Sunday, July 3, 2022

"Detox democracy through representation by random selection"

Assume for now that I am correct in my long-propounded judgement that the very people who pursue political power are exactly the same folks who should not be allowed anywhere near it. 

A repost from the early days of the covid-19 pandemic, January 18, 2020:

We are fans of randomness.
From The Mandarin (Australia) February 14, 2017:
As Western democracy degrades before our eyes, (President Donald Trump wasn’t really imaginable even a few years or so ago and is still hard to fully comprehend) we need to remember the choices that were made as modern democracy was founded, at the time of the American and French Revolutions. Democracy was a dirty word!  Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws repeated Aristotle’s claim that “Voting by lot is in the nature of democracy; voting by choice is in the nature of aristocracy”.1

With great anxiety about democracy degenerating into mob rule, Montesquieu’s ideas were taken up as the best chance for the new republics of the United States and France. There was much concern to ensure that republican government mobilise a “natural aristocracy among men”, one of “virtue and talents” as Jefferson put it expressing a widespread sentiment which went out rather more slowly, though no less comprehensively than poke bonnets.  Elections seemed far more promising than selection by lot. 2 The Roman Catholic priest Abbé Sieyès “one of the chief political theorists of the French Revolution” was more unequivocal insisting that “In a country that is not a democracy (and France is not a democracy), the people can only speak and can only act through representatives.” 3
However, a second method of representing the people was far more common at the time in many cities in Europe stretching back from early modern times to ancient Athens: Sortition or the selection of citizens at random from the citizenry as in the Athenian boule and was far more common.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth century parliaments were about establishing checks and balances between popular electoral democracy and upper houses intended to represent the aristocracy or some new world simulation of it via property franchises — with different houses of the legislature representing these two poles. Likewise, I would argue that today we should be seeking to balance representation by election with representation by sortition as occurs, in juries by random selection from the citizenry. I’ll elaborate more on this in a subsequent essay.
In any event, in this essay, I itemise under subject headings firstly how various problems with our current system of electoral democracy manifest themselves, and secondly, how sortition based representation could help detox our democracy.

Careerism is a central thread that enables political power — wielded both within political parties and bureaucracies. The signal achievement of the Australian Parliament that first assembled in 2013 was to abolish the carbon pricing regime which had emerged from the bipartisan consensus for carbon pricing that had been forged with great difficulty over the previous 15-odd years. A majority of parliamentarians voted for something that an overwhelming majority of them understood to be against the public interest. 4 Why did they vote against their consciences? They did it because they were careerists. Of course ‘careerism’ is a pejorative, but I’m not using it in that way. The centrality of one’s career is an indispensable building block of modern life in politics as elsewhere. If you’re to make a success of yourself as a politician — for yourself, but hopefully also for the things you believe in — you need to build your standing. And rocking the boat within your party will generally set-back your career.

There’s nothing like random selection to take these kinds of considerations out of contention. There’s certainly nothing one can do to increase one’s chances of being (randomly!) chosen to participate in a citizens’ jury or citizens’ deliberative chamber. One can’t completely guard against people currying favour with the powerful in their participation in a deliberative chamber, but one can criminalise making and/or taking bribes and other inducements to such people both before and after their service and one can also specify that accepting a position in the people’s chamber disqualifies one from traditional political office either forever or for some period of time. It has also been normal throughout history for there to be limitations on the extent to which someone can continue or repeat their service on deliberative bodies. 5

There’s something else also. In addition to the privilege which those randomly chosen almost all feel and their desire to honour that privilege by doing their best, the evidence we have from an odd experiment in Australia whereby for a substantial period the vagiaries of our preferential system chose what I call the ‘randos’ in the Senate, people with vanishingly small primary votes like Ricky Muir of the ‘Motorist Enthusiasts Party’ for instance, or Jacqui Lambie and Glenn Lazarus is that they don’t seem to be easily manipulated by career incentives. When their immediate self-interest in reelection was threatened by the reform of the system that gave rise to the ‘preference whispering’ that saw them elected, they were not swayed in their vote — against the expectations of the hard heads of politics and journalism. In other words, acting in your own career interests over and above your political principles is largely a learned behaviour on which political careers are predicated.

Superficiality, sensationalism, expression
This is a terrible problem for our current democratic institutions as political debate is conducted through the media. And the media is a finely honed machine to arouse and entertain, rather than to inform. And arousal, it turns out, is much more easily stoked for all kinds of destructive emotions — envy, disgust, resentment, contempt and hatred than it is for more salutary ones — like affection, respect, care and love....


The Joy of Randomness: Central Bank Strategy, Management Technique and Stock Selection
Profiting From Random Strategies
Can Information Rise From Randomness?
Should You Just Give Up And Trade Stocks Randomly?
Joys of Noise: Technologies that Rely on Randomness
Think a coin toss has a 50-50 chance? Think again.
Randomness: "A Drunkard’s Walk in Manhattan"
Attention Managers, You Can Improve Corporate Efficiency by Randomly Promoting Employees
That last piece of research was awarded Harvard's own Ig Nobel prize in 2010.
Ya see, ya got your complex systems and ya got your chaotic systems and then ya got your complex-chaotic systems like weather or the economy or the stock market and when you endeavor at those levels of sophistication you realize:...
There may be issues.

Dilbert random number generator