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Lottocracy vs Legislative Service

Corrupt Legislation

Alexander Guerrero in aeon:

"There are hard questions about how exactly to structure a political system with lottery-selection at its heart. Here’s one approach, which I am in the process of developing, that I call lottocracy. The basic components are straightforward. First, rather than having a single, generalist legislature such as the United States Congress, the legislative function would be fulfilled by many different single-issue legislatures (each one focusing on, for example, just agriculture or health care)."

It's the same concept as legislative service except randomly selected people serve a single issue for three years rather than just voting on a single bill. I think the advantage is clearly that you get to build up a greater depth of knowledge if you're spending three years learning about health care. The disadvantage is that the number of people willing to give three years of their life is going to be much lower than just asking for the few weeks or months that legislative service would require.

(previously, previously)

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House of Lords - time for Legislative Service?

House of Lords - time for Legislative Service?

I've mulled the idea of having an upper chamber randomly selected from the public like jury service for some time, often over a pint with a friend who prefers to remain nameless. This friend wrote an outstanding letter to Mark Harper which is included below by his kind permission. 

Mark Harper didn't manage more than a stock response, and neither did Matthew Offord and so it doesn't seem that the British Government is taking up the concept any time soon. We talked about the e-petition system but it turns out that it's limited to 1,000 characters and submissions are vetted for duplicates. There is an existing e-petition with this idea written by Simon Ferrigno which I've voted for, and if you support the legislative service idea please do the same.

Dear Mr Harper

We understand that you are working with the Deputy Prime Minister on the matter of an elected second chamber. We’re sure that many proposals and reports have crossed your desk on this topic. We’d like to share something we came up with when the issue was initially raised a few years ago. Having kept abreast of developments via media reports, we were both surprised not to hear anything similar mooted.

Our suggestion is that the second chamber be made up of ordinary members of the public drawn from across the country, randomly selected from the electoral roll, typically for up to 2 weeks of service. The system would be administered in a similar way to jury duty, albeit on a national basis. These people would be brought together, put up in decent accommodation, well fed, and otherwise made to feel as if their presence and contribution is both valued and important. They will be tutored, in an unbiased fashion, on the background of the Bill under their consideration. The syllabus could be defined by the civil servants who draw up the legislation under consideration. At this point, a multiple choice test on what they have been taught will be administered, but the results will not be revealed.

After the test, they will have the specifics of the Bill explained to them by two barristers (selected by parties for and against). The barristers will have the ability to bring in subject matter experts (perhaps drawing on the talent pool currently in place in the HOL). At the end of the evidentiary stage, the “constitutional jury” will have the opportunity to debate the issues and pose any further questions they may have to the barristers or witnesses.

Once completed, the constitutional jury will vote on the matter(s) at hand. The only votes that will actually count are those cast by people who passed the multiple choice test (as long as a quorum is reached). The results will only be reported as percentages. No one will ever be told if their vote counted, and all members of the constitutional jury are recorded as having served in deciding the matter.

Among the numerous advantages, as we see them, are:

  1. Politicians are often heard bemoaning the lack of public engagement with politics. This is an ideal way of re-engaging ordinary members of the public with the business of politics and what happens in Parliament.
  2. The primacy of the House of Commons will be ensured due to the transience of the members of the second chamber.
  3. There are no expensive elections to be paid for, nor will anyone’s voting record need to be skewed to ensure their re-election.
  4. As this chamber will be entirely made up of randomly selected members of the public, there can be no claims of cronyism.
  5. Voting along party political lines may be reduced; hence the decisions made are those that a random cross section of society deem to be right, rather than the whips.
  6. As the names of the constitutional jury are not disclosed until after the final voting, lobbying by vested interests will be reduced.
  7. The second chamber does not necessarily need to be based in London. In fact, there is no reason why it cannot become a travelling roadshow, convening on a rotating basis in major towns and cities around the UK. This may go some way towards quietening some of the accusations that Parliament is London-centric and lessening talk about the Westminster Village.
  8. Should Parliamentary time be short and the workload high, multiple constitutional juries can be assembled (perhaps in different locations), to work in parallel considering different Bills.

We realise that some members of the House of Lords serve on multiple select committees. We’ll admit to not having a plan for how these will be staffed in the future. One could assume that for now, they can be appointed by Parliament continuing to draw on the talent pool from the current HOL and augmenting any vacancies with new appointments proposed by a committee of civil servants.

We realise that all parties are currently wedded to the idea of an elected second chamber. Is there any way that this could work as a viable alternative?

Yours sincerely...

Photo credit: UK Parliament cc

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Go-arounds: LEGO and Legislative Service

Go-arounds: LEGO and Legislative Service

LEGO: I wrote in January about LEGO's[1] misogynistic latest LEGO for Girls campaign. Earlier this month I was excited to read Mary Elizabeth Williams reporting that 'Lego tires to get less sexist' on Salon but it turned out that rather than reversing course LEGO had just agreed to meet with SPARK. SPARK reports back on the meeting today with the news that LEGO has been conducting 'an internal audit of their minifigure count' and will generally be looking at their gender based marketing. Looking forward to seeing some actual results.

Legislative Service: I've been bothering people at parties about legislative service for around 20 years. Most people nod politely and back away. So I was pretty excited to read 'Fewer Voters, Better Elections' by Joshua Davis in the May 2012 issue of Wired. The thrust of the article is very similar to legislative service and highlight research from James Fishkin at Stanford (Deliberative Democracy, it looks like he's been bothering people at cocktail parties for longer than me) and David Chaum (Random-Sample Elections). Something like this has to be the solution to getting past the two-body problem of our current democracy.

Colophon: I pinched the title from the excellent Patrick Smith, although my aviation blogging is limited to bitching about British Airways. The picture comes from the Wikipedia article on go-arounds because it's hilarious in a Douglas Adamsian way - like you just couldn't understand the concept of not landing a plane without the illustration.

[1] Why do Americans go for LEGOS and math while the British use LEGO and maths?

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Episode Four

President Barack Obama meets with staff to discuss ongoing efforts to find a balanced approach to the debt limit and deficit reduction, in the Oval Office, July 11, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

I became a US Citizen in 2010 so I didn’t get to vote in the last presidential election. If I had been able to vote it would absolutely have been for Obama. I was captivated by the promise of a transformational presidency. I should have known better and I was completely mistaken.

The outcome of the debt ceiling negotiation is motivating me to write about this now, but it’s really just the final straw. Well, not quite a straw, it’s unconscionable that an increase in tax revenue isn’t part of the deal. And how was the conversation boxed into subtle differences in where to cut trillions of dollars rather than why? It’s hard to think of a better way to increase unemployment and decrease growth.

Reasonable people can disagree on the budget. What really bothers me is that Obama has failed so comprehensively to rectify the damage that Bush did to America’s reputation and moral authority. If you want to spread democracy and freedom it would seem to me that the most powerful tool is providing a shining example and an inspiration. America has often played this role – never perfectly but the imperfections have historically been an embarrassment. Now, increasingly, they’re a source of pride: celebrating assassinations, brushing torture under the carpet, a war on whistleblowers and increased use of ‘state secrets’ to brush aside inconvenient due process.

On torture in particular Obama’s “…belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards.” kills me. It’s not a defense I feel I could use to fight a speeding ticket. It’s a complete abrogation of responsibility.

It also really bothers me that Obama can’t just come out as supporting gay Americans having he same rights as the rest of us.

All this leaves me with a large problem in 2012. Even though I live in California and therefore have a worthless vote I still take my electoral responsibility seriously. I just don’t think I can vote for this guy, even if he’s better than the alternative.

Obama: please don’t run in 2012. I need a new hope.

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Legislative Service

congress

Churchill said “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” and since then we seem to have given up trying to find a better one. Twiddling with the mechanics of voting doesn’t count.

My idea: Legislative Service. This is modeled on Jury Service only instead of judging a person you’re asked to judge a proposed bill. In your typical bicameral system of government the Legislative Service would replace the upper house. The Senate in the US, The House of Lords in the UK.

In a US version 101 citizens would be randomly drafted for each bill. The pros and cons of the bill would be presented in an adversarial environment, much like a jury trial. The citizen legislators would then vote anonymously and either pass the bill or send it back to the House of Representatives. The President would retain the right to veto a bill.

Such a system would castrate the malign influence of money and lobbyists in the political system. It would also improve engagement as more citizens take part or talk to friends and family who have served.

You would still have professional legislators who would be responsible to their constituents. They’d just have a harder time adding pork and returning favors. Each bill would need to be palatable to a majority of average citizens.

Possible objections:

People dodge jury service all the time. Wouldn’t you end up with a similar problem? I don’t think so. Legislative Jury would be far more prestigious.

Isn’t the average voter too stupid to understand complex legislation? You are the average voter. In any case, the adversarial system would give both sides a chance to both argue and explain. Expert witnesses could be called. Ballot measures that are voted on by the entire electorate suffer from this problem as money is spent to over-simplify and obfuscate. In Legislative Service you’re taking a representative sample of the electorate and giving them the time and help needed to make a serious judgment.

It’s unconstitutional! This would require a constitutional amendment.

What about knee-jerk legislation? Tyranny of the Majority? Hopefully this system would help to put a brake on hasty and ill-thought through bills. The President would retain veto power and the Supreme Court would be able to annul unconstitutional decisions and so sufficient checks and balances would remain in the system.

Of course getting rid of The Senate isn’t going to happen overnight. I can think of a couple of ways to start moving in the right direction.

Firstly, this plan is just as applicable at the state level. My state, California, is a mess and this proposal could help. There are rumblings about holding a constitutional convention and if this happens I want us to ditch ballot initiatives and replace the State Senate with Legislative Service.

Secondly, and more plausibly, what about setting up Legislative Service as a non-profit to look at each bill and vote on it but without the actual power of preventing bad bills from being enacted? A sort of non-partisan citizen think tank. If any of my billionaire readers are interested get in touch.

I’ve been mulling the idea of Legislative Service for quite some time, but especially following the atrocious reform of the British House of Lords in 1999 resulting in an upper house composed of appointed peers, a handful of hereditary peers and a few bishops. This threw the independent oversight baby out with the unelected toffs bathwater. Since 1999 I’ve lived in California and my revulsion for the US political climate keeps growing. Serious change is needed. I think Legislative Service is it.

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I Thought He Came With You

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