Expectations of commitment by the allotted, part 2/2

Part 1 is here.

The alternative

The alternative to the path of low commitment, with all its inevitable implications that undermine the democratic potential of sortition, is to expect, indeed, to demand, high level of commitment by the allotted to the political process. In short, political decision making should be seen, both by society and by the allotted, as a full time job. It should be a well compensated, intellectually demanding undertaking. The following attributes should be part of the design of any high powered allotted chamber, such as an allotted parliament:

  1. Service terms should be measured in years – say four years.
  2. Personal initiative and collaboration with other members of the allotted body would be expected. Unless special circumstances exist, frequent physical presence at the workplace would be expected.
  3. The activity of the members would be overseen by an allotted body, with which the members would be expected to cooperate. The oversight body would produce reports about the activities of the members. In cases of clear dysfunction the oversight body could sanction members. The body would refer cases of suspected malfeasance to the courts.
  4. The details associated with the design and the work processes of the allotted chamber, as well as budgets and member salaries, would be determined, and adjusted on an ongoing basis, by the chamber itself or by a different long-term allotted chamber such as the oversight body.
  5. Each member would be assisted by dedicated professional staff funded by the institution. The staff would either be selected by the member personally or provided by the institution, according to the member’s choice.
  6. Media channels would be available for the chamber as a whole, for groups of members and for individual members. Those channels would allow the allotted to communicate their ideas to the public at large, and such communication would be expected.
  7. Budget would be available for role-related expenses such as travel to locations of interest.
  8. An allotted body would be in charge of the allotment and recruitment process. Accommodation of any personal or special circumstances would be made. E.g., relocation when entering the role and when leaving it, childcare, translator services, and help with finding lodging.
  9. Seats that would be turned down by their respective allotted candidates would remain unoccupied for the duration of the term. Candidates who turn down seats would be encouraged to share their reasons publicly.

The standard objection to a system based on a high level of commitment by the allotted is that many allotted citizens would be unwilling to undertake such a commitment and would thus turn down the offered seat. As a result, the allotted chamber’s composition would not be representative of the population but only of a sector – of those who are willing to commit themselves to the highly demanding job of governing.

This objection is based on the completely unjustified confidence that it is inevitable that many citizens would refuse to serve. It is in fact far from clear that many citizens would turn down a well compensated, well respected, highly interesting job that would give them an opportunity to influence the society they live in in important ways. This type of role is very different from the roles that low-powered allotted bodies put their members in, and thus the fact that for such bodies the refusal rates are quite high is in no way an indication that this would also be the case when in comes to high-powered allotted bodies. (This, by the way, is another way in which “small scale experimentation” with sortition provides a very poor precedent for a useful sortition-based political system.)

Refusal could be caused by two factors: practical constraints and lack of motivation. To address practical constraints, the recruiting body would aim to accommodate all legitimate needs of the allotted so as to allow everybody who wishes to participate to do so. The allotted who still end up unable to participate despite being motivated to do so will be those whose special circumstances cannot be feasibly accommodated. The frequency of such special circumstances would need to be determined empirically. There is no a-priori reason to believe this would be a frequent occurrence. Furthermore, it would be the job of the recruiting body to resolve any recurring problems in the recruitment process. In particular, if it is found that a certain category of people tend to have problems that prevent their participation, a resolution for this issue would be sought in collaboration with the allotted candidates of the affected category. Thus, it can be expected that over time issues would be addressed and obstacles to participation would be removed.

Presuming that the salary is sufficiently enticing, and that personal circumstances are sufficiently well addressed, a lack of motivation to participate could be due to a simple lack of interest in politics and a general confidence that others would do a good job. This is not inherently a problematic attitude. It may in fact indicate that the political system is functioning well and as a result (some) people feel their interests and values are well represented by the system even when they are not present.

However, a lack of motivation to participate could also be due to a popular perception that the body is a facade which does not in fact allow people to affect public policy in a real way. This is a very different situation from a personal lack of interest in politics and would indicate that a fundamental systemic problem exists. Thus in this case non-participation is merely a symptom of a different problem rather than a root cause of dysfunction. By properly designing the system so that the allotted are able to set public policy in a way that is perceived as effective and legitimate, this situation can be avoided.

To conclude: There is no reason to presume that a system relying on high levels of commitment by the allotted is unfeasible. Of course, the only way to find out for sure is to make a sincere and sustained attempt at achieving such a system. Indeed, since such a system is the only type of system that may result in democratic government, promoting such an attempt should be the objective of any reform aimed at democratization.

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