Random citizens’ panel to advise on German food policy

Julia Dahm writes in EURACTIV Germany about the decision by the German parliament to convene an allotted body to “bring the citizens’ perspective into the political debate” about food policy. Even at this early stage (the proposal was only adopted a few days ago), it seems all the expected elements of such a situation – familiar from the going-ons around the French Citizen Climate Convention, for example – are there: a government elected promising to act on a certain set of do-good principles, established powers pushing against any change, conservatives claiming that citizen assemblies are a sign of weakness and a shirking of authority, and the inevitable suspicions and accusation of manipulation by the organizers.

The German parliament has decided to launch a panel of randomly selected citizens set to advise lawmakers on food and nutrition policies, in an effort to help navigate the thorny issue of the state interfering in dietary choices.

The motion to set up a citizens’ panel on diets and nutrition had been tabled by the three government parties – the Social Democrats (SPD), the Greens, and the Liberals (FDP) – and was adopted by the Bundestag on Wednesday evening (10 May).

The first-ever citizens’ council put in place by the German parliament s set to “focus on the radical dietary changes that are already taking place in our day-to-day” and should “bring the citizens’ perspective into the political debate”.
Continue reading

Timo Rieg is skeptical about citizens’ councils

Below is an extended excerpt from a translation of a piece by Timo Rieg (originally in German).

Everything speaks for the drawing of lots – called “aleatoric democracy” as a method of social control, after the Latin word for dice “alea” and known, among other things, from Asterix: “Alea iacta est,” “the die is cast,” or in the classic German phrase “die Würfel sind gefallen.”

But precisely because everything speaks for the democratic drawing of lots, the current hype about citizens’ councils must make one skeptical. For the strengths of aleatory democracy are a frontal assault on the real ruling aristocracy.

In its egalitarianism, the drawing of lots takes no account whatsoever of party careers; it knows no hierarchy, no compulsory factions, no empty election promises. Parties and lobbyists may exist even in an aleatory democracy, but they would forfeit most of their current influence on public life as a whole.

Of course, it is not impossible that professional politicians in particular, some of whom have known for many decades about the insane autonomy of parties, might long for a change of system and therefore be open to experimentation (some politicians and ex-politicians have written entire books about this).

Good lobbyists could be trusted to convince drawn citizens of their positions; good lobbyists do not rely on political backrooms, on covert influence, on strong-arming. But there will be only a very small minority willing to give up their special role for the sake of a fair democracy.

It is therefore to be feared that some advocates of aleatory democratic citizen participation are wolves in sheep’s clothing. After all, hardly any of the protagonists of this new civil rights movement would like to make their own influence or their own (economic) advantages dependent on a lottery, which means: giving up special rights in favor of the general public.
Continue reading

Understanding the present by listening to the past: Walter Lippmann’s “The Public Philosophy”

I thought readers of this blog might be interested in a post I’ve just put on my own blog on Walter Lippmann’s The Public Philosophy. It does not directly reference sortition, but I think it’s an excellent illustration of the value that sortition can bring — and it provides a corroborative context for the ideas I sketched out here.


One way to get beneath the surface of what’s going on is to read people who were writing about issues as they emerged rather than in more modern times when they’d become the norm and become infused in our commonsense.

I was browsing in one of the few remaining second-hand bookshops around (as is my wont) when I came upon Walter Lippmann’s 1955 book, The public philosophy. Walter Lippmann was one of the great journalists and thinkers of the 20th century. He wrote a series of books that were landmarks in their day, despite uniformly bland titles. Public opinion. The good life. And this one — The public philosophy

Reading part 1. I was shocked to discover a critique of democracy that I had not really crystallised for myself. It comprehends two tendencies both of which are at their most disastrous in the avoidance of war on the one hand and the fighting of wars on the other.

In the first place there’s what I’ll call temporal mismatch. It can take an electorate years to catch up with emerging developments and so public opinion can be a disastrous guide to the exigencies of a particular situation. A further aspect of public opinion is its capacity for wild swings in sentiment which I’ll call temperamental amplification.

Lippmann explains how democracies wildly overshoot. They’re not good at avoiding war by preparing properly for it. It is easy to understand why that is. Wars are very expensive. So preparing for them is expensive too. That means that politicians get the choice between warning the electorate and preparing for war and winning elections. If they call for more military spending their democratic opponent will say that it can be handled without serious financial pain — either because the threat is overblown or because it can be managed via borrowing or some other evasively defined expedient.

Then as war looms larger, far greater sacrifice than would otherwise have been necessary is called for, alongside industrial scale demonisation of the enemy. We’re somewhat familiar with this narrative from WWII, but Lippmann extends it back to the insouciance of war before WWI, the imposition of the Carthaginian Peace of 1919 which in humiliating Germany made Round Two of the Great War all the more likely. (Lippmann became fast friends with Keynes when they were both in Versailles. Coming to terms with the cataclysm of that war and its peace burned itself deeply into both men’s thought.)

Of course, this is directly relevant to today’s circumstances where the economic hangover from both COVID and Europe’s first major war in eighty years is intensifying the scarcity of energy and food, and in so doing undermining living standards. A further demand is to get Ukraine the arms it needs to fight off the Russians — but that’s expensive too.

But how much are our political leaders leveling with their populations? They’re not of course. Because to do so they’d have to say something like “Here’s the plan. We need to reduce living standards compared to what they would otherwise be by 2-3%. Then their opponents will denounce this as the counsel of despair and incompetence and come out and say they can do all they need to do without such hardship.

An extract from Lippmann is over the fold.

Continue reading

Another Herefordshire citizen council letter to the editor

The Herefordshire citizen council for the climate has been the subject of a couple of critical letters to the editor of the Hereford Times last year. In a new letter, Frank Myers MBE from Ross-on-Wye is critical of the process as well, and in particular is unhappy about the fact that the identities of the members of the council are not made public.

Why won’t Herefordshire Council name Climate Assembly members?

LAST year a Citizen’s Climate Assembly was formed. Some 50 or so members were recruited and each were paid £300 for their participation.

The group was chosen, with the help of the infamous Sortition Foundation, in such a way that almost 90 per cent had preconceived concerns about climate change.

As we approach the local elections I think it is important to know how many of these people have put themselves forward for election for posts where they are paid nothing.

So I asked Herefordshire Council for their names and the council refused to disclose them.

So we are not allowed to know but Councillor Ellie Chowns, the leader of the Greens, who chaired the foundation proceedings, obviously knows their identity and has had the opportunity to share the Green message with them.

Is this democracy?

Varoufakis explains how citizen councils can revolutionize democracy

It was recently noted here that Yanis Varoufakis, former finance minister of Greece and leader of the Greek MeRA25 party, proposed a “monetary supervision jury” for controlling the central bank. It turns out that for Varoufakis citizen councils should serve in similar roles controlling public sector entities across the state bureaucracy.

A short clip on the YouTube channel of the DiEM25 movement shows a segment from a speech by Varoufakis in the Greek Parliament advocating for wide use of citizen councils, “mostly allotted but with elected members as well”. Varoufakis proposes that such bodies should select the managers of public sector organizations and monitor their performance. According to Varoufakis deliberative citizen councils would provide an alternative to both the corruption and inefficiency of capitalism and the corruption and inefficiency of statism by combining “the best of the state with civil society”.

Bertrand Russell on Athenian democracy

In his 1945 book History of Western Philosophy Betrand Russell writes the following (p. 74):

Athenian democracy, though it had the grave limitation of not including slaves or women, was in some respects more democratic than any modern system. Judges and most executive officers were chosen by lot, and served for short periods; they were thus average citizens like our jurymen, with the prejudices and lack of professionalism characteristic of average citizens.

It is remarkable that the reason given for the Athenian system being more democratic than modern systems is not the standard superficial argument about the Assembly voting directly on laws. Russell’s appeal to the fact that Athenian judges and officers had, as a result of being chosen by lot, the same outlook as the average citizen is an adumbration of Manin’s pure theory of elections (“the principle of distinction”).

Sintomer: The Government of Chance

French political scientist Yves Sintomer has published a new book dealing with sortition called The Government of Chance: Sortition and Democracy from Athens to the Present.

The publisher, Cambridge University Press, provides a(n apparently auto-translated) book description:

Electoral democracies are struggling. Sintomer, in this instructive book, argues for democratic innovations. One such innovation is using random selection to create citizen bodies with advisory or decisional political power. ‘Sortition’ has a long political history. Coupled with elections, it has represented an important yet often neglected dimension of Republican and democratic government, and has been reintroduced in the Global North, China and Mexico. The Government of Chance explores why sortation is returning, how it is coupled with deliberation, and why randomly selected ‘minipublics’ and citizens’ assemblies are flourishing. Relying on a growing international and interdisciplinary literature, Sintomer provides the first systematic and theoretical reconstruction of the government of chance from Athens to the present. At what conditions can it be rational? What lessons can be drawn from history? The Government of Chance therefore clarifies the democratic imaginaries at stake: deliberative, antipolitical, and radical, making a plaidoyer for the latter.

Continue reading

Seminar: CAs instead of elections?

Democracy Without Elections is sponsoring a seminar titled “Citizens’ Assemblies and Lottery Selection as the Democratic Alternative to Elections.” It will be led by Terry Bouricius who, along with David Schecter, developed the nested assemblies model that was the basis for their implementation in the Ostbelgien region of Belgium. Topics include:

  • Why elections don’t work
  • History of democratic lotteries (sortition)
  • Why replacing elections with lotteries does not work
  • Transition possibilities from elections to lotteries
  • Using lotteries in boards, co-ops, condo associations, etc.

In this 4 hour seminar, you can review what you know and deepen your knowledge. Invite other folks who may be interested!

It will be held on Saturday 8 April at 12:30pm Eastern, 9:30 am Pacific, 6:30 pm Central Europe. Sign up here in advance.

Goodbye Elections. Hello Democracy.

Goodbye Elections. Hello Democracy. is a documentary film being produced and directed by Adam Cronkright and expected to be released in 2024.

Goodbye Elections. Hello Democracy. tells the true story of 30 everyday Americans, selected by lottery, trying to find common ground on the most charged issue in the most divided state—while a bitter election rages around them.

The text on website seems to indicate, as does the title, that the film is taking a fairly radical attitude:

Why have I never heard of this?

Democratic lotteries have typically been pigeonholed in modern times as merely a way to inject public input into our current dysfunctional and distrusted political system, instead of being framed as a way to transform it.

For the first time ever, this film stands to change that.

Metaverse vs. Democracy

I’ve published an article that explores the current and future challenge that technology and the metaverse brings to elections. I believe I’m the first to explore the connection. I would appreciate any comments and suggestions, as well as collaborators in developing a more in-depth piece.

The in-depth piece would likely have 4 major perspectives:

  • psychology & emotions
  • history & current practices in US elections (possibly looking internationally?)
  • technology & the metaverse
  • introduction to CAs, culminating in nested CAs