Landemore: Open Democracy, part 9

Chapter 7 of Open Democracy presents Hélène Landemore’s assessment of the constitution-writing process in Iceland that took place following the 2008 financial crisis. Landemore describes this process as “the first domino of the classic electoral democracy model to fall toward a more open democracy model at a national level”. This seems to me to be a highly over-optimistic assessment of the significance of the process. First, this process was a dud, its outcomes being eventually dismissed by the Icelandic parliament. But more importantly, this was conceived from the outset as a one-off process, not a fundamental change for how things are done. Furthermore, this one-off process dealt in very abstract subjects – phrasing articles of a constitution. By construction it was clear that would not be able to serve as template for the workings of anything like a sortition-based policy making body. The idea of radical democratization (by abolishing elections or at least creating a sortition-based co-equal chamber) was never on the agenda. Thus, the entire discussion in the chapter – and below in this post – should be understood in this light. This was not a momentous occasion whose outcomes did or could have affected how politics is done. The analysis is therefore mostly a theoretical exercise. (A detailed analysis of the workings of the French CCC – which dealt with setting practical policy – could be much more instructive in this sense.)

With this diminished significance, even a radically democratic process would hardly justify the notion that it would serve as a “first domino”. However, as the analysis below indicates, the process itself is far from living up to an aspiration as serving, if not as a template or a model of a democratic process, then at least as an inspiration. Landemore’s celebratory tone is wholly unwaranted.

As Landemore describes the Icelandic process, it had three innovative “open” aspects: the National Forum – an allotted body that met for one day and “established the main viewpoints and points of emphasis of the public concerning the organization of the country’s government and its constitution”, the assembly of amateurs – a body elected from among candidates that were not incumbent professional politicians and which was to draft a proposal for the constitution, and the crowdsourcing phase – an online platform on which the assembly of amateurs would post drafts of the constitution to which the public could post feedback comments on the platform itself or on social media platforms.
Continue reading

Rebooting Democracy candidate is running for Cambridge city council

Keith Garrett, co-founder of the Rebooting Democracy party (named after Manuel Arriaga’s book), is running for Cambridge city council. He was interviewed by Alya Zayed.

[Rebooting Democracy] puts forward a system whereby decisions are made by randomly selected members of the public, who discuss and deliberate the issues before coming to a decision, like a jury – a process known as ‘sortition’.

[Garrett] said: “I’ve stood before for the Green Party and nothing has changed. One of the key things in my life is climate change – although it’s not the focus of my party. I did everything I could and it makes no difference because you’re essentially trying to appeal to people in charge who have a set of vested interests. They’re career politicians. They’re interested in keeping their jobs and staying in that party machine.

“But actually, if you directly devolve decisions to a group of people, you give them true power, and it would solve most of our big world ills, like social inequality or climate change.”

He added: “You have deliberation, you talk, and you listen to each other. It’s ‘optimise’ not ‘compromise’. It’s about trying to find the best decision, not just the one that keeps everyone happy.”

If elected as councillor, he plans to use this kind of thinking to change the council’s decision making process.

Continue reading

Austria’s Climate Jury – A Mixed Effort

Austria has now joined the circle of democratically-minded countries planning a government-sponsored Climate Citizen Jury (“Klima-Bürger*innenrat”) to tackle climate change. This follows a national popular initiative signed by 380.000 citizens of election age. At this stage, the envisaged process and timing is still quite unclear, what little has transpired is a mixed bag of some good and regrettably also some bad.

What is clear is that this mini-public shall consist of 100 random citizens and be “representative” for the general electorate of 6.4 million. Two issues here: the target number is underpowered, for comparison, Austria’s parliament consists of 183 representatives. And seeking “representativeness” in these numbers is a turnoff for those who know about statistical sampling requirements needed for this highly elusive adjective. An unnecessary weakness, the use of the word “representative” is entirely unnecessary when a simply “stratified” jury will serve the democratic purpose perfectly fine.

Clear is that the jury shall be tasked – similar to France – “to discuss and elaborate specific proposals for political measures to reach climate neutrality by 2040”. As I have noted in this forum so often, this fashionable brief is doomed to fail, just as it failed in France. An institution composed of random citizen juries is simply out of its depth with such a broad task and of such complexity. Like in France, well-meant but half-baked proposals will not impress those knowledgeable of consequences or charged to implement them. The elaboration of political proposals should be part of an open innovation competition in which any citizen or organisation is entitled to compete. Only then it is the turn of citizen juries to hear two-sided expert testimony, to judge and select between these, a task to which they are perfectly suited.

For the recruiting plan there is some encouraging information. The ministry’s intention is to recruit these random citizens proactively instead of the problematic oversampling of activists. Proof in point: a hundred of the usual suspects have already knocked at the ministry’s door but were sent away with the promise of some parallel participation process.

Recruiting will be put into the hands of a professional social research institute after a public tender – although rumours have it that SORA Institut will get the contract, anyway. There seems to be awareness of the distortions resulting from low invitation vs. acceptance rates in France.

Whether the future selected institute knows how to ensure the correct stratification for a jury is up in the air. An indicator for methodic accuracy will be that the final jury should seat 6 signatories of the public initiative (380k / 6.4m) and 43 members which see an immediate need to act on climate protection, corresponding to the ex-ante percentage of the general public which do so, according to pollsters.

Nothing is known as of yet about deliberative process design, organisation and moderation.

Finally, the Citizen Jury’s “proposals” will be sent to a committee of national and regional government representatives. There is no information about any commitment or obligation to proceed with the proposals. Sadly, and in light of the unrealistic mission definition, this may be a lesser issue due to the likelihood of failure.

Here is to an article from an Austrian daily newspaper (in German language):

https://www.derstandard.at/story/2000125369666/klimapolitik-als-demokratisches-experiment-parlament-ebnet-weg-fuer-buergerrat

Waserman: What the Convention has brought to us is different from what government or Parliament would have produced

Sylvain Waserman is a representative from Bas-Rhin and the vice president of the French National Assembly. He is a member of Macron’s party, LREM. He published the following piece in the French Huffington Post.

The Climate Convention: a democratic innovation or a sign of crisis of the representative system?

The citizen climate convention tests our democratic model. It was born in an atmosphere of general skepticism, or even worse, a certain condescension. We kept hearing that sortition has no democratic legitimacy and that its place is only in the history books under the heading “Ancient Greece”.

Today the situation is quite the opposite: no one doubts anymore the value of the proposals formulated, and the only question is about knowing how those proposals will be implemented and if they are going to be implemented in full.

When the so-called “climate and resilience” bill arrived at the Assembly, numerous deputies expressed irritation and some opined that this signaled another decline in the status of Parliament and a negation of the role of its members.

Following the example of the citizen members of the Convention

Let’s be clear: what the Convention has brought to us is different from what either the government or the Parliament would have produced in a classic legislative process. Surely it is more audacious and truly different. Let’s have the humility to recognize that and the intelligence to see that as a virtue rather than as an affront. The best example is the text for the amendment of the first article of the Constitution. Few among us would have spontaneously proposed the bold formulation adopted by the Convention: “France guarantees the preservation of the environment and of biodiversity, and the struggle against global warming”. The term “guarantee” is vertiginous and could open the door to questions of constitutional priorities, leading to complex issues and giving constitutional judges wide discretion in invalidating laws which would not respect this guarantee. Indeed: Nicolas Hulot, a sincerely committed environmentalist, had proposed constitutional reforms that are judicially less risky and more convenient legalistically, such as “France acts in order to” or “committed to promote”.
Continue reading

Chevallier: The chic populism of participative democracy

A column by Arthur Chevallier in Le Point is yet another condemnation of the allotted committee monitoring the French vaccination campaign. The author sees the creation of the committee as a sign of weakness and hesitation. The government, he asserts, must act resolutely and dispose of attempts to over-communicate.

Chevallier is an editor at Passés composés and the author of the book “Napoléon et le Bonapartisme” published by Que sais-je ?.

The chic populism of participative democracy

Jan. 5, 2021

The allotment of 35 citizens to follow the vaccination campaign was aimed to be the perfect exercise in communication. It turned out to be the opposite.

Democracy is not about weakness. It is not about the promotion of amateurism. The creation of a committee of 35 allotted citizens which is supposed to follow the vaccination against Covid-19 invited mockery. What should have been proof of transparency turned into evidence of failure. If criticising the management of the crisis is less a matter of courage than of cynicism, since the matter is not as easy as it may seems, it is still necessary to denounce the unhealthy attempt to compensate for lack of efficacy by populism. Horizotalization of power is an illusion. Democracy did not gain its prominence by getting amateurs to run complex matters, but rather by its successes.

Without being aware of it, progressivism gives way to a stereotype of recationism. Since the 19th century, an ideology which may be called counter-revolutionary mocks democracy for being “feminie”, attaching to it labels such as the well-known “prostitute”, and hurling insults claiming that it is incapable of creating a powerful and harmonious state. History proves the opposite. Democracy is in fact quite often a radicalization of politics. In antiquity, Athens was at its height of power and imperialism at the 5th century BC, being its age where its democracy attained its most sophisticated form.
Continue reading

Facebook has created an oversight board that includes the former prime minister of Denmark — but how independent is it really?

Matthew Syed’s Sunday Times article led me to think this was a good case for appointment by random selection.

Facebook has long been one of the most powerful actors in the world. It can shut down the communication of presidents, censor information on a network that connects 2.8 billion monthly users, and spread fake news — inadvertently or otherwise — using algorithms that can shift the dynamics of democratic elections. But who controls Facebook?

This is a question that came into sharp focus last month when Donald Trump was shunted off the platform at much the same time that he was dropped from Twitter and YouTube. The companies cited violations of their terms of use and claimed that, as private institutions, they were not bound by First Amendment free speech obligations. Conservatives responded that it was intolerable that judgments on who could access the digital equivalent of the town square were determined by the woke sensibilities of a tiny group of West Coast billionaires.

Continue reading

Sortition has progressed, it seems, into the ridicule phase

As Mahatma Gandhi didn’t say:

First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you.

The fondness of the Macron administration for allotted bodies has prompted the following piece by the satirical site Francheinfo. Marlène Schiappa is Macron’s assistant minister in charge of citizenship.

Marlène Schiappa is going to allot 15 citizens for a free Brazilian hair straightening

Democracy above all else, like in ancient Greece, Marlène Schiappa has chosen to use sortition in order to select 15 citizens of all origins, religions and hair types as winners of Brazilian hair straightening at the Ans Brazil salon.

“Under current conditions, we must allow the French people to enjoy soft and silky hair, such as mine, all for a reasonable price as offered at Ans Brasil. This is first of all a matter of social justice. Whether one lives at Aulnay or at Poissy sur Brie, we must allow French people’s hair to be nourished from its tips to its roots, with a sufficient dose of keratin so that it does not become brittle,” explained the minister for citizenship and for the hair-growing areas of the skin.

Washington state climate assembly

Washington state is having a Climate Assembly.

While the rhetoric around the assembly is by now standard, the sortition methodology employed is interesting, and notably includes video documentation (above, starting about 11 minutes in) of the randomization process.

The WA Climate Assembly called 6,333 households via Random Digit Dialing (RDD) recruiting using a longtime RDD sample provider, Scientific Telephone Samples, for RDD sample development. These samples are based on assigned numbers (for landline) or billing zip codes (for cellphone) to ensure the numbers we targeted were within the target market for this assembly.

Once call recipients who were willing and able RSVP’ed to the WA Climate Assembly team, a volunteer team (Panelot) from Carnegie Melon University and Harvard University used an algorithm they developed to generate a list of 10,000 panel compositions. Each one of these panel compositions had a mix of 80 potential Assembly members that reflected the make-up of Washington State, including:

  • Approximately half men/women
  • Age range from 16+
  • Congressional district
  • Income level
  • Race/ethnicity
  • Education level
  • A range of opinions backed by earlier studies about whether global warming is happening; is caused mostly by human activities; and whether the individual is worried about global warming.

Continue reading

A government that resembles us?

A piece by Hervé Gardette in France Culture.

A gay man as the secretary of transportation, a Native American single mother as the secretary of the interior, a Black woman as vice president, a transgender person as assistant secretary of health, a Black general at the Pentagon, a person in her forties as secretary of commerce, and at the lead, a White man nearing 80 at the White House. Thus will look Joe Biden’s cabinet, if confirmed by the American Senate. A diversity in the executive that is supposed to best represent the population of the United States.

This is not the first time that an American government presents such diversity. In 2015 Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau used similar criteria to select his team, having for example a First Nations member holding the post of minister of justice and a member of the Sikh community being the minister of defense. A message addressed to the Canadians: this government is yours, it understands you because it resembles you.

The idea that political institutions should be representative of the population is not new, and it is not unique to North America (even if communitarianism is more developed there than here). The concern regarding the best representativity of power claims to be a response to the crisis of confidence in democracy: if the voters do not show up at the polls, it is because they don’t see themselves reflected in the people who represent them. So the near absence of workers in political decision-making positions has the consequence of demobilizing the electorate. The same goes for French people who are descended from immigrants and those (sometimes the same ones) who are from “diverse” backgrounds.

We may be in agreement with this idea, or may reject it in the name of universalism, but this is not the issue which I wish to discuss here. The question which I pose is this: what should the French government resemble if it is to be the most representative of the French society? If it is to resemble us? How many should be residents of Auvergnat? How many plumbers? How many should hold a community college degree?
Continue reading

20 Minutes: The vaccination collective starts its work

The French news website 20 Minutes reports on the allotted body that has recently been convened by the French government to monitor the Covid-19 vaccination campaign.

Vaccination: The collective of 35 allotted citizen starts working on Saturday

Laure Cometti, 15/01/2021

The 35 allotted citizens representing the diversity of the French, as announced by Emmanuel Macron, are going to have their first work meeting this Saturday.

  • The citizen collective, tasked at the end of November by Emmanuel Macron to guarantee the transparency of the government’s vaccination strategy, is going to start its work on Saturday
  • It is composed of 35 citizens who are supposed to reflect the diversity of the French population and the different points of view regarding the Covid-19 vaccine.
  • It will meet regularly and will be able to interview experts. Its mission is to express the concerns of the population and formulate recommendations for the executive in order to assure the success of the vaccination campaign, lasting until the autumn.

This innovation is aimed at responding to the mistrust of the French toward the Covid-19 vaccine, and more generally toward the management of the crisis by the government. On November 24th Macron announced that “a citizen collective” would be created in order to “involve” the population in the vaccination campaign. This group of 35 allotted French people is now in place and is going to have its first meeting this Saturday. But what will this body do and how will it function? 20 Minutes explores.

Is this group representative of the population?

Not exactly, but this sample aspires to be representative of the diversity of the Frenchpeople. Allotted through the telephone, under the guidance of the Economic, Social and Environmental Council (CESE), the group comprises 18 women and 17 men. According to the CESE, all ages are represented, as are all regions and types of localities (large and small cities, rural areas, etc.). The same goes for levels of education (covering everything from no degree to graduate degree) and occupations. Members include farmers, workers, retail tradespeople, senior executives, lower management as well as the unemployed and the retired.
Continue reading