Kolokotronis: Citizen jury for a job guarantee program

Alexander Kolokotronis, writing on the progressive website TruthOut, proposes sortition as a tool for managing a job guarantee program:

Projected 2020 presidential candidates are getting behind a job guarantee (JG). […] If we believe everyone has a right to employment with a living wage, the question is how such guaranteed employment should be structured and designed.

One criticism is that a job guarantee would be overly top-down and perilously unmanageable. However, for years JG advocates have called for a relatively decentralized structure, with locally-oriented rollouts and processes. This is not a lip service counter to JG critics. There are real options for a democratically decentralized JG program. In a recent policy paper and proposal, economist Pavlina Tcherneva devoted a subsection to “participatory democracy,” explicitly citing processes like participatory budgeting (PB). Tcherneva went as far as to assert that participatory governance “is a likely a prerequisite” for the “long-term success” of a JG program.

Fortunately, there are existing participatory institutional forms and processes for JG advocates and implementers to draw on — processes and forms that will not only provide a universal right to employment, but a right to employment under democratic means.

The three participatory mechanisms Kolokotronis offers are participatory budgeting, sortition, and cooperatives. Below is the section about sortition. There are some interesting links on the original page.

How it works: There is growing advocacy and experimentation in “sortition” processes. These processes range from “deliberative polling” to “citizens’ assemblies,” “citizens’ juries” and “planning cells.” Common to all these sortition processes is an assembling of randomly selected individuals to design or review a policy. Advocates and theorists point to the use of sortition in Venice and ancient Athens. This has led some to refer to the wording of “random selection” as a slight mischaracterization. A sortition body operating as a “mini-public” is typically constituted according to a “fair cross-section” of demographic representation. Sortition bodies can operate within individual institutions like hospitals or schools. In sortition bodies, ordinary community members have taken on topics as complex as nuclear energy, GMOs and an array of environmental topics. In terms of scale, they can operate at municipal, statewide and national levels. Until recently, however, sortition bodies designed policy without a binding mechanism for legislation or agenda-setting.
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Rising Up With Sonali: David Van Reybrouck and Against Elections

David Van Reybrouck was recently interviewed by Sonali Kolhatkar on her show “Rising Up With Sonali” which is broadcast on a couple of public radio stations on the West Coast of the US. The Segment with Van Reybrouck starts about 35 minutes into the recording.

In the course of the interview Van Reybrouck gently points out to the interviewer that her proposals for reforming the electoral system, which are part of the standard reformist list of proposals (from which Ari Berman draws his proposals as well, for example), show no promise in fundamentally fixing the system, since they have been tried over and over worldwide without success.

Reybrouck explains to the New York Times that Against Elections is not really against elections

The crisis of electoralism (more commonly misleadingly referred to as “the crisis of democracy”) has been producing a stream of books warning about its dangers and proposing solutions. Ari Berman, a senior reporter at Mother Jones, a fellow at the Nation Institute and the author of “Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America”, reviews in the New York Times 4 of the books in the genre, with one of those books being David van Reybrouck’s Against Elections.

While the other three books, which according to the review offer no useful actionable remedies, are evaluated in generally appreciative terms (“comprehensive, enlightening and terrifyingly timely new book”, “hard to argue with [the] analysis”, “[the] book provides important insights into the present political moment”), van Reybrouck’s book is rather rudely dismissed:

Democracy is experiencing a “crisis of legitimacy,” writes Van Reybrouck, a Belgian cultural historian, who cites declining voter turnout, higher volatility in voter support and fewer people identifying with political parties. This is the fault not of politicians or the structure of the electoral system, but of elections themselves, Van Reybrouck says. “We have all become electoral fundamentalists, despising those elected but venerating elections.”

Van Reybrouck is a skilled polemicist, but his solutions to remedy “democratic fatigue syndrome” are naïve and unfeasible. Echoing the ancient Greek practice of drawing lots, he suggests replacing the American House of Representatives with a random sample of citizens, like a jury pool. That seems like an utterly impractical way to govern nowadays and reflects the same demonization of political experience that led the country to favor a reality television star over a former secretary of state in 2016.

Van Reybrouck fetishizes direct democracy, like citizens’ councils, but ignores the way existing electoral institutions could be made more responsive to the popular will through reforms like proportional representation or nonpartisan redistricting. The solution to democratic fatigue syndrome is to make elections more democratic, not to get rid of them altogether.

In response, van Reybrouck protests in a letter to the editor that he has been misunderstood:
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Suzuki: The solution we need is a system where politicians are drawn from a hat

Canadian scientist and environmentalist David Suzuki has given up on the electoral system and proposes to replace it with a sortition-based system. Some excerpts from an interview with the National Observer:

Q: Trudeau’s called the pipelines a “trade off” for the national carbon plan. Earlier this month, he was in Nanaimo saying we can both build Kinder Morgan and hit the Paris targets.

DS: That’s such a lot of bullshit! this is just political doublespeak: ‘We’ve got to keep burning more oil, more fossil fuels, in order to meet our reduction targets.’ What are you talking about? That’s such a crock of shit!

Q: So how can citizens hold our democratic leaders accountable?

DS: I was asked to give a talk to the Senate last year on the 150th anniversary of Canada. What I said is, ‘We elect people to run government, but their problem is they only look to the next election.’ They can’t look down and say, ‘Jesus, we have to spend $50 billion a year for the next fifteen years to deal with climate change,’ because they know someone else will take credit for it. They won’t be in office then. So that kind of view is not in their thinking.

So I said, ‘You guys are the Senate. You’re not elected. You’re appointed for life! You’re the ones to think of sober second thought, and think in terms of one generation, two generations from now. You’re the guys who should be doing that.’

They didn’t do a goddamn thing. But I really think that would be a huge opportunity, if we’ve got that bicameral system.
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Jury citoyen

The original post comes from: www.stochocratie.org. The post below is in French (for Yoram to practise :) but there is an English version here: http://www.stochocratie.org/2018/04/17/jury-citoyen.

La démocratie prend trop de temps au citoyen ordinaire et devrait être laissée à un petit nombre de personnes soigneusement sélectionnées. Telles étaient les pensées des fondateurs de nos démocraties modernes. Ils ont décidé que nous devrions élire les personnes qui détiennent le pouvoir entre leurs mains. La sélection aléatoire permettrait aux gens de décider pour eux-mêmes – beaucoup trop dangereux selon eux. Les fondateurs savaient que la sortition permettait la démocratie et que les élections favorisent l’aristocratie. C’est pour cette raison qu’ils ont choisi les élections. Mais décider en utilisant le hasard semble …. mmh…. aléatoire… Jury Citoyen ou Citizen Jury également appelé Minipublics se penche sur cette question.

Deux personnes qui ont proposé ou proposent d’utiliser plus souvent le Jury Populaire en politique. Segolène Royal et Loïc Blondiaux (source : Wikimedia).

Utiliser un dé pour décider serait stupide. Choisir au hasard une seule personne pour décider serait également stupide. Choisir quelques personnes – aussi peu que quinze personnes – pour donner un avis sur un sujet précis est une excellente idée. Les politologues et le grand public se penchent sur cette question dans de nombreux pays comme l’Irlande, le Canada, l’Australie, l’Islande ou la France. Partout les effets sont similaires : les personnes sélectionnées changent souvent d’avis après les longues discussions pendant les quelques week-ends où le rassemblement a lieu ; elles s’impliquent davantage dans la politique et prennent davantage conscience de l’intérêt publics. Partout, ils fournissent de nouvelles orientations qui peuvent être suivies ou non par les politiciens. Mais pourquoi ne peuvent-ils pas prendre des décisions exécutives ?

Les mini-publics sont trop souvent des boîtes noires. La sélection aléatoire se fait souvent derrière d’épais rideaux. De plus, il est facile de faire pression sur quinze personnes. Ces deux arguments réduisent de beaucoup la légitimité d’un Minipublic. Je plaide dans ce blog pour la transparence et propose des moyens de rendre la sélection aléatoire plus fluide. Il faut consulter des experts, le Minipublic a besoin de demander leurs avis, mais pas de les laisser décider quoi que ce soit. Les modérateurs/animateurs/facilitateurs jouent un rôle clé et devraient être sélectionnés en utilisant la sortition ;) Les politiciens professionnels et les journalistes affiliés adorent critiquer les membres du Jury populaire. Le Figaro a montré une photo des gens du Jury Populaire pour démontrer à quel point Nuit Debout était devenue farfelue.

Pourtant, ces jurys fournissent d’excellents avis et certains proposent que nous utilisions les Minipublics pour nommer nos dirigeants exécutifs. J’irai ici encore un peu plus loin, peut-être pourrions-nous utiliser les Minipublics pour prendre des décisions exécutives ?

The programmable voter, or, elections are not what they used to be

Mark Zuckerberg was hauled in front of Congress to answer for the “Cambridge Analytica scandal”. In the hearing he remorsefully promised that his top priority is now “making sure no one interferes in the various 2018 elections around the world”.

At face value this is a meaningless (and somewhat self-important) promise – there is nothing to distinguish “interference” from plain old campaign propaganda. And indeed at some level the whole spectacle was nothing more than a show – nothing concrete can be expected to be gained or lost. Presumably Facebook will make some changes to the way information (or misinformation) flows through its servers and the result will be that some pieces information (or misinformation) will be amplified and others suppressed. But, of course, Facebook already processes information in some way and this existing way also inevitably discriminates between pieces of information. What Facebook does or will do with the information it handles is completely up this private, unaccountable, opaque organization, motivated by its business and political interests, and there is thus little reason to expect any fairness or equality in the way it handles information. Thus no substantive change can be expected.
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A bold new trust-building project called a Community Solutions Panel

From the Byron Shire Council website:

Community Solutions Panel
What infrastructure spending should we prioritise, and how should we fund these priorities if the rates alone are not enough?

This is the question that Byron Council will put to a randomly selected group of 28 people as part of a bold new trust-building project called a Community Solutions Panel.

Council has chosen to work with the newDemocracy Foundation to see if a community deliberation can be designed which delivers an informed voice of everyday people.
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