Are “Professional” Politicians the Problem?

Democracy v. Demarchy

Do we really need politicians?

Can’t we cut out the useless middlemen and do it ourselves?

Professional politicians just pimp their services out to the highest bidder.

And American democracy – once a glorious thing – has devolved into an oligarchy, according to two leading IMF officials, the former Vice President of the Dallas Federal Reserve,  the the head of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, Moody’s chief economist and many others.

This is not how it was supposed to be.   Thomas Jefferson envisioned “citizen farmers” who served in political office for a few years, and then went back to their normal jobs.

Reader Eric H. has a very interesting take on the whole question of politics and democracy:

“I was curious about Athenian democracy, and when I was poking around I was very surprised to find out that traditionally, a state in which the people voted for their public officials was known as an oligarchy. This was because that even if not at first, then eventually the government would devolve to a small, homogenous group that had enough political power to disregard the will of the people. Today we define oligarchy as simply “the rule of the few,” but that’s only the symptom; the Greeks understood that the disease was the delegation of political power through elections. Sounds radical, I know.

Today we call it representative democracy, but that’s just a euphemism (perhaps the most pervasive euphemism in history). It’s hard to understand how giving up the power to make the decisions that affect one’s life could be considered to be any kind of democracy. Even though the definitions have been changed, there is ample evidence to show that the ancients were correct, much of which has been chronicled on your site. And it’s an explanation that makes a lot of sense; rather than a secret conspiracy for world domination, maybe our problems are down to a deluded public repeatedly making the same mistakes.

I think a discussion about whether we should elect our public officials and lawmakers is important because:

1) It’s mind boggling to consider how many people (hundreds of millions? billions?) have been hoodwinked into thinking that because they might occasionally have some (extremely limited) political influence, they have some kind of political power

2) It’s heartbreaking when the first order of business of a people who wrest political power at a terrific cost is to give it away in the hope that this time they will choose the right oligarchs

3) It would make it possible to understand “the end of history” as the emergence of oligarchy as the dominant form of government in the world (great if you’re an oligarch, not so great for the rest of us)

4) It might mitigate the suffering caused by seeing the same often cretinous or senile career politicians year after year

5) The creeping feeling that by bothering less and less with the pretense of democracy, our ruling class feels almost secure enough to drop it altogether and take off the gloves.

The Athenians cured the disease of oligarchy by randomly choosing their public officials and submitting legislation to popular vote. There were other checks and balances, but those were the main features. I think that until we adopt some combination of those two processes, our political situation is unlikely to improve, even if the ills of oligarchy take a long time to manifest themselves. Quite a few people have actually given a lot of thought to how we might adopt aspects of the Athenian system; a web search on sortition and demarchy will yield a lot material.

We really need to challenge our most basic assumptions if we want things to change.”

Wikipedia explains:

Demarchy (or lottocracy) is a form of government in which the state is governed by randomly selected decision makers who have been selected by sortition (lot) from a broadly inclusive pool of eligible citizens. These groups, sometimes termed “policy juries”, “citizens’ juries”, or “consensus conferences”, deliberately make decisions about public policies in much the same way that juries decide criminal cases.

Demarchy, in theory, could overcome some of the functional problems of conventional representative democracy, which is widely subject to manipulation by special interests and a division between professional policymakers (politicians and lobbyists) vs. a largely passive, uninvolved and often uninformed electorate. According to Australian philosopher John Burnheim, who coined the term demarchy, random selection of policymakers would make it easier for everyday citizens to meaningfully participate, and harder for special interests to corrupt the process.

More generally, random selection of decision makers from a larger group is known as sortition (from the Latin base for lottery). The Athenian democracy made much use of sortition, with nearly all government offices filled by lottery (of full citizens) rather than by election. Candidates were almost always male, Greek, educated citizens holding a minimum of wealth and status.

In the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Ontario, a group of citizens was randomly selected to create a Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform to investigate and recommend changes to the provinces’ electoral systems. A similar system happened with the Dutch Burgerforum Kiesstelsel. The Old Order Amish use a combination of election and sortition to select church leaders; men receiving two or three nominations to fill a vacancy (the number varies by district) are then asked to select a psalm book containing a slip of paper, one of those slips being marked to indicate who will take on the burden of the position.

***

An attractive feature of demarchy is that if political leaders were replaced on a regular basis with randomly selected citizens, it would reduce institutionalised corruption, party apathy and complacency as well as a history of party led entitlement, lack of choice and variety in political ideas in platforms. It could be argued that replacing politicians in this way would solve such problems.

As people would be randomly selected to act as representatives it would be less likely that the person involved would be part of a “party political machine”.

The theory says that a randomly selected person as a representative would not have to compromise their own beliefs in order to make political alliances and gain support, nor fear political reprisals in implementing tough or controversial legislation. However, as theory goes, there is no inherent guarantee, nor anything a priori in demarchy which guarantees this.

There is no proven link that long term political representation equals a larger amount of monetary loss through political corruption nor could it be proven that random citizens in office would end or limit corruption nor that corruption would increase.

Research by the World Bank and others has shown that a form of citizens’ assembly called Participatory budgeting reduced corruption in several cities.

***

Politicians are often forced to make decisions which compromise their own beliefs and what they may think is best through the pressures of future elections, fitting into their party apparatus, pleasing those who funded their campaigns and vote sharing and voting compromise. The time lost in the voting process, image forming and maintenance and focusing on approval would be better suited to forming good law and policy. Demarchy would eliminate some of these pressures, however these pressures are likely to exist in any political office and there is no guarantee that a randomly selected citizen would adhere to his/her belief system or that he/she would have the political history, knowledge or courage to do so.

Demarchy, because it is based upon random selection, does not make a person’s career dependent upon popularity, and, because a demarchy is likely to remove the direct influence of political parties, there is no “party line” that the individual must adhere to. This is not to say that political alliances could not be formed after a person’s selection—but that the structure of demarchy is less suited to decision-making based upon politics.

One benefit of demarchy is that it is more suited to non-party politics. So some claim it is better able to build consensus or compromise.

***

No modern nation has attempted to use demarchy as a primary system for political decision making, so it is difficult to assess problems of transition or shortcomings of the system.

Wikipedia also notes:

Almost all Greek writers who mention democracy (including Aristotle, Plato and Herodotus) both emphasise the role of selection by lot or state outright that being allotted is more democratic than elections. For example Plato says:

“Democracy arises after the poor are victorious over their adversaries, some of whom they kill and others of whom they exile, then they share out equally with the rest of the population political offices and burdens; and in this regime public offices are usually allocated by lot.”

We see the same idea in the 18th century after the re-emergence of democracy in the writings of Charles de Secondat, baron de Montesquieu:

“The suffrage by lot is natural to democracy, as that by choice is to aristocracy”

***

[But] according to Xenophon (Memorabilia Book I, 2.9), this classical argument was offered by Socrates [against demarchy]:

[Socrates] taught his companions to despise the established laws by insisting on the folly of appointing public officials by lot, when none would choose a pilot or builder or flautist by lot, nor any other craftsman for work in which mistakes are far less disastrous than mistakes in statecraft.

Interesting stuff … what do you think?

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  • Eric Hodgdon

    “Do we even need politicians?”
    No!
    Elected citizens to create new laws is a different question.

    Politicians are the slimy sludge found at water treatment plants.
    Politicians can be shot dead and there’s no loss of life.
    Politicians require only their swollen egos to be stroked for them to be able to have motive abilities.

  • Michael

    Interesting,Fascinating!Mike Gravel;National Ballot Resolutions {concept or previously introduced legislation?} is an example of one aspect of key elements described by “George”above.

    Ballot resolutions require the engagement ,the involvement of the citizenry more importantly than one off casual vote reliance on a single representative to do the constituents’ will; take care of business,get things done,do the dirty sausage work.How about a Parliamentary Rules update[no riders and up or down votes on single issue bills?etc.etc.Put your suggestions here]

    Fact;Political power [ x human nature] concentrates; not necessarily to plotting ziobanker oligarchs inevitably but to the people who can read, write,print, organize,facilitate,negotiate , have the attendance endurance and the savings to pay for expenses in order to Administer the cause,the Movement of the Will of WE the PEOPLE.THE ONES WHO PARTICIPATE IN MEETINGS,friends and neighbors are the
    conspirators!!!!

  • kimyo

    the perfect platform for people-based government would be reddit (minus the kittens and tits and sockpuppets, of course)

    theoretically, the strongest arguments would get the most upvotes. monsanto’s pathetic attempts to suppress food labeling would be downvoted into oblivion. likewise, bayer’s bee-killing neonicotinoids would die. as would corn based ethanol, fracking, nuclear power.

    one hopes that the next edward snowden will release an excel workbook containing the nicknames and ip addresses of all the sockpuppets & shills. imagine reading reddit without them. that could very well be the next step in human evolution.

  • AristotelCostel

    It does not matter the name of the system as long as we have “intelligent” services.

  • Eric H.

    Socrates’ argument doesn’t hold water for a variety of reasons:

    1. One problem with elections is that people tend to vote according to their biases, rather than for the most qualified candidate (Reagan and W are great examples)

    2. Usually only the wealthy or those under the patronage of the wealthy can afford the time and expense of successfully running for office, so even if they’re qualified their loyalties lie with the rich

    3. The only current requirement for most elected offices is that the candidate has been breathing a certain number of years

    4. When you need a pilot or builder or flautist in public office, you most likely would appoint them rather than hold an election. For instance, the Athenians didn’t elect their military generals.

  • Tonto

    Hogwash.

    The country is a Republic, which is a form of government that intends to keep decision making out of the hands of the common rabble, and with good reason. Remember Bonaparte? When the country was founded, suffrage was very limited, and that served the country quite well.

    Today, with near universal suffrage, we have a different problem, that of the gullible masses electing populist figureheads with little capacity to lead, except to lead the country off to hell in a hand-basket. The other problem is the aristocracy-of-bureaucratic government workers who are entrenched and pledge their allegiance to those who can advance or maintain their careers. The bureaucracy does not work for the Republic.

    Perhaps the solution is a wider implementation of what are called, “term limits”. All public employees might be limited to how long they can be employed by the federal government. This might break-up the bureaucracy-aristocracy. Term limits might be applied in a more absolute way. Term limits might exclude anyone from running for federal office or holding a federal job who has held some previous federal office or job. Term limits might also be set with a small number of years that individuals could hold federal office or a federal job. Three is a nice round number. The idea that, three years and you are all done for life as a “public servant”, might foster great change for the better in our Republic.

    That’s about the only way I can see the country might improve what has become the burden of the federal government. Such a “term limit” approach would make the task of lobbyists nearly impossible.

    These ideas we all have about changing the world, are pointless exercises in delusions of grandeur. For the time being, all we really can do is to vote out the incumbents, and to refuse to even consider the seasoned candidates like Hillary Clinton and Ron Paul.

    I want to vote for a president who has never held any public office or political job.

    • par4

      Elitists and authoritarians never trust the common sense of the people.

      • Tonto

        Napoleon, Mussolini, Pol Pot, Stalin, Lenin, Idi Amin and JFK were all loved by the common people. Hillary is currently grooming her stout, masculine, post-menopausal persona to appeal to the common people. Ron Paul has had his appeal-to-the-common people show on the road for a decade. They are both a bit too over-the-top to be good leaders.

        The common sense of the common people has been tried, tested and yielded abysmal failure every time. I wouldn’t trust you or any one of the other common people to pick up the rubbish once a week. The common people are thieves and miscreants.

    • Eric H.

      A republic is simply a form of government without a monarch. Our founding fathers were certainly well-versed enough in classical political history and philosophy to realize they were choosing an oligarchic means of selecting the leaders of the republic.

      Even if we rabble (and darn proud of it) were universally well-educated and well-informed, we would still have only populist figureheads to choose from, because the system prevents anyone else from having a fighting chance.

      Although I agree in principle with term limits, there’s nothing to keep a billionaire from buying a new politician every term. Since there are only 535 lawmakers for 300,000,000 people (representative democracy?), it seems possible that a rich enough person could corner the politician market with relative ease.

      And since you seem to have definite political opinions, wouldn’t you rather have a chance to exercise them in public office and the ability to vote on important issues than entrust your power to someone you’ll probably never even meet?

      • Tonto

        Go ahead, be proud of being part of the rabble. That’s your lot, so go ahead and wallow in it. Let the shit ooze up between your toes, for all care. It adds nothing to your credibility.

        Billionaires can only buy what is available. After a while, everyone becomes available. That’s why it is so necessary to get rid of them, as soon as possible.

        Today the billionaires are buying people who last many decades in office, and in government jobs too.

        • jo6pac

          So how’s the term limit thingy working for you in Calli. It just looks like business as usual, the same staffers working with the same lobbyist telling the person elected what best for them after they leave office. Yep a good plan is the same as the old plan.
          Yep a proud rabble member

  • Eric H.

    Sorry, I should have said that the Athenians didn’t choose their generals by lot.

    By the way, thanks GW.

    The thing that fascinates me the most is how demarchy could transcend the often phony political divides that keep us from evolving politically. It has nothing to do with liberalism or conservatism, it isn’t based on an economic theory, it doesn’t favor any particular ethical or moral code, it’s neither anarchic nor tyrannical. It simply assumes that people are capable of making their own decisions.

    The most likely criticism of demarchy is that the affairs of state are too complex to be dealt with without delegating decision making ability to a select few. But shouldn’t that raise the question of whether the complexity arises because too much power has been delegated to the state, or has been arrogated by the state, in the first place? Domestically, do we really need any federal laws beyond those that ensure that the states are in compliance with the Constitution? And Constitutional amendments are so infrequent that it would be feasible to enact them via referendum.

    Barring revolution (NB NSA, CIA and others, since we all now know you are listening, I am most emphatically not advocating revolution), if demarchy ever takes hold, it will probably be from the ground up. If you are part of a grass roots organization, and you must delegate decision making, maybe you could try choosing the decision makers by lot rather than by election. If you organize a protest, maybe you can do it around demarchic principles. On the other hand, if you choose “representative democracy,” keep a weather eye on how long it takes for some small faction to gain control of a key resource or voting bloc.

  • gozounlimited

    It doesn’t matter what you call it….. the question is…..where did it come from? …. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZS1x-6al2pE

  • Random Sample

    “All the forces in the world are not so powerful as an idea whose time has come.”
- Victor Hugo



    Sortition is an idea whose time has come … again.

    

If you’re interested, read on: http://equalitybylot.wordpress.com .

    Then get organised, get active & MAKE IT HAPPEN.

  • jadan

    As much as we each aspire to have our voices heard and have some influence on the national course of events, we have to be content within our own little bailiwick. I am a cell in the liver of a greater body politic, let’s say, and even though I do only liver-related things, I am aware of the greater thing of which I am a tiny part. Within myself is a holographic model of the whole thing that allows me to contemplate local and global simultaneously.

    All politics is local, as a professional pol once observed, a Speaker, I believe. What ties localities together and makes them effective, is a system of metapolitics. How do we live in organic harmony? We observe the limitations that define our lives. We have lost the knowledge of what they are. Talk about “rules of the road”. Don’t destroy your own environment. Don’t kill other creatures needlessly. Don’t exceed the carrying capacity of the greater system that supports you. Don’t spend your time devising the means of your own extinction. The greater part of our national treasure is devoted to this particular end.

    Things are fucked up, in brief. Our local political activity cannot be effective because our metapolitical context is chaos. The greater body politic stumbles through time like a zombie, without direction or purpose. We have little notion of who we are or why we’re here.

    And you tell me over and over again that you don’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction. Well, my friend, we are. And that’s the only way home.

  • Yoram Gat

    Hi all,

    For those interested in sortition and its potential as a tool of democracy – please visit Equality-by-Lot (http://equalitybylot.wordpress.com), the blog devoted to informing, discussing and promoting sortition.

    Best regards,

    Yoram

  • If they’ve been spying on all all communication of everyone in this country, do you think elections aren’t rigged? You have to be a naive fool to think elections aren’t rigged on electronic voting machines. That’s the elephant in the room no one talks about. If they have the technology to turn on your phone/car/computer/refrigerator to spy on you, do you think electronic voting machines are “off limits” to them? wtf? get a clue!

  • richard childers

    As a network and systems analyst I have always been concerned about the inability to assure the integrity of the Internet.

    For this reason I support the use of strong encryption, not only to preserve privacy but also to protect contents of packets from being changed, in transit – the process of encryption and decryption mathematically guarantees that the content you are receiving has not been compromised.

    I mention this because now that it is accepted fact that the US Government (and other agencies, public and private) posses and are making active use of their ability to read the contents of [each] others’ network packets …

    … it is time to take the next step, and ask: do they also have the ability to inject packets into the Internet … or the ability to modify packets that pass through compromised machines, i real time?

    Can a person trying to access the New York Times be redirected to a kiddy porn site … and then, prosecuted for possession of child porn, based upon a network traffic log that was manufactured, to order, by injecting the appropriate packets, upstream of the logging mechanism?

    Based on information and belief, I would have to say, ‘yes’. The technical capacity exists – it has, for over a decade, now. CPUs are fast enough. Routers are smart enough.

    Most important … humans are ruthless enough.

    No schemer with the political savvy to crawl to the highest levels of a government would be too dumb to see the advantages of being able to inject allegations of criminal behavior into their opponents’ organizations.

    If nothing else, they would rush to do it to others, before the others did it to them.

  • John Woods

    I tried this by sponsoring my own initiative 1354 in Washington State. The near universal reaction was “I don’t want my state government run by IDIOTS”. Deep down in their hearts, voters consider their representatives to be their lawyers. Voter also consider being drafted into a citizen’s legislature to be a year of jury duty and a fate worse than combat duty. See Ballotpedia and my web site for details

    http://ballotpedia.org/Washington_Randomly_Selected_State_Legislature_Measure,_Initiative_1354_(2014)
    https://sites.google.com/site/jwoods486/i1354

  • sailorboy62

    Who will destroy our republic first –career politicians or career bureaucrats?

  • Jack Bauer

    There is no question here, pro politicians are a cancer destroying our forefathers dream. They are a bloated, festering sore that must be lanced while we still have some semblance of a nation.