It argues that it would be better and more democratic to randomly sample parliament instead of voting. It also describes how a transition could look like and how mixed systems could work.
The biggest issue I see is that such a system would need a very strong and well-designed bureaucracy and very well educated and moral public servants. You would have a state run by technocrats, who prepare options for decisions that the randomly drawn parliament would need to make. These technocrats could get all-powerful quickly.
The idea of neutral impartial helpful technocrats guiding them sounds wonderful but I'm not sure it would play out like that.
Would you like banking regulations set by bankers?
Honestly I'm not sure it'd be all that different. I mean, ask a random pedestrian on the street if they know what lobbying is, and they likely have at least some minimal clue. That means it's already a "cultural factor."
What would change is the way lobbying works, since it'd no longer work in a way where a long-term rapport is established between a politician and a bunch of lobbyists...
You do need professional legislators who understand law enough to write it, but lawyers have a warped viewpoint that needs to be counterbalanced by the voice of the people.
You would probably want to either change that or else select both by lot, but with a high bar for eligibility in the senatorial lot (e.g., either passing some nontrivial civics exam or something or rolling back the 17th amendment).
Some Twitch streamer with a thousand followers would have little problem getting 50 nominations by snapping their fingers, regardless of their qualifications.
This being said, there's probably a better way.
(Not to mention how easily the system is gamed by a membership groups orchestrating nominations. Pick 10% of your membership and get the others to nominate them and you'll have a lot of people in the hat. To be sure these candidates will be in the lottery, they'll want to select people who aren't well respected outside the group....)
Some of the technocrats could also be picked from professional bodies using sortition, just enough to stir things up.
Yeah, that's a feature, not a bug. You want the average education level to be such that random people can govern reasonably well... Which is GREAT at the societal level.
The last time that was possible was something like 100-200 years ago, before specialisation became so important.
I don’t know anything of note about pharmaceuticals or civil engineering, rhetoric or national security, trade or industry. But I think it’s a safe bet that 90% of the people on Hacker News knows far more about computers than the average UK politician.
If everyone in a nation has to learn politics well enough to govern, nobody would have time to learn anything else. The only measure by which I can even judge politicians is their character, their honesty, their morals — and I do recognise the problems with even those as my measure.
a) Most elected politicians, especially at highest levels, are spending a HUGE amount of their time on the phones, working on (or being worked on by) donors. Most of the 'real' work of governing is done by staff.
b) About half of the US elected officials believe that the best way to govern is to not govern at all, and furthermore undermine any projects which might make it seem like government can do anything successfully. (For example, Grover Norquist is on record opposing pre-filled taxes because he believes taxes should be as painful as possible. Similar examples of 'we can't do that, it might work' abound.) Which is to say, random people may well still be better than deeply ingrained active saboteurs.
Why are there politicians who are trying to undermine their own thrones? How does that even work?
I’m not doubting you, I just don’t understand what’s going on.
Regan: "The nine most terrifying words in the english language are 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.'"
Norquist, again: "My goal is to cut government in half in twenty-five years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub."
What's ACTUALLY happening here is a combination of goals, ultimately about cutting social programs and reducing taxes for the wealthy. "Government doesn't work" => "We shouldn't pay them taxes" => "We should cut lots of taxes" => Tax breaks which overwhelmingly benefit rich donors and party members, while reducing services for people that need them... It's a straight up wealth transfer, and it's been exceedingly efficient.
If government does something well, then the first link in the chain is broken. So to keep the whole chain of reasoning intact, it's best to keep government inefficient and ineffectual, especially as it relates to people's everyday lives. And every failed program is another bit of fuel for the nihilist campaign strategy.
Elected politicians spend most of their time raising money and the remainder stoking culture war bullshit. The system mostly runs itself.
I'd like to expore the idea some more, seems really interesting.
Today, sortition is commonly used to select prospective jurors in common law-based legal systems and is sometimes used in forming citizen groups with political advisory power (citizens' juries or citizens' assemblies).
People reading this are likely familiar with the use of sortition in jury selection. What is probably the single most well know thing about sitting on a jury?
It sucks. It's somehow boring and stressful at the same time, and the pay is very much token. Therefore, most people try to get out of it, with varying degrees of success. People have gone as far as not registering to vote in order to avoid jury duty. This is specifically why voter rolls are not used for that in many places.
The corollary to this is that juries aren't actually a random sample: people getting out of jury duty obviously causes selection effects. If the sample is not random, you lose a lot of the theoretical advantages of sortition. Unless we take strong steps to make sitting in a legislative body not suck, I see no reason it would be any better there.
And the more uncomfortable you make it not to opt-out, the more you'll select for people who've figured out a strategy to benefit from all that power despite the lack of officially sanctioned perks.
(Also: see on other thread about using sortition for the non-voter part of an electoral system.)
Edit: adding some more details:
Yet for every Washington or Adams, there is a Thomas Jefferson — a president who was such a bad public speaker that he declined to deliver a State of the Union address to Congress, instead beginning a century-long tradition of sending congressional members a letter...
Everyone can decide on their own whether they want to vote or not, and only those that do not vote run the "risk" (or reward) of possibly being randomly chosen for parliament duty. If 65% of people vote, 65% of parliament is elected members, the other 35% is randomly choosen from non-voters.
And you fix voting fatigue as a freebie.
Already lobbyists try to run "education programs" with representatives as a means of influencing them (which works rather well). That tactic would be a lot more effective if representatives were perpetually lacking in knowledge about relevant issues.
And I'll bet a lot of these randomly selected representatives will choose to be educated by the group that takes them to a fancy dinner and ball game after, or has donated money to their church rather than the one operated by the local chapter of a perpetually underfunded Walmart Union who offer stale cookies.
All of these things can be mitigated with stricter antilobbying laws, but then again, so can our current problems.
I don't see the problem as necessarily being worse with randomly selected representatives, and in some aspects it may work better (randomly selected hippies will tell big corps to take a hike) , but I don't see it as solving the problem structurally.
GHW Bush was uncharismatic but won and also was ineffective at much. I mean, what did he do effectively?
Come to think of it, at least back to Carter, VPs seem to be quite uncharismatic. Ford on the other hand was more charismatic than Nixon.
Saddam Hussein was deep in debt and heading for an appointment with the IMF. Much of that debt was owed to Kuwait and he figured that annexing Kuwait would clean up his books from the Iran-Iraq war. He told the U.S. Ambassador that much; she said nothing in reply, went home to inform the Pentagon. Saddam took that as a "yes".
Bush put together a large coalition, established a lot of legitimacy, and ultimately won the war, and sent the troops home to a ticker tape parade.
Bush ended the "Vietnam Syndrome", completing the rebuilding of the military. CNN didn't show you the four days of nonstop ground combat that traumatized veterans who experienced the same mental health symptoms as Vietnam vets.
(You might think Bush and the CIA are evil, but up to this point, his team GOT THINGS DONE)
Saddam Hussein tried to blow the ex-president up when he was visiting Saudi Arabia. He took it very personally and so did his son -- that's why GW Bush was in such a hurry to attack Iraq after the Sept 11 attacks.
That war was a mistake to begin with, but in retrospect the Bush crew make big mistakes in the "nation building" phase - Don Rumsfeld for instance would be compared favorably to Robert McNamara except that he went along with Gulf War II.
Politicians have to compromise and made deals with the devil and other things which require good rapport even with those you disagree with. They also need to sell their ideas to people and have them accept those ideas. Bureaucrats on the other hand just have to work well within a system. There are similarities of course, but I think one of them requires more agreeability and charisma than the other where procedure and connections are more important.
"Of Clement Attlee, however, I was an admirer. He was a serious man and a patriot. Quite contrary to the general tendency of politicians in the 1990s, he was all substance and no show"
He lied his way into two extremely expensive and unwinnable wars, both of which are effectively still on-going after almost 20 years. That required charisma. His legacy is north, south, west, and east of Tikrit.
Meritocacy: If office/role requires specific competencies, then the canditate is either required to have appropriate credentials/experience or in some cases at least has to pass a test/exam.
This is not a joke, I think there are many decisions that should be driven by experts. One obvious one would be military officials as mentioned by Wikipedia. But where are the engineers, scientists and craftsmen in politics? Hidden away as consultants mostly?
Gov officials should be tested, according to their role, before even being considered for a role. Incompetence is dangerous and neither election nor sortition can select against it.
Election: I think there is a lot of merit in election. Being able to talk well, having confidence and being popular are all positive factors that can be very important. It's just that it becomes a farce/show too quickly and the whole election process is expensive.
Maybe there is a better way, by electing a larger pool P > N where N is the office seats, one could find a sweet spot where many people need to know, like you and find you suitable.
Sortition: Now we weeded out the incompetent and the people nobody likes. At this point it would likely be more efficient and fairer to do a random selection.
It is important that this would be the last step in any number of steps for selection.
It's a problem of information access, advertising, and news media that changes an electoral process from a meritocracy selected by the electorate into a popularity contest.
Without those factors, there's no reason that an informed, rational populace would select an unsuitable candidate. They'd use their information about the candidates to select the most meritorious option.
Instead, popularity and advertising have surprisingly become more important than suitability and merit. It's not obvious that this must happen, and I think some regulation, process improvement, and innovation in this area could change the electoral process into a more reasonable one.
It's not obvious, but I think it does follow from the concept of general election.
The problem is that being informed and rational about selecting a suitable candidate is considerably harder than we think it is:
1. Society faces a large number of extremely complex issues. Candidate X says, "we should get rid of regulation Y." Are they right? Are they wrong? To figure that out, you need to know enough about the economy, about why Y exists in the first place, how many experts agree and why, how many experts disagree and why, etc. Just for this one issue, it will take hours. If you want to make an informed choice between two competent candidates, there's no way it will take you less than a week of intensive, full time study. At this point, you should damn well be getting paid for the effort.
2. How do you evaluate the character of a candidate you've never met? What if you don't know anyone who's met them? When you hire someone, it's best if you can meet them, talk to previous employers, run background checks. How can millions of people do this for presidential candidates, each to their own satisfaction? They can't.
3. How do you negotiate with fellow voters? If I want some things and you want some things, and we both need to agree on a candidate, the candidate I would pick in my corner and the candidate you would pick in your corner may very well be different from the candidate we would agree to pick if we could negotiate directly. If Clinton and Trump voters had been able to directly negotiate with each other, is there not a possibility they would have picked neither?
4. How do you get all relevant information? Depending on what is in a candidate's tax returns or on secret recordings, a voter may decide differently. Therefore, it makes sense that the voter would be able to subpoena some of that information, including classified information. After all, if I'm picking someone to run my country, I sure would like to see any classified information that betrays poor judgment on their part. In fact, I dare say that I need this information to do my job. But obviously it is still sensitive, so it cannot be provided to millions of voters.
I don't think general elections, where everyone votes, is a good system. It's not because people are dumb. It's because it scales poorly.
A simple alternative would be to pick a random subset of the electorate (a hundred or so) to act as voters, fly them to a convention center for a week, all expenses paid plus a sizeable wage, and let them interview candidates directly, subpoena relevant classified information, and negotiate with each other. I don't think anything short of that would work. Plus, it'd be much less expensive overall.
In this scenario the President would be directly accountable to the House and would be required to answer to them. The House would have the right to investigate and replace the President at any time for any reason, which should keep them honest and focused on the job.
It was also obviously intended to empower the state as a critical entity to a federation, but all of this cements the fact that there is no perfect voting system and all come with hosts of disadvantages and representation flaws.
"Perfect is the enemy of good", as the saying goes, so let me propose a thought experiment. What if the US kept its electoral college, but each state was required to allocate its electors in proportion to the relative vote share of the parties within that state (as closely as mathematically possible)? Of course this would require a constitutional amendment (or a hack like the NPVIC) but it's interesting to consider how this would change voting patterns, campaigns, results, and the other metrics by which a voting system is judged.
The big difference is probably that a proponent of elections believes that the masses have a better idea of who is suited for that job than random selection, and proponents of sortion disagree.
Choosing a policy is easier by orders of magnitude, and yet people can only be trusted to solve the hard problem, never the easy one.
One can make a similar theoretical argument that it is harder, possibly 'orders of magnitude' so for a CEO to determine the reliability of prospective hires to be accountable for decision making, and yet they invariably do despite greater ability to take executive decisions than the public
Hum... How would that work on the real world? It would carry some merit if people could have a vote of non-confidence and put politicians out of their positions, but it is very rare to see anything like this around the world.
The fact that delegating things right is way harder than doing it oneself is well accept on management. People still delegate because doing does not scale. There is no argument against direct democracy there.
Most large firms have management teams staffed by people whose job is deciding (and owning a budget, and knowing rather than doing). And that's in businesses whose scope isn't on the scale of 'basically everything'. Their existence isn't an argument against direct democracy so much as a comprehensive refutation of the argument that informing oneself about decision makers is far more difficult than making every decision
The only reasonable voting system known to date is preferential / Condorcet voting. It's successfully applied e.g. by the Debian project.
The purpose of Democratic elections is not something like "good government". We haven't the faintest idea how to do that. What elections do for us is enable bloodless transitions of power. The useless idiots currently in power can be voted out and you can replace them with the useless idiots you want to be in power instead if you can get enough votes. Will they be any better? Well of course you hope so, but the one thing I'm sure of it is that fighting a civil war over it would be worse.
So the problem to think about isn't "Which electoral system best satisfies Arrow's conflicting criteria in my opinion as an educated person who has spent a lot of time thinking about it?" but "What ensures the people who voted for Bob not Alice will accept that Alice won?".
If you're choosing a single person like the leader of your Executive or something equally consequential democratic elections are (along with sortition) one of the least terrible of the bad options you have, and complicated mechanisms like the Schulze method you're talking about are likely to mean losers are defiant so they're probably the wrong choice compared to First Past the Post or other simple methods.
If like Debian you're basically just picking the head of a club, it's scarcely matters how you do it, Schulze seems over-complicated to me but it's just not a big deal. Having democratic elections isn't important for this purpose anyway - nobody is going to kill and die for Debian leadership otherwise, but knock yourselves out.
Things rarely suck until you start using them.
I suppose it may also have the effect of reducing incentive to compromise, as well as the obvious effect of opening the door to fringe candidates.
There are a few court districs where the big IP fights in technology are being fought. In those districts, there is tons of lobbying by tech companies to make create a positive image of them in the local community's mind.
If more power is given to sortition, companies will do more of those kinds of things. In fact, I think that a component of the big-name-college-favoring GAFAM selection practice is due to them wanting to bribe upper-class America. If one of your family members works at one of those companies, you have a much different opinion on them.
Probably a lot easier to regulate than election spending, but still game-able.
... Above all, chance makes its selection without any recourse to reasons. This quality is perhaps its greatest advantage, though of course it comes at a price. Peter Stone, a political theorist at Trinity College, Dublin, and the author of The Luck of the Draw: The Role of Lotteries in Decision Making (2011), has made a career of studying the conditions under which such reasonless-ness can be, well, reasonable.
‘What lotteries are very good for is for keeping bad reasons out of decisions,’ Stone told me. ‘Lotteries guarantee that when you are choosing at random, there will be no reasons at all for one option rather than another being selected.’ He calls this the sanitising effect of lotteries – they eliminate all reasons from a decision, scrubbing away any kind of unwanted influence. As Stone acknowledges, randomness eliminates good reasons from the running as well as bad ones. He doesn’t advocate using chance indiscriminately. ‘But, sometimes,’ he argues, ‘the danger of bad reasons is bigger than the loss of the possibility of good reasons.’ ...
I don't know, I think they're pretty different. The main point of sortition, the way I see it, is to pick a small subset of people to focus on a problem. You can't ask "everyone" to focus on every issue, it's way too much work. No one would be able to do anything else. Reducing the set of deciders to a manageable size, while being statistically representative of the whole, is the whole appeal.
Once upon a time, the US Constitution made a point of saying that Congress must meet at least once a year, whether they have business or not. Because it seemed, at that time, entirely plausible that they might not have that much work to do.
This gives the best of both worlds of electoral districts and popular voting: Everyone is locally represented but the national representation is neatly distributed over ideologies instead of having just two parties.
As the most import benefit, it completely removes the incentive for strategic voting.
- arrange for the electorate to be formed into groups of 100..200 however they wish.
- each group elects a candidate
- representatives are selected from the candidates by sortition.
This has two beneficial features over pure sortition:
- The electorate has the opportunity to weed out unsuitables
- Learning is still possible (if some rep is manifestly unsuitable, the lectorate can resolve to select no-one like that in the future)
(Allowing groups in the range 100..200 makes it simpler to form the groups, because once a list reaches the upper bound it can split into two, allowing everyone to just join the group they like rather than the last % having to scramble for a place).
It would also prevent anyone accumulating years of political experience before assuming office, though, which seems like a serious drawback.
Yes, that's a drawback, but it has an upside. It would prevent any representative from having been a politician for years, so they'd be there to represent the people, not to further their political careers.
If you look at Washington as a whole, it seems rather clear to me that the long-serving politicians are more focused on continuing to get elected than they are on actually representing their people.
Electors are picked randomly for every election. Lets say 50 for every house seat. They are sequestered like a jury for several days. They listen to every candidate, they (may) deliberate in private, they vote, until they have choice. Then they are dismissed. The chosen candidate holds the seat for three years and votes to choose a head of government.
The advantage is that there are no campaigns, less money involved, less 30 second ads, electors are given the time to focus on every candidate.
All you're really doing is barring the vast majority of the population from political participation and ensuring close races are determined by lottery rather than actual popularity and differential turnout, which [absent effective voter suppression] is a strictly worse method.
"For the first time, a panel representative of the diversity of French citizens, will be directly involved in the preparation of the law."
Being chosen after sortition was not a fun thing, it was a heavy burden to bare. Representatives were held accountable for their decisions. Their private life basically became public to ensure that they would not be bought by "lobbys".
A lot of people are usually taken aback by sortition because they think the goal is to randomly pick a dictator. They are still representatives, and with not a lot of power actually. The people in Athens were still voting their laws directly.
If you got 500 people randomly selected, could they even decide anything?
It has a very performant track record. It is not organised as your typical parliament, and has a lot of structure to make this work, such as organising in groups which mostly bridge elections.
Of course, these are mostly seasoned politicians. But I reckon a similar structure would work for a sortition based parliament.
Of course the question remains whether decision by unqualified majority is a good thing.
The present US system is split-everything-into-districts then winner-take-all-in-each-district. This system is known to have a mathematical fixed point (as a transformation polity → polity) where:
- There are two parties who evenly divide political power.
- Those parties are deadlocked 50/50 and therefore very little gets done.
- Those parties are spineless—they do not stick to whatever “core principles” they might have a reputation for, and an issue which party A champions one decade might become party B's forte a few decades later.
- Few people actually consider themselves a part of either party; the substantial majority considers themselves “independent” voters—but they would admit under pressure that they do mostly vote for one party consistently. If asked why they don’t consider themselves a part of that party they will indicate that more than half of what “their” party does, they do not support.
- The crux is why they don’t vote for the “other guys” which comes down to being appalled and terrified at some of what the other party stands for.
The core features of the disease all interrelate. The spinelessness is being used by the two parties to find an issue which the other party does not seem to care about, in order to demonize the members of that party. For example, witness Tucker Carlson talking this year about the risk of fraud with mail-in votes; the subtext is that Democrats because they do not care about this topic are displaying a core moral lapse—they are too trusting, perhaps too enamored of past studies of voter fraud—which will dangerously cause the demise of the sanctity of our elections if everyone starts doing this mail-in voting this year in response to the pandemic. This “what the F--- are they thinking” mindset that riddles your comment towards them, is pointed right at you by that other half of the country.
The reason it has to be this way is that literally having a spine is a political death sentence. It’s economics and incentives. We had a party which tried to have a spine, “we don’t care about slavery one way or the other, we have always been about TARIFFS and that is what we are going to talk about this election cycle!” They were called the Whigs and meanwhile a party which expertly played the demonize-and-win game emerged under Abraham Lincoln, and the Whigs just kind of faded over one or two election cycles into obscurity as the US civil war took its toll.
Oh, yeah, that's the other thing. Constantly demonizing the other party doesn't work forever; this "district-and-winner-take-all" approach leads to civil war. But the point is that the cause is not that the other 50% of the country is morally reprehensible; the cause is that it is in each party's best interests to paint the other 50% as morally reprehensible. This in turn comes from the fact that the winner-take-all nature of the election makes it really hard to fork a political party; witness e.g. the recent emergence of the “Tea Party”—but never as an actual political party as that would be suicide to their desired goals.
The easiest solution to implement right now would probably be to make every state into one big multi-member House district running a party-proportionate election. It is not clear what would happen to the Senate under such a structure, but it seems plausible that the US would fragment into 5 or 6 political parties and Senate candidates would court the endorsement of 2 or 3 of them. But it is possible that the Senate would still be 50% Democrat, 50% Republican even as the House lost those particular affiliations. But at least something would be moving forward.