Claude Sicard: Replacing representative democracy with participative democracy is dangerous, Part 1

A translation of an article from Le Figaro.

Replacing representative democracy with participative democracy is dangerous
Claude Sicard, economist and international consultant
July 6, 2020

Seeing his popularity ratings decline, Emmanuel Macron appeals to the French people for a reform. For this economist, the head of state’s seemingly bright idea is a mistake because making decisions concerning the future of a country requires thorough study and the assistance of experts.

Macron at the Citizen Convention for the Climate at the Élysée, June 29, 2020.

The distance in our country between civil society and the institutions never stops increasing. In every democratic system it is the law that the majority prevails: the dominant fraction imposes its will on the minority, and the electoral moment is decisive for the duration of the mandate of the elected representatives. These principles are increasingly questioned these days. Minorities are increasingly unwilling not to be heard, and moreover they too often observe that the elected do not always have the virtues which they claimed to have during the campaign. Pierre Rosanvallon, a noted researcher of democracy, tells us that we are seeing in our modern democracies the rise of the “people as a judge”. The “monitoring citizen”, he says, is replacing the “voting citizen”. In this way a tendency has developed in our modern societies toward the creation of “counter-democracies”.

CEVIPOF surveys confirm this claim: 70% of the French think that in our country democracy “does not function very well”, and assert that they have no confidence in the ability of members of parliament to address issues that the country is facing. The American political scientist Yascha Mounk, a Harvard professor, writes in his book The People vs. Democracy published in 2018 that “in North America and in Western Europe, a growing number of citizens are turning their backs on democracy: they are feeling that they have less and less influence over political decisions”.
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Deliberative assemblies are finding their feet – but also facing political barriers

On Friday the 16th of October, the Hannah Arendt Center at Bard College hosted a webinar entitled ‘Revitalizing Democracy: Sortition, Citizen Power, and Spaces of Freedom’, which you can watch here. The workshop heavily featured people putting sortition into practice right now, and so the overall focus was very much on deliberative assemblies in advisory roles, rather than non-deliberative juries or lawmaking roles. If you’d rather not spend the whole day watching a videoconference, here’s the CliffsNotes:

David Van Reybrouck, who gave one of the keynotes, helped design the new citizens’ council and assembly system in the parliament of the German-speaking region of Belgium – an area with only 76 000 citizens, but devolved powers similar to Scotland’s. The system involves a permanent citizens’ council and temporary citizens’ assemblies, both selected by sortition, as well as a permanent secretary who acts as a sort of ombudsman for the system. The council sets the agenda for the assemblies, and chases up their conclusions in the regional parliament – essentially acting as an official lobby group for the assemblies’ recommendations. Politicians have to report back to the council a year after each assembly, setting out how they’ve acted on their recommendations and, if they’ve deviated from them, why. In this respect it is a major step forward in the institutionalisation of sortition. Under the Belgian constitution, however, sortitional bodies cannot be given legislative power, so the assemblies are restricted to an advisory role until and unless momentum can be built for a constitutional amendment.

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People in “increasingly autocratic” regimes show confidence in “democracy” in their countries

The Centre for the Future of Democracy is based at Bennett Institute for Public Policy at the University of Cambridge aims “to explore the challenges and opportunities faced by democratic politics over the coming century”. Back in January, the Centre has published a report [PDF] titled “Global Satisfaction with Democracy 2020”. The report is based on what seems like a very useful data set created by combining multiple survey data sources comprising 3,500 surveys from many countries around the world over the years 1973 to 2020 asking citizens whether they are satisfied or dissatisfied with democracy in their countries.

The key findings are not surprising:

Across the globe, democracy is in a state of malaise. In the mid-1990s, a majority of citizens in countries for which we have time-series data – in North America, Latin America,Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Australasia – were satisfied with the performance of their democracies. Since then, the share of individuals who are “dissatisfied” with democracy has risen by around +10% points, from 47.9 to 57.5%.

This is the highest level of global dissatisfaction since the start of the series in 1995. After a large increase in civic dissatisfaction in the prior decade, 2019 represents the highest level of democratic discontent on record.The rise in democratic dissatisfaction has been especially sharp since 2005. The year that marks the beginning of the so-called “global democratic recession” is also the high point for global satisfaction with democracy, with just 38.7% of citizens dissatisfied in that year. Since then, the proportion of “dissatisfied” citizens has risen by almost one-fifth of the population (+18.8%).
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Jacquet, Niessen and Reuchamps: Sortition, its advocates and its critics

A new paper (full text) in International Political Science Review by Belgian academics Vincent Jacquet, Christoph Niessen and Min Reuchamps titled “Sortition, its advocates and its critics: An empirical analysis of citizens’ and MPs’ support for random selection as a democratic reform proposal” is a useful survey-based study comparing the attitudes of Belgian citizens towards sortition to those of Belgian MPs. As may be expected, and as can be seen in the figure above, MPs are much more reluctant than citizens to hand off power to allotted bodies.

Abstract: This article explores the prospects of an increasingly debated democratic reform: assigning political offices by lot. While this idea is advocated by political theorists and politicians in favour of participatory and deliberative democracy, the article investigates the extent to which citizens and MPs actually endorse different variants of ‘sortition’. We test for differences among respondents’ social status, disaffection with elections and political ideology. Our findings suggest that MPs are largely opposed to sortitioning political offices when their decision-making power is more than consultative, although leftist MPs tend to be in favour of mixed assemblies (involving elected and sortitioned members). Among citizens, random selection seems to appeal above all to disaffected individuals with a lower social status. The article ends with a discussion of the political prospects of sortition being introduced as a democratic reform.

60% of the French perceive the Citizen Climate Convention as legitimate

Soon after the release of the proposals of the French Citizen Climate Convention, the Elabe polling institute conducted a poll regarding the attitudes of the French population to the Convention. Like the Odoxa poll, the Elabe poll finds [PDF] that large majorities among the French see the convention’s work as useful and support most of the proposals. Notably, the proposal for a 4% tax on big businesses in order to invest in environmental transition – a proposal that was rejected by Macron – enjoys the support of 83% of those polled.

Most interestingly, the Elabe poll goes farther than the Odoxa poll in asking about the legitimacy of the Convention process itself rather than merely about its outcomes. By a margin of 60% to 39%, the French see the Convention as having legitimacy to make proposals in the name of all the citizens. Support is even higher among the young: 70% in the 25-34 age group and 78% in the 18-24 age group.

The French overwhelmingly support the proposals of the Climate Convention

An opinion poll conducted by the Odoxa polling institute after the release of the proposals of the French Citizen Climate Convention reveal that large majorities support the proposals made by the convention.

Among the top billed proposals, amending the constitution to include preservation of the environment was supported by 82% of those polled. 74% supported mandatory environmental retrofitting of buildings, and 52% supported the creation of “ecocide” as a new form of crime. On the other hand, the proposal to lower the speed limit on the freeway to 110 km/h was met with disapproval by 74% of those polled.

Generally, 62% of those who have heard of the proposals made by the Convention supported them, and majorities felt they were realistic and effective. While 81% of those polled supported putting the proposals to a referendum 73% believed that only a small part of them would be put into effect.

Wachtel: Let’s Choose Legislators Randomly from the Phone Book

Ted Wachtel is the founder of a political organization called “Building A New Reality“. He is a sortition advocate.

Testart on democracy, democratic debate and citizen power, Part 1

Jacques Testart, a prominent French biologist, is a long-time advocate for citizen power, especially as it concerns control of science-related issues. His work in this area stretches back decades. In 2002 Testart co-founded the Association for Citizen Sciences. In a 2017 interview (Le Comptoir, Part 1, Part 2), parts of which are translated below, Testart discusses democracy, public debate, and citizen control of science.

Science, such as economics, could be a carrier of truth because of its neutrality. However, among other examples, the basic axiom of the Work Law forced through, against the opinion of millions of workers affected, rests on a certain “scientific” concept of economics. This law is a good demonstration that this supposed neutrality which economics maintains is in fact such in the eyes of the minority in power alone. When the social contract is under stress, when the decision-makers prefer Capital over the people, it may be necessary to try and consider about how it is put together, in order to be able to improve democracy. Jacques Testart, formerly a research biologist and “father” of the first French test-tube baby, now devotes his time to this goal, notably through the Association for Citizen Sciences. With this in mind, he has recently published “Rêveries d’un chercheur solidaire“, “L’humanitude au pouvoir – Comment les citoyens peuvent décider du bien commun” and “Faire des enfants demain“. We went to meet him. In the first part we discussed the collapse of democracy, in which the flag barriers of Truth are thoroughly involved. The means for making democracy work are discussed in the second part.

Le Comptoir: We hear here and there that democracy is experiencing a “crisis” of representation. Due to the professionalization of politics, the elected are no longer (if they ever were) really representative of their voters, but are rather members of a political-media-financial oligarchy. What do you think?

Testart: That is obvious, yes. The problem is knowing if those who occupy the leadership circles are leaders or representatives. They consider themselves to be leaders because they are elected, and therefore have popular support. But originally, the rules of the game were aimed at – and things must get back to this – them being only representatives. They ability to initiate during their term should be limited by their initial mandate, accounting for unexpected developments. In no case should they be allowed to take decisions that do not conform to the promises for which they were elected. I believe this is a really fundamental point. It is this which dispirits a lot of people, politically, and leads them to abstain. It lead to the rise of the “everything is corrupt” attitude on which the extreme right prospers.

Le Comptoir: May we say that this crisis of representation is also due to an appalling lack of debate regarding issues regarding which there is a consensus among experts in media? I am thinking specifically regarding assisted reproductive technology and the barrage of articles published daily about new “advanced” technologies, presenting all manner of gadgets and announcing “revolutions” to come, from self-driving cars to the bionic prostheses.
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Americans support constitutional amendments replacing voting with lotteries

The chart below is excerpted from the results of an opinion survey conducted for “of by for” – an organization working “to get past parties and politicians and put everyday people front and center”. The organization has high profile sortition advocates such as Lawrence Lessig, James Fishkin and Jane Mansbridge as advisors.

Most Americans do not believe that government policies reflect the views of most Americans

A 2018 opinion poll by the Pew Research Center has quite a few useful findings about the perceptions of government and political parties by American citizens. Some highlights:

Democracy: Most Americans do not believe that government policies reflect the views of most Americans and most say that government is run by a few big interests. Yet most say that American democracy works very or somewhat well.


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