[EM] Seized by an idea - my changed views

Joe Weinstein jweins123 at hotmail.com
Sun Jul 28 03:07:55 PDT 2002



by Joe Weinstein
Long Beach CA USA
Sunday 28 July 2002

Dear fellow EM-list subscribers,

     I feel flattered that in one recent message Craig was in effect 
'writing back to Mr. W'.  I will try to reflect on and respond to his 
points, but it may be a while before I do so.  I owe all of you an 
explanation why.

This list's discussions have focused on two main features of election 
methods (EM) - marking (how voters may mark their ballots), and scoring (how 
marked ballots are aggregated to produce candidates' scores and thereby 
determine a winner or winners).

These issues still interest me, but less than formerly.  Starting in early 
May, I have become far more interested in and concerned about other and 
larger aspects of political decision.

     Thanks to politicians' gross abuses here in Long Beach - and some very 
insightful (yet despairing) remarks by people here which have exposed these 
abuses - I have become seized by an idea - or rather a set of ideas - 
concerning our political system BOTH IN PRINCIPLE AND concerning SPECIFIC 
AND PRACTICAL changes we need to make in it.  These ideas have seized me and 
will not let me go.


     First of all, true democracy does not and should not mean that all of 
us ordinary citizens are equal, but that some of us - namely elected 
officers or their key appointees - are 'more equal'. True democracy means 
that each of us participates equally and directly in making actual legal 
public decisions - laws and policies.

Having equal power in indirectly choosing an oligarchic elite who make the 
decisions does not equal democracy.  Instead, we ordinary citizens must 
share in DIRECTLY making the decisions.

     There are two obvious approaches to this.  One, beloved of techies, 
would be to have internet-based mass referenda on everything.  This method 
will work poorly, for the same reason that making everything everybody's 
property doesn't work well.  Namely, no one can be bothered to be interested 
in and intelligent about more than a fraction of necessary public decisions. 
  As a result, repeated mass referenda - like today's mass elections for 
officers - not only will be a massive waste of money, but in fact will 
result in repeated media-based manipulation of (and expensive campaigning 
directed to) a mass electorate.

     We have a far better model for sharing decision-making among many or 
all of us.  Instead of every matter for decision being EVERYbody's remote 
business, let each such matter be SOMEbody's immediate business.

That's how our trial jury system operates.  No one citizen juror gets to or 
has to make more than one or a few decisions in every few years, but each 
decision is made in a deliberative problem-solving spirit.  Juries are small 
enough so that each participating juror gets true ownership in and 
responsibility for a verdict (which has the force of law and policy).


     Democracy is not only our lip-served ideology:  it would indeed be far 
better than what we actually have now here in the USA - which, not only de 
facto but de jure and CONSTITUTIONALLY, is OLIGARCHY.  All public 
decision-making, on law and policy, is given over to an elite which 
comprises elected officers and their key appointees.

     What's wrong with oligarchy?  Well, one problem is that when political 
decision-making is left to an oligarchy, our focus and energies are diverted 
away from the true public decision issues into essentially irrelevant issues 
concerning selection and training and restraining and influencing of the 
oligarchs - and mechanisms for addressing these issues:  e.g., political 
parties; ethics codes; campaigning and lobbying techniques and funding and 

     There's an even bigger problem.  Admittedly, many advanced political 
thinkers, from Plato (The Republic) to John Gardner (Common Cause), Amitai 
Etzioni (Communitarianism) and Ralph Nader (Public Citizen), are reconciled 
to an oligarchic elite - be it philosopher kings, or citizen-lobbied elected 
officers.  However, all their approaches are inadequate - for the reason 
noted famously and well by Lord Acton:  'Power tends to corrupt and absolute 
power corrupts absolutely.'

As long as power is vested in a relative few long-term (terms of months or 
longer) officers, each in charge of many public decisions, we are ASKING for 
trouble: for corruption and abuse of power.  It matters little how thorough 
or elaborate an officers' 'ethics' code be in place, let alone enforced: it 
can address only the symptoms, not the inherent tendencies.

Indeed, when you can (especially with some lead time) identify just a 
relative few who will be making the decisions you or your business will be 
depending on, for an extended period, you know who can be and must be 
approached, to try to corrupt.

     There's no need for any of this.  Trial jurors are chosen at the last 
minute, essentially at random, and make one or very few decisions, in 
limited time.  There is thus, inherently, far less opportunity - or 
incentive or payoff - to learn in advance who the jurors are, to get to 
them, or to attempt to influence and corrupt them.  (Moreover, in place of 
arcane 'ethical' requirements on officers, jurors undergo a simple but fully 
adequate screening and swear-in.)


     When elections involve a mass electorate - say 500 or more voters, the 
size (or more) of the US Congress) - essentially odds are zero that your 
individual ballot will have any influence on the outcome, or even on an 
auxiliary message sent by the tallies.  Rationally, there is rarely a reason 
to bother to vote.

Mass elections serve mainly just to convey the appearance of mass consent to 
the winner.  Being costly, mass elections also serve to justify longer 
terms, as it isn't worth mass-electing an officer for a short-term (days or 
weeks).  Worse, the costs reflect massive subsidy to mass media.  Moreover, 
absent elaborate and speech-muzzling restrictions, or costly public 
financing, campaign costs skew the elected elite toward wealth and introduce 
more incentives to corruption.

With a mass electorate, the electoral decision cannot be the result of 
deliberation - communication all ways among all voters and candidates.  
Rather, a campaign's 'communication' will be one-way, amounting to 
manipulation of prospective voters.

     Even if you believe in retaining a given elected office, or in holding 
a referendum or the like, there is every reason to have the decision vote be 
by a randomly selected 'jury' or assembly of at most 400 citizens.  A 
'campaign' could be speedy and low-cost, yet fully deliberative, bringing 
together all selected voters and candidates.  As a statistician, I can give 
good reasons why for practical purposes we would and should on balance be 
quite content with the results of such deliberation by a random sample of 
the electorate, in place of a full-blown mass election or referendum.

Small-scale 'collegiate' elections are thus the only kind that need or 
should occur, and election methods could be tailored to such contests.


Make public law and policy decisions using short-term randomly selected 
citizen decision juries.  Abolish elective and high appointive offices, or 
at least rescind their special non-ceremonial decision powers, and give 
these powers to a succession of short-term citizen decision juries, each 
selected randomly and at the last minute.  At the very least, for the sake 
of minimal genuine democracy, give such citizen decision juries review and 
veto power over the officers' decisions.  Conduct desired elections or 
referenda deliberatively, using randomly sampled citizen assemblies.  Tailor 
election methods to this use.


     Our biggest challenge is peaceably to change the US and state 
constitutions and local charters - and, for good measure, corporate charters 
- so that decision-making is by citizen decision juries rather than 

Such change will be resisted by the establishment.  I foresee decades of 
nonviolent struggle, likely requiring Gandhian civil disobedience.  But we 
must begin.

     We must first disestablish in our own minds any worship of an 
oligarchy, or perception of necessity for having one.  Our oligarchs, 
elected or appointed, pretend to be expert emperors; but in fact wear no 
clothes.  They are experts at most in getting elected (or appointed), not in 
making rational and well-thought-out public decisions.  A motivated team or 
jury of citizens, freshly selected and ready to solve one or a few problems, 
will do on average a better job than will distracted (even if not corrupted) 
politicians who are anxiously at every moment running for re-election or 
re-appointment, and are worried about many other decisions.

    Further, we must cease worship of our constitutions, and instead insist 
on needed changes.  Our US constitution began by giving over all powers to 
an elite of white adult male property-holders, and depriving all others of 
basic rights.  Only after an aroused citizenry perceived the illegitimacy of 
such deprivations were constitutional changes made to extend these rights.  
It is again time for ordinary citizens to demand for themselves another 
right, that of basic democracy: the right to equal direct participation in 
making public decisions, of law and policy.  Toward this end, I call upon 
fellow citizens to join in a Citizen Democracy Movement.

Some of our more progressive (i.e. post-medieval) constitutional provisions 
are now under attack, in the name of fighting terrorism.  Ultimately, the 
only effective defense will be for a Citizen Democracy Movement to go on the 
counterattack, and to insist on updating the constitutions to our era, 
wherein the broad mass of people are reasonably educated and motivated 
citizens, capable of reasoned and deliberative decision.

     We need not and must not continue to give over our power of decision to 
an oligarchy; rather, we must insist on true democracy.

Joe Weinstein
Long Beach CA USA
Sunday 28 July 2002

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