The French Assembly votes to allow the CESE to convene allotted citizen bodies

Following up on Macron’s commitment to reform the CESE (Conseil économique, social et environnemental) as part of a drive toward “participative democracy”, the Assembly has voted for a law making several changes to the CESE. One of the changes is allowing the CESE to convene allotted consultative citizen bodies, modeled after the recent Citizen Climate Convention.

The conservative Républicains party voted for the reform but was displeased by the idea of using allotted bodies: “Sortition does not guarantee competence” and does not guarantee representativity either, said Julien Aubert, one of their MPs.

Martin: convert the Upper House to one based on sortition

Peter Martin, a reader of the Adelaide, SA, Australia newspaper InDaily, wrote to share his thoughts after reading an article complaining about the going-ons in the SA Upper House:

Commenting on the opinion piece: Richardson: The House where democracy goes to sleep

An interesting account, but not really surprising.

Why doesn’t SA lead the nation (again) in social and political reform and convert the Upper House to one based on sortition – ie members are selected for short terms via random ballot from the electoral list, just as juries are chosen for our legal system.

We know juries work well, and that the task is taken very seriously by all citizens. People would be paid for their time, and could receive ample expert support in their deliberations.

Such a change would end the need for politicians in the Upper House, make political parties and lobbying redundant. – Peter Martin

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.

The Service Pool

I don’t think we pay enough attention to the executive branch on this blog, nor do we pay enough attention to the careers of executive branch officials. There’s nothing theoretically fun about it, but when democracies give way to dictatorships, it’s usually through some group of executive branch officials who commandeer the system for their personal benefit.

In part 2 of my never-ending series on the executive branch, I explore ways to create a more professional corps of executive officers. Perhaps one day a force organized along these lines will be able to steer the ship of state with no chance of crashing into the rocks of authoritarianism or running aground on the shoals of dysfunction.

Cirone: Lotteries in Political Selection

A 2019 paper by Alexandra Cirone, Assistant Professor of Government at Cornell University, is titled “When democracy is broken roll the dice: Lotteries in political selection”.

There is a long tradition in political science and law that analyzes the benefits of lotteries in political selection (Manin 1997; Elster 1989; Engelstad 1989; Dowlen 2009; Duxbury 1999; Ober 1993 among many others). Most readers will be familiar with selection by lottery – also called sortition – where individuals are randomly chosen for political office.

The element of chance in a lottery has always captured our imaginations. Yet from a policy perspective, lotteries are now being proposed in various forms to address democratic deficits. Lottery-based selection of high-ranking politicians have been suggested for the national parliaments of the UK and France, as well as for the supranational institutions of the European Union. Citizens assemblies have been implemented in a wide range of countries, at both the local and national levels (Fishkin 2011).

However, lottery-based political selection is no panacea. There are a number of shortcomings to these processes. First, no matter which selection rule, it is likely that elites can still be disproportionately involved in politics, and lotteries don’t insulate all democratic institutions from partisan or corrupt pressures. Second, politics benefits from investment in expertise and career politicians; the uncertainty inherent in random selection of permanent institutions could disincentivize potential candidates from acquiring skills or experience. Alternatively, problems with recruitment and attrition from selected citizens will always be an issue with lottery-based selection; and randomly chosen officials might lack democratic legitimacy, which could impair their ability to do their job well. Third, even implementing lotteries in the form of temporary citizens assemblies require time, resources, and careful design of the process. Lotteries are also difficult to endogenously implement, particularly at top levels of governance — political parties and other groups are too invested in current systems of selection, so it is unlikely we will see a return to the pure sortition of ancient times.

Still, there is distinct promise to the use of lotteries in political selection, to help include more citizens in the democratic process. By examining unique institutional experimentation in the past, and by adapting democratic initiatives based on more recent instances of lottery-based selection, it may be possible to alleviate current democratic shortcomings.

Knowing your arse from your Albo: how political parties might access the ‘blind break’ to get better leaders

Herewith a brief post I wrote for my (mostly Australian) audience sketching out one possible use of sortition within a political party rather than the political system itself. As those reading this blog with any attentiveness will know, this is part of my own approach to sortition as one of a number of ‘hacks’ that can help unpick some of the pathologies of oligarchies of various kinds both specific and systemic.

A lottery is a defensible way of making a decision when, and to the extent that, it is important that bad reasons be kept out of the decision.
Peter Stone

Left of centre parties have been serving up seriously, obviously bad candidates for years now. That happened at the last election in the US and will happen at the next one. It’s happened at the last two elections in Australia and looks like happening at the next one. This nearly happened to the Liberal Government in Australia when they nearly acquired Peter Dutton as leader.

Why?
Continue reading

Replacing elections with lotteries on The Daily Show

Malcolm Gladwell, who recently had an episode on his podcast devoted to sortition, was interviewed yesterday on The Daily Show and for a few seconds in the beginning of the segment the topic of replacing elections with lotteries was “discussed” (for some definition of this term). It is really a shame that this was not tied to the topics mentioned during the rest of the segment: policing and struggles for democratization of society in the present and in the past.

On the legitimacy of citizen assemblies

Dear Kleroterians,

I am currently writing on the legitimacy that grounds sortition-based representation in general, and citizen assemblies in particular. Not the perceived legitimacy of citizen assemblies (whether people actually see them as legitimate or not), but the reasons that we might have to see the decisions of such asssemblies as binding.

I realize that you have thought about this much more than I have. And this is why I would be interested in having your opinion on the three following questions:

  1. What are the potential sources of legitimacy for citizen assemblies, besides political equality, representativeness, impartiality and ordinarity?
  2. Among these different potential sources of legitimacy, which one(s) do you see as the most important?
  3. Finally, because I am expecting many of you to highlight representativeness as the main source of legitimacy, I add a third question:

  4. Would you say that a citizen assembly of 50 to 100 participants, with optional participation, still has some legitimacy? Would your opinion be different with stratified sampling?

Thank you very much for your input! I will make sure to credit the Blog if a publication comes out of this!

Consensus in this group

I would like to identify the ideas held by members of this group that reach the level of consensus. Can I assume that there is a general consensus that sortition is better than elections?

At the other end, there appears to not be consensus that using sortition to replace elections in a legislative body can be accomplished using one sortition-selected body that does it all vs. an agenda-setting sortition-selected body working in conjunction with one or more policy-deciding mini-publics. And there is not consensus about whether a bicameral legislature is effective if one chamber is elected and one is sortition-selected.

What are the ideas in the group that actually reach the level of consensus?

The Morning Star: An allotted assembly could not address the climate crisis

The British socialist newspaper The Morning Star has published an editorial in which it criticizes XR’s “non-ideological” stance and XR’s demands for an allotted climate assembly. The background for the editorial is a recent tweet by XR:

Just to be clear we are not a socialist movement. We do not trust any single ideology, we trust the people, chosen by sortition (like jury service) to find the best future for us all through a #CitizensAssembly A banner saying ‘socialism or extinction’ does not represent us 🙏🏽🙏 [@XRebellionUK, 4:56 PM · Sep 1, 2020]

This tweet has apparently been issued in response to a photo showing participants in an XR protest carrying the said “socialism or extinction” banner.

The Morning Star editorializes:

The proposal of a citizen’s assembly selected by sortition, frequently made by XR, is linked to its claim to be non-ideological.

But the problem with the assumption that such an assembly could address the climate crisis is the same as that of XR’s whole tweet: it wilfully ignores the central role of the capitalist system in driving climate chaos.

Appeals to parliaments and presidents to “do something” about climate change will fail if they treat such decision-makers as neutral actors rather than instruments of class power.