The view from here: betting on democracy


Archcurator William F. Buckley Jr. wrote once, “I am compelled to confess that I should rather live in a society ruled by the first 2,000 names in the Boston telephone book than in a society ruled by the 2,000 faculty members of Harvard University. “

He was joking, of course. Between his tennis lessons, his cruises on his yacht, and his talk in that accent, Buckley wanted us to know he was also anti-elitist.

But maybe he was onto something.

You can change presidents and change ruling parties, but some things don’t change.

Congress can find $700 billion a year for the Department of Defense, but it can’t find $100 billion to help families stay out of poverty.

We can let billionaires wealthy enough to own private space programs avoid paying taxes, but struggling families have to pay every penny of their student loans.

There’s plenty of money to help after a fire or hurricane, but not enough to fight the climate change that causes fires and hurricanes.

(Add your own outrage here.)

The problem may be how we choose who goes to Washington, or more accurately, who chooses our choices, which is ultimately the candidates themselves.

I can give you a list of names of people I consider to be real officials, and so can you, and some names might match. But all of them, along with the obviously corrupt hacks, had to decide at some point that they should be in a position of power and had to work incredibly hard to get there. If only the ambitious can play, it will affect the game.

This is not a new problem. It was debated when the first democracy was founded in ancient Athens, and thinkers found an interesting way around it. Using what is called sorting or “lotocracygovernments were often made up of citizens chosen at random, much like we have jury duty today.

The idea may sound ridiculous, but it is taken seriously by scholars committed to finding ways to revive democracy around the world. In a very good report published on the general information site Vox, Dylan Matthews Quotes scholars who note that elections are not always the most democratic way to solve problems. Election results are influenced by special interest campaign spending and various biases. Most people have had the experience of holding their noses and voting for a candidate they didn’t like because they thought the opponent would be worse.

Scholars argue that the value of democracy is that it uses a wide range of perspectives outside of those of the elite to make decisions – like Buckley’s phone book. Lotteries could bring into the decision-making process people who would normally be excluded by the electoral process, either because they hold opinions incompatible with those of the donors, or simply because they are small, shy or belong to a racial minority or ethnic .

“So much rhetoric around ‘saving democracy’ – including that of President Joe Biden speech calling on the Senate to change filibuster rules – revolves around protecting voting rights and access to ballot boxes,” Matthews writes. “It seems hard to imagine having a functioning democracy without elections. But there’s a reason smart people flock to this idea.

By ‘flowing to’, he mostly means ‘writing about’, but he cites a few concrete examples of randomly selected government agencies.

The ideas for France’s national climate policy were developed by the Citizen’s Convention for the Climate, with its 150 members randomly drawn from several demographic and regional categories.

The Canadian province of British Columbia called a randomly selected meeting Citizens’ assembly on electoral reform, which produced recommendations for overhauling the electoral system. These ideas were sent to voters in a referendum but failed to pass the required 60% threshold.

Ireland has used citizens’ assemblies to develop proposals on a number of issues, including the legalization of abortion, which was endorsed by referendum in 2018.

According to the Belgian political scientist Helene Landemore, these bodies work best when they are organized around a specific issue and their recommendations are submitted to the electorate for approval.

May be. Anyone who was present for the 2021 election in Maine, when corporations flooded the state with cash trying to sway the public vote on whether to block a transmission line through the Maine woods, knows that the Referendums on issues are no purer than elections with candidates.

Still, it would be interesting to know who voters would trust more: their randomly chosen fellow citizens or the selfish business interests with the money to advertise.

If a jury of our peers is what is needed to restore public trust in institutions, perhaps we should take a chance.

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