Chris Hedges interviews David Van Reybrouck on sortition

Good interview of David Van Reybrouck by Chris Hedges, the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who writes for Truth Dig and has a show on RT.

Chris Hedges: “Aristotle would I think have defined our democracy as an oligarchy.”

David Van Reybrouck: “For a lobbyist it is much harder to influence public decision-making when the decision-makers are drafted by lot, and do not have an interest in getting re-elected, and do not have an interest in raising campaign money.”

Lawrence Lessig on deliberative polls

In this interesting and entertaining August 2017 TED Talk, Lawrence Lessig, the Harvard law professor, shows an appreciation for some of what is wrong with decision-making by popular vote in contemporary societies, and for some of the political significance of deliberative polls.

… the answer is not to reject democracy. The answer is to find a way for democracy to represent us better. To give up the idea that when we talk about “we” as in “we the people” we’re talking about what we happen to think now, and replace that idea with a conception of “we” where what we mean is what we think when we are informed and [have] deliberated.

He then indicates deliberative polls provide a “we the people” of the kind he describes, and discusses, in glowing terms, the 800 member deliberative poll in Mongolia on the constitution (at which he was an observer).  He does not (in this video) suggest any actual democratic reforms for the U.S.

Threlkeld’s reply to Paul Lucardie

This is my reply to Paul Lucardie’s 2014 book Democratic Extremism in Theory and Practice: All Power to the People, regarding his questions, objections and comments about my 1998 proposal for democratic lawmaking.

In my reply I explain why Lucardie’s alleged category of “democratic extremism” is illogical and should be rejected.

I do not find the book’s objections to what I propose to be convincing, but I do find them and Lucardie’s questions interesting and worth replying to. For example, he suggests that compared to popular election, citizen juries waste political talent. I explain, in response, why popular election massively wastes political talent compared to the citizen jury proposals I have made.

In the course of replying, I outline much of my position on citizen juries, including details I have not published before, such as some further details about why the final say in lawmaking needs to be transferred to legislative juries, and about juries deciding how public decision-makers are chosen.

Excerpt:

Lucardie observes that: “Obviously, it is rather inconvenient if one wants to write about a phenomenon [democratic extremism] that by definition cannot exist [because it is a contradiction in terms].” (14.) Lucardie then tries to define “democratic extremism” in a way that is not a contradiction in terms, but he does not succeed.
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Lysander Spooner, trial juries, and legislative juries

Lysander Spooner (1808-1887) was a prominent 19th century American legal theorist, abolitionist (abolition of slavery), and competitor with the U.S. Postal Service until they shut him down. A biography and collection of his work are here.

Spooner continues to be cited in the U.S., including for example by Justice Scalia writing for the Supreme Court majority in 2008 in District of Columbia v. Heller.

Spooner was a strong advocate of “jury nullification.” He argued that trial juries have the right and duty “to judge of the justice of the law, and to hold all laws invalid, that are, in their opinion, unjust or oppressive, and all persons guiltless in violating, or resisting the execution of, such laws.” (An Essay on the Trial by Jury, published in 1852, page 5.)

In the following passages Spooner is talking about trial juries. Although he never mentions the possibility of legislative juries, his line of reasoning is to a large extent strikingly applicable to them. By “legislative juries” I mean juries that can veto and repeal the laws the government passes, and pass laws the government does not support.[i]

Lysander Spooner (italics and bold are as in the original, block quote function not used because it may change everything quoted to italics):

“By such trials [where juries do not judge the law] the government will determine its own powers over the people, instead of the people’s determining their own liberties against the government; and it will be an entire delusion to talk, as for centuries we have done, of the trial by jury, as a ‘palladium of liberty,’ or as any protection to the people against the oppression and tyranny of the government.” (Ibid., 10.)

“The authority to judge what are the powers of the government, and what the liberties of the people, must necessarily be vested in one or the other of the parties themselves—the government, or the people; because there is no third party to whom it can be entrusted. If the authority be vested in the government, the government is absolute, and the people have no liberties except such as the government sees fit to indulge them with. If, on the other hand, that authority be vested in the people, then the people have all liberties, (as against the government,) except such as substantially the whole people (through a jury) choose to disclaim; and the government can exercise no power except such as substantially the whole people (through a jury) consent that it may exercise.” (Ibid., 10.)
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Ganesh Sitaraman’s sortition version of the Roman tribunes

Ganesh Sitaraman proposes a sortition version of the tribunes of the Roman Republic in his new book The Crisis of the Middle-Class Constitution: Why Economic Inequality Threatens Our Republic.

Angus Deaton, the Nobel Prize winning Princeton economist, describes the proposal in his review of the book in the New York Times (March 20, 2017):

Perhaps the least familiar and most intriguing policy proposal that Sitaraman discusses is the idea of reviving the Roman tribunate: 51 citizens would be selected by lot from the bottom 90 percent of the income distribution. They would be able to veto one statute, one executive order and one Supreme Court decision each year; they would be able to call a referendum, and impeach federal officials.

Such a proposal seems fanciful today, but so is campaign finance reform, or greater redistribution. Yet we do well to remember Milton Friedman’s dictum that it takes a crisis to bring real change, so that our job in the meantime is to develop alternatives to existing policies that are ready for when “the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable.”

Sitaraman is an associate law professor at Vanderbilt Law School.

Let citizen juries decide Canada’s election rules

My article in response to Justin Trudeau (Canada’s prime minister) breaking his electoral reform promise on February 1, and more generally about the absurdity of politicians deciding the rules they are elected under. (Trudeau, before and after the 2015 Canadian election repeatedly promised to make it the last one held under first-past-the-post.)

It is neither democratic nor desirable that the prime minister and the House of Commons keep deciding Canada’s election rules. There is a far better alternative.

In Classical Athens, the birthplace of Western democracy, much of the decision-making was done by juries chosen from the citizens by lottery. A modern version of Athenian juries could be used to decide election rules today.

Politicians should not decide the rules they are elected under because fair and democratic decision-making requires that those who decide do not have a conflict of interest. Election rules are far too important to our democracy to be compromised by the strong self-interest of politicians in rules that favour themselves.
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The Canadian Citizens’ Panel on Pharmacare Reports

A Citizens Panel on Pharmacare was held in Canada. From its webpage:

In October 2016, we invited 35 randomly selected Canadians to meet in Ottawa to consider whether there are better models that can improve access to prescription drugs.

Over five days, this group heard from a range of experts, examined different options, and, together, developed a clear set of recommendations for Canada’s health ministers and policy makers.

The panel’s report is here.

Note that although it says the 35 citizens are randomly selected, if you read further you can see that what they actually mean is that they were randomly selected from people who had volunteered to be on the panel. Some of the CBC news coverage of the report:

The panel’s research was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. A committee of clinicians, senior public servants and health researchers from across Canada oversaw the process.

[Emily] Dukeshire [of Calgary, one of the citizen panelists,] said she was impressed with the process. Panelists were randomly selected from about 1,000 representative people who had volunteered to take part in the process to advise policy-makers on drug coverage for Canadians.

“This whole process was really amazing that we were all so different and from all across the country, and yet we went through this process together and we were able to come up with core values that we all believed. We were able to define some issues and then come up with some solutions together,” Dukeshire said.

Other speakers included doctors, nurses, pharmacists, brand name and generic manufacturers, insurers, retailers, patients, public agencies, academics and former policy-makers.