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

Association Pour la Rotation Et la Sortition (L’APRES)

This post was written by NemoNihilis one of the co-founder of l’APRES (not my pseudonym). Come and visit our website https://sortition.fr

The goal of this association is to turn debates into discussions. Our objective is meta-political, that is to say we discuss the politic of how to do politic in order to promote diversity. We aim to provide tools for people fed up by a discourse monopolized by those who speak the loudest, or absent of the voices of those with less self assurance and crucially. We offer two solutions to these problems.

I. Rotating moderation

The moderator gives the floor to people asking to speak, or request to hear someone’s opinion. However, their work doesn’t end there and they can also choose to keep or change the topic(s) of discussion.

Traditionally, a group would elects a single moderator for the entire meeting, but our association proceeds differently. We rotate the role every X (often 20) minutes or less because the moderator can choose to end their mandate anytime even before it begins. It is then the turn of the person to their left to take over this role.

What about sortition in all of this? Continue reading

Macron’s vaccine ‘citizen panel’ is doomed to fail

A column by Keith Sutherland and Alex Kovner in the The Spectator:

France has a problem when it comes to the coronavirus vaccine. Emmanuel Macron’s administration has so far only given out around 5,000 vaccines, and France has one of the lowest levels of trust in the coronavirus vaccine in the world, with only 40 per cent of the public saying they want to be inoculated. Faced with this trust deficit, Macron has proposed a 35-member ‘citizen panel’ to oversee France’s vaccination programme. The body, made up of a random selection of French citizens, will be responsible for monitoring and advising the government when it comes to the vaccine roll-out.

Sortition in 2020

Continuing the series of yearly reviews appearing on this blog every December since 2010, in this post I review the 2020 sortition-related events that appear to me most significant or interesting. I invite readers to add their own reviews in posts or comments.

The most prominent sortition-related development of 2020 was without a doubt the work of the French Citizen Climate Convention. This body of 150 allotted citizens started its work in back in 2019 and has published its report in June. It received significant media attention in France even before it published its report, but public attention has intensified over the last 6 months. In fact one commentator was alarmed that discussion of sortition in France has reached pandemic proportions.

In the face of the expected pushback from elite groups, the French public has shown significant support for the CCC itself and for its recommendations. Toward the end of the year warnings have been raised about what appears to be the government’s attempts to abandon or water-down the implementation of the Convention’s proposals. In late breaking news, Macron has indicated that he is aiming to put constitutional changes aligned with the Convention’s proposals up for a referendum.

The work of the CCC and the aftermath of its report received scant coverage in the English-speaking media (with the sole exception of Equality-by-Lot).

At the same time, sortition made more modest progress in other countries as well. It was implemented or discussed in multiple contexts in Germany: 1, 2, 3, 4. Sortition was also implemented or proposed in Switzerland, Belgium, Greece, the United States, and Scotland.

In the United States, sortition got some fairly high profile exposure by Malcolm Gladwell (1, 2). On three different occasions sortition was proposed by undergraduate students as a replacement for the electoral system. It was also proposed as a way to achieve citizen oversight over the police.

Finally, two sortition-related books of interest were published this year. One is a hefty report published by the OECD on “Innovative Citizen Participation”. The report makes a historical summary of hundreds of cases of citizen participation in government, draws its conclusions and makes recommendations. The second book is by notorious sortition activist Paul Rosenfeld. In stark contrast to the OECD publication, Rosenfeld’s book, a combination of an autobiography and a sortition manifesto, makes for an easy and entertaining afternoon read.

Democracy Without Elections Board Selected by Lottery

A news release by Democracy Without Elections.

Directors for national board selected by lottery

The advocacy group “Democracy Without Elections” has decided to practice what it preaches and select its entire Board of Directors by lottery. Using a lottery, Democracy Without Elections (www.DemocracyWithoutElections.org) is able to form a diverse board and include input from less active members. The new Board, with Directors from across the country, will meet online later this month.

Democracy Without Elections is a grassroots member-driven organization that promotes better decision-making across all levels of government and in organizations ranging from Boards of Directors to student government. The use of democratic lotteries to select the decision-makers coupled with deliberation as the process to make the decisions are the hallmark of the group.

The organization specifically advocates for democratic lotteries to be used to select members in legislative bodies like Congress. The group also supports making fundamental changes in the way those bodies operate: replacing lobbyists, coalitions and partisan politics with deliberation.

Democracy Without Elections is a proponent of citizens’ assemblies as well. Citizens’ Assemblies are lottery-selected deliberative groups which make recommendations to legislative bodies. Each citizens’ assembly is tasked with one challenging issue like abortion or a specific ballot initiative.

The organization has members from Alaska to Florida and from New England to California. We welcome new members who can join us at www.DemocracyWithoutElections.org. We hold monthly online meetings that include relevant guest speakers and reports from Interest Groups.

The French Citizen Climate Convention: a provisional analysis

It has been about 5 months since the French Citizen Climate Convention has published its proposals, and with acrimony setting in about the de-facto shelving of much of its work, various conclusions are being drawn about the CCC process. As usual, the conclusions almost invariably confirm the existing notions of the analyst. My analysis is no different in this sense: it seems to me that to a large extent each party to the process has played its expected role and thus the outcomes are quite predictable. I will highlight however two points that have been established empirically that should not have been taken for granted regarding how things would turn out.

Here are points about the CCC process that in my opinion are worth noting:

1. The process was launched as a government response to the Gilets Jaunes, a mass movement whose agenda was not just anti-government but also anti-electoralist. A popular initiative process (Referendum d’initiative citoyenne, or RIC) and to a lesser extent sortition were a major part of the discourse of the Gilets Jaunes. The rise of the Gilets Jaunes movement was triggered by what the government presented as environmentalist policy – increasing the gas tax. Thus having a non-electoralist process for generating environmental policy proposals was a direct capitulation to GJ demands. This origin of the body as a direct, stop-gap response to mass protest is very different from the origins of other allotted bodies, such as the Irish constitutional conventions. Such bodies, even if they were in some way a response to public disaffection with the status quo, were constituted in a much more carefully controlled manner by established power.
Continue reading

Carolan: Ireland’s Constitutional Convention: Behind the hype about citizen-led constitutional change

A 2015 paper by Eoin Carolan, Professor and Director of the Centre for Constitutional Studies at University College Dublin, takes a skeptical look at the conventional claims around Ireland’s Constitutional Convention which led to the legalization of same-sex marriage. (Note that later there was also a different allotted body constituted in 2016 which was called a “Citizens’ Assembly” and which led to the legalization of abortion.)

The article suffers from the standard pro-status-quo bias of showing no recognition of the urgency of the need to address the problems with the existing system. As usual, recognition of problems with the established system is phrased in terms of “public perception”, “disenchantment”, “disillusionment” and a “crisis of confidence”, rather than in terms of the facts of ongoing consistent systemic atrocious policy. Thus, while the paper rightly subjects the Convention process to a series of critical examinations, it seems to assume that the status quo is a legitimate default alternative. That said, I find that the article asks good questions, makes good observations and is generally very useful.

Abstract

Ireland’s Constitutional Convention is one of a number of recent examples of ordinary citizens becoming involved in constitution-making processes. These participatory experiments are often praised by democratic scholars. That has been the case with the Convention, which has already been cited as an example for any future process of constitutional change in Britain. This article argues that the Irish experience has been oversold. The process in fact suffered from a number of serious limitations that undermine its claims to either representative or deliberative legitimacy. The approach taken to its composition, agenda, expert advice and evidence was problematic in several respects: opaque, apparently ad hoc and with inadequate attention to the risks of bias and manipulation by elite actors. The Irish experience provides a warning about how the symbolic value of the ordinary citizen can be exploited for political purposes.

Extinction Rebellion claims the Scottish Citizens’ Assembly on the climate is rigged

The Scottish Citizens’ Assembly on the Climate Emergency is an allotted body created by the 2019 Climate Act that is mandated to answer the question “How should Scotland change to tackle the climate emergency in a fair and effective way?”.

The Extinction Rebellion organization was part of the process of setting up this body and its procedures. It has now quit the process claiming that the process has been rigged. “Rather than enabling a full spectrum of opinions to be heard, so people can come to their own conclusions, and make their own assessment of the value of current policy and targets, business as usual has been allowed to creep in and then take over.”

In an op-ed written by Extinction Rebellion members, they explain that civil servants have control over the design of the proceedings and those civil servants are happy with the status quo. In terms of how the rigging is done, they say:

Deliberations won’t be allowed to start until people have fully understood the difference between adaptation and mitigation responses, and the different government policy frameworks at a national and international level.

Those of us who have been talking about climate in different communities for years know very well this background understanding is not only not necessary – there’s a huge risk of disengagement from the very people we need to hear from.

People need to understand enough of the science, especially in terms of real-world impacts, but then need to judge for themselves the effectiveness or otherwise of our response so far: have the powerful’s many fine words led to any changes on the ground?

Sicard: Replacing representative democracy with participative democracy is dangerous, Part 2/2

This is the second and final part of a translation of an article by Claude Sicard published in July 2020 in Le Figaro. The first part is here.

In order to put an end to the Gilets Jaunes revolt, Macron embarked in January 2019 upon what he called the “Great National Conversation”. This has consisted of organizing huge meetings in city halls with the participation of mayors and the local elected politicians, and urging the population to share their comments in person in during the meetings or through an online platform. Macron himself made many animated appearances in these meetings all over the country, which usually lasted more than four hours. Macron would take off his jacket and respond to all the questions addressed to him. Meetings took place in more than 10,000 municipalities, and 1.9 million comments were made. The “Great Conversation” was concluded with a press conference on April 25th, 2019. On that occasion Macron said: “I wished to meet you in order to draw the main lessons from the Great National Conversation and to propose to the nation directions for a new way that our citizens are looking for, a new way for our republic”. He has described the Great Conversation as “an unprecedented exercise for contemporary democracies”. This was therefore a mass popular consultation whose goal was to orient the actions of public institutions over the coming years.

That was followed by a second step. Following the coronavirus crisis, on May 25th, the “Health Conference at Ségur”. The crisis required great dedication from health professionals in order to make up for grave weaknesses of our public hospital system. It was therefore necessary to take their many demands into account without any further delay. Macron saw himself as forced to try to address as well as possible those demands, having been the first praise the exceptional dedication of the health personnel during the crisis, going as far as calling the first responders “national heros”. Macron initiated another great consultation, this time among 300 principal actor in the health sector. This was a second exercise, then, in participative democracy. The goal of this consultation was particularly ambitious. The prime minister defined it as follows in his opening speach: “To construct together the future of the hospital, to heal a system that was blocked and impoverished, and build a new health system organization in each territory”. The participants were given an incredibly short period for reforming our public health system: a month and a half at the most.
Continue reading