The Blind Break is the Heart of Democracy

In part 4 of my legislative series, I propose a new definition of democracy, one that revolves around the blind break. The blind break is, of course, an information control mechanism, and has not usually been treated as so essential to the political project. While concepts like representation and delegation have historically been treated as essential to political theory, information flow has been treated as secondary.

In this post, I aim to correct this mistake. Political systems are information flows at their very core. We must treat constraints on those flows as central to the entire political project, right up there with separation of powers, equality under the law, and other traditional notions of political theory.

The Jury of the Whole

In my latest post on the legislative branch, I look at what happens after a set of concrete proposals are made and published. This is the most transformative aspect of the proposal-jury model. It engages every aspect of a polity, from intellectual and business elites, to the news media, to ordinary citizens. And it is the closest that any large, modern society can come to experiencing direct democracy.

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.

Thought Piece: Sharing Sortition With Some Soul

In a new essay, Sharing Sortition With Some Soul, Adam Cronkright and Simon Pek suggest we can make lot/sortition more accessible and appealing through savvy and emotive communication. Their goal to stimulate thought and debate, and also to start a practical conversation about framing and messaging to incorporate relevant insights from the well-developed art and science of persuasive communication into the Sortition Space.

Introduction

All of us in the Sortition Space, from the organizations in Democracy R&D to the regular readers of Equality by Lot, are passionate about sortition and hopeful that it can empower everyday people and deepen democracy. The last decade has seen exciting advances on this front: mini-publics are on the rise, as are related books and articles, and we are connecting and collaborating with each other more than ever. But although we have grown and moved in from the fringe, we are still quite small and sortition is still quite marginal. And this should surprise us, especially given how desperate our societies seem for anything that could right the sinking ship of traditional electoral politics.

Political crises ripple through our countries and trust in government tanks, yet almost 50 years after its resurrection few people have even heard of sortition. Demagogues rise a wave of democratic disenchantment, yet few people who have heard of it seriously consider sortition. And we promote our cause everywhere from dinner parties to democracy conferences, yet few of our listeners seem to care about sortition. Some are surprisingly skeptical (given such frustration with the status quo), while others seem to find our case convincing but not compelling. 
But sortition is important and inspiring, so where are we going wrong?

In this short essay, drawing on research on political communication, we suggest that the primary stumbling blocks are an affinity to language that doesn’t always fit our audiences, and a lack of skill and comfort with persuasion—especially in the realm of emotion. We argue that the latter is likely due to our deep predisposition toward rational and objective communication. As illustrative examples, we offer concrete ways to overcome these challenges, juxtaposed with typical sortition speech. And we conclude with an invitation for others to join us in developing a suite of recommendations to make our messaging about sortition more captivating and memorable.

View or download the full essay with the following link (note: if you get a popup window that asks you to sign in or create an account, just click the ‘x’ in the upper right corner or “No thanks, continue to view” at the bottom). Link: Sharing Sortition With Some Soul (PDF)

If there is interest, they will follow-up with a future post suggesting ways to organize a larger conversation/collaboration.

Post Image: Randomly-selected participants in a debate run by Missions Publiques (France) 
© Rebecca Cosquéric.

Israel’s gas wealth should be managed by a citizens’ jury

An English version of an op-ed piece I wrote recently. I am still looking for an Israeli mass media venue that would publish it.

Another round in the long struggle over the way Israel’s gas fields are to be exploited is upon us. Like most of Israel’s citizens, my understanding of the technical and economic details associated with this matter is sketchy. It is clear to me that a very lucrative resource is involved and that there are various proposals about how to deal with it – proposals which will see the value of this resource divided in different ways among different groups. Beyond that things are rather murky as far as I know. It seems that politically powerful people are exerting political pressure to obtain parts of the value of the gas wealth and that at least some of these people have personal, business or political connections to government officials. Like a large majority in the Israeli public I suspect that the balance of powers in the government serves primarily narrow interests (“the tycoons”) rather than serving the general public. Having said that, I have not followed the details and I cannot confidently say who is associated with whom and whose interests are served by each proposal.
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Nicholas Reece: The momentous success of radical democracy

Nicholas Reece writes in The Age:

Experiment pays off: Melbourne People’s Panel produces quality policy

Citizen juries are one of the most promising innovations to emerge in the conversation about democratic renewal.

Melbourne’s radical experiment in democracy has reached a momentous conclusion, with the City Council announcing on Friday it will accept nearly all the recommendations of a 10-year financial plan developed by a citizens’ jury. That a group of 43 randomly selected Melburnians meeting over six weekends developed sound policy that is now being implemented is a profound result for anyone despairing at the state of our democracy. And it invites the exciting question, what’s next?

It turns out that having a plan “developed” over 6 weekends to guide the expenditure of billions of dollars over 10 years is considered a momentous success of radical democracy. What’s next, indeed.