Landemore: Open Democracy, part 12

The final objection to “open democracy” which Landemore considers in chapter 8 of her book is that a non-electoral system would be too demanding on people’s time and effort. Landemore does not explicitly do so, but it seems useful to differentiate between the demands made on the population in total, or on average, and the demands made on specific people. A system may be problematic if it requires the average citizen to invest more time and effort than the average citizen sees fit. But even in cases where the demand on average is low, there may be problems if some citizens (even a small number) are asked to put in more time and effort than they are willing to put in.

Landemore rightly emphasizes that “it is essential to consider citizens’ time and attention as scarce resources that must be used wisely”. The notion that it makes sense, or even commendable and serves some ideal of citizenship or democracy, for citizens to show up to mass meetings or mass political events of any kind must be firmly rejected. This is not “participation” but exploitation. It is important to note, however, that the same is true for other forms of powerless “participation”, quite a few of which Landemore “makes room for” (p. 206) in her let-a-thousand-flowers-bloom approach. Spending time on a “crowdsourced platform” (p. 206), for example, or even sitting on an “agenda-setting” or “proposal review” body which is one of thousands of such bodies, meaning that its output is diluted thousands of times, is also a meaningless, exploitative anti-democratic ritual.

Regarding those situations where a lot of effort is demanded of a few people, Landemore notes that episodic high-intensity time and effort such as would be required when sitting on allotted bodies would be meaningful and rewarding (p. 206). Presumably this refers to the fact that such bodies would have real decision making power. This is indeed a crucial factor in making sure that people would be willing to assume the responsibility. It is important therefore to avoid an unlimited proliferation of such bodies since this would necessarily imply that the decision making power of many of those bodies would be limited, reducing the motivation for active, meaningful participation. That said, there are important additional factors that would determine willingness to invest time and effort, e.g., the bodies’ authority to self-manage, adequate allocation of time, generous pay, accommodation for special circumstances and media attention. It is unfortunate that a thorough analysis of such factors is not undertaken.

The last part of chapter 8 is about the prospects for systemic reform. Landemore mentions sensible proposals to initiate reform by setting up bodies whose purview is limited to suitable issues such as setting the salaries of elected officials. Interestingly, she believes that the prospects for meaningful reform is better in China, where the “adversarial spirit” of elections is often rejected, than in “electoral democracies”. Some discussion of the way in which established elites (whether in the West or in China, whether governmental elites, or media elites, or other elites, including academics) can be expected to resist democratization – including by co-opting or subverting allotted bodies and the idea of sortition in general – would seem to have been appropriate in this section, but is absent altogether.

One Response

  1. Thank you, Yoram, for your extensive critical precis of Landemore’s work. You’ve done an admirable service.

    Liked by 1 person

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