EPSA

The 2019 Annual Meeting of the European Political Science Association (EPSA) will be held on 20-22 June in Belfast next year. I’m organizing the Political Theory panels for this meeting. I know there are plans afoot to organize one on sortition and related democratic institutions, as well as another democratic theory panel (on epistemology and democracy). Unfortunately, the deadline is a bit tight–17 December. (I meant to post about this earlier, but was distracted by other matters. Apologies.)

If you might be interested in joining one of these panels, please drop me a line ASAP. (Or just go ahead and propose a paper–I can add you to a panel later.) The website for the meeting is at

http://www.epsanet.org/conference-2019/

Thanks!

Citizens’ chambers: towards an activism of selection by lot

In a paper, previously linked to on this blog, James Fishkin identifies some potential shortcomings of citizen’s chambers which justify his own preference for ad hoc, and temporary citizens’ panels. I think he makes some good points. I think his arguments need further exploration which I do in the first half of this post before articulating a more general unease at where Fishkin and many protagonists of sortition are coming from.

His central concerns with a citizen’s chamber are that it might:

  • have insufficient technical expertise
  • be susceptible to corruption and
  • not maintain the high quality “conditions for deliberation” that have been achieved in more ad hoc citizens’ juries.

These are legitimate concerns. But they have a ‘theoretical’ ring to me. Firstly Fishkin doesn’t provide much evidence that these problems would arise or if they did how bad they’d be. Secondly, he also fails to compare the likely problems with existing similar problems in the existing chambers. I’ll go through these arguments regarding each of the claims in a little more detail below before proceeding to my more general concern.

Technical expertise

If someone can suggest a means by which one or two hundred people can represent the polity and not lack expertise in all the functions of government, I’ll be interested to hear it. Perhaps a random selection from the great unwashed will be less technically expert than elected representatives. For instance, in wealthy countries today, over 90 percent of elected political representatives are university educated compared with around half the population. But that greater level of education comes with its own blind spots as we’re discovering. Moreover, a university graduate in law or psychology won’t be much help in steering fiscal policy and in that regard, the people’s elected representatives often rely in such matters on delegation to independent experts and being advised by experts. But this comes with the territory.
Continue reading

Fishkin: Random Assemblies for Lawmaking? Prospects and Limits

James Fishkin’s contribution to the September 2017 workshop “Legislature by Lot” was titled “Random Assemblies for Lawmaking? Prospects and Limits”:

Abstract
A randomly selected microcosm of the people can usefully play an official role in the lawmaking process. However, there are serious issues to be confronted if such a random sample were to take on the role of a full-scale, full-time second chamber. Some skeptical considerations are detailed. There are also advantages to short convenings of such a sample to take on some of the roles of a second chamber. This article provides a response to the skeptical considerations. Precedents from ancient Athens show how such short-term convenings of a deliberating microcosm can be positioned before, during, or after other elements of the lawmaking process. The article draws on experience from Deliberative Polling to show how this is both practical and productive for the lawmaking process.

Keywords
Athens, corruption, Deliberative Polling, elections, minipublics, nomothetai, representative democracy, sortition

In arguing for short term “Delibertive Polls”, Fishkin offers three problems with long-term allotted chambers: (1) lack of technical expertise, (2) potential for corruption, and (3) not maintaining what he calls “the conditions for deliberation”.
Continue reading

Southall: A proposal for using sortition in South Africa

A 2017 paper by Roger Southall in Politikon, the South African Journal of Political Studies, proposes applying sortition in South Africa.

The Case for Sortition: Tackling the Limitations of Democracy in South Africa

Roger Southall, University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa and the Department of Political Studies, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa

Abstract

This article considers how the erosion of democracy in South Africa since 1994 might be addressed through sortition, the random selection of citizens to perform public tasks. Drawing upon the recent essay outlining the case Against Elections by David Van Reybrouck [(2016). Against Elections: The Case for Democracy. London: Bodley Head], which paints liberal democracy as facilitating rule by elites, it argues for the appointment of sortition panels to consider reform of the electoral system. Sortition in South Africa could draw upon streams of participatory democracy experienced during the struggle against apartheid, and lead towards a more deliberative democracy.

Myth No. 2: Democracy is about electing representatives

In an article in The Washington Post, James Miller, professor of politics at the New School for Social Research, enumerates 5 myths about democracy. Here is myth #2:

Myth No. 2: Democracy is about electing representatives

In 2004, Stanford political scientist Larry Diamond defined democracy in terms familiar to most Americans. Among other things, it is “a political system for choosing and replacing the government through free and fair elections.” This view is echoed whenever an election rolls around. As one local paper’s editorial board wrote last year, “Democracy depends on citizens voting.” In Australia, voting is compulsory.

But this isn’t the only way to ensure the people’s input. Ancient Athens selected almost all significant officials not by voting but randomly, by drawing lots. This is how we select juries today, for the same reason: It nullifies the advantages of the wealthy and well-known, and it means a political order in which citizens engage in public life on equal terms, ratifying Aristotle’s conclusion that “from one point of view governors and governed are identical.” As Montesquieu wrote, “The suffrage by lot is natural to democracy, as that by choice is to aristocracy.”

Unger: We really don’t have much to lose!

Stephen Unger, formerly a professor of engineering at Columbia University has a short article proposing sortition as a replacement to elections with several points worth discussing:

Randomization:

Great care should be taken to ensure that the selection process is truly random. The method used should be very simple and transparent. No fancy technology. Note that every stage magician is expert at faking random choices.

Body size:

Assume that, in the new system, the legislative body consists of 200 randomly chosen citizens

Eligibility:

Assume that only American citizens at least 21 years old are eligible. Including a modest number of young people is desirable as they are likely to be more energetic, and it is worthwhile to have their views considered. Setting an upper age limit would be difficult. We might allow people over the age of 70 to decide for themselves whether they should be eligible for selection. There should be some minimal education requirement, such as limiting the selection to high school graduates.

Term of service:

What should be the term of office for the legislators? Too short a term would not give them enough time to learn the job. Too long a term would disrupt their lives, and/or make them feel too special, perhaps to the point that they were corrupted. One year seems like a good compromise–enough time to learn the job–but not likely to upset their lives too much.

Probably the most important problem that most people would face would be the disruption of the education and social lives of their children. High level professional athletes might suffer from a substantial layoff. Physicians might have problems–possibly interrupting the treatment of some patients. If the term of office did not exceed a year, this would not be all that bad, assuming special treatment for special cases. For example, we might have some minimal interval, say 3 months between selection and the start of service. Delaying start of service too much might open the door to people being corrupted. Let us assume a one-year term, which seems plausible.

Salary:

If we assume the salary of a member of congress would be about what it is today (of the order of $174,000 annually [7]), then this would be, for most people, very generous (median annual income of individual Americans is roughly $31K [8].) Wealthy people would probably not suffer too much–in most cases their incomes are largely from capital. Poor people would benefit substantially.

Selection of the executive:

The parliament might, as in most European countries, choose one of its members to be the chief executive (prime minister). But a one-year term might not be feasible, as it really isn’t enough time to master the job. It might be a good idea to have those completing their 1-year terms to elect one of their members, i.e., an outgoing member, to serve an additional year–or perhaps 2 years–as chief executive. Or maybe they should choose more freely from among the general population. This is a point that calls for more thinking.

Procedure for introduction and testing:

Sortition could be tested on a small scale by implementing it for some small municipalities. Then for governments of larger cities, then states, etc. Given the prevalence of scandals and failed governments, more and more people might be open to such experiments.

Vandamme: low expectations idealism

Pierre Etienne Vandamme of the Catholic University of Louvain writes [original in French, my translation]:

Why do we feel poorly represented? It is partly as you said. The politicians, the elected tend to resemble each other. Certainly, they come from a certain social class, etc. and because of that sortition is useful for diversification of our political representatives. But I find that we must also be suspicious of the tendency of the advocates of sortition to condemn elections and parties completely. I think that there may be a complementarity between elections and sortition which remains to be thought out. But I am very suspicious of the arguments that attribute all the problems of democracy to the faults of our representatives which do not care at all about our wishes. This is only true to a certain extent…

Most of those who are eventually disenchanted, believed in it [the electoral system, presumably. -YG]. They believed in a party, in a candidate and then they were disappointed. To me what seems useful is to defend an ideal of society that is totally different, wanting to change things, change society, change the world, and at the same time have a certain realism in the short term. To realize that the change is not going to happen today or tomorrow, that would be too much to expect and therefore not to have our hopes too high with each election. To say, we are going to try this party, or this candidate… We are going to see what they can do. Yes, they can make some small improvements or prevent things from getting worse. I believe that it is the only way to keep believing. But in parallel to this short term realism, it is necessary to be idealistic and tell ourselves that a different world is possible. Because otherwise, if we lose our faith in change, we are trapped by cynicism and unwillingly even become obstacles to change.