[EM] Seized by an idea - my changed views

Bart Ingles bartman at netgate.net
Sun Jul 28 09:00:47 PDT 2002

Why not take the idea a step further-- take everything which does not
absolutely need to be the responsibility of government and place it back
where it belongs, on the individual citizen.  There is no reason a city
council serving a population if one million (e.g. San Jose, California)
should be voting on whether I need to mow my lawn once a week.

I'm not sure that limiting elections to a "collegiate scale" is the
answer either, if an example of such would be a typical homeowner's
association.  They seem to specialize entirely in functions which are

Of those issues which have a legitimate need to be addressed by
government, I tend to think that some form of expertise is desirable, so
I'm not sure a jury-type draft is such a good idea.  Actually I'm not
all that impressed with juries, judging by some of the more notorious
jury decisions (although these are probably not representative of the
vast majority of jury decisions).

I believe that abandoning voting systems which lock in the two party
system (e.g. first-past-the-post, top-two runoff, and Hare or Instant
Runoff) is one way to begin to limit or overcome the oligarchy you
describe.  That is why I am interested in approval voting, and others
support pairwise methods.  Not that I'm in a hurry to topple the
existing parties without guarantee of something better, but the system
needs to be able to adapt and evolve.  Parties need to be able to rise
to power, divide, recombine, et cetera, as issues may require.  The
methods listed above all have built-in "glass ceilings" which prevent
new parties from competing with the top-two.

Bart Ingles

Joe Weinstein wrote:
> 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
> restrictions.
>      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.
>      SUMMARY.
> 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
> officers.
> 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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