[EM] Conceiving a Democratic Electoral Process

Kristofer Munsterhjelm km_elmet at lavabit.com
Tue Jul 10 02:52:40 PDT 2012

On 07/08/2012 07:04 PM, Fred Gohlke wrote:
> Good Morning, Kristofer
> re: "Whether this [the assertion that elections impart upon a
> system an element of aristocracy] is a good or bad thing
> depends upon whether you think aristocracy can work. In
> this sense, 'aristocracy' means rule by the best, i.e. by a
> minority that is selected because they're in some way better
> than the rest at achieving the common good."
> Whether or not 'rule by the best' can work depends in large part on how
> well the electoral method integrates the reality that the common good is
> dynamic. Those who are 'the best' at one time and under one set of
> circumstances may not be 'the best' at another time and under different
> circumstances.

Perhaps we could say that in a representative democracy, we want 
representatives that are alike us (as a people) in opinion but better in 
ability to govern. If we consider representative democracy as a proxy 
for direct democracy, to make the latter managable, then we could be 
even stronger: we'd want representatives that would act as we would if 
we had sufficient information and time.

There's a problem, though: it's hard to separate the categories (opinion 
and ability) from each other. If a representative says that we can't do 
X, is that because it's really a bad idea or because he's part of an 
oligarchy that benefits from not doing X? Similarly, if a representative 
says we should do X, does he mean that is a good idea, or is he trying 
to manage perceptions?

Since it's hard to tell by the representatives' acts alone, that leaves 
the system. In an ideal case, the system discourages an oligarchy in the 
first place (rather than trying to patch things up when the oligarchy 
exists), while placing the good in positions as representatives.

(If representative democracy is/should be a managable way of direct 
democracy, then we can also note that it doesn't, by itself, deal with 
the problem of opinions changing too rapidly, or of populism. Other 
parts of the system should handle that, and we might look at similar 
problems dealt with control theory - e.g. machines that respond too 
quickly to feedback and thus oscillate between setpoints are adjusted by 
adding some attenuation into the system. In an electoral context, that 
might take the shape of not frequently re-electing the whole assembly 
but rather parts of it, or having different term limits depending on 
support, or requiring supermajorities or double majorities.)

> re: "Thus, it's not too hard for me to think there might be sets
> of rules that would make parties minor parts of politics.
> Those would not work by simply outlawing parties,
> totalitarian style. Instead, the rules would arrange the
> dynamics so that there's little benefit to organizing in
> parties."
> The rules (or goals) must accommodate the fact that parties, interest
> groups, factions and enclaves are a vital part of society. They are the
> seeds from which new or different ideas germinate and lead civilization
> forward. Outlawing parties would be an outrage against humanity.

It wouldn't work, either.

> The threat we must fear is not the existence of parties, it is letting
> parties control government. We will be best served by devising rules (or
> setting goals) that welcome partisans while ensuring they maintain a
> persuasive rather than a controlling role in the election process.

So the problem is not partisanship, but rather exclusively partisan 
decisions. It it were partisanship itself, the solution might have been 
easier, but what you're saying means that we should try to find a 
just-right spot instead: partisan influences not too strong (which is 
the case now) nor too weak.

What do you think of proportional representation systems? Are they 
closer to that sweet spot than are majoritarian systems? Are they close 
enough? Certainly Duvergerian oligopoly isn't operating here in Norway - 
although a cynic might say the coalitions that have arisen lately 
constitute "multiparty two-'party' rule".

> re: "For instance, a system based entirely on random selection
> would probably not have very powerful parties, as the
> parties would have no way of getting 'their' candidates into
> the assembly. Of course, such a system would not have the
> aristocratic aspect either."
> The closing sentence is what makes sortition a poor option (in my view).
> It strives to achieve mediocrity rather than meritocracy.

Still, if aristocracy (in the original sense) decays to oligarchy too 
quickly, then sortition might be "the worst except for all the others". 
This is a bit like the discussion about how strategy-proof an electoral 
method needs to be. If people cheat all the time and some have 
supercomputers by which to calculate the optimal strategy, then you 
might have to use a strategy-proof method even though the result is a 
lot worse, with honest voters, than if you used a vulnerable method; and 
on the other hand, if voters are mostly honest, you can use a method 
that's vulnerable to certain forms of strategy if enough people were to 
use them, because they won't.

> re: "Hybrid systems could still make parties less relevant: I've
> mentioned a 'sortition followed by election within the
> group' idea before, where a significant sample is picked
> from the population and they elect representatives from
> their number. Again, parties could not be sure any of
> 'their' candidates would be selected at random in the first
> round. While that method tries to keep some of the selection
> for best, it disrupts the continuity that parties need and
> the effect of 'marketing' ahead of time."
> I regret that I missed this discussion. The idea strikes me as one of
> considerable merit. At first blush, the major drawback seems to be that
> it denies us the benefit of partisan thought and action mentioned above.

Right, but perhaps parties would become support organizations of 
opinion. If you know you might be picked, you could have greater 
incentive to discuss politics with others, possibly in a more organized 
manner. It would depend on the size of the sample, however: if there's 
little chance that you'll be picked, the incentive would not be as strong.

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