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February 09, 2007



not sure about this at alllll

1. seems fair enough, although I do think you're being rather cynical about democratically elected upper houses, which do seem to more or less work in the countries which have them

2. I don't see this at all. Choose a random 100 people who have agreed to do the job, and they will have party loyalties. They will form groups, and they will groupthink. You really can't stop this absolutely natural tendency of people.

3. I don't see at all that people will raise rather than lowering their game when you make their votes a matter of public record. Isn't this why juries are secret?

4. maybe, but maybe not. The evidence of the Blair government shows that people "go native" pretty darn quickly.

Athens and Florence both ended up giving up on sortition, and the Athenian version had loads of quick fixes and fudges built into it. As I keep meaning to write a post on, I don't see how these big theoretical decentralisation schemes are any less managerialist than big theoretical centralisation schemes.

I really haven't seen the evidence that representative parliamentary democracy doesn't work. People complain about it, but that's part of the weather. The Athenians certainly complained about sortition.


As for evidence, consider chapter 4 and 6 in this report: http://www.togetherwecan.info/files/downloads/Reports/Beyond%20the%20Ballot.pdf

chris y

Hell, I've been advocating this for 40 years, since I learned about the Athenians. You couldn't press gang 500 people to serve for years, obviously, but you would empanel a jury of 24/48/the number you first thought of, to scrutinise each bill that came up from the Commons. They would be able to propose amendments, and refer aspects of bills back to the Commons, and would be discharged on completion of their duties.

There'd have to be legal and clerical support, of course. And the restrictions on the powers of the Lords in the present Parliament Act would still apply to "Juries of Scrutiny" or whatever you called them. And they wouldn't be able to initiate legislation, but I'm not sure the Lords should anyway.


The Wisdom of Crowds citation does make sense but, as dsquared points out, groups form naturally in a crowd. Surowiecki's point - which he makes again and again - is that many individuals making decisions according to their own personal information make good group decisions. Ie. they have to remain as individuals.
Keeping the parliament/discussion form potentially undermines this individual autonomy; he gives lots of examples where people are led not just by groupthink but by simply being led away from their 'normal' decision, thus disrupting the process.

Marcin Tustin

Hmm, if we want to avoid such groupings, then that would leave either small panels chosen on a per-bill basis, or a very large pool of potential members, and which of them votes on any given bill is chosen by lot.

Chris Bertram

Not just used in the ancient world, but also for the British Columbia Citizens Assembly:


Tim Worstall

Thus my proposal for Lords reform from a year ago.
Allow the political parties to continue flogging off peerages, give them to famous people and near dead Cabinet Ministers.
Good. That funds the political parties without tax money.
Make them all inheritable as well.
But, only the second generation can sit in the Lords, not the people who were actually awarded the peerage.
Sortition plus we keep the grasping hands out of the tax pot.
What's wrong with that?

tom s.

Why stop at the house of lords? It's time for a monarch by lottery.

I'm serious about this. Despite myself, I have found the Canadian practice of periodically selecting a Governor General (representative of the Queen) to work well. The current holder of the position (which lasts for a few years), Michaelle Jean, is a non-prominent journalist from Haiti via Quebec and is very popular.

The system seems ripe for political patronage and so on, but this time at least it seems to have chosen someone who is an "everywoman" - just a regular person - and put them at the (titular) head of the whole country, and she seems to have risen to the challenge.

Choosing a monarch by lottery, which would take it one step further, may produce similar surprises.


"you would empanel a jury": I take it that we'll all agree to go for the Scottish 15 rather than the English 12?


A jury works within a very narrowly-defined parameter space (has the case against the defendant been proved beyond reasonable doubt?) Basically, they have to choose between the argument of the prosecution of the argument of the defence.

A revising chamber doesn't have such an easy job - they don't have a defense council pointing out all the flaws in the legislation. The opposition of the day may do that, or they may not (there are certainly cases where all three main parties merrily support legislation which is stupid.) The ideal revising chamber has to winkle out these flaws themselves.

Perhaps one could take more than just the jury, though. Select your 200 citizens at random, from all those aged over 21 and without recent convictions for a criminal offence, and make them your House of Lords. Then hire a group of lawyers, economists, scientists and the like, and call them the Devil's Advocacy Office. Their task is to point out problems in the legislation that the Commons proposes, but they have no actual power - they can only advise (but just like the defence council is there to act for the defendant and not for what he thinks is justice, this office must point out problems rather than making some kind of balanced assessment.) Make the bill's proposer debate against the Devil's Advocate on the floor of the house, and let the "jury" decide.

Don't limit the "jury" to just a yes or no vote, though, and let them come up with their own problems with the legislation.


I agree in principle.

80% of our legislation comes from Europe and instead of the House of Lords we should crap the second chamber and take the European parliament more serioulsy if we are to remain in the EU.

michael wilson

You can have whatever kind of second chamber you like, but to get rid of the patronage seekers why can't they be called 'Monitors" instead of lords. That should bring them down to earth. I can't see many people pouring out millions to be called a monitor.



I agree, except for one minor variation. The thing we should scrap is our membership of the EU. We should leave, and unilaterally declare that we are removing all tarrifs on imports, whether from the EU or from anywhere else.

Anything that can produce the laughable "EU constitution" is beyond saving.

Anony Mouse

Just to second the idea that in my experience too a jury can put their heads together to do a great job of weighing evidence, and that the ban on "talking" leading to no research is scandalous.

Kevin Carson

You beat me to it, Tom S. You'd be hard put to find a random commoner with the average Hannoverian's genetic damage from inbreeding.

Ross John King

I agree with many of these observations related to democracy by lottery. But in today's society, many are concerned about the chance of criminals and the mentally ill becoming government officials through random selection.

Would you screen candidates? How? Would they need to be at least a certain age? Lack a criminal record? What type of crimes (misdemeanor, felony?) How would you test for mental illness? The MMPI personality disorder test? You get the idea. Eventually you'd need some form of screening combined with the random selection. But what screening is most protected from being corrupted?

Screening and random selection are combined in the process of selecting jurors for jury trials for a reason.

For trial by public jury, the jurors are randomly selected from candidates who’ve been screened for age and residence. Then they’re screened for lack of felony crime history, ability to understand language, and mental fitness. Then they’re screened again by potentially biased questions and interpretations of answers by government officials and private attorneys. This screening process certainly needs some improvement. But, we can learn some lessons from this and apply it to ideas on how to select oru government officials.

Some new ideas on how to select officials by integrating public voting (as the way to screen) with random selection (as the way to improve justice) are presented at www.globalpublic.org. This process begins with city councils. In most cities the selection process could be like this. Any person who receives at least 1,000 votes enters a pool/group of candidates. A lottery is used to select nine city council members from this pool. People running for office can spend as much as they want on campaigns. It really wouldn’t matter anymore. This would mark the end of political parties and undue influence over government by mass media.

For county to higher levels the selection of candidates could be by council members voting for a few of their peers after they’ve all served a term together. This would be followed by public referendum votes to accept/reject candidates). For example, after serving a full term together, members of a city council would elect candidates from among themselves who are most fit to be the city’s representative(s) on the board of county commissioners and to be the city’s mayor (for the next term). Then residents of the city vote to approve or reject these candidates. If rejected, the city council selects other members. If rejected again by the public. They could pick from council members who’ve served in previous terms. This combination could be used to advance the best officials all the way to a national congress and office of president (or council of presidents). This process combines voting by a group of people (council members) who REALLY know the candidates AND voting by the public as a final approval, a safety check -- just in case there’s been council corruption the public knows about.

Often there are many ways to do something. And there’s not just one right way or perfect way. But, these ideas make common sense -- as we’ve been told by many people over the past few years.

These are all new ideas. They are an alternative to the “all or nothing”/“black and white” thinking of selection EITHER by public voting OR by lottery. That type of thinking limits the potential for reaching a practical solution. A compromise similar to that used in jury selection is needed. But what is most fair and what is most protected from corruption? The corruption of jury selection is another story. Jury screening by potentially biased government officials and private attorney using varying questions and personal judgment of answers is wide open to corruption. Perhaps jurors could be selected like city council members -- through the 1,000 vote minimum and random selection idea -- and then serve as jurors for a year (maximum), earning a healthy salary.

Fair screening AND random selection would reduce problems in both the process for giving us individual justice AND social justice. This combination would significantly reduce the corrupting influence of extreme wealth and power -- along with the growing power of mass media -- over justice and democracy.

After you've read a bit at globalpublic.org, let me know what you think. And, please, share your ideas on solutions.

Ross King

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