Government by lottery?

In light of the growing discontent with establishment government around the world – the EU, the UK and the US have all had severe reprimands by voters recently – should radically different ways of governing be considered?

What about choosing a committee of ‘MPs’ by lottery?

Nicholas Reed Smith suggests this at The Spinoff: The Trump phenomenon proves that electoral politics has failed. Time to try something new:

An enduring problem is that our democracies are not really democracies. They are oligarchies masquerading as democracies. Any system which has elections as the centrepiece of its popular participation is inherently flawed and easily corruptible. The Classical Athenians knew this, which is why they preferred lotteries to elections.

There are flaws in any system of government as long as flawed people are involved. The New Zealand system using MMP has it’s flaws – in particular a repressively high threshold imposed by people in the major parties to exclude fresh new ideas and parties – but it generally works pretty well. It allows voters to restrain single party power.

Our inept democracies have produced a kind of “rational ignorance” amongst the masses. People have come to realise that they cannot effect change in our democracies and have gradually (rationally) disengaged from politics. This enveloping rational ignorance also helps explain why post-truth politics has found fertile ground in our systems, as people no longer have the knowledge or the desire to discern fact from fiction.

Because rational ignorance is a natural product of our flawed democratic systems, counteracting it has to start with trying to make our systems more democratic. Minimising our reliance on elections – which carry with them a cacophony of campaign-focussed politics – while bringing citizen deliberation back to the fore is a good starting point.

If ordinary citizens start believing they can influence decision-making on a regular basis, not just by voting every few years, then the rational ignorance which has taken hold will start to dissipate. To do this however, we need to break through the pervasive elitism which casts ordinary people as being too stupid to have any productive role in politics. This is an insidious view of the masses which has aided the rise of oligarchies all over the West.

We do not lack ideas about how a more deliberative system which minimises the influence of elections (and oligarchs) could work. For instance, University of Pennsylvania Professor, Alex Guerrero, has designed a system specifically for the United States called a lottocracy. In a lottocracy, not only would the presidential election be scrapped, the United States Congress, two bodies which broadly look at all issues, would be replaced by 20 to 25 single issue committees of up to 300 people all randomly chosen by lottery.

In a lottocracy, a president (or prime minister) would still exist, but they would be selected by a committee and mainly fulfil ceremonial roles as their executive powers would be almost completely stripped. Such a system seems radical because we have come to see democracy as solely being about elections and not about the direct involvement of the citizenry. Changing this perception is an important precursor to pursuing any kind of deliberative democratic solution.

In an age where post-truth politics is becoming more and more influential and our democracies more and more inept, a whole new way of thinking is required. As philosopher Alex Guerrero puts it, “we don’t just need to change who the captain is; we need a new way to travel.” Finding ways to bring the “demos” back into democracy is a necessary starting point.

One issue with government by lottery is that there is no guarantee of a representative committee – imagine the angst if a committee was dominated by rural white South Islanders, or urban Asians.

Regardless of the merits of this non-democratic approach I can’t see it happening. It would require a Parliament of established members and parties to vote to do themselves out of jobs and out of power. That’s the opposite of how they usually want to arrange things.

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28 Comments

  1. Corky

     /  13th November 2016

    I watched the answer to this dilemma last night. A film called ‘ The Purge.” Parti would call this solution ‘ the irreducible end product of Neo Liberalism.’ The beauty of the Purge is the removal of societal tensions. Everyone knows once a year they can even the odds and be immune from prosecution.

    From Wikipedia:

    ”In 2014, “The New Founding Fathers of America” have been voted into office following economic collapse, and eventually pass the 28th Amendment which sanctions an annual national civic tradition called “The Purge”, the first of which takes place in 2017. The Purge occurs for 12 hours, from 7 p.m. March 21 to 7 a.m. March 22, during which all crime is legal and all police, fire, and medical emergency services remain unavailable. Restrictions prohibit government officials “ranking 10″ from being disturbed, as well as the use of all weapons above Class 4 (explosive devices such as grenades, rocket launchers, and bazookas). Those who disobey the rules of the event are summarily executed by hanging. The Purge has resulted in unemployment rates plummeting to 1%, low crime, and a strong economy.”

    In the latest sequel a liberal toe-rag senator is leading a popular protest to stop the Purge. You know she’s liberal because her black rescuers greet each other with ” what’s up, my Negro?” WTF. To counter the protest, founding fathers go after her and change the rules so “ranking 10” elite can be purged too. They even have Purge Tourism for likes of Arty and I. Tourists come from all over the world to kill stuff. Of course, the same rules apply.

    Before anyone writes this off as a sick joke….

    Reply
  2. Jeeves

     /  13th November 2016

    Article 45 of the Irish ,written Constitution,prevents,specifically ,a socially destructive concentration of wealth in the hands of a few.

    Read it yourself .
    This is what the rest of the West has been calling Socialism for the last 60 years.
    Wake the fuck up people, before we too, here in sleepy hollow Aotearoa,endure an American hangover .
    I have grave news for you somnambulist gobshites who are in denial of reality.
    Its coming , and it fucking hurts most to those who don’t want it.
    Take it from me,
    Been there, got the shitty t- shirt.

    Reply
  3. Government by lottocracy might be better than government by plutocracy which is what we’ve got now …

    @ Jeeves – From what you say I’m not quite sure whether you are for or against this Article 45? From previous comments of yours I guess I assume you are for it?

    ” … the constant and predominant aim shall be the welfare of the people as a whole.”

    Reply
  4. Jeeves

     /  13th November 2016

    Pz – my views on reality are immaterial to reality
    It will still play out

    Reply
  5. I have previously made my view on the failure of our Parliamentary system and have pleaded for a Parliament to be elected from those who demonstrate a capacity and ability to identify and solve problems in a cooperative unicameral parliament that expressly excludes Political Parties from Parliament. The people elected should represent all facets of New Zealand society (including minorities). The Prime Minister should be elected by single vote of citizens. Those non-citizens legally resident in New Zealand who have paid taxes in NZ for a minimum of 3 years could also be eligible to vote, but not be able to be elected to Parliament. Parliament should be for a 5 year term and those wishing to become Prime Minister will be required to identify a policy platform and campaign on the basis of that platform. The Prime Minister should appoint Cabinet Ministers and have the right to recall and replace those appointed for cause.

    Reply
    • How would your “cooperative unicameral parliament” recognise and include Maori as tangata whenua BJ? Would there still be Maori seats?

      How would minorities be represented if polling was done only by electorates?
      If it wasn’t FPP, how would proportional representation work without Parties?

      Presumably, without Parties, the PM can select a cabinet from all elected members?

      I’m genuinely interested because I certainly believe in the possibility of a cooperative, consultative, concilliatory and even [dare I say it] ‘consensus’ style of representative legislature – although I’d call it something other than ‘Parliament’ – and I agree Parties are counter-productive most of the time – although I’m loath to “exclude” people who affiliate in some way [this surely doesn’t sit well with ‘freedom’?] – but I’m not so sure about the unicameral part …

      Reply
  6. PDB

     /  13th November 2016

    If the Greens/NZL 1st/Labour monster gets into power you will have your ‘government by lottery’.

    Reply
    • Government by lottery … government by corporate boardroom … who really cares?

      Probably the Board-of-Directors more than anyone … We might find the Lottocracy governs really well … After all, we’re prepared to trust major Court verdicts to a jury of just 12 good citizens, aren’t we? 120 randomly selected citizens might do just as well or better than the ‘string pullers’ and their politician lackeys …?

      I can imagine a movie where ‘democracy’ fails to such a point that ‘lottocracy’ is introduced … but then the Lotticians – who do a really good job – start disappearing and dying in mysterious circumstances and accidents as the plutocracy reasserts itself …

      What a Labour/Green/NZ First/Maori/Mana coalition didn’t know between winning the election and assuming office …? Nothing a few strategic & bicultural workshops couldn’t fix PDB …

      Reply
  7. To me, there is a need for an ethnicity choice in the electoral roll. Once again, only citizens and tax paying residents to be enrolled in a choice of ethnicity rolls based on a minimum of 20.000 enrolled to meet the trigger point. So if you identify solely as a New Zealander ethnically you get to enroll on the New Zealand roll. Maori, Pacific Island, Chinese, South Asian etc can have their rolls as long as the citizenship and residence requirements are met. For each 20,000 members enrolled, the ethnicity roll gets a member (it mat need to be another number but that is a statistical question and can be easily resolved) with a census.
    If Parliament is a dirty word, then call the group The Consultative Assembly. The Executive can still be a Cabinet appointed by an elected Prime Minister. The Consultative Assembly should endorse the Prime Minister’s selection for Head of State for a 7 year period. The Consultative Assembly would remain as the highest Court in the land and approve all appointments to the Judiciary on the recommendation of the Chief Justice. There should be Head of State Privy Council consisting of Cabinet, the Chief Justice, and the Court of Appeal. The Head of State would Preside over the Privy Council, and approve all legislation by signature over the Seal of New Zealand.

    Reply
    • Gezza

       /  13th November 2016

      Who would make economic policy – Treasury?

      Reply
      • We’re trying to change the system Gezza … not keep the same one!

        Reply
        • Gezza

           /  13th November 2016

          Yes, I know, and who in this new system would make make economic policy, bearing in mind someone has set annual government budgets, based on advice from Treasury?

          Reply
          • Why not cabinet?

            Mmmm … On second thoughts. Government might call together economy-wide [society-wide] representatives of all sectors and have an annual hui …? Treasury would be welcome, of course, provided they behave themselves …

            Without Parties, candidates would have to convince voters they had the best interests of the whole society foremost in their hearts & minds … Right & Left aligned economic ‘policies’ may run counter to this or be of much less importance than they are now …?

            This raises the question of the best voting system to use? Could a candidate who whipped up nationalist fervour, populist fears and hostilities – or worse – still get elected with a simple 51% majority or highest vote count ….

            And how do we counter the ‘fact’ that money buys advertising … ?

            I remember how the ‘Change the electoral system’ referendum win of 70% for MMP (or something), was nearly undone by the Roundtable sponsored, Peter Shirtcliffe fronted anti-MMP campaign … which spent $500,000 on television advertising alone in the week prior to polling …

            Reply
            • Gezza

               /  13th November 2016

              With that system you might be lucky to get an agreed budget every 5 years, by which time in Bj’s plan it would be an election year, when they’d all trying to get re-elected.

              5 years I think is too long, btw, if a goverment is making a bloody mess of things. A shambolic government could do a lot of damage in 5 years. I’d favour 4, but I’m open to persuasion.

            • @ Gezza – ” … you might be lucky to get an agreed budget every 5 years …”

              I think that’s rubbish, honestly. In the old days of the Federation of Labour an annual conference of 400 – 500 working men and women would meet over a weekend and pass numerous remits, set policy and network after deliberating on national and international issues …

              Okay, they had a common cause … Sure … So, how about if the common cause of an annual (or biannual) Aotearoa New Zealand economic summit forum was “the constant and predominant aim … the welfare of the people as a whole” [Irish Constitution]?

              Big issues get tackled at large hui/conferences all the time. Anyhow, there’ll be a giant new convention centre in Auckland crying out to justify its existence other than as a bribe for extra gambling machines …

              It’s a mindset change really … similar to preferring concilliation over argument, ‘facilitation’ over confrontation … mediation over conflict … wholism compared to atomisation …

            • Gezza

               /  13th November 2016

              So the Minister of Finance will have to put together a budget that evrybody agrees with and that Treasury says is affordable, and because there are no parties and the representatives are all representing various interests, this will all just work out all right in the end because everybody is facilitating and conciliating and horse trading? It’s a bit more complicated than passing remits setting union policies among unions PZ.
              In fact at the moment it sounds like rubbish to me, honestly.

            • Rubbish it may be Gezza … but at least it’s aspirational rubbish …

              Progressive rubbish – recyclable and upcyclable – rather than the usual status-quo regressive ‘landfill’ garbage …

            • Gezza

               /  13th November 2016

              I’ve seen a few items of aspirational rubbish in art galleries from time to time. It always amuses me, although I often do get the point about the throwaway society where they use actual rubbish, instead of having some kind of random fit and throwing different coloured paints at the canvas.

              Good on you trying out different ideas for political systems, but imagine for a moment that the elected reprentatives we get are you, Al, Blazer, dave, Corky, Lurch, Possum, Patupaiarehe, Mickey Savage from TS, Cam Slater, Kitty, Te Reo Putake from TS, and that unfortunately Klik & I were both forced to resign because of unspecified irregularities which later came to light. Could you all agree on a budget, do you think?

            • Gezza

               /  13th November 2016

              This is assuming for the moment that Pete George has been elected President & Bj is his CoS, btw.

            • patupaiarehe

               /  13th November 2016

              I reckon that would be an entertaining weekend G 😀

            • Gezza

               /  13th November 2016

              I am innocent, & busy trying to disprove the scurrilous allegations made against me & clear my name while all this happening, of course.

            • patupaiarehe

               /  13th November 2016

              Of course G, and I would never make a slur against your good character… 😉

            • A highly skilled facilitator or team of facilitators could spin that crowd of good-for-nothing bloggers together into a tight consensus government advisory and policy making group I reckon Gezza, no worries …

              Start with a few challenging ground rules for each of us …

              No waffling … No ad hominem … No interrupting … Equal speaking time … Full transparency and disclosure of any ‘backing’ or affiliations … Try to avoid delusions of grandeur … You know … basic stuff …

              And for Klik … It’s not a comedy show and no lampooning other participants based on their looks or name … Klik might need to have a ‘device free’ weekend …?

              You’d make a great Master of Ceremonies I reckon Gezza … a foil against the grueling, tough work of the champion team of facilitators …

            • Gezza

               /  13th November 2016

              😄 👍

    • But seriously BJ … 20,000 used to be the approximate size of a city borough and was the trigger point for officially becoming a city in NZ, rather than a town. Nowadays an urban area has to have 50,000 residents to be considered a city.

      Using 20,000 as the trigger point for ethnic electoral rolls basically just transfers the 5% MMP threshold (or higher) into a far more narrow ‘identity politics’ tunnel than the party political one? [Party politics actually being just another form of identity politics anyhow] …

      I’m not trying to get at you. This is one of the central connundrums of democratic representation: How do diverse peoples obtain representation in a pluralist society?

      Presently this is done by ‘divide and conquer’ electioneering and then forming a government, possibly a coalition one, which doesn’t even need to keep their election promises … and the promise of proportional representation at the polls is largely negated by majority vote in Parliament …

      There are good things about ‘Westminster’ that might be maintained, but as a system of governance much of it sucks. Luckily for us we have a couple of pre-determinant factors to guide us –

      1) Biculturalism – The founding of the nation by Treaty between the sovereign indigenous peoples and the Sovereign coloniser empire. The promise of ‘partnership’ …

      2) Multiculturalism – The inescapable post-WW2 global ‘melting pot’ …

      But I’m not so sure about presenting people with a choice between ethnic affiliation and ‘general’ roll, other than in the current Maori Roll circumstances, which I think are a temporary fix [or fix-up], albeit a long-lived one … A person of Korean ethnicity with say 21,000 population will not only ‘have to’ choose the Korean roll over general to have any hope of representation, but will have to organise, union-like, their fellow Koreans to do the same or miss out … Indonesian NZer’s with 19,000 population will simply miss out …

      Economics? Well, present day economics reflects the democratic connundrum … the fact that democracy is really not very democratic at all … Economics, an activity intrinsically social and inherently human, is reduced to inhuman numbers and is hence mostly anti-social …

      The maximum of planning at a business, workplace and ‘production unit’ level is combined with the maximum of planlessness at the level of the economy as a whole … Naturally certain individuals will benefit from this, others not, and society as a whole will suffer …

      In place of economy-wide planning is substituted the extraordinary idea that the ‘market’ will somehow “sort it out” … [an idea largely imposed at great cost by ideologue lobbyists] … and when it doesn’t … although it fulfils many other surreptitious and questionable agendas … some beneficent, some malignant … blunt mechanisms like the OCR are applied … allowing it to continue on the same ‘Titannic’ course or, if it hits the iceberg, to set sail from Southhampton on the same course yet again …

      Reply
      • What about the record of centrally planned economies? I hear you say …

        I reckon it depends what you call ‘central planning’? I don’t believe in the politburo or ‘Party’ style of planning, although arguably we have Party-style ‘guidance’ right here Right now?

        A truly representative economic policy would require everyone at the table; Capital AND Labour, Employers AND Workers, ALL lobby groups not just some etc … and I wonder if this has ever been achieved? When did NZ come closest to this consensual ideal? Certainly not post-1984 …

        Reply
  8. I hoped I covered the size of representative entitlement by saying we needed a census to define the ethnic groups and then establishing the number of representatives needed. Who would define Economic policy? It has to be the Cabinet proposing and then the Consultative Assembly approving or modifying the proposed policy. The Privy Council is always there to mediate if a blockage occurs. Treasury would not define policy, but be charged with assessing the consequences. All Departments should be audited by the Auditor-General on a constant basis and be liable to sanctions. The main aim of my proposal is to bring back power to the people and get rid of politicians. It has to be good for you!!

    Reply

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