoutelections.org/. It was determined that the website will be geared towards people who have just heard about democratic lotteries. Contact me if you have suggestions for the website. Obviously the citizens’ assembly and history sections need expansion.

The question of sortition generates a heated debate in the French Senate

The following is a translation of an AFP article.

Reform of the CESE: The question of sortition generates a heated debate in the French Senate
October 15, 2020

Representative democracy vs. participative democracy: the question of the usage of allotment of citizen for participation in public consultations has generated a heated debate in the Senate during the discussion of the proposal for the reform of the Council for the Economy, Society and Environment (CESE).

The organic law bill, adopted by the National Assembly in September was approved on Thursday in first reading by the Senate with 292 votes for (LR, UC, PS, the large majority of RDSE, LIRT) and 50 abstentions (RDPI – mostly the LREM members, CRCE – mostly the communists, EST).

Assembly members and Senators are now going to try to reach an agreed text in a joint committee. If that fails, the National Assembly will have the last word.

During his speech in front of Congress in 2017, President Emmanuel Macron spoke about transforming the CESE, a little-known consultative institution which convenes representatives of employers, of workers’ unions and of NGOs at the Palais d’Iéna, into “a chamber of the future, where all the stakeholders of the nation take part”.

Short of a constitutional reform, the organic law bill aims to breathe new life into this institution in order to respond to strong demand for participative democracy in public opinion. Notably, the bill streamlines petitioning the CESE for it to form an opinion on economic, social and environmental questions raised by the public. The number of required signatures would be reduced from 500,000 to 150,000. The senators have approved this procedure with some reservations.

Moreover, opposing “any legitimization of sortition”, the right-wing Senate majority has removed any possibility for the CESE to organize “public consultations” based on allotment modeled after the Citizen Climate Convention. The removal of this central tool has been debated at length, with the government and the Left failing to reintroduce it through amendments during session.
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