Expectations of commitment by the allotted, part 1

In many discussions and proposals involving allotted bodies it is either implicitly or explicitly assumed that the allotted cannot be expected to invest much effort in their involvement in the political procedure. Then, a whole set design decisions regarding allotted bodies are justified as a consequence of this assumption:

  • Service terms must be short (measured in days, usually),
  • The allotted cannot be expected to gather information independently, to come up with their own agenda, or to design the procedures of their work,
  • The allotted cannot be expected to move to a different location in order to regularly physically attend meetings, so remote meetings are often offered as a substitute.

Even with all these burden-lightening design choices, it is often assumed that only a small minority of those offered allotted seats in a decision making body would take up the offer, so, it is again assumed, either service has to be mandatory or selection of replacements in one way or another has to take place.

All of these design decisions are dramatically detrimental to the effectiveness of sortition as democratic mechanism of decision making. The burden-lightening measures reduce the capacity of the allotted, as individuals and as a group, to make decisions that are independent, considered and informed. They all, in fact, transfer significant decision making power to the hands elite groups that manage the set-up.

It is obvious that the agenda and the information used are strong determinants of the decisions made. Not being set by the allotted themselves, they must be set by some other mechanism, which gives those who control this mechanism a decisive share in decision making power. Additionally, the work procedures of the allotted can have significant influence on what decisions can be made. The less intensely the body works together, the weaker is its ability to collaborate and the stronger is the pull toward the default of status quo. This status quo has a conceptual dimension – forcing the deliberation into employing conventional terms, and a practical dimension – indecision, or highly circumscribed changes, implies that the existing practices and power relations remain in place. Having the allotted work at a distance from each other would be one such design choice whose result would be a major loosening of the ties between the members of the body and as a result a severe curtailment of its ability to generate independent and informed decisions.

The notion that it is to be expected, and accepted, that many, maybe the large majority, of offered allotted seats would be turned down, is another assumption whose consequences for the democratic functioning of the body would be destructive. Both commonly proposed remedies – making participation mandatory, and relying on replacements – are in fact worse than simply leaving the seats empty. The latter option at least has the advantage of making the situation very evident, increasing the motivation for fixing it and reducing the room for manipulation.

A situation in which many of those offered seats turn them down would inevitably lead to a widespread suspicion (likely quite justified) that those who do take up their seats represent atypical interests and values. This would undermine the legitimacy of the allotted body as representing the public. Clearly allotting replacements would not resolve this situation, as the replacements would be among the minority of the willing, and clearly any sort of statistical manipulation (e.g., the use of quotas) would in no way alleviate the situation and quite possibly make it worse.

Mandatory service may, like recruiting replacement, create a facade of functionality, but would inevitably result in those who were forced into attendance being disengaged – being physically present but cognitively and emotionally absent. Substantively, those disengaged members would in no way represent their own values and interests. At best, they would simply be effectively absent, just as if they were allowed to turn down their allotments. (But would keep getting their salaries and [possibly derisive] media attention, which would naturally create popular resentment.) More likely, those pressed into service would behave a-rationally, responding to manipulations by other members and by outside forces. Such behavior would make a sham of the proceedings and of the institution. Inevitably, this would generate well justified widespread cynicism toward the system.

6 Responses

  1. tHIS IS A SPURIOUS ASSUMPTION NOT BORNE OUT BY ACTUAL PRACTICES. I kept my randomly selected particpants involved for months without pay…in Hawaii, New Zealand and Southern California. It depends on format and personal interaction with them. This assumption, based on prejudice and ignorance, nees to be canned. It just doens’t hold water. Grand juries meet for months in USA, and stay involved. Pure crap. Dr. Ted Becker.


  2. I have been thinking of writing a journal article related to this topic. The point we agree on is that control of agenda setting and sourcing of information is key, and should not be done by an elite. It should be managed by a longer-duration allotted body, perhaps similar to the body Yoram imagines… but this body must NOT have final say on yes / no decisions on adoption. A long duration body with heavy workload will inevitably have self-selection bias making it less representative. This is okay if it maintains impartiality and lacks ultimate authority… basically laying the groundwork for a short duration fully representative decision-making allotted body. Their lack of final authority is the prime protection from corruption (not worth trying to bribe)

    The task of preparing proposals (which takes time – so longer duration) needs to be separated from deciding to avoid corruption, internal hierarchy, unrepresentative groupthink, becoming unsuited for judging their own handiwork due to pride or authorship, etc.

    The analogy of dividing a cookie is useful. When two children need to share a cookie, perhaps both have a desire to be fair, so either one could be given authority to divide the cookie. But the child who breaks the cookie in half should not be the one who decides which child gets which piece. Separating the tasks of preparing the proposal (two parts of a cookie) making the final decision should be separated. For sortition legislation, the two children are two different allotted bodies with different tasks. (and different duration, etc.).


  3. Hi Terry,

    The issue of separation of powers between different allotted bodies is not directly relevant to the argument I am making here, which is that a democratic system must be managed by a high-commitment allotted body. If such a body decides to delegate some power (such as a final up-or-down decision on legislation) to other bodies, then presumably this decision reflects the public interest as arrived at in an informed and considered manner.

    I will note, as I have done multiple times before (e.g. here and here), that I don’t find your arguments for having a short term body making a final up-or-down vote particularly convincing.


  4. There are severe dangers to democracy in having a single high-commitment, long(ish) duration allotted body. While you have argued elsewhere that a very LARGE body is likely (or according to you, certain) to develop internal hierarchy and elites, I argue that duration and weight of commitment is the real threat. Not only is this body likely to evolve its own hierarchy and elite, but also be a likely location for corruption and bribery. The longer members serve and the more power that is concentrated in their hands, the more valuable they are to outside bribers (or “influencers”). I am not certain if power always corrupts, but it does exacerbate the corruption of those who are willingly corruptible 9as some portion of every allotted body will contain) Indeed a high-commitment allotted body will have MORE self-important ego-maniacs and psychopaths than the general population, since they are more likely to accept a powerful appointment. A body like this would be quite unlike the population they fail to represent. Such smallish, high-commitment, longish duration bodies WITH FINAL AUTHORITY are a danger to democracy, not a means to it. Such bodies can be used to work on agendas, drafting proposals, developing witness selection methods, overseeing staff, etc. but they must NOT have final decisions law-making power.

    In contrast, a short duration yes/no deciding body, which only evaluates pro and con arguments on a proposal, can function more like a typical (though large) court jury, with anti-jury-tampering procedures. A long-duration body cannot function in secret and be sequestered, etc. While I don’t think I advocate this, it is even possible for the final decision making jury to not know who the other members are, and only meet remotely (which can also improve acceptance rates)


  5. > There are severe dangers to democracy in having a single high-commitment, long(ish) duration allotted body

    I invite you to develop this claim in a post or a series of posts and see to what extent you can make a convincing case for it. To me, this seems like a questionable claim whose main rhetorical force is due to its alignment with liberal orthodoxy.

    When trying to make such a case, it is important to address the fact that a high-commitment allotted body would not be filling a power void but would rather be a counter-force to existing powerful high-commitment people and organizations that are not democratic, representative or accountable in any way. My point in the post above is that policy cannot be determined by low commitment bodies, since those can only hold very little power. When such bodies nominally make policy it in fact means that power is held elsewhere.


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