International media coverage of Sortition

papersThe notion of randomly selecting law makers appears to be getting a lot more traction in the international media of late. Below are links to an article about Sortition in 4 different mainstream media outlets: 3 in the US, and 1 in Australia.

The original article was written by an ex-member of the House of Representatives in the US and a team of political researchers.

The San Diego Union Tribune

Time to randomly select Congress members?

The Los Angeles Daily News

Would picking our reps at random improve governance?

The Houston Chronicle

We select juries at random. Why not Congress?

The Sydney Morning Herald

Why not select politicians as randomly as jurists?

50 days and counting

50It is now 50 days since the election of the 32nd Dail in Ireland. In the history of the State, that’s the longest interval, by some measure, between the election of the Dail and the failure of the Dail to elect a Taoiseach.

Moreover, the prospect of electing a Taoiseach any time soon is as remote as on the day the results of the election were finalised.

The workings of the Dail are provided for in the Constitution. They are quite simple. Members nominate other members to be Taoiseach. If a majority are in favour, that member is elected Taoiseach. The Taoiseach then appoints a cabinet. The Dail votes to accept the cabinet.

The Constitution makes no reference to political parties. It does not require a “Programme for Government”. It contains no reference to the word “coalition” or the phrase “minority Government”.

Its intent is quite simple: people drawn from various backgrounds, viagra canada online, regions and experience should come together and pass laws.

The fact that the current membership of the Dail are incapable of doing this has nothing to do with the constitutional design of the Dail. Nor is it tenable to say that of the 157 members of the current Dail, there are not 79 (a majority) who share suitably similar political views that would allow them to elect a Taoiseach.

The impasse in the current Dail arises from one thing and one thing alone: the need for its members to be re-elected.

The 2 largest parties, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, have been political rivals for decades, and know that forming a Government together will erode their support base in favour of newer, smaller parties.

The newer, smaller parties recognise that participating in unpopular decision-making will reduce their support and put their already tenuous existence at risk.

The non-aligned, independent members recognise that what got them to the Dail in the first place, namely their non-alignment, will be put in jeopardy if they lend their support to a party in Government.

Every single member of the Dail, despite their protestations to the contrary, is considering their every move in terms of how it will impact their support. They are fighting the next election before the business of the previous election has even finished.

Now, imagine an alternative.

Imagine if the 157 members of the Dail had been randomly selected from a list of citizens who had volunteered to serve in the Dail, which was open to anyone from any walk of life or background.

Doubtless, the resulting group of members would have divergent political views, but there would almost certainly be enough of them with similar views to elect a Taoiseach (if there weren’t, we would just randomly select another Dail).

What would allow them to do this, in a way that the current Dail cannot, is the absence of the need for any of them to be re-elected. When the Dail term was over, and their business was done, they would simply return to their lives, and the next Dail would be selected.

There would obviously be discussion, and multiple candidates for Taoiseach, and some negotiation, but that is all quite normal and harmless. Ultimately, every member would be free to base their decision on their personally held political views and their estimation of the ability of the candidates. They would not have to allow the impact of their decision on their electability be the deciding factor in what they do.

This is the essence of democracy based on random selection, or Sortition, as it is commonly called. In fact, this is the only basis on which true democracy can work. This is the way democracy used to work, long before the introduction of elections into the process in modern times.

How the situation in the Dail resolves itself over the coming weeks remains unclear, but it is likely that we will have either a very unstable Government, or another election.

And what then? Do we start over and hope that the outcome is different? Have elections become such an article of faith that we have to let them de-stablise our economy and society, even if a viable alternative exists?

The answer should be no.

Abandoning the “folk theory” of democracy

k10671In an important new work, “Democracy for Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government”, Christopher Aachen and Larry Bartels argue that we have developed a “folk theory” of democracy, which prevents us from critically examining the flaws in our current political systems.


The “folk theory” is thus:

Ordinary people have preferences about what their government should do. They choose parties and leaders who will do those things, or they enact their preferences directly in referendums. In either case, in this view, what the majority wants becomes government policy – a highly attractive prospect in light of the dreary historical experience that human beings have generally endured with respect to governments. Democracy makes the people the rulers, and legitimacy derives from their consent.

Using this theory as their benchmark, the authors review the history of democracy over the last 50 years, and conclude that the ideals of democracy “crumble under empirical inspection”.

Just as a critical step towards democracy occurred when people lost faith in the notion that the king had been anointed by God, we believe that abandoning the folk theory of democracy is a prerequisite to both greater intellectual clarity and genuine political change. A great deal of hard thinking and organising will be required to develop more sophisticated notions of real democracy, and to implement the deep transformations that will be required. None of us, as individual citizens, can do it alone. But one vital implication of our account is that more realistic party doctrines of democracy are central to progress. Developing them will require robust debate in journals like this one. The conventional wisdom about democracy too often leads us toward policies that fail to improve people’s lives. A progressive agenda that can curb illegitimate inequality and serve the interests of ordinary citizens will require us to give up some cherished but badly outdated science, and to substitute for it a vision with honest 21st-century intellectual credentials.
An essay summarising the book can be read at the link below:
Christopher H Achen is the Roger Williams Straus professor of social sciences and professor of politics at Princeton University.
Larry M Bartels holds the May Werthan Shayne chair of
public policy and social science at Vanderbilt University.