Normal people are stupid. Stop Democratic Reforms before it’s too late!

Democracy by Lottery is a blog about sortition written by “John H”. Here are some excerpts from the latest post.

George Carlin once said, “Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that”. And it’s true. You, yes our lovely reader, are another random average person of the world, too stupid to think for themselves and too stupid to govern themselves.

The Status Quo ensures that normal people are not in control

Thank God for the American Republic, which ensures that normal, stupid people will have little to no influence on politics. According to Pew Research, 65% of foolish Americans believe that the federal government is doing too little to reduce the effects of climate change. A Yale 2020 survey also showed that 68% of ignorant Americans favored a revenue-neutral plan to “require fossil fuel companies to pay a carbon tax”.

Thankfully, our elected representatives keep the impassioned grumblings of stupid Americans from affecting policy. Smart and astute Congressmen continue to refuse to pass climate change and carbon taxation legislation. I’m sure these Congressmen have great reasons to delay and delay, because well, Congressmen are simply better than the rest of us. I patiently and enthusiastically wait for the great things Congress will pass, eventually!

Thomas Guénolé: Three problems, one solution

Thomas Guénolé is a French political scientist. Two of his books are La Mondialisation malheureuse (The Unhappy Globalization), published in 2016, and Le Livre noir de la mondialisation (The Black Book of Globalization), published in 2020. According to the Wikipedia, the latter book argues that globalization “as a worldwide system of production and distribution of resources” has been responsible over the years 1992 to 2017 for over 400 million deaths (mostly due to preventable or treatable diseases).

He writes the following in Marianne.

Contrary to a common, but unfounded, conception, the low turnout in parliamentary elections is not a sign of political apathy among voters. This is evident from the fact that turnout in presidential elections is consistently very high. In other words, presidential elections are of interest and all other elections are not. Rather than making voting mandatory, it is necessary to find a way to produce legitimate democratic assemblies, but without elections which are of low interest to the voters.

Allotting all assemblies resolves this problem. They would become truly representative. When using allotment to create a sample of the entire population the probability that this would be a faithfully representative sample of the whole is extremely high. In statistics this is called “pure random sampling”. Sortition would automatically produce assemblies that are truly representative of the French population. They would contain, for example, the same proportion of women, of retirees, of the unemployed, of workers, of young people, as in the population. This vast inflow of representatives, whose gender, age, and poverty normally keep them away from positions of power, would surely change how matters are discussed. At the same time, it is clear that in the presence of those directly affected by reform proposals, the discussions would have radically different tone and content, and would be much more concrete, as would be the proposals themselves that originate from these representatives.
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Can sortition help fend off the threat of “broader prosperity and rising wellbeing”?

“Democracy Rules”, a recently published book by Jan-Werner Müller, Roger Williams Straus Professor of Social Sciences at Princeton University, is another contribution to the “democratic crisis” genre:

They do not all look the same; plenty of differences are obvious. But group them together and they clearly make up one political family: Orbán, Erdogan, Kaczynski, Modi, undoubtedly ex-president Trump, perhaps Netanyahu, but Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro for sure. It is imperative to understand what is often described as a global trend in authoritarianism.

According to a review of the book in Financial Times, Müller is concerned about “performance legitimacy”:

As exemplified by China, that is the undemocratic bargain in which illiberal, one-party control is put up with in return for broader prosperity and rising wellbeing. Its appeal stirs fears that there are other attractive norms on offer and that history may not be cheering liberal democracy on.

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Defending Democracy

Anthoula Malkopoulou (Lund University) and I just published a paper in Constellations entitled “Allotted Chambers as Defenders of Democracy.” Here’s the first paragraph:

In this paper, we identify a problem—the problem of which actors should serve as defenders of democracy—and propose a solution to that problem—the creation of randomly selected citizen bodies, or allotted chambers (hereafter ACs). Having in place institutions that are tasked with democratic self-defense, is, we argue, a critically important pillar of democratic government, but its importance has often been neglected. This neglect is exacerbated by the evasive nature of the task that these democratic defense institutions are called to perform. Part of the problem is that the task of democratic self-defense is often mistakenly conceived as an ad hoc response to an occasional problem, rather than a routine task to which democracies should devote regular attention. Once the task of democratic self-defense is properly specified, the advantages of assigning this task to ACs, rather than courts or legislatures, become evident.

You can read it here: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/1467-8675.12580

Okazaki: Appointment and Sortition

Seiki Okazaki, Professor of political theory and comparative politics at Kyushu University, Japan, has written to share a summary of his new article, “Appointment and Sortition,” pubilshed in Law and Philosophy journal, No. 7, pp. 31–56.

I have recently published an article titled “Appointment and Sortition” in Japanese. It is one of the five contributions to Law and Philosophy, No. 7 (June 2021), which discuss ‘Just Lotteries’. Here I will summarize the arguments of my article.

As is well known, sortition has been generally discussed within the framework of ‘election and/or sortition.’ While I agree that the framework is still relevant, I am concerned that it limits the potential of sortition: Sortition tends to be applied mainly to the legislature and is mainly evaluated in terms of its contribution to democracy. If we liberate the concept of sortition from the framework, we can recognize two potentialities of sortition. First, the field of application is not limited to legislature: Sortition can be applied to administration and to the judiciary. Second, we will see that it has a liberal potential as well as a democratic potential: Sortition can contribute not only to citizen participation in power, but also to the restriction of political power (Oliver Dowlen’s book is important in this respect).
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The Swiss Council of States rejects sortition for judges

SwissInfo reports:

Like the National Council, the Council of States has rejected the initiative that would replace the selection of judges by election to their selection by sortition.

Submitted by the entrepreneur Adrian Gasser, the initiative “Appointment of federal judges by sortition” aims to make judges more independent. The candidates have to attain their high position based solely on their qualifications, even if they do not have a political network, according to the text of the initiative.

Selected by a a commission of experts, the judges would then be allotted in a way that the official languages would be fairly represented. They would be able to serve five years beyond the normal age of retirement.

Democratic legitimacy

The senators have implicitly rejected the text. The initiative contradicts the Swiss practice where judges are elected and enjoy democratic legitimacy, a principle that is incompatible with a random process, declared Beat Rieder, a member of the judiciary committee.

The existing system has proven itself. Andrea Caroni, the president of the commission, the idea must be “voting rather than rolling the dice, democracy rather than lottery”. Sortition would in no way guaranty more independence and more fairness, added Thomas Minder.

The choices of the members of the commission of experts would not be neutral either, added Carlo Sommaruga. And it would not necessarily be the best that would be designated due to chance, concurred Karin Keller-Sutter, the Minister of Justice. According to her, the initiative introduces a “foreign element” into our institutions.

A different proposal that was also discussed would have judges elected for life rather than facing periodic re-election. In practice, however, non-re-elections are very rare. This proposal was rejected as well. According to article, Andrea Caroni thinks that “parliament knows how to protect the judiciary institution”.

Consent of the Governed

A recent conversation with a friend about sortition illuminated for me a stumbling block in making the case for lotteries–at least for advocates in the United States. This friend was adamantly opposed to lotteries. We argued back and forth for some time. In exasperation, I finally asked her what was so special about elections. She said, “Because elections are the mechanisms by which we the people express our wishes.” It was problematic for her that random selection allowed her no say in who would be chosen to be on a given panel.

In the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson wrote of certain unalienable rights (life, liberty, etc.), arguing “… that to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men [sic], deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed …”

By this Jefferson meant that the people give permission to their representatives to rule over them. The disconnect for most of us is that our representatives often give preference to their donors over voters, making a mockery of consent. But to argue that elections provide only the illusion of consent does not answer the concern that a randomly selected policy making body would give people no say in who’s making the rules.

One answer to the concern would be a referendum wherein voters approve the creation of a randomly selected policy-making body. The Michigan redistricting commission—a thirteen-member body selected by lot—was established by a 2018 referendum amending the state’s constitution. The commission has the power to re-draw district lines, and it was created by popular consent—60% of Michigan voters approved the amendment: they removed power from an elected group (the state legislature) and entrusted it to a group selected by lot.
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Landemore: Open Democracy, part 11

This continues the review of Landemore’s treatment of objections to “open democracy” which makes up the last chapter of her book.

3. Tyranny of the majority

“For some readers”, Landemore says (p. 199),

the undemocratic, or at least counter-majoritarian, aspects of electoral, liberal democracy (aka representative democracy) are intended and desirable features, not problems to be solved.

Those readers

fear that promoting a purer democratic regime against electoral democracies risks undoing the minority rights protections built into the liberal core of the latter.

Landemore sees such fears as “legitimate”, but argues that

it is also entirely possible that, by starting with a liberal rather than a democratic framework, the founders of our modern “democracies” have turned the screw too tightly on the elements of popular rule that they have also tried to incorporate (while compounding that mistake by locking the design and throwing away the key with almost impossible-to-revise constitutional entrenchments. (p. 200)

Josiah Ober is then credited with a “recent attempt at drawing a clearer distinction between democracy and liberalism” and approvingly described as having “thus begun to challenge the view that the tradition of political liberalism, and consequently representative government as its central emanation, is the only ideology or historic system that can protect at least certain individual rights and freedoms.” “Pre-liberal, non-representative democracy” – Landemore reassures her readers – “was not all that unstable or even as terribly ‘illiberal’ on the substance […] as is often feared.”
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Alpa Shah on democracy and sortition in India and globally

Alpa Shah is Professor of Anthropology at London School of Economics and Political Science, London, UK, where she also leads a research theme at the International Inequalities Institute. Her most recent book is Nightmarch: Among India’s Revolutionary Guerrillas (Hurst, 2018).

Shah has an article in a special issue of Development and Change journal titled “What if We Selected our Leaders by Lottery? Democracy by Sortition, Liberal Elections and Communist Revolutionaries”.

Abstract:

What if we selected our leaders by lottery? Zooming out from the mud huts of indigenous communities in the forested hills of eastern India, this article compares three different models of leadership and democracy: liberal electoral democracy; Marxist‐Leninist Maoist democracy; and democracy by sortition — the random selection of rotating leaders. The significance of sortition is introduced into discussions of democracy in India (showing connections with practices in Nepal and China) as part of a broader attempt to make scholarship on South Asia more democratic. The author also re‐reads ideals of leadership among indigenous people, showing that we need a theoretical and practical vision arguing not for societies without leaders but for societies in which everyone may be a leader. In India, this compels us to push back against the critique of its indigenous communities for not producing leaders and enables a profound re‐reading of the history of subaltern anti‐colonial rebellions. The final aim of the article is to highlight the virtues of the potential of sortition in creating democratic society globally. How we think about democracy and leadership is thus turned on its head to provide a new vision for the future.

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Mansbridge: Beyond Adversary Democracy

An interview with Jane Mansbridge in the Harvard Gazette.

GAZETTE: How might we get citizens who are so polarized to listen to one another?

MANSBRIDGE: One proven practice is the technique of citizens’ assemblies or deliberative polls. These are groups of citizens drawn randomly, through a democratic lottery, from a particular population. It could be an entire country, a state, a city, or even a neighborhood, from which you bring together a group of citizens to talk about an issue that is of concern to their community. For this technique to be successful, the group has to be random, meaning that you have to have good representation from everyone, not just the white retirees who don’t have much to do and would love to come to this sort of thing. To get a random group, you ought to able to pay the participants because you want to be able to get the poor, the less educated, and people who, for one reason or another, would not give up a weekend otherwise to come together with other citizens to deliberate about some major issue.

GAZETTE: Have you participated in a citizens’ assembly? What was it like?
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