[EM] Sociological issues of elections

Kristofer Munsterhjelm km_elmet at t-online.de
Wed Sep 4 12:55:52 PDT 2013

On 09/04/2013 04:21 AM, Fred Gohlke wrote:

> * It might be well to select a larger number initially and include an
> opt-out provision so those with no interest in politics can remove
> themselves from the process.

That's a good point. The "electoral" commission could choose a larger 
number than the first assembly size, call them all up (or by other means 
contact them) asking if they'd like to take part. Those who don't are 
removed and then the commission picks k at random from the initial pool.

If they choose n people to begin with and then k of these go on to be 
part of the initial group, then the commission would like to pick as 
small an n as possible subject to that they shouldn't run out (i.e. that 
when those who don't want to take part have opted out, there are still k 

They could also do it in a sequential manner, since calls are cheap. 
They could start drawing names, calling each in turn, and then once they 
have k, they're done. But this would be biased against people who for 
some reason can't be reached at that moment.

> * The objection to the "average person" fails to recognize that there is
> no such thing.  What we refer to as 'the people' is a multitude of
> individuals: some good, some bad; some skilled, some unskilled; some
> with integrity, some deceitful; some brilliant, some dull; some
> sociable, some unfriendly; some excellent advocates of the public
> interest, some not.  The vast majority of these people are honest and
> principled (society could not function otherwise), so we know there is
> no shortage of individuals with the talent and integrity we want in
> those who represent us in our government.  This hybrid method is one
> means of sifting through the many types of individuals who make up the
> electorate and letting them elevate the best among them to serve as the
> people's representatives.  This 'hybrid system' with the 'electoral
> stage' may not be perfect, but it has strong elements.

In general, the public knows where it wants to go right now. Arguments 
against direct democracy usually go that the public is too short-sighted 
or that it doesn't have enough specialized knowledge.

One could imagine a line that goes all the way from "you need very 
specialized knowledge to govern" to "the wisdom of crowds is good enough 
to solve the governance problem". Simple random selection (without any 
electoral stage) rests on the right side of that line: the idea is that 
the problem of direct democracy is only that there are too many people, 
so let's fix that by random sampling. Aristocracies and oligarchies rest 
on the very left, ordinary electoral democracies somewhere in between.

Then the argument against the "average person" is really a claim by 
those whose opinions are more to the left on that line that the public 
can't govern on its own. Hence quotes like "the best argument against 
democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter". The 
electoral stage of the hybrid method pushes the whole system a little to 
the left so as to counter that kind of arguments (and to make the system 
better if the more leftwards people are indeed correct).

 From a utilitarian perspective, we would like to have a system that is 
at the correct position on the line. But all things equal, we'd prefer 
something to the right, because we know that concentrated unaccountable 
rule can become corrupt, and that also opposition to such rule can build 
up until it either dramatically reverses, or if that's not possible, 
until it explodes in revolution.

And there may be more deontological reasons as well: e.g. one may feel 
that the people should be their own masters instead of being beholden to 
a small group (independent of the "quality" of the outcome), which would 
push one's position to the right.

> * Continuity depends on the terms in office of the elected officials. In
> the U. S., one-third of the Senate seats are re-elected biennially, so
> continuity would not be a problem there.  However, all seats in the
> House of Representatives are for two-year terms, so continuity is not
> guaranteed.  I'm not sure how terms or office are arranged in other
> countries.

I was thinking of another kind of continuity, which more ties in with 
your previous point. Say a party has a comprehensive long-term plan to 
improve or bring the country in another direction. This plan could be 
related to rebuilding a nation after a war or it could be a political 
analog of extensive economic growth (quickly mobilizing and 
incorporating newly discovered or otherwise abundant resources). Then, 
if the plan is good enough, the party governing to implement that plan 
would be supported by the people and so be more or less assured a 
longer-term period of governance. In effect, the party temporarily works 
as a "new, elected department" until the plan is implemented and the 
voters shift their support.

However, the chance that the party would be randomly selected in the 
hybrid method would be low indeed; and even if members of a group that 
had drawn up such a plan would be elected, they would most likely not be 
picked again the second time around. So the hybrid method could probably 
not support this "elected department" concept and would have to deal 
with it in some other way.

One possible way would be that parties would reorganize as advisory 
organizations surrounding the legislators. If a party had drawn up a 
plan like the above, the members would try to convince the members of 
the legislature to go with it, and the members might or might not decide 
to do so.

One could argue that this would be better than current parties, because 
the members would be able to investigate the organizations' claims in 
greater detail. They could also be lighter weight, as there would be no 
need for a massive party machine just to give advice. On the other hand, 
if it goes wrong, this could lead to a semi-permanent system (a penumbra 
to the legislature, if you will) that crafts policy while the 
legislators move in and out of office. So it would be important not to 
overwhelm the legislators - otherwise they might just delegate 
everything to either the bureaucracy or to the advisory organizations.

> * The concern that "the general population would not like having their
> choice taken away from them" is worthy of thought.  The main problem is
> that it makes a marvelous talking point for those who wish to prevent
> adoption of the 'hybrid system'.  In my personal, unsupported opinion, I
> don't think the majority of people would object to the concept - but
> they could be incited to do so.

After reading that, I thought of another objection or argument. It would 
go that any given representative will most likely only serve one term, 
therefore he won't feel accountable. Thus he would, either consciously 
or subconsciously, favor his own particular interests. So the system 
might lead to what one might call "random pork". Say a member from 
district X is picked. He might decide that he can't lose anyway, and so 
demand great favors for district X. After the term is up, someone else 
from district Y gets picked instead, and then he wants the pork to favor 
district Y.

To some extent, this is a political form of corruption, so it depends on 
the people - on whether there are high levels of corruption and people 
are used to it. But if it is a serious concern, then I think the 
assembly should raise the level required to act from majority to a 
supermajority (or use one of the unbiased consensus algorithms that have 
been proposed here). The idea then is that some X-pork representative 
won't get anything for X because if he demands pork for X, an Y-pork 
candidate will object and nothing happens; and that the assembly as a 
whole will be principled enough not to just divide up the whole budget 
to their pet projects.

> Vidar, you mentioned that you were reading up on alternatives to the
> present system.  I wrote a paper several years ago on the system
> Kristofer mentioned.  It is on a site devoted to public participation in
> government.  If you'd like to see it, it's at:
> http://participedia.net/methods/practical-democracy
> Fred Gohlke
> ----
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