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Revolutionary Ideas: An Introduction to Legal and Political Philosophy


  

7. Representatives, Elections, and Lotteries




7.1. Introduction


This segment deals with questions about how to govern our political communities. In particular, it provides more institutional detail about how democracy might actually work in practise. We'll begin thinking about the various forms democratic institutions can take, and some of the moral advantages and disadvantages of these kinds of institutions. It also discusses the extent to which various institutions might help promote happiness, justice, equality, or positive freedom, or might help abide by constraints of equality or negative freedom.

One of the most interesting developments of the past several hundreds of years is the almost complete ascendancy of the democratic nation state. There are many different ways of measuring democracy or defining democracy, but by a fairly plausible measure, looking at the basics at the political structure just 150 years ago, there were only one or two democracies in the world. Typically people see the United States and Belgium as being categorised in this way, although there might be debates even there. Now, out of some 190 countries in the world, 120 or so of them are electoral democracies. And there are countries transitioning from autocratic or authoritarian systems, to more democratic systems almost every year.

 
Patterns of Democracy
 
This makes it somewhat difficult to talk about democratic institutions as a uniform category since there's so much variation in the details from place to place. For those interested in looking at some of the differences in institutional details, Professor Guerrero recommends the work of the political scientist Arend Lijphart, and in particular his classic book, Patterns of Democracy.

 
features of democracies
 
This unit deals with some of the broad features of modern democracies and some of the common problems that arise. But throughout there should always be this caveat that some of these situations and some of these institutions will be different depending on the particular democratic system.

One of the most common features of modern democracies is that they employ representatives, particularly for the legislative task, rather than having all of the people of a political society have a say directly. People are selected and given political power as part of a relatively large legislative body.

 
features of democracies
 
A second equally common feature of modern democracies, in addition to using representatives, is that these representatives are selected via a public election. Although the details of how these elections work can vary substantially from place to place, almost every democratic system uses elections and uses representatives.

A third common feature of modern democracy, is that these elections are relatively inclusive. In most modern democracies, there's a norm in favour of enfranchising all adult citizens and allowing all adult citizens to run for office. This holds with respect to people of all races, ethnic backgrounds, linguistic communities, economic classes, religions, gender, and sexual orientations. It's not the case everywhere, but it's now a definite mark against the system being considered democratic, if that system limits who can participate in elections, either in terms of voting, or in terms of running for office, on the basis of any of these sort of demographic characteristics.

A fourth common feature of modern democracy is that these inclusive elections of representatives operate in at least formally an egalitarian manner. More specifically, they all have rules where they count each individuals' vote equally. Of course, there are systems in which people end up having very different levels of political influence, or even in which their votes do not technically count equally because of the manner in which they are aggregated, but the general norm is one of formal electoral equality.

Finally, a central part of many modern democracies, is that they have some means of protecting free and open public political discussion, including rights and protections with respect to freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of the press. The way in which these rights are actually protected, or the way in which this happens or is achieved, might differ considerably from place to place, but a system in which only certain views can be expressed, or in which only members of certain political parties can run for election, are typically viewed as undemocratic, or at least partly undemocratic, even if there are elections.



7.2. The case for representatives


Most people agree that political systems should be run democratically. What exactly this requires is a matter of debate and controversy, but there's some basic idea that the government should be of the people, by the people, and for the people. The people figure prominently in the idea of democracy, particularly the idea that the people should govern and that government should act on their behalf and for their interests. It's controversial exactly how to think of the people or the demos. It's hard to define who exactly the people are that are relevant.

Even once we have settled on some understanding of the demos, many questions remain. One of the most pressing are these. How the people actually govern? How should we decide what to do? What problems are most urgent? What laws should be enacted? How those laws should be enforced? How we should engage with neighbouring countries? There are many political questions, problems, and issues, and settling on democracy really does not do much to settle on one single way of deciding these questions.

 
representative democracy
 
The modern world has mostly converged on a series of answers. We should use representatives. We should choose those representatives through elections. Those elections should be free, open, inclusive and egalitarian. We should have free and open political discussion leading up to those elections and surrounding politics more generally. This segment deals with the use of political representatives and focuses in on the representative part.

 
direct democracy
 
When we think about democracy ruled by the people, it might seem natural to literally have all of us rule. So why is it that we choose just a subset of us and turn political power over to those people?

This is a question that gets largely bypassed in contemporary political debates and even somewhat within contemporary political philosophy, but it's worth thinking about the justification for the use of representatives. It does seem that using representatives requires at least some justification for there's a natural alternative. This is direct democracy in which all of us would participate in making political decisions directly.

 
referenda
 
In many places there are referenda or ballot initiatives. There are different ways in which these work or might work. One option is to require that a certain number of signatures be obtained to demonstrate that an issue is one that many people think needs a decision, and then that issue can be put on an open ballot. Where we all get to vote directly on what should be done whether some change should be implemented or some existing piece of legislation should be altered, enacted or retracted.

 
deliberative forums
 
Another option is to have regular open legislative sessions deliberative forums in all town halls where everybody could attend or participate and out of which political decisions will be made. There are logistical difficulties here. Millions of people can't all fit in the same room or talk together at the same time, but there are responses to these difficulties.

We could attend virtually using modern technology, or there could be thousands of these town halls operating in tandem all considering the same question, and with the input of each of these aggregate it into a total vote, or we could all just vote on proposals on our own without ever coming together to really talk about them.

 
virtues direct democracy
 
Direct democracy has certain virtues. First, this kind of direct democracy gives everyone in the community a real say in what happens and real power over what happens. Second, this kind of direct democracy doesn't require having all of us turn power over to some representative as in representative systems. This is arguably good from a perspective of political equality.

Direct democracy ensures that those making political decisions come from the full range of backgrounds included amongst the people. We don't have to worry about how representative our representatives are. Additionally there are no concerns about some large number of us trying to choose some small number of people, who will represent our interests well, and then having us to monitor what the representatives are actually doing.

So why are direct democracies the exception rather than the rule. What's the justification for using political representatives? It's important at the outset to know that what we're looking for is not just the reason that representative democracy has in fact come to be this standard system everywhere in terms of the history behind that development. What we're looking for is something like a moral justification for using representatives.

 
why representatives
 
The reason this justification is needed is because there's a pretty strong case for direct democracy, at least from a perspective of political equality. That's particularly true given that what we're dealing with is the question of the use of political power and the creation of law that's going to be backed by coercive force. So this typically gives rise to concerns about what philosophers call political legitimacy or moral justification for the use of political power.

So, why use representatives? There are two main significant reasons. So, both focus not on procedural values or norms, but on values or norms that relate to the outcomes that the political system will bring about. The first focuses on practical kinds of considerations that suggest that representative systems will do better than direct democracy. The second focuses on epistemic considerations that suggest that representative systems will do better than direct democracy.

 
why representatives
 
Some of the epistemic reasons are related to practical constraints, having to do with time, energy, and individual aptitude. First there's a division of labour argument. Representatives are devoted to the task of making law and policy. That's their full time job. This means that they can focus on that task, and in the modern world, this has become a very complicated and arduous task.

Second is an epistemic argument connected to the division of labour point. Representatives are likely to be much better informed about political issues than most of us will be. They have time to research, consult experts, consult other people living in the jurisdiction, deliberate and debate with each other. In many places they'll have a considerable staff helping them so they can come to have a more informed opinion about what needs to be done and which problems are most urgent.

Third, and also related to the epistemic argument, there's a perspectival argument focusing on the perspective representative's can occupy. Representatives are not forced to make decisions one at a time. They're in a position to make decisions holistically, weighing trade offs, making compromises when necessary, balancing competing interests, and having a sense of the relative priority, and of budget limitations. All this allows for the views of individual citizens to be refined and enlarged in James Madison's phrase.

Finally, there's a practical argument based on expediency in crisis. Because they're fewer in number, representatives can come together and make decisions quickly and expediently in the event of urgent crises. Also, it's possible to provide sensitive information to the relevant decision makers in a short amount of time. Furthermore, the representatives can then take and incorporate all this information and quickly make a decision with it.

All these provide reasons suggest that our political system will do better from an outcome-related perspective if we use representatives rather than make the decisions and laws directly ourselves. This suggestion is bolstered by the substantial literature documenting the extent of the ignorance of the general public about all matters of politics, law and economics. The economist Brian Kaplan has argued for example that we're all systematically biased and wrong about matters related to economics so that we're systematically in error about which economic policies will actually promote our own ends.

 
trade off
 
Others have pointed out since the ground breaking work of Anthony Downs that it's rational for us to be ignorant in general about all kinds of political issues given how unlikely it is that any one of our votes will make a difference to who wins or loses the election, or what vote will carry the day. It wouldn't be worth our time, this argument goes, to do a lot of research and homework to have an informed opinion. Whether or not that suggestion holds up, it's well established that we are widely ignorant about a great deal that's relevant to making law and policy, so we might think that we're embracing representatives as a way of overcoming this problem in addition to the above problems.

 
outcomes versus procedures
 
There remains a difficult question about whether the better outcomes we might achieve through using representatives is sufficient to morally justify using them, rather than having direct democracy. We get a tradeoff between the outcomes we might get and the procedures that we're using. On general much of the discussion focuses on trade offs between better outcomes, and what might appear to be morally better procedures.

So if we think that we lose a little something from a perspective of political equality when we move from direct democracy to using representatives, but if we also think that this loss in terms of procedural equality is going to be outweighed by the significant gain in the quality in terms of the decisions that'll be made, then this is one example of such a trade-off between procedure and outcome.

 
David Estlund's view
 
There'll be questions about when these trade-offs are acceptable. We might have morally worse procedures but for better outcomes. For example we could ask, what if there was an omniscient, benevolent individual who would make better decisions than we would for the world and for our own interests, would that justify having that person have all the political power getting to serve in some sense as our dictator. This would highlight the tension between the procedure, because it's bad from a sort of political equality perspective, but good from an outcome perspective. One question we might ask is whether this omniscient benevolent dictator would have a right to have political power.

 
David Estlund's view
 
The political philosopher David Estlund discusses these issues of political authority in his book, Democratic Authority. He writes, even if we grant that there are better and worse political decisions, which I think we must, and that some people know better what should be done than others (we all think some are much worse than others), it simply does not follow from their expertise that they have authority over us, or that they ought to.

 
David Estlund's view
 
This expert boss fallacy is tempting, but someone's knowledge about what should be done leaves completely open what should be done about who is to rule. You might be correct but what makes you boss? This is the central question for Estlund and it's worth thinking about.

In the case of using representatives it seems most people do tolerate the idea that the better outcomes from using representatives are enough to outweigh the procedural downside from using representatives, namely that some subset of us have all the political power and the rest of us just get to have a formally equal say in choosing who that subset's going to be. It's worth noticing that we do, which is tolerating this tradeoff. This discussion so far is just about the justifications for using representatives, not the justification for using elected representatives.



7.3. The case for elected representatives


 
good governance versus responsiveness
 
This segment deals with the case for using elected representatives rather than just representatives selected in some other manner. Before doing this, it'll be useful to introduce a bit of complexity into the idea of good outcomes. In particular it will be useful to distinguish between at least two important dimensions of moral evaluation of outcomes, which are responsiveness on the one hand, and good governance on the other.

 
responsiveness
 
Responsiveness is a multifaceted concept. The basic idea is that political outcomes are responsive, to the extent that they're tied to what the people living in the political jurisdiction, actually believe, prefer or value, so that if those beliefs, preferences or values were different, the political outcomes would also be different in a similar direction, and would be different because the beliefs, preferences and values were different. The importance of responsiveness as a measure of outcomes derives from considerations of individual autonomy in self government.

There are many complications with this basic idea of the responsiveness of the outcomes. People living in a political jurisdiction won't have uniform beliefs, preferences, or values, so there's going to be a question of how we should aggregate, or measure, them, in order to assess responsiveness. Furthermore, beliefs, preferences and values might go in different directions, and then we can ask questions like, is an outcome less responsive than some other outcome? For example an individuals' expressed preferences may not seem to connect with their core values.

 
good governance
 
Also beliefs preferences and values will change over time. So what's in the benchmark against what you're going to assess responsiveness? And then, there're hard epistemic issues involved in knowing what people believe, prefer, and value, particularly if we're going to distinguish between these sort of peripheral and expressed preferences, beliefs and values, and the sort of core deep ones that might be connected more to positive freedom. For the purposes of this discussion, we don't get into all these complexities and work with a somewhat simple idea of responsiveness.

The second concern is good governance. Just as we can evaluate outcomes from the subjective point of view of those living in a political jurisdiction described in terms of how responsive the outcomes are, we could also evaluate outcomes from a more objective vantage point, which means that we might also want to know whether the outcomes are good in some general sense.

 
actual interests
 
Just as with responsiveness there are going to be complications. Goodness might simply be a function of the actual interests of those living in the jurisdiction, rather than the interests as we take them to be. We might all be wrong about what would actually be good for us. Good governance will track this more objective idea. Also it might be something that takes into account concerns that extend beyond the interests of those living in the jurisdiction.

 
welfare, autonomy and justice
 
Good governance might be connected to average individual welfare, or how well off the worst off people in society are, or some other index of welfare, and it might be connected to some other notion of autonomy, so that we might compare two outcomes and say, one's better than another if it yields greater autonomy for each individual, or on average, or in total, or goodness might be intrinsically connected to some objective ideal of justice.

With these two ideas, responsiveness and good governance in mind, we can turn to the question of why we should elect our representatives. If using representatives in general seems a good idea from a perspective of bringing about good outcomes, we're have the initial worry that those representatives will use power for their own behalf rather than to pursue outcomes that are what we want, that would be responsive or outcomes that would be more generally good.

 
accountability
 
One thought behind elections is to prevent this from happening. One of the main justifications for elected representatives is that, because representatives are only in power as a result of popular election, they'll be concerned to do what's in the interests of the people, rather than just what is in their own interest, or rather than what would further their own aims. Systems of elected representatives are supposed to achieve responsive government via mechanisms of accountability, so that the laws they create are going to be responsive to the beliefs and preferences over those whom they govern.

Representatives may be responsive to their constituents preferences, and that representatives sort of explicitly defer to their constituents by just focusing on what a poll would say that they want to do, or because the representative acts as a guardian of their constituents' interest, so doing what the representative thinks is best for her constituents. Therefore, a poll might not always be the right way to go because the constituents don't have all the information. In most situations representatives will do a bit of both.

People talk about the delegate model which focuses more just on deferring to one's constituents, and the trustee model where that's really about refining and enlarging their background views and preferences into some other kind of view. Most representatives will work somewhat with both a delegate model and a trustee model. People expect their representatives to do more than just follow their lead exactly, just looking at polls, but representatives that get too far ahead of their constituents do so at their own peril.

Everyone knows that we can be wrong about what's in our interest, so we could be confused about what policy will best achieve what we actually want, and in those cases, a representative might work to convince his or her constituents of their mistaken thinking, and might even depart from what we presently prefer in the hope that we'll eventually come around to the representative's view about what would be best.

But the notion of responsiveness tied to the election of representatives, is fundamentally connected to whether constituents themselves believe that some course of action is what they want or is in their interests. And the central idea is that representatives will pay attention to this, will pay attention to what we want. They'll aim to be responsive to us, because they're accountable to us through the ballot box. If they don't do what we think is a good idea, we'll vote them out of office, or at least that's the theory.

A related part of the view focusing less on responsiveness is that in addition to all of the benefits described in the previous segment that attached to using representatives, we get even more benefits of this kind if we add in elections. In particular, if representatives have to face reelection, they'll want to do things that make things actually better for their constituents.

If our representative oversees a great decline in our personal situations, for example we lose our jobs, our homes, food becomes difficult to obtain, or if our country gets involved in pointless wars, or if goods and services become much more expensive, we'll quite likely vote for change in the next election. This won't always be fair as it might actually not be the representative's fault at all. Still, this provides a real incentive for the representative to do what he or she can to avoid these kinds of bad outcomes for us, to pay attention, in particular, to how laws and policies will affect his or her constituents, and to advocate for laws and policies that will actually benefit them.

 
Winston Churchill's view
 
This is all the theory behind using elections and representatives together, and it appears that it's been greatly successful around the world, both in practical terms, in terms of becoming the dominant system in many places, and in terms of making better and more responsive policy, than any other political system that we've seen on Earth.

As Winston Churchill famously remarked about democracy in general, although really it was about electoral representative democracy, he said, no one pretends that democracy is perfect or all wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.



7.4. The perils of electoral representation: Part I


 
meaningful accountability
 
This segment deals with some problems that arise in systems of electoral representation. Many of these ideas are developed in the first half of Professor Guerrero's paper, Against Elections: The Lottocratic Alternative. There are several reasons for thinking that elected representatives would help to generate outcomes that do well both in terms of responsiveness and in terms of more general norms of good governance.

 
informed monitoring and evaluation
 
The suggestion Professor Guerrero wants to make, is that for electoral representative systems, the virtues of bringing about responsive and good outcomes are tied to meaningful accountability. This idea is distinct from accountability as it's connected to informed monitoring and evaluation practises.

Political accountability in the simple sense requires free, regular, competitive and fair elections. For example, we imagine a candidate, Amelia, who runs on a platform of doing X, Y and Z, and she's running in opposition of candidate Boris, who runs on a platform that's somewhat different from Amelia's. If Amelia's platform is more popularly supported, she'll win the election.

 
free, regular, competitive, fair
 
Then after being elected, she'll have many decisions to make while in office. These decisions will be monitored and evaluated by her constituents, perhaps aided in this by news media of various kinds, and the candidate would be held accountable for decisions made while in office when she next comes up for reelection. That's the basic idea of accountability in this situation.

 
concerns
 
The first thing to stress is that if elections are not free, regular, competitive and fair, these accountability mechanisms will fail. Without elections of this sort, Amelia might do whatever she likes once in office, without fear of electoral punishment.

So she'd be free to act in ways that go against the preferences of her constituents, which would undermine responsiveness, and she'd be free to do whatever might be most personally beneficial to her or to those causes she cares about, which might undermine good governance.

 
financial barriers
 
So even in advanced democracies, there are going to be concerns about electoral systems being inadequately free, competitive or fair. Let's name a few of those concerns. First, there are concerns about the financial barriers to running for office. It costs millions of dollars to run for Congress in the United States. This makes elections much less fair than they might otherwise be.

 
incumbent advantages
 
Another concern is that there's significant and empirically well-documented electoral advantages that come with incumbency, with being already in office. This makes it harder for outsiders to run for office successfully.

Some of this is connected to fundraising, some of it's connected to name recognition and popularity, but all of this makes elected officials somewhat less accountable than they might otherwise be if we tried to do more to correct for the advantages that come with incumbency.

 
third parties not viable
 
A third concern applies to systems like in the United States, which employ single-member districts so that just one person is elected to represent a whole political district, and which also use a plurality voting system so that each person gets just one vote to cast, and then the person with the most votes wins.

 
incumbent advantages
 
If you have those two features, single-member districts and plurality voting systems, it's been demonstrated that it's very hard for there to ever be viable third party candidates.

This reduces the options for choice further for systems that have these two features. This is called Duverger's Law after Maurice Duverger, a French social scientist. This means that two political parties are going to be dominant in this kind of system, which structures much of the political reality as a result.

A fourth concern is the role that wealth controlled by just a few people plays in determining who's actually elected, in part through supporting things like political action committees and other interest groups, in part through ownership and control of influential private media, and in part through supporting highly significant television advertising during campaigns.

 
barriers to voting
 
Fifth, there are concerns about hurdles that are erected to keep poor and socially marginalised citizens from even successfully registering and voting. And as the 2000 United States presidential election demonstrated, even in advanced democracies with lots of resources, there can be inadequacies in the mechanics of casting and counting ballots.

 
incumbent advantages
 
Finally, there're concerns about gerrymandering of districts, where politicians work together, even across partisan lines of Republicans and Democrats, to draw and redraw districts so as to make those districts less competitive. They might put, for example, a bunch of likely Republican voters together in one district and a bunch of likely Democratic party supporters in another district, so that both the Republican and the Democratic representatives currently in office are basically in noncompetitive safe seats.

All of these are ways in which many existing electoral representative systems are inadequately free, competitive and fair. These are all serious difficulties and they play a significant role in reducing the accountability of representatives to those over whom they govern. Professor Guerrero thinks that, even if some of these issues were addressed, significant problems of accountability would still arise, although perhaps the bad consequences might be lessened a bit. According to Professor Guerrero, meaningful accountability requires elections that are free, regular, competitive and fair, but it also requires that ordinary citizens are capable of engaging in informed monitoring and evaluation of the decisions of their representatives.

 
monitoring ignorance
 
This is an information problem. Even if citizens have the mental capacity to monitor their representatives, this monitoring can be thwarted by three different kinds of ignorance. The first is conduct ignorance, which is ignorance about what one's representative is doing. Second, there is issue ignorance, which is ignorance about the details of particular political issues. And third, there's evaluative ignorance, ignorance about whether what one's representative is doing is a good thing in general or whether what one's representative is doing will be good for oneself.

Ignorance along these three dimensions undermines the possibility of meaningful accountability. So with respect to conduct ignorance, if I don't know what you've done, I can't hold you accountable for it. With respect to issue ignorance, if I know a little bit about what you've done, I know you've done A rather than B, but I don't understand the difference between A and B, then I can't hold you meaningfully accountable for doing A if that's what you do. And with respect to evaluative ignorance, even if I know that you've done A rather than B, if I don't know whether A or B is better for me or better for the world, then I can't hold you meaningfully accountable for doing A either. The suggestion is that ignorance in any of these three kinds will undermine meaningful accountability.

 
party membership
 
One response that this isn't so bad because, although we as individuals exhibit conduct ignorance, issue ignorance and evaluative ignorance, we can overcome this by using various kind of signals and proxies, so that we don't personally have to be well informed about any of these things in order to do a pretty effective job of holding our representatives meaningfully accountable. There are political scientists who spend a lot of time noting that we are ignorant in these ways, but then some of them argue that we can make up for this by using various kinds of signals and heuristics.

 
endorsements
 
For example, we might note the political party membership of candidates or pay attention to whether they've been endorsed by various activist groups, or whether they've been endorsed by our preferred newspaper or T.V. news programme, or whether they've received public endorsements or campaign contributions from various high profile individuals. All of these can serve as clues that indicate what a candidate or representative is doing, whether this is a good thing, and whether it will help address some political issue or not.

 
course grained
 
Professor Guerrero thinks that the signals can help somewhat, but he worries that they're not going to be adequate. There are some reasons to be concerned. First, these proxies and signals might either be too coarse-grained to help with meaningful accountability or that they'll be too fine-grained to save individuals any effort. On the coarse-grained side, consider political party membership.

If there are only going to be two political parties, it's going to be a pretty crude signal about what a particular representative is actually doing, and it's going to be a very crude signal as to whether what they're doing is a good thing. In particular, we might worry that both of the political parties might collude with respect to some issues and offer basically no difference for us with respect to them.

 
fine grained
 
We might get more precise signals by, say, consulting what some environmental group or some activist group thinks about what this candidate is proposing with respect to environmental regulation and policy. Here we run into the fine-grain kind of problem, one of there being too great a burden on the individual to research and identify reliable groups so that their judgement can be trusted.

People may care about two or three issues and follow groups of which they know are reliable there, but what about all the other issues? Furthermore, there may be many issues that are relatively low profile and which don't generate a lot of activist interest groups or which only generate groups that come down on one side of an issue.

 
wall
 
For all of these reasons, Professor Guerrero is sceptical that using signals and proxies of this sort will be enough to overcome personal ignorance, whether of the conduct issue or evaluative variety. There's some empirical debate about how this all will play out. A response might be, who cares about meaningful electoral accountability? We all acknowledge that there's something like mere electoral accountability and maybe that's enough to achieve responsiveness and good governance. Do we really need meaningful electoral accountability?

Professor Guerrero thinks that we do. So in particular, he thinks that meaningful accountability is required for both responsiveness and for good governance. Why is meaningful accountability required for responsiveness? Here we can imagine a situation in which a representative is not meaningfully accountable to her constituents as one in which that representative is essentially on the other side of a wall so that we cannot see her. We cannot see what she's doing at all. Maybe she sends us messages occasionally from the other side of the wall or yells in a voice that we can hear, even though we are on the other side. So she can tell us what she's doing.

If that's our situation, if that's the best way of thinking about the lack of meaningful accountability, like being the other side of a concrete wall, there's a question of how the representative will actually behave. What will she actually do? In particular, will she try to enact responsive policy? The concern that Professor Guerrero has, is that without meaningful accountability, representatives have no electoral incentive to act in a responsive way.

If constituents don't know what the representative is actually doing on the other side of this wall, then representatives will have little incentive to learn what their constituents actually believe, prefer or value. We might hope to be able to identify and elect good types of people, who, even when behind the wall, will act in responsive ways even without electoral incentives to do so. But Professor Guerrero is sceptical about this possibility because in practise, there're going to be significant pressures against finding this kind of good type of person.



7.5. The perils of electoral representation: Part II


 
lack of accountability
 
The previous segment dealt with the concern that ignorance of various kinds might undermine meaningful accountability of political representatives. This segment continues that discussion, in particular looking at the question of whether the absence of meaningful accountability will undermine good governance. Why could meaningful accountability be required for good governance? First the absence of meaningful accountability leads to an increase in capture, and second, capture undermines good governance and responsiveness as well.

 
capture undermines good governance
 
An elected official is captured if he or she uses his or position to advance the interest of the powerful, rather than to create policy that is responsive or good, if there's a conflict between doing what would be responsive or good and doing what the powerful want.

The powerful are people who have economic and social resources that allow them to have greater influence in various ways, both directly and indirectly in the social and political world.

 
lack of accountability
 
Professor Guerrero thinks that there are three mechanisms by which the absence of meaningful accountability leads to capture. The first concerns the relationship between accountability to constituents and the value of political offices. The second concerns electoral viability and what it takes to be a viable candidate. The third concerns directed positional shift.

Directed positional shift is an underappreciated idea. Political power is more valuable to powerful interests, the more that it's untethered from constituent preferences and beliefs. So if the representative's on the other side of this kind of wall, it makes it much more valuable for the powerful to control that representative in various ways.

 
influencing elections
 
If political officials are free to take a wider range of positions, and in particular if they're free to take positions that are contrary to the interests of the non-powerful, this makes the offices held by those officials more valuable and more worth controlling to the powerful. Thus as representatives become less meaningfully accountable as that wall thicker and harder to see, it becomes more worth the effort to control those representatives or to control who's elected.

This may be considerably easier and cheaper than trying to alter the beliefs and preferences of the majority of people in a political jurisdiction through advertising and media manipulation, particularly if the interests of the powerful run contrary to the interests of most people in a jurisdiction.

 
influencing elected
 
There are two main ways in which powerful interests can respond to this increased value of political positions. The first is by influencing elections determining who can be a viable candidate. The second is by influencing those elected once they've been chosen, determining the political positions that they adopt and creating what we might call directed positional shifts.

Both of these things happen. In addition to there being more incentive to take these steps in the absence of meaningful accountability, both are also easier to do in the absence of meaningful accountability. If elections are badly structured, if they require significant financial backing, if they allow significant corporate or individual donations, then the powerful will control who can realistically run for office, in which case even meaningful accountability post election might come to late.

 
top spenders
 
If elections are badly structured and there is no meaningful accountability, then representatives become little more than agents of the powerful. Arguably we see this as we consider United States policy with respect to agriculture, environmental protection, financial services regulation, tax policy, defence spending and so on. If you look to see who are the largest lobbyists in the country, you see a lot of these really powerful entities basically capturing the representatives.

But even if the elections are not so badly structured, there will still be serious concerns about the influence of the powerful in who can be a viable candidate. First, powerful interests can control media presentation of candidates and their positions. This can make meaningful accountability more difficult through the increase in bad or irrelevant information. There's a lot of bad information, so it's going to be much harder to avoid conduct ignorance, issue ignorance and evaluative ignorance.

 
control
 
This kind of control is also made easier when the issues are ones beyond the understanding of most voters. When voters don't know much about candidates, their views, the issues that they have views about, and whether their views are good or bad, it's going to be easier to manipulate how individuals feel about the candidates. The media can do things trying to portray the candidate as likeable or humorous or these sort of character-level evaluations. It's distracting us from thinking about the issues.

Second, if political positions are valuable, it's going to become sensible to identify and groom controllable candidates early on, making those who end up as viable candidates likely to be those who interests or temperament are congenial to those of the powerful. Some of this will happen explicitly and consciously, some of this will happen due to powerful institutions.

 
controlling benefits
 
If those elected are already beholden to the powerful, the absence of meaningful accountability means that those beholden representatives will enact policy that's good for the powerful, even if that policy is not good generally or responsive generally. But even if those elected are not beholden to the powerful when elected, once they're in office, the absence of meaningful accountability will lead to positional shifts in directions that benefit the powerful. So in the absence of meaningful accountability, representatives will be able to do whatever they want. The worry is that powerful interests will make it so there's at least drift, if not outright directed movement, in the direction that those interests favour.

 
influencing beliefs
 
This can happen by controlling benefits for people post-office, so offering people cushy situations once they've stepped down from political office or by influencing popular beliefs, including beliefs about the representatives themselves, and their views via corporate owned media. We learn whatever we know about representatives, not by observing directly, but we are always getting things through this media filter. That affects our views.

 
affecting quality of information
 
If representatives are doing things that are opposed to what the powerful interests want, they'll change what we as political consumers see. The powerful interests can do this by affecting the quality of available information. So representatives operating in "behind the wall" will have no electoral incentives to do the right thing if it goes against the interests of the powerful. Presumably we won't know the difference and the powerful will provide significant incentives to do what's in their interest, so representatives will have little incentive to seek out high quality information what would be best and they'll be plenty of easily available bad information that makes it seem that the best thing to do is to do what's the in the interest of the powerful.

They sell us the story as the powerful like it to be told. So even if representatives aren't in the pocket when they step into office, there's likely to be substantial influence from the powerful to adopt positions congenial to their interests, and it's reasonable to expect the acceptable range of policy positions to shift in a direction that's no longer aligned for what would make for good policy generally, except in those instances in which somehow the good policy happens to align with what is in the interests of the powerful.

There's substantial empirical support for the idea that political officials are captured in this sense. In his treatment of the subject, Affluence and Influence, Economic Inequality and Political Power in America, the Princeton political scientist Martin Dillions demonstrated that US policy is mostly responsive to the preferences of only the highest income of Americans, if there is a conflict between those preferences and the preferences of the working and middle classes.

In their book Winner Take All Politics, How Washington Made the Rich Richer and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class, Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson argue that the main source of the increase in income inequality over the last 30 years in the United States is the capture of American politics by the economic elite, and the ability of these elites to determine the policy outcomes they favour, with respect to tax policy, corporate governance, and laws regulating corporations.

Colin Crouch makes a similar case with respect to United Kingdom politics. He argues that the declining influence of workers unions and the dominance of the corporate firm, particularly the global corporate firm, has led to the effective capture of nominally democratic political institutions. Finally in their book Politicians Don't Pander, Lawrence Jacobs and Robert Shapiro argue that there was a decrease in political responsiveness over the last several decades in the 20th century, and that this was the result of among other things, an increase in the incumbency advantage, to a large part due to an increase in the cost of running for office and the proliferation of powerful elite interest groups.

There's a sort of general explanation as to why elected political officials regularly both do and are able to act so readily on behalf of the economic elite despite the existence of electoral representative institutions. This explanation's compatible with other explanations, including some of those offered in some of the works just mentioned, such as the decline of organised labour as a political force, and the increased cost of mounting a successful political campaign.

 
information intensive
 
Conduct ignorance, issue ignorance and evaluative ignorance, can all undermine meaningful accountability. Professor Guerrero suggested that both responsiveness and good governance through elected representatives requires meaningful accountability. There are two further important claims which Professor Guerrero thinks are key to the full argument.

First, if a political problem is information intensive, either factually complex requiring knowledge of extensive factual information in order to understand the problem fully, or expertise driven, requiring advanced education or experience to offer and evaluate possible solutions, then the problem is information intensive in these ways. In that case there will typically be widespread issue, conduct, and or evaluate of ignorance with respect to that problem.

 
information intensive
 
The second claim is this, that many political problems in modern political societies are information intensive in this sense. So obviously there's going to be a spectrum of how information intensive problems are. Even relatively straight forward problems may involve complex factual issues or requiring to make complex assessment of the consequences of adopting some course of action.

 
campaign finance reform
 
It's also possible to frame issues to be more or less information intensive. We might ask, should we regulate the presence of harmful chemicals in drinking water? That might seem like a pretty straightforward question. But, we might also ask, which chemicals that are found in water should be monitored and regulated, and at what levels? That's a much more complicated question that requires a greater level of expertise and information.

Many political problems are information intensive. Therefore we can expect ignorance to be widespread within a political community. We can also expect that this will undermine meaningful accountability of elected representatives, which will undermine good governance and responsiveness.

 
term limits
 
This argument might be contested at various steps and some of the premises might be bolstered or undermined by empirical research. There's also a question of how generally applicable it is. It might highlight certain features of the United States' system of electoral representation that aren't present elsewhere. But Professor Guerrero thinks that the argument gives voice to widespread concerns about electoral representative systems.

 
smaller jurisdictions
 
These concerns are brought to the floor when one thinks about how little one knows about most of what one's representative does, how little real choice went in to the election of one's representative if one is in a district like most districts, how much deference to the goodwill of one's favourite political party is required, how complex some issues are, and how much of what one believes about various issues is a result of information provided by a few powerful media institutions, how much money powerful interests have at stake, and how hard it is to create rules to adequately police the influence of these powerful interests.

 
better public education
 
This can seem a discouraging conclusion, but it's worth stressing that the system, even with its flaws, may still be much better than other things that have been tried. So Churchill was not wrong about that. And there's much that might be done to improve systems of electoral representation. Things are much better in some electoral systems than others.

The United States might be a particularly pathological case of electoral democracy, although Professor Guerrero thinks similar problems will arise as soon as you get anything like the size and scale of the United States, combined with very significant social and economic inequality.

There are things that could be tried, for example, campaign finance reform, strict term limits, or limit the size of political jurisdictions to help deal with ignorance, so that we know more about the issues and what was being done. We might improve public education systems, to try and improve our knowledge of different political issues. Professor Guerrero thinks they all run ultimately into various problems or are unlikely to address the core information asymmetry problem that's involved in electing and trying to monitor representatives working on complicated political problems.



7.6. The lottocracy


 
sortition or demarchy
 
Representatives could be chosen trough the use of a lottery in which all adult citizens are included and any might be chosen for political office. There's some historical precedent for this kind of method, referred to also as sortition or demarchy. For example, in ancient Athens, lottery selection was used to select political actors in several of the major governmental institutions. Aristotle, in his classic work Politics, writes the appointment of magistrates by lot is thought to be democratic, and the election of them oligarchic.

 
Aristotle's view
 
This used to be the common understanding of democracy, or at least part of the core of democracy. More recently, citizens' assemblies in which citizens were chosen at random to serve on the assembly in which citizens heard from experts prior to coming up with their own proposals. These were used in Canada, in the provinces of British Columbia and Ontario, to reform election law.

Oliver Dowlen, in his work The Political Potential of Sortition, goes through much of this history in great detail. The words lottocracy or lottocratic can be used for sortition. It's worth noting there's a more ambitious and a more modest way of introducing lottocratic elements. They might supplement the existing legislative institutions or they might replace those institutions entirely.

 
lottocracy
 
They can be used just for a few select kinds of political problems, perhaps only after some general triggering conditions were satisfied, maybe only after there was legislative stalemate through the normal political process or maybe only if they were called by a special referendum vote or something like this.

Perhaps we could use lottocratic elements to address problems that had certain criteria, such as being particularly complex or particularly susceptible to capture, or we could use lottocratic elements as part of the permanent political structure, or as one off institutions used only to implement significant political reforms. Additionally, they could be used just as a kind of oversight mechanism charged only with making recommendations regarding legislation or with having some level of veto power over traditional legislative processes.

 
features of lottocracy
 
These are all relatively modest ways of introducing the use of lottery selection of political officials. This segment discusses the possibility of a full legislative replacement, for example for the United States Congress. It is a thought experiment to get a test case for the advantages and disadvantages of lottocratic institutions in full view, not because it's obviously the way to go.

There are three distinctive features of the full lottocratic system as Professor Guerrero envisions it as a complete legislative replacement. First, that the legislative function is fulfilled by many different single-issue legislatures. Each one focusing just on, for example, agriculture, health care, trade or immigration, rather than by a single generalist legislature like we have now.

A second feature is that the members of these single-issue legislatures will be chosen by lottery from the relevant political jurisdiction. The third feature is that the members of the single-issue legislatures will hear from a variety of experts on the relevant topic at the beginning of each legislative session during a learning phase. To make it more concrete, imagine that each of these single issue legislatures consists of 300 people chosen via random lottery from the adult citizens of the jurisdiction. Each person chosen would serve for a three year term. Terms would be staggered so that each year 100 new people would be chosen and 100 people would finish their terms and leave.

 
sills
 
All adult citizens in the political jurisdiction would be eligible to be selected. People would not be legally required to serve if selected, but we can make the financial incentives considerable and we could make efforts to accommodate family and work schedules, including providing relocation expenses and legal protections so that individuals or their families won't be penalised professionally or otherwise for serving in this role. And we might need to develop the civic culture in the background so that, unlike jury duty in some places, serving on one of these single issue legislatures would be seen as one of the more significant civic duties, and a kind of honour.

 
legislative process
 
Then each Single-issue Lottery-selected Legislature (SILL) would meet for two legislative sessions each calendar year and the structure for each session. There'd be an agenda setting stage, a learning phase where there'd be expert presentations, a period of community consultation, and then a deliberation and discussion phase and then a period of drafting and revising, maybe more community consultation, and finally voting.

 
sills
 
Two aspects of the lottocratic system as Professor Guerrero envisions are the use of single issue legislative institutions and the question of how the randomly chosen members of the SILL's should conceive of their roles. They'll be representatives but of a very different kind than elected representatives. Rather than a multi-issue legislature that legislates over an entire range of policy issues, the SILL system would be set up so that there was nobody that dealt with all of the policy issues, but instead, the policy issues space would be divided into some small number of policy-specific areas, such as agriculture, consumer protection and education.

 
policy-specific areas
 
Each of these would then have a distinct legislative institution devoted to creating law within that policy area. So the main reason to prefer single issue focus for this kind of lottery selected body, is that it will allow for greater learning and engagement with the particular problem. This is going to be important, given the range of backgrounds that these randomly selected people would bring to the institutions, and given the fact that these individuals would be amateurs at the particular task of creating legislation..

So the single issue focus is motivated both by epistemic concerns and by practical concerns. All right so then there's a question of how the randomly chosen individuals should think of their roles. Your, your picked to serve on one of these. How should you think about what you should do?

A lottocratic system's not a normal representative system, although there is a way in which some of its value comes from its representativeness. The thought behind the lottocratic system is that members of the SILL's will be, at least over a long enough run of time broadly, descriptively and proportionally representative of the political community, simply because they've been chosen at random. These randomly chosen people won't have in mind the idea that they're to represent some particular constituency.

Instead, an individual member of the SILL might come to have a certain view about an issue after hearing from experts and engaging in consultation and deliberation, and the fact that this person came to this kind of view is a kind of evidence that members of the political community who share certain kinds of relevantly salient characteristics with that individual would also have come to have those views had they gone through the same experience.

So people see somebody who's from their neighbourhood, religion or occupation being chosen and serving this role. They go through this experience, come to have these views, and then people can say, that person's kind of like me in these ways. I bet if I'd learned what they learned, I might well have come to the same views. In that sense there'll be a kind of representation, but it's not like representing someone where representatives try to think about what would be good for their constituents, and then try to do that. The representatives just think about what they think is the best thing to do.

 
legislative process
 
There're many questions about how to structure them or whether to have these stages or to combine them or add others. It's very hard to provide a definitive structure, but it might be possible to give some sense of what stages might be required and how those stages might be organised. Let's start with the agenda setting phase. Within each policy area, there are many things a SILL might do in a particular legislative session, from relatively small changes to existing law or to introducing a significant legislative overhaul.

The SILLs will decide what to work on in the next session by a process of agenda-setting, where a wide range of possible options are going to be narrowed to a manageable few. That process will have some input from those already involved with the issue, so experts, stakeholders, activists, in addition to the general public, and perhaps some kind of sophisticated polling mechanism. Then the members of the SILL will take this combination of in-person proposals and polling information, and then vote for those items to have on the agenda for the next legislative session.

 
expert presentation
 
There can also be a process for merging two legislative sessions in the event that more time was required or if there are issues that straddle, for example, agriculture and environmental regulation. There could be a vote to combine those two SILLs for the purpose of a particular legislative session. The reason for the vote to set the agenda for the next legislative session is that you want there to be time to inform and involve experts and community members around that issue, so everyone can know that this is what the SILL is going to work on in the next legislative session.

The next phase would involve expert presentations to the SILL. For each item on the agenda, the SILL will hear from experts who will provide general background and specific information relevant to the question under discussion. For example, in the British Columbia Citizens' Assembly there was a learning phase where experts made presentations about different kinds of electoral systems, and a textbook on electoral systems was assigned as background reading. Additionally advanced graduate students in Political Science from nearby universities were trained to facilitate small group discussions.

 
epistocratic
 
If you're going to use experts, there'll need to be a process by which a person is allowed to speak to a SILL as an expert, and this requires a process to determine whether a person counts as an expert, a qualification assessment process, and a process to determine which of the many qualified experts who meet that threshold are going to actually be given an opportunity to speak, the expert selection process. The point of having expert presentations is to have lawmaking by these people who don't come in knowing anything being informed by the best available knowledge relevant to the policy area at issue.

One of the comparative advantages of this kind of system is that hopefully it'll blend the virtues of policymaking by ordinary people with policy making based on expertise, and the hope is that by acquiring experts to explain complex ideas to non experts, this will allow for a general comprehension, authorisation and endorsement of policy in technical areas that won't be present if experts are simply empowered to decide directly. It's a well-known problem with technocratic or epistocratic forms of government ruled by the experts, that for many political questions, there is debate about who counts as an expert.

There are going to be other problems, such as David Estlund's, you might be right but who made you boss problem, but given the smaller role that experts play in the lottocratic system this'll be less of a concern because they're not getting political power directly. The stakes involved in determining whether someone counts as an expert are going to be a little bit lessened. Still, the importance of the details of the qualification assessments should be clear. Expertise might be recognised based on advanced degrees, years of professional experience, formal professional credentials from institutions with national or international accreditation, or publication of research and independent peer-reviewed journals.

Another kind of important expertise is the expertise that comes from experience, including occupational experience or lived experience, such as the experience of being a disabled person, particularly in the context of making policy that primarily affects disabled people. So whatever process is used, experts will need to explain the basis of their expertise, describe their credentials, if relevant, and disclose any actual or possible conflicts of interest due to sources of funding or employment. A full defence of using this kind of lottocratic institution would have to do a lot more to specify the details to the qualification assessment process, and there're significant concerns about the possibility of expert capture.

 
community consultation
 
After hearing from experts, SILL members will begin the process of developing and deciding upon legislative proposals and possibility eventually enacting a proposal. For many issues there could be a community consultation phase, either virtually online or through having the members return to the geographic area from which they came and hold town hall style meetings, in which individual members or multi-member panels will talk through the items on the agenda, talk about what the experts told them, what they feel like they've learned from the experts, and solicit questions and comments from those in attendance.

There're two main purposes to all of this. The first is to inform non-members about the issues and proposals under discussion. The second is to gather information from members of the community, people who might have a stake or might have information.

 
deliberation
 
Then the members of the SILL will convene for deliberation and discussion. It's worth stressing that unlike some who embrace deliberative democracy, which is often accompanied by norms of consensus decision making, Professor Guerrero is not particularly committed to group deliberation as normatively essential or distinctively important.

Group deliberation might be important for some issues on epistemic grounds, but the empirical evidence about using deliberation in this kind of context is mixed, and in some cases you might get biases introduced during the deliberative phase.

Finally, after discussing various questions and proposals the SILL members will work together to draft the proposals. And then eventually, after having drafted those in some detail perhaps with the help of people who are experts on drafting legislation as we see in current legislative bodies, people can come up with proposals for a vote. They need some people who assist in all of this as the representatives are amateurs, but currently in Congress and other places there're also a lot of people helping with the details of drafting.



7.7. The promise of lottocracy


 
community consultation
 
Because no lottocratic system has ever existed, it's hard to do more than draw attention to some of the possible advantages of the lottocratic system and to note those features that raise some concerns or might suggest that we need further refinement to the idea. There're certain obvious virtues of using lotteries rather than elections for the selection of political officials.

First, lotteries excel at preventing corruption or undue influence in the selection of representatives. The main reason to think that the SILL system will do well in terms of responsiveness and bringing about good outcomes is that capture would be considerably more difficult in the SILL system than in an electoral system.

SILL members are chosen at random and don't need to run for office so there'll be no way for powerful interests to influence who becomes a SILL member or to ensure that the only viable candidates are those whose interests are congenial to the interests of the powerful. Because there's no need to raise funds for reelection it should be easier to monitor the members of the SILL to ensure they're not having contact with, or receiving funds from the powerful interests either during or after their service. If we can do this in the case of juries with high profile cases, it should be possible in the case of SILLs.

Of course, this may not be be possible everywhere. In many places graft and corruption are widespread problems, and there're worries that this kind of system might be particularly vulnerable. On the other hand, if members of the SILL are paid very well, and if their payment is conditional on their not taking any outside money, that might go a long way to preventing this kind of straightforward buying off of SILL members. Also, since SILL membership rotates regularly, the cost of buying off particular SILL members would be higher, even if it could somehow be accomplished surreptitiously, it would not be possible to capture politicians who are virtually unbeatable, for example from partisan districts with incumbency advantages, and then count on them being an ally for the rest of their tenure.

A second reason to think that systems that use lottery selection will bring about sort of good and responsive outcomes is that lottery selection is likely to result in a much more descriptively representative set of officials than elections, particularly elections like those in the US, which employ first-past-the-post voting rules in single-member districts. Because individuals are chosen at random from the jurisdiction, they're more likely to be an ideologically, demographically and socioeconomically representative sample of the people in the jurisdiction than those individuals who are capable of successfully running for office.

In the US, 44% of Congresspersons have a net worth of over $1 million, 82% are male, 86% are white, and more than half are lawyers or businesspeople. Better descriptive representativeness doesn't insure that SILLs will create a responsive policy, but it does mean that range of perspectives in making policy will be more similar to the range of perspective of the community as a whole, which makes responsive policy somewhat more likely. Additionally SILLs are likely to include individuals with a greater range of life experiences and vocational skills than a representative system, and that also might improve the quality of the outcomes generated due to the improvements in the cognitive diversity of the group.

A third reason in favour of lottery selection is that those selected haven't sought out political office. Some who favour lottery selection make a lot of this lack of political ambitions. Everyone is participating, rather than just those who really want power. On the one hand, political ambition can come with aspirations for power, which might select for the kind of person we'd rather not have in power. It can also easily select for corruptible individuals, people who are willing to exchange principled decisions for personally beneficial ones. On the other hand, many who enter politics undoubtedly care about making things better and working on the behalf of others. They may have a particular kind of talent and leadership skills.

A fourth reason to favour lottery election, is that elections lead elected officials to focus on those problems for which they can get or claim credit for addressing, and ignore any problem with a longer time horizon or a solution for which it's harder to get credit. This is related both to voter ignorance and to the perverse short-term incentives that elections provide. Perhaps the most urgent issue we face is climate change, and it's arguably a problem that demands political solutions in order to address what appears to be a complex collective action problem.

Many of the worst effects of climate change won't be realised for decades, so elected politicians who get elected every two years or four years or six years, are unlikely to pay the short term political costs due to imposing unpopular taxes on fossil fuels, or limits on vehicles. These things are not generally popular. So even if there are clear steps that need to be taken, many elected officials won't actually take them. Individuals chosen at random are not hamstrung by these kinds of incentives. If there's agreement on a viable solution or at least on the need to address a problem, members of the SILL are going to be well-placed to implement that solution. They won't have to think about their office.

A fifth reason to favour lottery selection is that the use of lotteries better respects fundamental ideals of equality, in particular political equality. Even in electoral systems in which each person gets one vote to elect their representative, and the ideal of equality thus plays some role, the election of some individuals to rule over others is less egalitarian than random selection. One reason for this is that although it might be true that everyone has an equal say in the electoral process in some sense, only a select few actually have political power. For reasons having to do with the resources and the influence of the powerful, not everyone has anything close to an equal change of actually having political power.

Lottery selection arguably better reflects egalitarian ideals. Anyone might get political power and everyone has a literally equal chance of doing so. Additionally, although at a particular moment in time, some randomly chosen will have more political power than others in the lottocratic system too, this is going to be less pronounced than in the electoral representative system, since this extra power will be for a much shorter average duration. So if many of us rotate through office, we might all come to have close to an equal amount of political power over the course of our lives. So in addition to better satisfying norms with equal chance of having political power, the lottocratic system also comes closer to satisfying a condition of equal actual political power than any other system that uses representatives.

So finally quality related virtue of the lottocratic system is that the selection itself doesn't require a commitment to the idea that some are better able to rule than others. Electoral representation does involves this kind of commitment as we're trying to identify the people who would be good at ruling over us. One might defend electoral representation on this front arguing that elections are not about picking the best person to rule but are instead about picking a person who might simply be better in terms of having more time to devote to the task of governing. The problem with this defence is that it does not reflect actual electoral practises, in which we talk about things like intelligence, credentials, education, experience, and connections. All of these are reasons to favour a candidate.

 
attention
 
There are additional reasons to think that the outcomes of the lottocratic system, incorporating as it does both the use of experts and single issue focus, would be better and more responsive than the use of representatives through elections. First, because SILLs focused on one issue at a time, it's less likely that non-responsive policy will result from inattention to a particular issue. With a generalist legislature a few issues might draw all the attention, or policy can be created that's not responsive to the beliefs and values of the constituents without any attendant electoral consequences.

 
acquaintance
 
Second, the single issue focus provides an opportunity for the randomly selected members of the SILL to become acquainted with an issue that might otherwise be one about which citizens are ignorant or might have no views or preferences. Voters are broadly ignorant about political issues. The expert presentations combined with community consultation and discussion provides an extended period of time during which an ordinary citizen can become better informed about an issue. This is good for bringing about both better outcomes and for bringing about more responsive outcomes.

 
uncaptured
 
Third, with respect to good governance, it's plausible that good outcomes are outcomes that are compatible with, if not informed by and brought about because of the facts about the world. So, policy making undertaken in light of the best available information is likely to be better than policy-making undertaken in light of false or biased information. The SILL system, because of the epistemic benefits of the single-issue focus and the expert consultation, is better positioned than a sort of generalist representative system to create not just responsive and uncaptured policy but also good policy.

Representatives can devote their attention to one issue. They can all become informed by experts on the issue, rather than just the few members of Congress who happen to be on the relevant committee. They don't have to spend time fundraising and campaigning. They can just focus on thinking about policy, and they can do what they think is best after hearing from experts and community members. They don't have to limit what they do to what is currently the preference of the average voter. This is crucial for any system that employs random selection, since one of the main concerns about such a system is that the randomly selected numbers will not be competent enough to make good decisions.

 
democratic
 
Fourth, one of the main advantages to the lottocratic system is that it blends the virtues of policy making by ordinary people with policy making based on expertise. It has both the sort of populist appeal and epistocratic appeal. By requiring experts to explain complex ideas to non-experts, this may allow for comprehension, authorisation, and endorsement of policy in these technical areas that otherwise wouldn't be possible.

This helps address one of the concerns of a lottery selected legislature or any epistocratic political system, the issue of whether their decisions will be accepted by the citizenry at large. The hope is that if SILLs are seen as descriptively representative, even those not selected to participate will see the decisions arrived at as the product of a well designed process that includes people like them.

They might reason that, although they don't have the same view on the issue, if the representative is, in important respects like them, so from their neighbourhood, profession, and so on, and that person has come to have a different view after hearing from experts and talking with others and having devoted lots of time and thought to the problem, this all will provide a powerful reason for the constituents to think that they would have that view if they'd gone through this same process. This provides a basis for them to accept the ultimate decision, even if it differs from their initial view.



7.8. Concerns about lottocracy


 
competence
 
Throughout this discussion, it's worth keeping in mind the extent to which the concerns about lottocracy remain, regardless of the scope of the lottocratic system, regardless of whether the lottocratic institution is an engine of direct legislation or is only advisory or in a position to veto legislative decisions, and regardless of whether the system works on all kinds of problems, or only a limited few.

The most common worry is competence. So, would entrusting political decision making to randomly selected body of citizens be a disaster, and much worse than delegation to elected representatives? Maybe electoral politics has its problems, but at least those selected have to be at least somewhat intelligent, socially competent, and hard-working.

 
institutional solutions
 
It's hard to respond to this concern. The extent to which one's worried about citizen competence might well depend on one's life experiences, the kinds of people one has been with, and whether those people are like those who get elected or not.

One response is to present institutional solutions to increase competence. We might create incentives for the full range of citizens to participate. We might set reasonable minimum thresholds, for example only those with a high school diploma could actually be eligible to be chosen randomly. We might improve public education so that the worst off from a competence perspective are going to be relatively more competent.

If these have been implemented, then what would we think? Some of these measures are controversial, and would undercut some of the advantages of the system that stemmed from its descriptive representativeness, in particular imposing any kind of minimum threshold of education. That's a reason not to pursue that strategy. But if we did do that, and if the competence question still remains, there're still a few further possible responses.

One response is to treat the question of competence as a quality threshold question, and then to argue that most citizens actually would be above that threshold that they would be competent. Another strategy, is to focus on the question as a comparative question and then attempt to highlight the incompetence or relative incompetence of elected officials to make sure we're not valorising them as political geniuses.

Another response would be to argue that elected officials are perhaps more competent than randomly selected people would be, but that this is going to be undermined by the ways in which elected officials are biased for all the reasons mentioned before. These three strategies all have some promise and don't really compete with each other. So, you can make all three arguments together and together they might be more plausible than any one of them alone.

A better answer would require empirical investigation, but it's worth noting that it's at least not obvious that the average member of Congress is better able to understand technical policy issues. That's not how the elections try to pick people. Additionally, at least for some issues, the views of ordinary people currently play a very significant role in determining what policy options are viable.

 
better informed
 
In the comparative assessment of the electoral system versus the lottocratic system this is a reason to prefer the lottocratic system because if ordinary people are going to be participating, at least with the SILL system those ordinary views become somewhat better informed, or at least that the hope by the single issue focus and the use of experts. The lottocratic structure, and in particular the single issue focus and use experts, is really designed to lessen the competence concern.

 
problems using experts
 
Another kind of worry about competence relates to the use of experts. One worry is that average people won't be intelligent enough or educated enough to make good policy, even if they hear from experts, and perhaps especially if they hear from experts. They might misunderstand what the experts have said or simply failed to get anything out of the expert presentations and the subsequent discussions. A second worry is that people will defer too much to the experts, perhaps because we feel they don't know very much about the issue.

 
public education
 
These are both concerns that would be worth monitoring and empirically testing. The results from the British Columbia Citizen's Assemblies were pretty positive on these dimensions. There was a suggestion that the comprehension and the integration of expert information was actually generally good.

Finally, there might be a need for excellent public education for all citizens, not just for the wealthy or the politically connected. A high school education might not adequately prepare a person to be a helpful engaged citizen in matters of contemporary public policy, but that itself is something that could be the object of reform, not a reason to reject a proposed reform to the political system.

Another source of concern are different forms of capture. There're worries about capture in the lottocratic system. First, because SILLs focus just on single issues, this might make it easier for powerful interests who have concerns about those particular issues to focus their attention on the SILLs most relevant to them. It might be a lesser issue compared with electoral systems. In modern legislative systems, similar issues arise with small committees that have a lot of the responsibility for most detailed policy making. These committees are arguably easier to capture than a much larger unelected SILL would be.

Additionally, there are steps that could be taken to make capture of individual SILL members, whether through direct payment or provision of post office employment, more difficult. we can monitor SILL members and we can condition their large payments on them not taking bribes. All of this might block capture that we see in the electoral context. A second concern is that the non-professional members of SILLs basically are political amateurs that will fare poorly if they're required to interact with professional politicians to bring about policy changes. This worry is related to those that are developed by people who write about bureaucracy and regulatory capture of administrative agencies.

 
institutional design
 
How this would actually play out in practise, and how large a concern it might be, is going to depend on institutional design details, which are the role that SILLs play in the full legislative process and how SILL-created policy is enforced and overseen. There're going to be hard questions about how it's actually going to be implemented in the details and enforced in practise.

One possibility to address the enforcement concern would be to employ SILL style institutions to oversee regulatory enforcement of enacted legislation rather than to have a politically sophisticated executives. Right now a lot of the enforcement task is carried out by executive administrations. If we continue to have those as professional politicians, who have to compete through elections and then interact with autocratic institutions, we might see some problems there, but we could have a different kind of executive structure.

 
capture of experts
 
Another concern might be that powerful interests try to influence who is identified as a qualified expert and who is selected as an expert to speak. If there are significant non political hurdles to becoming an expert in a particular field, such as an advanced degree from a national or internationally accredited educational institution, the need to publish articles in peer reviewed journals, this might create good hurdles which would make it easier to identify who is really an expert in some field.

If we combine those with strict disclosure requirements that mandate that experts disclose sources of funding, and employment, this may lessen some of this concern about the capture of experts. Additionally, we might use institutional mechanisms that make capture of experts more challenging.

One thing we could do is have the expert identification and selection processes happen in part by the accredited community of experts. This happens in the American Bar Association, a professional association of lawyers, that gives ratings for proposed United States Supreme Court nominees. This mechanism would require not just buying off an individual and getting that person to speak on one's behalf, but it would require buying off an entire field.

 
captured or no experts
 
In general, there's a worry about the politicisation of science and of the university. It might get intensified in a certain way if we use experts explicitly in this system. Arguably this is going to be a problem for any political system, whether autocratic, electoral, democratic, or technocratic. There's going be a hard question to face in the situation in which most experts are powerfully captured by powerful interests. We might reconsider whether it would be better to have SILL members not hear from no experts at all.

The details are going to matter, but for some issues if there's really this problem of capture, it might be better to eliminate the expert stage entirely or alternatively to only use SILLS in those policy areas in which there's a well established and relatively well defined body of uncaptured expertise, maybe because there's no significant financial stake in that area for some reason. We might leave it to SILL members whether they choose to seek out expert opinion in a particular case. That'd make the financial incentive to capture experts less predictable and presumably correspondingly less powerful.

 
capture of experts
 
The problem is just as real for a lot of elected representatives, particularly given that it might be more difficult to monitor exactly which experts are providing information to which elected representatives, where those elected representatives are turning for research. Arguably, there's a greater concern about experts being used to provide cover of a certain kind for decisions made by elected representatives, so as to thwart efforts at accountability.

Finally there's little reason to think that well intentioned elected representatives will be any better at identifying expertise that's really captured than randomly chosen representatives would be, given that most elected representatives don't have a scientific or technical background. So this problem of captured expertise arguably is a problem across the board.

 
coherence
 
There are a number of practical issues about the lottocratic system, particularly if it's used as a complete legislative replacement. Many of these concern things such as whether the system could achieve adequate synchronic and diachronic policy coherence. So, if you have a bunch of individual SILLs making policy with groups of people who are randomly chosen, how are we going to get consistent policy at a particular time.

 
concerns
 
How are we going to get consistent policy that makes sense over time? One concern is about issues that might straddle two or more of the defined legislative policy areas. Another concern has to do with taxation and budgeting. How will the budget for a particular SILL be set? Where will the funding for it come from? A third concern is a concern for any legislative institution. What ensures that the policy as enacted by the SILLs, will actually be carried out and enforced? Another question, how often should a particular issue be revisited?

At this point it's difficult to get into detailed discussion since the nature of the problems will turn on the details of the institutions that we've actually designed and that includes the precise role that the are being given within the system. What Professor Guerrero wants to point out here is that in general these are practical institutional design problems that could be addressed in a way compatible with the lottocratic scheme.

One possible fix would be to allow for distinct policy area SILLs to merge to address a particular policy problem. SILLs can be used in a more limited way just to deal with a particular political problem with relatively define boundaries such as reforming healthcare or reforming immigration. Veterans SILL-members could be included in some process that would allow the lottocratic institutions to reconsider how to design some of the structural details, particularly guiding overlap of issues, budgeting, taxation, rulemaking, and simlar problems. You could also use a hybrid kind of system with some lottery selected individuals and some elected officials.

 
shift
 
Finally, there's a question about political participation. Moving from elections to lotteries would create a significant shift in the way that citizens participate in political life. The extent in details of this shift would depend on whether lottery selection is just supplementing legislative institutions or whether it fully replaces elections.

On the one hand, ordinary citizens would have an equal chance of being selected to play a significant policy making role directly, but on the other hand, how big a chance that actually is would depend on the number of individuals needed to actually run the SILLs. In a large nation state like the United States or India the chance of being chosen at random would be very small, at least for service on one of the national institutions.

Since there might be no electoral season to follow or to participate in, citizens wouldn't have any votes to cast if it was a complete replacement. There might seem to be considerably less space for ordinary citizens to play any kind of active political role. Professor Guerrero thinks this worry about participation and the nature of participation can be overstated.

First, political participation currently is quite limited already, with many people not even bothering to vote, and many people following elections in superficial detail, particularly races for low level political offices. Second, the lottocratic system could be designed to encourage participation at many junctures in addition to the random selection part. For example, during the agenda setting or the community consultation phase citizens would be encouraged to participate through discussion and polling. Interest groups and activists would play a significant role during both of these phases, so there'd be a place for citizens to really get involved in shaping the agenda and during the community consultation phase.

Professor Guerrero thinks it's worth considering what participation would look like under this kind of system and whether we'd lose something important that we currently have with an electoral system. In particular there's a lot of work to be done to identify the background conditions under which this would be a good idea. And there's a real case to be made for starting small, maybe using a SILL-like institution just to work on one specific issue. We could start using lottery selection first at the local level. Professor Guerrero hopes to have suggested some reasons to at least question the use of elections to choose representatives always and everywhere. We should at least think of using lotteries in some cases, he thinks.