Kolokotronis: Citizen jury for a job guarantee program

Alexander Kolokotronis, writing on the progressive website TruthOut, proposes sortition as a tool for managing a job guarantee program:

Projected 2020 presidential candidates are getting behind a job guarantee (JG). […] If we believe everyone has a right to employment with a living wage, the question is how such guaranteed employment should be structured and designed.

One criticism is that a job guarantee would be overly top-down and perilously unmanageable. However, for years JG advocates have called for a relatively decentralized structure, with locally-oriented rollouts and processes. This is not a lip service counter to JG critics. There are real options for a democratically decentralized JG program. In a recent policy paper and proposal, economist Pavlina Tcherneva devoted a subsection to “participatory democracy,” explicitly citing processes like participatory budgeting (PB). Tcherneva went as far as to assert that participatory governance “is a likely a prerequisite” for the “long-term success” of a JG program.

Fortunately, there are existing participatory institutional forms and processes for JG advocates and implementers to draw on — processes and forms that will not only provide a universal right to employment, but a right to employment under democratic means.

The three participatory mechanisms Kolokotronis offers are participatory budgeting, sortition, and cooperatives. Below is the section about sortition. There are some interesting links on the original page.

How it works: There is growing advocacy and experimentation in “sortition” processes. These processes range from “deliberative polling” to “citizens’ assemblies,” “citizens’ juries” and “planning cells.” Common to all these sortition processes is an assembling of randomly selected individuals to design or review a policy. Advocates and theorists point to the use of sortition in Venice and ancient Athens. This has led some to refer to the wording of “random selection” as a slight mischaracterization. A sortition body operating as a “mini-public” is typically constituted according to a “fair cross-section” of demographic representation. Sortition bodies can operate within individual institutions like hospitals or schools. In sortition bodies, ordinary community members have taken on topics as complex as nuclear energy, GMOs and an array of environmental topics. In terms of scale, they can operate at municipal, statewide and national levels. Until recently, however, sortition bodies designed policy without a binding mechanism for legislation or agenda-setting.
Continue reading

Rising Up With Sonali: David Van Reybrouck and Against Elections

David Van Reybrouck was recently interviewed by Sonali Kolhatkar on her show “Rising Up With Sonali” which is broadcast on a couple of public radio stations on the West Coast of the US. The Segment with Van Reybrouck starts about 35 minutes into the recording.

In the course of the interview Van Reybrouck gently points out to the interviewer that her proposals for reforming the electoral system, which are part of the standard reformist list of proposals (from which Ari Berman draws his proposals as well, for example), show no promise in fundamentally fixing the system, since they have been tried over and over worldwide without success.

Reybrouck explains to the New York Times that Against Elections is not really against elections

The crisis of electoralism (more commonly misleadingly referred to as “the crisis of democracy”) has been producing a stream of books warning about its dangers and proposing solutions. Ari Berman, a senior reporter at Mother Jones, a fellow at the Nation Institute and the author of “Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America”, reviews in the New York Times 4 of the books in the genre, with one of those books being David van Reybrouck’s Against Elections.

While the other three books, which according to the review offer no useful actionable remedies, are evaluated in generally appreciative terms (“comprehensive, enlightening and terrifyingly timely new book”, “hard to argue with [the] analysis”, “[the] book provides important insights into the present political moment”), van Reybrouck’s book is rather rudely dismissed:

Democracy is experiencing a “crisis of legitimacy,” writes Van Reybrouck, a Belgian cultural historian, who cites declining voter turnout, higher volatility in voter support and fewer people identifying with political parties. This is the fault not of politicians or the structure of the electoral system, but of elections themselves, Van Reybrouck says. “We have all become electoral fundamentalists, despising those elected but venerating elections.”

Van Reybrouck is a skilled polemicist, but his solutions to remedy “democratic fatigue syndrome” are naïve and unfeasible. Echoing the ancient Greek practice of drawing lots, he suggests replacing the American House of Representatives with a random sample of citizens, like a jury pool. That seems like an utterly impractical way to govern nowadays and reflects the same demonization of political experience that led the country to favor a reality television star over a former secretary of state in 2016.

Van Reybrouck fetishizes direct democracy, like citizens’ councils, but ignores the way existing electoral institutions could be made more responsive to the popular will through reforms like proportional representation or nonpartisan redistricting. The solution to democratic fatigue syndrome is to make elections more democratic, not to get rid of them altogether.

In response, van Reybrouck protests in a letter to the editor that he has been misunderstood:
Continue reading

Stephen Boucher proposes “an EU Collective Intelligence Forum”

Stephen Boucher, managing director of Fondation EURACTIV, writes on Carnegie Europe, the website of Carnegie Endowment for International Peace:

Whatever the analytical debates over Europe’s democratic deficiencies, citizens certainly feel that EU decisionmaking is remote and often impenetrable. Unless some tangible and high-profile initiatives are forthcoming, the EU will remain more remote and complex for the average citizen than public authorities closer to home. Busy citizens will not engage with broader European politics unless they feel that their voices have a good chance of being heard.

The endless aim to “communicate Europe better” is one facet of this predicament. Despite the EU’s focus on glitzy communication gimmicks, dedicated television channels, enticing Facebook pages, and the promise of Citizens’ Dialogues in which EU commissioners meet with citizens around the member states, many Europeans frequently feel that they have little to no influence over this particular level of international governance.

To address this problem, Boucher offers some ideas, one of which is what he calls “an EU Collective Intelligence Forum”.

A yearly Deliberative Poll could be run on a matter of significance, ahead of key EU summits and possibly around the president of the commission’s State of the Union address. On the model of the first EU-wide Deliberative Poll, Tomorrow’s Europe, this event would bring together in Brussels a random sample of citizens from all twenty-seven EU member states, and enable them to discuss various social, economic, and foreign policy issues affecting the EU and its member states. This concept would have a number of advantages in terms of promoting democratic participation in EU affairs. By inviting a truly representative sample of citizens to deliberate on complex EU matters over a weekend, within the premises of the European Parliament, the European Parliament would be the focus of a high-profile event that would draw media attention.

But no need for the elites to be apprehensive. The idea is not to force popular decisions upon them, but rather the other way around – to make citizens see sense.
Continue reading

Suzuki: The solution we need is a system where politicians are drawn from a hat

Canadian scientist and environmentalist David Suzuki has given up on the electoral system and proposes to replace it with a sortition-based system. Some excerpts from an interview with the National Observer:

Q: Trudeau’s called the pipelines a “trade off” for the national carbon plan. Earlier this month, he was in Nanaimo saying we can both build Kinder Morgan and hit the Paris targets.

DS: That’s such a lot of bullshit! this is just political doublespeak: ‘We’ve got to keep burning more oil, more fossil fuels, in order to meet our reduction targets.’ What are you talking about? That’s such a crock of shit!

Q: So how can citizens hold our democratic leaders accountable?

DS: I was asked to give a talk to the Senate last year on the 150th anniversary of Canada. What I said is, ‘We elect people to run government, but their problem is they only look to the next election.’ They can’t look down and say, ‘Jesus, we have to spend $50 billion a year for the next fifteen years to deal with climate change,’ because they know someone else will take credit for it. They won’t be in office then. So that kind of view is not in their thinking.

So I said, ‘You guys are the Senate. You’re not elected. You’re appointed for life! You’re the ones to think of sober second thought, and think in terms of one generation, two generations from now. You’re the guys who should be doing that.’

They didn’t do a goddamn thing. But I really think that would be a huge opportunity, if we’ve got that bicameral system.
Continue reading

The programmable voter, or, elections are not what they used to be

Mark Zuckerberg was hauled in front of Congress to answer for the “Cambridge Analytica scandal”. In the hearing he remorsefully promised that his top priority is now “making sure no one interferes in the various 2018 elections around the world”.

At face value this is a meaningless (and somewhat self-important) promise – there is nothing to distinguish “interference” from plain old campaign propaganda. And indeed at some level the whole spectacle was nothing more than a show – nothing concrete can be expected to be gained or lost. Presumably Facebook will make some changes to the way information (or misinformation) flows through its servers and the result will be that some pieces information (or misinformation) will be amplified and others suppressed. But, of course, Facebook already processes information in some way and this existing way also inevitably discriminates between pieces of information. What Facebook does or will do with the information it handles is completely up this private, unaccountable, opaque organization, motivated by its business and political interests, and there is thus little reason to expect any fairness or equality in the way it handles information. Thus no substantive change can be expected.
Continue reading

Robin Cohen: Beating the Cambridge Analyticas

Robin Cohen, Senior Research Fellow at Kellogg College and Emeritus Professor of Development Studies at the University of Oxford, writes in OpenDemocracy about his concerns following the “Cambridge Analytica” scandal:

We are now all aware of how our electoral systems have been manipulated by harvesting our digital footprints and preferences. Targeted messages, images and false information are then deployed to support or denigrate particular candidates, with no verification and no disclosure of the source of the posts.

We need to change the game to outsmart the Cambridge Analyticas. The best way to do this is vastly to increase the pool of candidates, then select our representatives by lot. This is technically known at sortition, or demarchy.

The system has many advantages, but in this context it would make digital electoral fraud uneconomic and, indeed, pointless. Allocation of offices by lot now gets an increasingly respectful hearing from political theorists [See, for example, Peter Stone ‘Sortition, voting, and democratic equality’, Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy, 19 (3), 2016, 339-56, DOI: 10.1080/13698230.2016.1144858]. There is even a Sortition Foundation set up to promote the idea worldwide.

Here are just some of the advantages:

  • Corrupt, power-hungry or narcissistic politicians will be stopped in their tracks.
  • A public service ethic will be enhanced.
  • As the pool of talent will be massively enlarged there is a good chance that we will get better public servants compared with those who are self-selected or supported by special interest groups.
  • Party loyalties will be diminished, limiting block votes (whipping) and encouraging individual judgement.
  • Given random selection, our representatives will be more representative of the population. There will be no need for women-only shortlists or positive discrimination to include hitherto excluded minorities.

There are two obvious objections to sortition. First, unsuitable people might be drawn by lot. Second, it is generally acknowledged in the literature that the system works best in small communities or assemblies. How damaging are these objections?
Continue reading