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.

Bleg for research or contacts on sortition and egalitarianism

Hello to the Equality by Lot community and thanks to Yoram for inviting me to post here.

I’d be really grateful if anyone in the community could help me with something I’m trying to research. A critical question in many people’s minds in assessing the merit or otherwise of sortition based political deliberation is the way in which the conclusions deliberative groups chosen by sortition would differ from the conclusions arrived at after ‘deliberation’ as it occurs in the current system – via the mutual assured misrepresentation we see at the heart of most political campaigns.

Websites such as this one have extensive information on changes of view in individual deliberations in deliberative polling, but I’m interested in what writing has been done to try to characterise the kinds of changes that take place. The only stylised fact I have been able to glean from the literature and from researchers I’ve contacted is that sortition based deliberation tends to produce ‘swings’ towards more socially minded and cooperative conclusions – for instance people show themselves more prepared to pay for collective goods like environmental protection.

The question I’m particularly interested in, is whether deliberation amongst ordinary people tends to make them more supportive of egalitarian policies. To be specific, whether it would support policies to generate a more equal distribution of income and wealth than electoral democracy. It seems to me that it should, and that to some extent that is implied in more ‘social mindedness’ and preparedness to pay for collective goods but I’d be interested in any research or authorities anyone could point me to on the subject.

Cammack: Deliberation in Ancient Greek Assemblies

A paper by Daniela Cammack, Yale University:

When an ancient Greek dêmos (“people,” “assembly”) deliberated, what did it do? On one view, it engaged in a form of public conversation along the lines theorized by contemporary deliberative democrats; on another, a small number of “active” citizens debated before a much larger, more “passive” audience. On either account, deliberation is represented as an external, speech-centered activity rather than an internal, thought-centered one. The democratic ideal, it is argued, was at least occasional participation in public speech.

This article questions that interpretation. A study of βουλεύομαι, “deliberate,” from Homer to Aristotle reveals three models of deliberation: internal, dialogical, and a partial combination that I shall call “guided,” in which speaking and deliberating were performed by advisers and decision-makers respectively. Assembly deliberation was almost always represented as guided deliberation. The dêmos—which is to say the audience—deliberated (ἐβουλεύετο), while those who spoke before it advised (συνεβούλευσε). Citizens thus did not fall short of a democratic ideal when they did not speak publicly. To the contrary, internal reflection, culminating in a vote, was precisely how the dêmos was expected to exercise its authority. The implications for our conceptualization of ancient Greek democracy are significant.

Full text

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.
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Video of Workshop on Citizens Juries and Sortition

This past March, a deep-dive workshop on Citizens Juries, Citizens Assemblies, and sortition was put on by members of Democracy R&D at the Innovations in Participatory Democracy Conference in Phoenix, Arizona. I have posted the full video recording of the workshop as a playlist on YouTube.

The full-day event was geared toward practitioners and included:

  • An overview of sortition and its increasing use around the world by David Schecter (newDemocracy Foundation) – Part 1
  • A walk-through of how to convene Citizens Juries by Kyle Bozentko (Jefferson Center) – Part 2
  • A discussion about the challenges of trying to scale sortition-based practices like Oregon’s Citizens Initiative Review without losing integrity of the process, led by Tyrone Reitman (Policy Jury Group and formerly Healthy Democracy) – Part 3
  • Engaging Q&A with people working in different contexts and countries – in all videos and especially Part 4

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?
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It’s the Economy, (not) stupid!

I’ve never met Paul Wyatt – who describes himself as a self-producing filmmaker and media consultant. I’ve admired his work from a distance though, both as an inspiration for my own efforts to transform myself into a multi-media journalist and also for the subject matter he’s currently focused on.

I’m highlighting his work to Equality by Lot readers as you may be able to help him – right now – to raise some money to promote the cause of random selection and deliberation as it relates to economic policy. The challenge he’s facing is directly relevant to EbL readers. You are people, I assume, who are intent on spreading awareness and best practice of sortition in its different forms.

If Paul gets the money, and completes his film, we’ll all have a tool to help us argue the case for citizens to get a stronger voice in directing economic policy.

That’s why I’m spending some of my time writing this blog post.

Paul is crowdfunding for the money to complete a film on the RSA’s Citizens’ Economic Council.

The RSA programme gave randomly selected British citizens a non-binding say on national economic policy, and influence over the future of the UK economy.

So far, so so, you demanding EbL readers would say. You’d be right, of course, the Council conclusions didn’t oblige any policy maker to do anything with those findings, regardless of how good they might have been. Not at all best practice in sortition land but not catastrophically bad either.

The RSA initiative has had some heavyweight endorsement from the likes of Andrew Haldane, Chief Economist at the Bank of England. Who knows how far its recommendations will make it through the mechanisms of government and public policy? Perhaps its best legacy will be to move the debate and practices forward for others to then pick them up in turn.

Paul secured an RSA commission to document this event – something he did with skill and style in the short film shown below. You can access the kickstarter campaign via this link, and share it far and wide to your networks.