Could sortition help against corruption, part II

In part 1, I looked at whether it made sense to have random individuals inserted into parliament, or to let policies be decided by juries full of randomly chosen individuals. Both were argued to be unworkable and likely to lead to more corruption, rather than less: policies that favour the special interests are so entwined with large legislative programs that it is not feasible or desirable to have them judged by juries of amateurs. And random members of the public spending years in parliament have even less incentive to be honest than members of long-standing political parties with brand-names to protect.

Here I want to mull over the possibility of using random members of the jury for appointments and for generating signals about corruption. The end result of my deliberations is that I can see use for random juries in major appointments within the public sector, but that I cannot see them working as a means of generating information.

For those who missed the earlier discussion on why having parliaments made up of random members of the public is not a good idea: a good example of problems you get with excessive diversity in parliament is Brazil, which has dozens of political parties and as such without long-established major players who have some incentive to care about reputations for honesty. Their parliaments are pretty close to random groups of populists, a diversity that has been strongly argued to make their politicians sitting ducks for special interest groups. Their parliamentarians have been argued to sell out to the highest bidder.

The fundamental problem, which is that without big players no-one has enough incentive to care about corruption, is an old argument you also see in other arenas: to keep big companies honest you need large shareholders with enough skin in the game to monitor and punish; to keep rogue countries in line and do something about international crises, you need large countries big enough to worry about and organise an answer to these problems.

For sure, there are some policy-areas where citizen juries might be useful, such as when it comes to decisions about politics itself, such as electoral boundaries, but there too the West has plenty of examples of well-functioning institutions that do the same job without citizen juries.

The post drew some knowledgeable commenters though who have been wedded to the idea of sortition for quite a while, and the proposals they brought up did make me wonder whether sortition could help with other decisions in our democratic systems. Mainly they pointed out the use of randomly selected groups of citizens who got to decide on appointments rather than policies. Sortition systems in Florence and Venice operating for many centuries were examples of how randomly chosen people voted in the ultimate leaders, though in those cases the ‘randomly’ chosen people were all members of the elite themselves.

The hope is that random members of the public would be pretty good at judging the bias and character of people. After all, that is pretty much what criminal-trial juries already do and in which random members of the public are arguably better than specialist insiders who cannot see beyond their own little corners.

So let us come from the problem from the other end and look at whether having the wrong people in charge is indeed a problem within our democratic system, then see how sortition would be applied to hire the right people, and then try and think through whether sortition would truly help if we consider the counter-moves of special interests. Continue reading

Posted in Cultural Critique, Democracy, Economics and public policy, Education, Ethics, History, Information, IT and Internet, Journalism, Law, Libertarian Musings, Life, Miscellaneous, Philosophy, Political theory, Politics - national, Print media, regulation, Social Policy, Society, Web and Government 2.0 | 13 Comments

Truth-telling in the epistemic quagmire of the politico-infotainment complex: Donald Trump Edition

Pilate said unto him, What is truth? And when he had said this, he went out again unto the Jews, and said unto them, I find in him no fault at all.

The Gospel according to John 18:38

Picasso once famously opined on art and truth-telling. “We all know that Art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realise truth at least the truth that is given us to understand. The artist must know the manner whereby to convince others of the truthfulness of his lies.” Today something very similar could be said of politics.

In politics as it’s practiced in the age of vox pop democracy lying is built right in. That’s not lying as in “I didn’t see Cardinal Pell” when you did. It’s lying in a deeper sense. At the very least it’s presenting a view that’s internally agreed upon – a view you may have argued against – as your own sincere position. It’s lying as in repackaging previously agreed policy as new policy. It’s lying as in saying that you think your colleague is doing a wonderful job, when you know he’s not. It’s lying when you come up with a slogan like “jobs and growth” and then you just grab whatever you cobbled into your latest budget and call it “A plan for jobs and growth”. It’s lying when you say Australia will be a second rate economy if it doesn’t have a GST and it’s lying when you say eight years later that a GST would be a monster tax that will ruin working families. It’s lying when you say that you’re going to the people early because speculation about an early election is destabilising government when not only did you start the speculation, but if you didn’t think it was in your interest you wouldn’t be calling an early election. It’s lying when you say you’re trying to strike a balance in industrial relations law between efficiency and fairness when your legislation is whatever you could get away with with the interest groups you had to deal with. The whole thing is put on and it’s increasingly obvious to all the punters.

And so when the post-reality politician Donald Trump is challenged about having said that his opponent Hillary Clinton would have made a “great” president a few years ago, instead of spinning and coming up with some lie about how he believed that then, but has had a change of heart (like Kevin Rudd’s about face on gay marriage), he just says stuff along the lines of “I was just lining my own pockets then. I was trying to get Hilary to do stuff for me, and that was part of the schtick”.  Should we be outraged by that? Well I’m not particularly outraged. Not that I wouldn’t like my politicians to be more truthful, but that horse bolted a good while ago.

I can’t see the difference between Trump saying that Hillary would be great one minute (when that suits his self-interest and political interest at the time) and then reversing those words in a different situation and the ALP opposing the Libs’ superannuation changes on the grounds that they were retrospective (which they weren’t). In that sense I think I prefer Trump’s transparency regarding his own motives to the usual duplicity. Likewise Trump’s son shows a refreshing honesty when he says that his father is not releasing his tax returns because it would just stir up scrutiny that he doesn’t want. Continue reading

Posted in Democracy, Philosophy, Political theory, Politics - international, Politics - national | 13 Comments

Italian Film Festival

Top Picks

Trailer Icon 03 Perfect Strangers (Opening Night)
Fueled by a fiendishly clever screenplay and an all-star cast, Perfect Strangers gathers a group of good friends around the dining table-three thirty something couples and a bachelor-where one suggests they make all SMSs and phone calls public across the course of the night. The reason: to prove they have nothing to hide. What seems like an innocent experiment results in some eyeopening disclosures-even a swapping of phones in a desperate concealment attempt-that shows how performance dominates our public lives.
As Genovese says, “Smartphones have become a fundamental object, perhaps the only one that we always carry with us-our ‘black box’.” Never has the time been so ripe to offer such a cinematic take on a classic morality conundrum.
☆☆☆☆☆ Film Dude
☆☆☆☆ IMDB

An excellent ‘dramedy’ about two very different women who go on a road-trip of Thelma and Louise proportions. Beatrice and Donatella meet in a psychiatric institution. While Beatrice is a brash, unhinged chatterbox; the institute’s newcomer, Donatella, is fragile and withdrawn. Still, Beatrice seeks out friendship with this punkish introvert and, during day release at a nursery, they board a bus and commence their girls-only adventure.
☆☆☆☆ IMDB

A prison drama that follows the story of young and conflicted Daphne who, after being criminally convicted for robbery, must adapt to a new lifestyle in a juvenile prison. In prison Daphne is mainly ostracised by the other girls but she soon finds comfort through her secret relationship with Josh, whom she meets across a fence in the separate male ward. Their relationship is not allowed in the prison so they exchange clandestine letters, brief glances and conversations through the fence that separates them. Through her romantic relationship with Josh and her new life in prison Daphne is finally able to discover herself, but can her relationship with Josh survive beyond prison life?
☆☆☆☆ IMDB

Giulia De Martino is 17 years old and already carries the weight of her family on her shoulders. Her mother has left, and when her father dies, it is up to her to look after her little brother, and the family garage, which has been turning out rally champions for generations. Overwhelmed with debt, Giulia, who is a promising racing driver herself, must win the GT championships at any cost. She reaches out to her older brother Loris, a former champion driver who has fallen into the spiral of drugs. Based on a true story, Italian Race portrays talent and deterioration, competition and toxic love in a way that is both accurate and realistic.
☆☆☆☆ IMDB

It’s 1995 in Ostia, on the Roman seaside. Twenty something Vittorio and Cesare are lifelong friends, almost brothers. They take drugs, drink and get into fights with other misfits like them. At home Cesare has a prematurely aged mother. Vittorio instead seems to have no one in the world, and when he meets Linda he sees in her a chance to build a normal life. He decides to find work and tries to enlist Cesare, who in the meantime has fallen in love with Vivian, a loner like him but full of desire to build a future.
☆☆☆☆ IMDB

Giulia’s world is an ancient one, suspended in time and built on rigour and sacred texts, which fiercely excludes anyone who doesn’t belong to it. Libero’s world is that which is inhabited by everyone else: by those who make mistakes, those who make do as they seek other prospects, and those who love unconditionally. When Giulia meets Libero, she discovers there may be another destiny awaiting her, one she can choose for herself. Theirs is a pure and inevitable love story, as the two young people embark on an intense period in their lives together, a choice that leads to Giulia being completely cut off from the religious world she belongs to.
☆☆☆☆ IMDB

One of the Big Three of Italian film releases from 1960, Rocco and His Brothers is a cataclysmic family saga charting the desperate attempts of impoverished Southerners to seek a better future in the Industrial North of Milan. The stories of the five fratelli as they fall victim to corrupt forces are elegantly steered to an explosive finale that is sure to still leave audiences reeling.
☆☆☆☆☆ Eye For Film
☆☆☆☆ IMDB
☆☆☆☆ Slant Magazine

Set in the heady summer of 1975, with the Communist Party seemingly on the verge of taking power through the upcoming general election, controversial Italian director, poet and intellectual Pier Paolo Pasolini is editing his most audacious film yet, the now notorious “Salò, or the 120 days of Sodom” when the negative is stolen from the film laboratory. Pasolini, a well-known communist who is openly gay, is also in the midst of writing a book condemning Italy’s political elite; and he is seeing a young man, Pino Pelosi, from the working class suburbs of Rome that are renown for organised crime. When Pasolini arranges a meeting to retrieve the negative, little does he know that he is walking into a trap that has many authors.
One of the most mysterious and controversial crimes in Italian history, the murder of Pasolini is treated as a thriller, highlighting the monstrosity of those who physically murdered Pasolini, those who ordered the crime, and those who covered it up.
☆☆☆☆ IMDB

Trailer Icon 03 Roman Holiday (Closing Night)
Living a life of privilege and boredom, Princess Ann skips out on her royal duties to enjoy some time as an everyday girl. As luck would have it, she falls into the arms of journalist Joe Bradley who, upon learning her identity, sees an opportunity for an exclusive. But he doesn’t bet on romance. Amid the laughs and screwball antics, Ann and Joe take in all the sights of Rome-from the Trevi Fountain to the Colosseum-in “a regal and highly illegal scoot-around” on the back of a Vespa.
☆☆☆☆ BBC
☆☆☆☆ IMDB

Posted in Films and TV | Leave a comment

Deliberative democracy: A sad story

Image result for deliberative democracy

What do we want? Deliberative democracy! When do we want it? NOW!!

This story from this larger study speaks for itself, but is illustrative of some of the themes of my previous post on deliberative democracy.

In the spring of 2004 we began work on a citizens’ jury
process that we co-designed with the residents of a town in northern England. One third of its population is minority
ethno-cultural heritage communities. The subject of this ‘doit-yourself jury’ was to be decided by the twenty volunteers, drawn at random from community organisations and the electoral roll.

At the end of a day-long workshop, the jurors settled on
the role of the police relating to drink and illegal drug use
among young people. This topic made local politicians
nervous, they asked that we postpone the jury until after the
local elections in a few months’ time. They refused to provide
information to the process or cooperate with it.

Having heard a wide range of perspectives from a diverse
set of ‘witnesses’ the jury sought to recommend a number of
solutions to the problems highlighted during the process. The
jury at no point divided along ethnic lines. The following is an
extract from our 2004 report about the process:

We observed that white residents living in areas of diverse ethno-heritage often feel patronised by conventional anti-racism campaigns. Such messages are promoted by the
same authorities who seem to have failed to address some
of the most urgent problems facing their communities.

Our final report suggested that some Asian and other minority communities might welcome a re-direction of resources towards initiatives that allow them to join together with white community members and bring pressure for change, especially since many of the most pressing social and economic problems affect all the local population regardless of their background.

We suggest that the re-building of democratic engagement
in northern England, as in many other parts of the
UK, will be greatly enhanced by an increase of face-toface
meetings such as those that form the essence of a
do-it-yourself citizens’ jury. However, such exercises are
only likely to be successful when they involve a broad
range of local community groups and are not controlled
by any one stakeholder or funder.

Continue reading

Posted in Climate Change, Cultural Critique, Democracy, Political theory, Politics - international | 2 Comments

Gay marriage: Some thoughts about the politics

Image result for gay marriage australia statisticsI haven’t read any columns on the gay marriage imbroglio so maybe people have already said all this but … it seems to me that the circumstances now provide the left of centre parties with an opportunity to humiliate their opponents. There’s no bigger kill in politics than to be on the right side of the polls and of history and to force, and be seen to force your opponents to heel.

It’s a little hard to know whose schtick is cutting through. To me the ALPs emotionalism – with the 13 year old kid and his two Mums in Question Time – seems to be cutting through to me. On the other hand people seem to want the plebiscite. Perhaps that gives the CLP some cut-through in arguing that it’s Bill Shorten who’s standing in the way of gay marriage. But the inability to get the plebiscite up will surely weigh further on the PM’s authority. He can blame the ALP all he wants, but there are those pesky randos and someone from his own side jacking up – so it’s not just a Labor/Greens thing. It’s not even a left wing thing. It’s a fairness thing. It’s a “I don’t want people campaigning against homosexuality” thing.

If there’s no plebiscite then the ALP just sits there saying that there’s only one way to get gay marriage in Australia and that’s to elect a government with enough courage to support legislation. Tick, tick tick. If 65 odd percent of Australians support gay marriage, and if 5% of the electorate are gay and another 5% have relatives etc and so they care strongly about the issue, that seems quite a liability for the CLP to take to the election.

And the other thing I would do if I were the ALP/Greens would be to draft a bill for an act and pass it through the Senate. It would not have the force of law, but it would have a section in it that would declare that any civil union that went ahead with some formal election by the parties from the date of the passage of the bill through the Senate should be treated as a marriage and would be legitimated as a marriage upon final passage of the legislation.

People would go ahead having ‘marriage services’ every weekend continuing to normalise the practice and hosting community level political activism in every suburb of the nation. Tick, tick tick.

I’m hoping those in favour of gay marriage recognise the immense political power that’s within their grasp. I can’t believe that, as time passed, the CLP wouldn’t be forced into a humiliating backdown. Tick, tick, tick.

Posted in Cultural Critique, Political theory, Politics - national | 45 Comments

Northern Territory – a tale of systemic dysfunctional governance

Like quite a few other despairing commentators, I have on occasions referred to the Northern Territory as a “failed state”, most recently here:

Until now, although holding grave fears about the quality of Northern Territory political governance under both the previous Labor government and the current CLP one, I have taken the optimistic view that things are bound to improve as the Territory grows and matures, and that therefore the self-government experiment is worth preserving. I have also felt that many of the deficiencies about which people complain also exist to a significant extent in other Australian States, it’s just that they are much more exposed and visible here because the population is so small. In a very real sense, the Northern Territory means the tiny city-state of Darwin whose population is around 140,000 people.

Unfortunately, at the end of the day that is also the reason why self-government is an unsustainable failed experiment. Not only are there not enough people to provide a revenue base to support either the full bureaucratic apparatus of a State government or the necessary relatively sophisticated political establishment to make it efficient and accountable, but there aren’t even enough people to provide a sufficient number of talented politicians, apparatchiks or bureaucrats …

When I raised the point again very recently in the wake of the CLP’s crushing election defeat by Labor, commenter Marks observed:

I am not sure I buy into this Territory exceptionalism theme. I don’t see, for example, that the NT has worse governance than NSW. Or Queensland in the not so distant past.

In one sense you can’t really argue with that, given Queensland’s political history especially under Sir Joh, and NSW’s two hundred year history of Tammany Hall-style politics. But in recent years both those states seem to have lifted their games in terms of their quality of governance and accountability.  New South Wales, for example, has an active and effective anti-corruption commission, rigorous political donations disclosure and regulation regime, and an Upper House of Parliament.  The Northern Territory has none of those mechanisms.  The NT’s deficiencies in governance are longstanding and systemic, but capable of change for the better.

Continue reading

Posted in Political theory, Politics - Northern Territory | 4 Comments

Why is our faith in democratic politics collapsing?

Democratic Satisfaction

Q: How satisfied are you with the way democracy works in Australia?


With democracy now serving the interests of the 1%, the public are disenchanted and finally sending the elites packing – courtesy of the Brexit vote and the (relative) popularity of Donald Trump and in Australia the rising vote of minor parties. That’s the narrative anyway, as supported for instance by Moz in a recent comment in the thread on elite tribalism:

[T]he problem we have is capture of the political system by an apparently unreachable elite whose interests the democracy serves.

I think this is pretty much wrong. This is a democracy. If there are systematic problems with it – and there are – the buck stops with us. We decide who gets the top office. We decided to vote for John Howard when he told us  that reffos were chucking their kids into the sea for a great photo-op. We voted for Paul Keating when he told us that the GST was vital to our economic interests when he was peddling it, and that it was a monster tax designed to cripple working Australians a few years later when his opponent was.

Certainly the public says that its interests are being ignored and of course the elites do give their own perspectives and interests disproportionate attention. But is this particularly worse than it ever was? Schools, hospitals, dole payments, garbage services all run as efficiently as they have in the past. In principle they could probably be run a little better. But politicians probably don’t know how to do much better and in so far as the public vote for such things, they’ll often vote for the wrong things – like smaller class sizes and keeping smaller, lower quality, regional hospitals open.

What wishes of ‘the people’, exactly are being ignored? Continue reading

Posted in Cultural Critique, Democracy, Economics and public policy, Political theory | 16 Comments