Martin Wolf on Democratic Capitalism (and me as it turns out!)

Martin Wolf is talking up a storm on the crisis of democratic capitalism, and he’s supporting sortition as you can hear from around 11 minutes in where I’ve set it up to begin.

In case you’re interested, here’s the presentation he gave before the panel session recorded above.

Is allotted citizen representation a matter of importance for civilization?

The following is an article published by a newly created civil group in Belgium – Collectif Cap Démocratie (Democracy Direction Collective). Original in French.

Human organizations are never static. They always evolve in one way or another and our Western democracies are no exception to this rule. Thus they are being increasingly contested. How would we like to see them evolve? In the Swiss direction, or in Putin’s direction?

It is for us, the citizens, to choose and decide.

The best way to protect our democracy is to fundamentally improve it. This is the goal of our recently created Collectif Cap Démocratie. What we want is a democracy which is stronger, which is more aligned with its fundamental values and principles.

What is our complaint towards our leaders?

We are poorly represented

We, the citizens of Wallonia, feel we are no longer represented, or are poorly represented, by elected officials locked-in by a game between the parties, by electoralism and by a career which distances them from the general interest and the real concerns of the population.
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A sortition proposal in Sri Lanka

Over the last few years, Sri Lanka has been experiencing a prolonged economic crisis which has come to a head in 2022 leading to a political crisis. The following recent piece by Chandre Dharmawardana, a prominent Sri Lankan retired physicist, published in several Sri Lankan websites, offers sortition as a way to resolve the political crisis.

Using sortition to prevent electing of same crooks to parliament

The terrorism of the LTTE ended in May 2009, and most Sri Lankans looked forward to a dawn of peace, reconciliation and progress. Even Poongkothai Chandrahasan, the granddaughter of SJV Chelvanayagam could state that ‘what touched me the most that day was that these were poor people with no agenda wearing their feelings on their sleeves. Every single person I spoke to said to me, “The war is over, we are so happy”. They were not celebrating the defeat of the Tamils. They were celebrating the fact that now there would be peace in Sri Lanka’ (The Island, 23rd August 2009).

The dilemma faced by SL

Unfortunately, instead of peace, prosperity and reconciliation, a corrupt oligarchy made up of politicians from the two main parties of the period, namely the UNP, the SLFP, the JVP, their associated business tycoons and NGO bosses have evolved into a cabal of the rich who have hogged the power of parliament among themselves. The party names “UNP, SLFP, JVP” etc., have morphed into other forms, while the leaders concerned have changed adherence to the parties or made alliances with the ease of changing cutlery at a sumptuous banquet.

Periods of civil strife are also periods when corrupt cutthroats thrive, with illegal arms and money in the hands of those on both sides of the conflict who made a career out of the war.
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New second chamber could be filled using a process of random selection

Andrew Carruthers, a reader of the Scottish The National, writes the following in a letter to the editor:

THE Labour party has again proposed to scrap the House of Lords. This raises the question of what form a replacement House should take, not just in Westminster but also in a potentially independent Scotland.

The obvious answer is some form of democratically elected forum, as indeed Labour suggests. The Lords itself is unrepresentative and not a model to follow. But “democratically elected” systems also have problems. Not least is that most seats in any election do not change party, so most of the individuals “elected” are actually chosen by a small clique of the incumbent party’s faithful. In other words, they are jobs for the boys rather than being democratically responsive in any meaningful way.

A further issue is that the sort of people who put themselves forward as candidates may have laudable ambitions, but are not necessarily the sort of person you and I would actually prefer to be in charge. Clearly not every political hopeful is a self-seeking egomaniac, but the very fact that they are putting themselves forward will always raise a suspicion – just think Boris Johnson (but not for too long).
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Sortition in 2022

Equality-by-Lot’s traditional yearly review post.

The most significant piece of sortition-related news for 2021 had been, in my view, the finding that over a quarter of public in four Western European countries – the UK, France, Italy and Germany – supports using allotted bodies to systematically complement the work of parliament. This year, the most significant piece of sortition-related news was the findings of a wider-coverage poll, this time conducted in 15 Western European countries. According to this poll, in all those countries there is fairly strong popular support (~4 in a scale of 0 to 10 on average) for having “a group of randomly-selected citizens make decisions instead of politicians”.

But while popular support for sortition is strong, and while (well justified) concern in elite circles about the declining popularity of the elections-based system persists, it seems to me that 2022 has continued a down-trend in interest in sortition in elite circles, a down-trend that indicates a recovery from the heights of establishment hysteria about the “Crisis of Democracy” following Brexit, the election of Donald Trump and the Gilets Jaunes protest in France. Academics have continued publishing papers and opinions on the pros and cons of sortition (unfortunately often rehashing very well hashed material) but applications of sortition have been fading in prominence since the zenith of the French Citizen Convention for the Climate, and discussion of the idea in mass media has receded as well.

That said, there were certainly many notable pieces of news and opinion written about sortition over the last year. Pieces advocating for sortition and discussions of the subject that were mentioned this year on Equality-by-Lot included items from South Africa, the UK: 1, 2, the US: 1, 2 3, 4, 5, 6, Australia, Malaysia, Texas, US, France, Ireland, Utah, US, California, US, Pakistan, Pennsylvania, US, and Massachusetts, US.

Also this year, an allotted council on climate change in Herefordshire, UK generated a discussion about its cost as well as other aspects. A fairly prominent Australia politician,
Vicotr Kline, wrote a strident article advocating replacing elections with sortition, and an independent candidate for governor of Minnesota, US ran on a sortition-based platform. In the city of Petaluma, California, an allotted Citizens’ Assembly was convened to determine how to use a piece of public property, an assembly to discuss food policy was set up in Switzerland, and in the province of Trento, Italy, a bill was discussed for constituting a citizen assembly for reviewing municipal regulations.

Finally, this year saw the passing of citizen assembly pioneer, Ned Crosby.

Altaf: Getting out of the mess

Dr. Anjum Altaf is an economist and Dean of Social Sciences at the Lahore University of Management Sciences. The following are excerpts from an article Altaf recently published in the Pakistani newspaper Dawn.

THE big question Pakistanis must ask is how to get out of this disarray. By now, no one can deny that the country is in a huge mess, which is getting worse by the day. And it is getting worse because of the quality of its rulers. They are interested in nothing beyond their own interests; their only concern, while the country drowns and burns, is who will get to appoint the most important man who, they will then complain, does not allow them to do what needs to be done.

At this stage of terminal decline, there is no possibility of a normal recovery because of the state of the rot and the capability deficit to address it. Only radical solutions offer hope. Ideally, one would hope that the quarrelling rulers would realise the gravity of the catastrophe that threatens everyone and arrive at a consensual response, but that is extremely unlikely. In its absence, only popular demand can force their hand and save the country.

It is no longer possible to revert back to monarchy (though note how intelligently that has been employed in Malaysia) and dictatorship has time and again made things much worse. There is no alternative to popular rule, but we can certainly have a system where governance is truly by the people. There is a model for such an alternative called ‘sortition’, in which legislators are selected by lottery from the larger pool of adult citizens.

In ancient Athens, sortition was the method for appointing political officials and was deemed the principal characteristic of democracy by ensuring that all eligible citizens had an equal chance of holding public office. Unhealthy factionalism, the buying and selling of electables, and populist posturing is eliminated when assemblies are chosen by lottery. These representatives can then engage the experts they need for formulating policies.

This proposal is bound to be met with incredulity and scepticism. I can only point out that even today, in common-law systems, sortition is used to select prospective jurors who have a say over life-and-death decisions. Today, it is a life and death instance for Pakistan, and citizens need to take their governance in their own hands. There is no way they can do a worse job than the motley bunch of uncaring electables and strongmen to whom they have handed over their destiny.

Any extension of the status quo will reduce Pakistan to rubble. By the time the music stops, the lights will be out and there will be nothing to eat next year.

AI-enabled deliberative democracy

The proponents of “deliberative democracy” have spent decades dredging a this-but-that argumentative quagmire that has yielded nothing of either theoretical or practical value for democracy. One of the prolific underlying springs of sticky material for the quagmire has been the inherent contradiction between two dicta of “deliberative democracy”: mass participation and deliberation. It is very straightforward that masses cannot deliberate. Meaningful deliberation can occur in groups of at most a few hundreds of people (and even at this scale all-to-all deliberation could occur only under very favorable conditions).

Thus, “deliberative democracy” professionals can develop entire careers stirring, pouring and piling the sands of participation and deliberation without ever managing (or, it could be argued, without ever trying) to build any solid structure. Those of us who would suggest that both mass participation and deliberation are at best tools for good outcomes, rather than sacrosanct goals, are severely chastised for looking for illegitimate “shortcuts”.

Technology is one of the implements that have been routinely used to stir those sticky sands. Over and over again we have been promised that new information technology would allow democracy to go where it has never gone before. Mass education, remote participation, virtual mass discussions, crowd-sourced documents – these and many other unprecedented tools of democracy would be enabled by innovative technology. The fact that such promises go back to the advent of the radio (and probably much farther back) never discourages the prophets of mass participation from promising that the next technological innovation would be the one that would usher in democratic utopia where millions of voices would be heard by millions of people who all make meaningful – equally meaningful – contributions to decision making.

In the spirit of the times (or maybe a bit behind the times), the latest technology recruited to the cause of mass deliberation is Artificial Intelligence. Continue reading

Sortion [sic] on Chapo Trap House

Chapo Trap House is a popular American left-wing political podcast, with over 100,000 weekly listeners.

Wikipedia says the following about Chapo Trap House:

[Podcat co-host Will] Menaker has said that Chapo is meant to be in “marked contrast to the utterly humorless and bloodless path that leads many people with liberal or leftist proclivities into the trap of living in constant fear of offending some group that you’re not a part of, up to and including the ruling class.”

Sortition (mispronounced as “sortion”) made a brief appearance in episode #662 of the podcast, “The Queen” (about 46 minutes and 30 seconds into the show). Sortition is offered as part of a reform of the U.S. political system in which voting is used to select limited-tenure monarchs among celebrities, while “governing is actually carried out by permanent bureaucracies overseen by a rotating cast of essentially jury duty citizens”. The proposer did not indicate the rotation period of the “national service” but noted that, for that period, service would be considered as a full time job and would be paid accordingly.

Making research funding a lottery could help tackle ‘status bias’

Interesting article in the Financial Times.

The system of peer review tends to favour established names and institutions

By Anjana Ahujaa. The writer is a science commentator.

Star names wield an outsize influence over research, as well as in sport and entertainment. A recent analysis revealed that a research paper written jointly by a Nobel laureate and a novice was rejected by 65 per cent of reviewers when only the novice’s name was made visible as the corresponding author — but by just 23 per cent if the laureate’s name was used instead.

One might argue that “status bias”, also called the Matthew effect, makes for a reasonable short-cut in decision-making, given that prizes are one benchmark of quality.

But findings like these chime with persistent concerns that established names and institutions are unfairly crowding out newer research talent when it comes to publishing papers and winning grants. Now, two UK funding agencies, the British Academy and the Natural Environment Research Council, will try to counter that bias by awarding some of their research grants by lottery.
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Hansen: ancient and modern democracy

In a recent article Dr. Polyvia Parara made reference to a 2005 book by Mogens Herman Hansen, The Tradition of Ancient Greek Democracy and its Importance for Modern Democracy. It turns out this book is available online.

As always, Hansen is a very useful source of information about democracy in the ancient Greek world. In this book, Hansen focuses less on ancient Greece and more on the connections between ancient Greek democracy and “modern democracy”. Hansen rightly points out that, contrary to what some would have us believe (he cites and quotes Hannah Arendt), there is very little evidence for either institutional or ideological continuity between the two periods.

Hansen focuses first on the ideology.

The classical example that inspired the American and French revolutionaries as well as the English radicals was Rome rather than Greece. Thus, the Founding Fathers who met in Philadelphia in 1787, did not set up a Council of the Areopagos, but a Senate, that, eventually, met on the Capitol. And the French constitution of 1799, designed by Sieyès, had no board of strategoi but a triumvirate of consuls.

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