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[P]
The Imminent Death of The Republic

By jd in Op-Ed
Mon Jan 28, 2002 at 08:08:59 PM EST
Tags: Politics (all tags)
Politics

Plato's "Republic" has been the defining text for political scholars for well over two millenia. His case-by-case study of political ideologies, their flaws and their strengths, has influenced nations throughout the world, throughout the ages. But is it time to go beyond just those systems he examined?


The British political system has, until recently, been based on the idea of two houses that are independent of each other, in the way in which they are composed, and in the people from which they are composed. This, in principle, should have been extremely stable, as the excesses and bias of one group would automatically be filtered out by another. To be effective, the groups would need to cooperate, rather than compete.

And, to an extent, this actually worked. The British political system has not required radical overhaul in over three hundred years, making it one of the most stable systems ever devised.

However, it was never particularly effective. Although one house had no direct control over the other, "career politicians", inherited life-long power, and the inevitable corruption over time, resulted in a system that was really run much more by the "Civil Service" than by the officials.

The "Civil Service" is a shadowy, surreal organization which really holds power in Britain. The politicians "make decisions", but the Civil Service is the body that actually implements them. In its own way, with its own interpretations. It is accountable to nobody but itself. It is a "politically-neutral" corporation, making Britain one of the oldest Corporate States in the world.

The increasing tension, the lust for power & control, the fevered gambits, and the natural hostility between all three groups, is causing this system to collapse. It's no longer stable.

But is any other existing political system any better? America has the Constitution, a piece of paper honored more by rote memorization than by actual practice. Constitutional "rights" apply only to those groups the Government of the day wants them to, which is why "foreigners" are now being targetted. A few years back, it was Native Americans. Tomorrow, it might be Democrats. Who knows? Once you can exclude any group from "we, the people", you can exclude ANY group, and the more often you do that, the easier it'll get. People'll get used to the idea of a Constitution for the "elect few", rather than for all.

(For those who claim the Constitution is only intended for Americans, I'd argue that "all people are created equal" doesn't really leave much room for debate. Either everyone is equal, in the eyes of the US constitution, or some are more equal than others.)

So, we have a bunch of flawed systems. That happens. But what, in reality, can be put in their place, should they collapse? (Which they will, it's just a matter of time. Nothing made by humans will last forever. Things can last a long time, but nothing is eternal.)

Well, the system I've often thought MIGHT be a workable substitute would be to take the best of both worlds. Have a Constitutionally-ruled House, and an unelected House (as per the UK system), but have the unelected House based on a jury system, so that it contains real representitives, rather than hereditary peers.

Why would this be any better? Well, pure Democracy is somewhat untennable, in a country the size of America. However, pure democracy avoids one thing that a Republic cannot - corruption via powerful lobbying groups. Which we're seeing a lot of, in the news, recently. (You can bribe individuals, but it's harder to sway an otherwise unconnected body of people.)

A jury system, whereby 600 people from across the nation are picked entirely at random to essentially try the various bills and pieces of legislation, as though they were defendents in a legal case, would create a virtually uncorruptible body, specifically designed to limit and impede corruption throughout the Halls of Power.

Uncorruptible? Sure! Bribing 600 people, in and of itself, is not beyond most corrupt politicians or corporations, but only when you know who they are. Juries are anonymous and random, so you can't ensure that easily-bought people are present. Also, a jury only tries one case. Once it's over, you pick a fresh jury and go through the procedure again. That way, this House would serve for one bill. Not four years, two years, or any other length of time. One bill, and that's it. No "career politicians", no "experienced members", just 600 people listening to the arguments of two sides, for one specific thing.

"But, they won't know the background! Or the bigger picture!" If it's relevent, it'd be up to the defence to bring those details up. If it's not, then the jury isn't confounded by irrelevent details and side-issues.

"But... 'Career Politicians' know about politics! The average person doesn't!" Politics isn't the issue, with this kind of system. That's for the Representitives and the Senate to debate. This third House would be to test the validity of the arguments, once the political issues are already resolved. They don't NEED to know about politics, they just need to know if side A or side B has the more valid argument.

"It would be too difficult to do!" Oh, everything's too difficult to do. Until it's done, and then everyone takes it for granted. Tough airport security was "too tough to do", until it was introduced. Now, virtually nobody would do without it.

(Fill in own objection here) Objections are easy to come by. Raise any issue, and I'm sure a million people can find objections. The point is not whether you can find some way to slam an idea, but whether there are any other ideas that are any better. No idea is perfect, and it's by debate that we sift the wheat from the chaff. But debate requires REAL input from more than one side, or it ceases to be a debate. Those who have seen the Monty Python sketch on "Arguments" will understand what I'm saying here. It's not an argument to flatly contradict. You have to give a meaningful counter-view, too.

In the end, America was built on people debating on how the system should function. It can only continue to be built, if people continue that debate. There are only two ways you can go. Forwards or backwards. If you're not moving, you're still going backwards.

The world's problems won't be solved on K5 (though I think K5 is probably more suitable a place than the UN, sometimes), but nothing gets solved if nobody does anything, anywhere. Which is exactly why the UK is falling apart, and the US is shedding it's Constitution faster than a snake on speed.

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The Imminent Death of The Republic | 43 comments (35 topical, 8 editorial, 0 hidden)
Jury system (4.00 / 3) (#1)
by maroberts on Mon Jan 28, 2002 at 12:47:51 PM EST

A jury system is not only impracticable but would probably be unrepresentative, as people have managed to make evading jury service(in ther UK and in America too) a fine art. If you aren't carefull you'll end up with a group of people who don't give a damn about the legislation at hand.

Secondly what makes juries so much wiser than the current system ? You only have to look at the OJ Simpson case to know that sometimes juries will refuse to do the Right Thing even when its blindingly obvious - could you really afford to have your country run in this way.

And then there's the problem of sheep. The fact is that one or two people in the jury will have a huge influence over the other 590 odd, who will generally go which way will be the least trouble.

+1 Section, but never let it come true!
~~~
The greatest trick the Devil pulled was to convince the world he didn't exist -- Verbil Kint, The Usual Suspects
OJ Case (none / 0) (#5)
by wiredog on Mon Jan 28, 2002 at 01:05:09 PM EST

All the defense lawyers had to do was raise a "reasonable doubt" that Simpson had done it. They did so by bringing up the possibility he was framed by the police. It has since come out that the police in one part of LA (the Ramparts station) were frequently framing people, something the mostly black jury knew quite well. The jury was predisposed to believe police corruption because there was police corruption. So the prosecutor lost what should have been an easy win.

Peoples Front To Reunite Gondwanaland: "Stop the Laurasian Separatist Movement!"
[ Parent ]
Self Government and the Average Moron (3.50 / 6) (#2)
by Woundweavr on Mon Jan 28, 2002 at 12:52:59 PM EST

First, the Constitution can only apply to those who...I want to say 'accept' it. Those people who live within a defined area known as the "United States" decided that order would come from this document and government would be created under the guidelines therewithin. It would not be fair to hold the people of Belize to the same guidelines, just as it would for the people of Iran to hold all the US to Islamic law.

Now this second point in a way almost contradicts my first one. People are stupid. Personally I want my affairs handled by people smarter or as smart as I am. Taking a random selection of people will inevitably have the 'jury' made up of average inteligence(the smarter canceling out the dumber etc). I don't expect the average person to understand coding or whatever specialty you want to use as an example. Why should the average person be expected to understand the effect a 3.5 billion trade agreement with China as opposed to a 2.9 billion deal with Taiwan? Are you going to take a brain surgeon's or a single mother's day or week or month when they are needed elsewhere?

Screening them brings up issues of fair representation, and since someone would have to pick them, creates a weak point for corruption.

In Ancient Greece, one major innovation was paying 'civil servants'. This allowed the poor a chance since only the rich had enough money to live without an income. It also actually reduced corruption, cause now those on the cusp did not need the extra money. The same happened later with officers in militaries(although a thousand years or more later).

Perhaps the solution is the opposite of the obvious. If you want to make politicians immune to corruption, remove the value of the 'carrot'. Make campaigning come from a central fund. Supply for all the needs and more of the politicians. Throw money at them. Sure some would still be corrupt for the hell of it, but hopefully they would be weeded out. Sure you get the greedy, but that doesn't seem to matter to the rest of the market(and you do now anyway). Sure it will cost alot, but not as much as the jury idea.

HUmmmm (none / 0) (#7)
by priestess on Mon Jan 28, 2002 at 01:09:25 PM EST

So essentially you're saying we should bribe the politicians not to take bribes?

Pre.........

----
My Mobile Phone Comic-books business
Robots!
[ Parent ]
Sounds right... (5.00 / 1) (#14)
by Danse on Mon Jan 28, 2002 at 02:39:23 PM EST

Basically it would be "the people" who bribe the politicians to represent them as they are supposed to do anyway. But he's right, really. It's better that "the people" do the bribing than special interests. However, I'm not convinced that such a system would work. There are corporations and industry groups that can throw around a lot of money. Never underestimate the power of greed. On the other hand, if the people understood what kind of money they were paying these people, perhaps they would expect a much higher level of service out of them. Perhaps they would be much more offended by the appearance of corruption. While I'm not convinced that it would work, the idea certainly does merit discussion.






An honest debate between Bush and Kerry
[ Parent ]
One of our great ironies (4.00 / 1) (#21)
by medham on Mon Jan 28, 2002 at 05:11:48 PM EST

Is that we use the expression "brain surgeon" to refer to someone of high intelligence. Surgeons of all sorts are technicians, about as smart on average as the average single mother, and probably less-qualified to mangage anyone else's affairs.

This just comes years of teaching pre-med students, associating with med students, and hearing med school professors talk about how increasingly robotic and dull med students are.

The real 'medham' has userid 6831.
[ Parent ]

i think... (none / 0) (#27)
by rhyax on Mon Jan 28, 2002 at 11:48:04 PM EST

i don't completely disagree with your view of surgeons as technicians, but i think his/her point was that it is a speciality that is in high demand by society. Both the neurosurgeon and the single mother may fill positions that, were they to leave, would not be filled.

[ Parent ]
On the contrary... (4.88 / 9) (#3)
by notafurry on Mon Jan 28, 2002 at 12:53:47 PM EST

The world's problems won't be solved on K5 (though I think K5 is probably more suitable a place than the UN, sometimes), but nothing gets solved if nobody does anything, anywhere.

The world's problems can and will be solved on K5. Or rather, in places like K5. And coffeeshops, bars, meetinghouses, other discussion sites, anywhere people can gather to discuss and debate these issues.

The UN can't solve problems - it has no teeth. This is great for some purposes, but in any contest between the sheep and the wolves, the wolves are going to win. The UN is a big, plump, juicy sheep, and the sheepdogs are almost as hungry as the wolves.

Locally, Congress and Parliament both are filled with politicians who became representatives not out of duty, but out of a quest for power. Professional politicians fill our state houses, and we export the people who got them there to other nations. America was indeed built on people debating on how the system should function; unfortunately our current "leaders" have never held a practical job, in some cases have never even done their own grocery shopping. They can't debate on the workings of a system "for the people" because they've never been part of the people.

The question is not whether the Republic will die, it's a question of what will replace it. The traditional (read: historical) course would be Empire, then Rebellion, then Dark Age and anarchy. The only thing that gives some measure of hope is that this has never happened before in a society that can force itself to be open. The Internet allows unrestricted communications, and with a little effort it allows unrestricted, anonymous, untraceable communications. Pervasive, available communications which cannot be controlled by any government is a powerful weapon, and it might be the one which breaks the cycle.

America's Aristocracy (none / 0) (#42)
by dadragon on Thu Jan 31, 2002 at 05:36:31 PM EST

America was indeed built on people debating on how the system should function; unfortunately our current "leaders" have never held a practical job, in some cases have never even done their own grocery shopping. They can't debate on the workings of a system "for the people" because they've never been part of the people.

That's exactly why I maintain that the USA (and every other republic in the western world) do in fact have an aristocracy. They are no longer held in power by force, but now it's by money. These people were born rich, will die rich, and their families will remain rich. They run the country, and that's a bad thing because they don't understand the concerns of the neoserfs who are not rich. I personally think there should be a maximum net worth for politicians in the USA, and Europe and Canada.

Actually, no. The House of Commons in Canada, or the House of Representatives in the USA should be made up of farmers, shop owners, the little guys, while the Senates of both countries should be made up of the rich, but elected by the people. Similar to the UK's system, two independant houses to keep the other in line.



[ Parent ]
Where does Plato's Republic come into this? (4.50 / 4) (#6)
by HereticMessiah on Mon Jan 28, 2002 at 01:06:15 PM EST

That was a discourse in Psychology, not a work on Political Science, per se. Anyway, the system he outline was nothing like a Republic. The title was just a dodgy translation from the Latin, `Res Publica'.

--
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our res publica (5.00 / 1) (#18)
by guet on Mon Jan 28, 2002 at 03:57:28 PM EST

well if the Latin is res publica; from res, "affairs," and publica, "public" it does seem to be closer to 'state' than anything else, there's a nice summary of The Republic here in any case for those who haven't/won't read it.

I suppose you could say that The Republic is an argument for oligarchy (which is certainly the principle behind the UK state) as opposed to pure democracy (and this article). I'm sure there's a lot more to The Republic than that though, and it is a shame the article doesn't try to tackle the failings in our present systems in a more concrete way before going on to the suggested alternative.

I voted +1 Section for this, partly for the discussion, though I would have liked to see far more justification (or perhaps just not see them :) for unnecessary flights of fancy like:

The increasing tension, the lust for power & control, the fevered gambits, and the natural hostility between all three groups, is causing this system to collapse. It's no longer stable.

or

And, to an extent, this actually worked. The British political system has not required radical overhaul in over three hundred years, making it one of the most stable systems ever devised.

uh, to choose an arbitrary example,1832 was a pretty major change - the system in the UK has not been 'stable' for 300 years.

The following is an interesting little point from The Republic that unfortunately isn't addressed in the article

But when a cobbler or any other man whom nature designed to be a trader, having his heart lifted up by wealth or strength or the number of his followers, or any like advantage, attempts to force his way into the class of warriors, or a warrior into that of legislators and guardians, for which he is unfitted, and either to take the implements or the duties of the other; or when one man is trader, legislator, and warrior all in one, then I think you will agree with me in saying that this interchange and this meddling of one with another is the ruin of the state.

(perhaps nowadays we'd replace 'whom nature designed' with 'whom society moulded')

This would seems to me the biggest flaw with this kind of proposal. Who would educate the citizen jurors in editing/judging/passing legislation? Could it be done quickly?

Writing laws *is* complex, and it's v. easy to leave ambiguity, often in an attempt to appease varying opinions, which can then be exploited and make the law unworkable or irrelevant. The House of Lords is partly made up of judiciary, which performs the important function of scrutinising legislation to see if it will work when it's applied.
It'd be a shame to lose that legal expertise. The main problem I have with the new second chamber in the UK are the political appointees (who now take 60% of the seats).


[ Parent ]
A different take ... (none / 0) (#24)
by Hobbes2100 on Mon Jan 28, 2002 at 08:23:02 PM EST

That was a discourse in Psychology, not a work on Political Science, per se.

If you've ever come across a work on "Political Science" that did not integrate the "Psychology" of both the rulers and the populace, I'd be pretty impressed. Now, I will grant you that your "per se" gives you a fair bit of leeway. I think all of the social sciences are very intertwined. Further, I think Political Science has remained the closest to its Philosophical roots (psychology has incorporated experimental and biological methods, economics has incorporated experiment, simulation, and mathematical methodologies).

It seems to me that the great works of Political Science speak volumes about the Psychology of those involved. "The Prince", "The Republic", "The Art of War", etc. all do this. Even those works that may not address Psychology, per se, likely address Sociology.

Regards,
Mark
Sed quis custodiet ipsos custodes? --Iuvenalis
But who will guard the guardians themselves? -- Juvenal
[ Parent ]

Logistics (5.00 / 5) (#12)
by Scrymarch on Mon Jan 28, 2002 at 02:20:47 PM EST

That way, this House would serve for one bill.

The logistics of that are going to be difficult if you don't want the slowest, most expensive government ever. Do the juries sit sequentially or concurrently? If concurrently, where do they sit? If sequentially, how do you deal with the normal interleaving of legislation and the slowdown this would entail?

Possible solutions: say 10 pieces of legislation; or 40 sittings of the House; or less than 600 jurors; or a fixed 6 month term; or using high-tech / online solutions.

Oh, and this won't get rid of politics, it will make it messier and more unpredictable, as the pros desperately try to manipulate a bunch of amateurs. But that doesn't make it a bad idea.

Cool (4.33 / 3) (#13)
by Boronx on Mon Jan 28, 2002 at 02:38:19 PM EST

Who makes the case for and against? Who proposes a bill? These two issues would play a big part in deciding the direction of the Jury.
Subspace
Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated (4.00 / 5) (#15)
by Torgos Pizza on Mon Jan 28, 2002 at 03:16:31 PM EST

Why would this be any better? Well, pure Democracy is somewhat untennable, in a country the size of America. However, pure democracy avoids one thing that a Republic cannot - corruption via powerful lobbying groups. Which we're seeing a lot of, in the news, recently. (You can bribe individuals, but it's harder to sway an otherwise unconnected body of people.)

You've got to be kidding. The unwashed masses are so easily swayed. Witness the power of television, the rise of Britney Spears and the growth of the Boy Bands. The appeal of Tom Green, Johnny Knoxville and the WWF speaks volumes to the gullibility of the "unconnected body of people". It's this naiveté that leads to governments of fascism or Stalinism. Sure, let's all hold hands and sing Kumbaya and hug trees while we're at it.

Maybe a better idea is to have a government of learned people, as suggested in an episode of The Simpsons. Then again, we should be doing something as voters and actually vote for someone decent. And if there isn't a candidate you like, do something about it and get out there and run yourself. The death of a Republic only happens when the people in the Republic cease to care about anything happens in it.

I intend to live forever, or die trying.

Can't be corrupted? (3.50 / 2) (#16)
by delmoi on Mon Jan 28, 2002 at 03:19:29 PM EST

However, pure democracy avoids one thing that a Republic cannot - corruption via powerful lobbying groups

I'd say you're wrong. A direct democracy could easily be 'corrupted', by advertizing and people not bothering to pay attention.

Your jury idea, while intresting could lead to some stupid laws, if stupid people get into the jury. And they could easily be emotional swayed just like a regular jury.

A way to fix it would be to requre 'intelegent' people, but then the people currently in power would get to define 'intelegent' as 'thinks like me'.

Anyway, you're fucked. I don't think it's possible to have a government free of corruption. It's best to simply try to minimize it.
--
"'argumentation' is not a word, idiot." -- thelizman
Democracy breeds enlightenment. (5.00 / 1) (#20)
by calimehtar on Mon Jan 28, 2002 at 05:11:37 PM EST

I disagree with you vehemently. People are stupid and apathetic because they know they don't make a difference. Do you really think that people don't turn out for elections because they don't care what the president does? No, the president does what the lobbyists and the party want him to -- the voters don't count anymore. It's the typically imperial decay into "bread and circuses" decadence, except this time it's rate cuts and television.

Democracy breeds enlightenment, and community, and equality. When I say democracy I don't mean the pathetic excuse for representative democracy in America and countless other Western countries. I'm talking about the democracies of Athens and Switzeland and Iceland which may not have been all-inclusive but gave to their citizens almost total equality of political power.

Particularly Iceland and Athens also have the distinction of being among the most sophisticed cultures in history and this is no accident. A true democracy creates real political debade, a sense that one's opinion really matters, and an enlightened society. The culture of Athens was not a result of paying people to study or forcing stupid people to emigrate, it was simply inspired by the political and cultural climate.

Whatever happened to America's faith in the intelligence of the common man embodied by Thomas Payne's "Common Sense"?


+++

The whole point of the Doomsday Machine is lost if you keep it a secret.


[ Parent ]
A little thing called... (none / 0) (#23)
by Torgos Pizza on Mon Jan 28, 2002 at 05:48:10 PM EST

Whatever happened to America's faith in the intelligence of the common man embodied by Thomas Payne's "Common Sense"?

. . . Jerry Springer.

I intend to live forever, or die trying.
[ Parent ]

I prefer the possibility of corruption (4.00 / 1) (#19)
by imrdkl on Mon Jan 28, 2002 at 04:54:39 PM EST

Your proposal might reduce corruption, but I really prefer a popular vote for my representation. For some reason, I want to like the guy who's taking my voice to the hill. I submit also that a truly random sampling would be next to impossible to obtain, much in the same way as a jury is limited to registered voters, which introduces bias in the hypothetical unbiasedness of the body before they are even assembled. Finally, how would such a body of legislators be able to stand as an equally powerful branch of our government? What are their chances against a well-oiled machine like the presidency? The legislative branch of the American govt. has always had the elite and well-educated among it's ranks, and for good reason.

I too long for finance reform, but I guess this idea seems a stretch.

I understand your point, to an extent (none / 0) (#34)
by jd on Tue Jan 29, 2002 at 09:51:20 AM EST

However, if this jury had the absolute power to strike down any bill or any clause in any bill (equiv. of finding them "guilty" in a conventional trial), put the bill (or clause) back to the start (similar to the Scottish juror's option of "case not proven"), or to pass them as ok (ie: "not guilty"), then the President and any "career" politician would find that the bar has been significantly raised in getting anything through.

The reason they would be able to stand against even the best of the best is that they're not a "fixed target". The jury changes. By the time any weaknesses or vulnerabilities were found in the jury, you're likely to be looking at the next jury.

Lastly, I fully understand wanting to have a duly-elected representitive, who was representitive of the interests, needs and desires of those they serve, if that's what we had, we wouldn't have such well-oiled corruption in the Halls of Power.

The point is, some of those jurors are going to be people who voted for those representitives, who are standing in the dock, explaining why their bill DOES meet their duties and obligations to those who elected them. And those jurors have the power to tell their representitive to bugger off.

IMHO, this might actually increase accountability and representation, because the voters' voices will NEVER be so far away that the politician can dump them and go with some rich, corporate "sponsor".

[ Parent ]

Egalite gone overboard (4.00 / 2) (#25)
by Hobbes2100 on Mon Jan 28, 2002 at 09:02:04 PM EST

A jury system, whereby 600 people from across the nation are picked entirely at random to essentially try the various bills and pieces of legislation, as though they were defendents in a legal case, would create a virtually uncorruptible body, specifically designed to limit and impede corruption throughout the Halls of Power.

Well, I hate to serve as the resident aristocrat (in the general sense, not the strictly hereditary implementation of it) but I think this goes too far for my spirit of egalite.

Assuming you take random to mean uniformly random (that is, everyone has an equal chance), you need to look at what the make up of this group of 600 people is going to look like. In some senses this will be great; race, sex, age, income, experience/education, political ideology, and the like will all be represented the same in this body as it will in the population (at least up to what the Central Limit Theorem says will happen when you sample a population).

However, this is case of the getting the good with the bad. Do you believe that one of two houses should be made up of 50% people that have at most a high school education? You can see what the demographics (for the US) would look like at www.factfinder.gov.

Do I think that experience can make up for "lack" of education? Yes I do. It can also prevent people from getting bogged down in "philosophical indecision". I'd love to see several farmers in this group of 600 because they tend to be emminently practical individuals. But, as it turns out there would only be about 14 people from "farming, fishing, and forestry". As much as I think there are too many of them, I'm guessing there would probably be about 1/2 a lawyer in this crowd. Sadly, there might only be 1/10 of a scientist. One way around this might be to have an advisory board of "experts" much like the US President has. However, these experts then become a "corruption bottleneck". Alas.

That said, perhaps it is better for the country to be really represented as it is. Maybe we get a bit of artificiality by only have the best, richest, brightest, and richest (oops, did I say that twice?) in the highest ranks.

I haven't even touched on issues like:

  1. How do we get everyone accounted for? We don't do so well in the census (so they say).
  2. We'll have to give these people some sort of job security or ...
  3. Many probably won't be interested in participating.

Finally, yes, this body might end up being relatively free from corruption. But I think my concerns are legitimate.

Regards,
Mark
Sed quis custodiet ipsos custodes? --Iuvenalis
But who will guard the guardians themselves? -- Juvenal

The current system (4.50 / 2) (#31)
by marx on Tue Jan 29, 2002 at 08:03:05 AM EST

Your post makes a pretty good argument against the current democratic system. The only difference is that your uneducated idiots are voting for a person instead of a law.

If we assume that these people are absolutely clueless about laws (as you do), then these two decision methods are equivalent, except the jury method would be more fine-grained.

In the current system, we vote for a person, or party, who represents a set of law propositions. Since we don't understand any of the law propositions, we vote for the guy(s) we trust the most, who seems to be the most like ourselves.

In the proposed system, we would vote for a person, or party, who represents a single law proposition. Our selection criterion would logically be exactly the same.

Aside from logistics and sampling errors, I cannot see any reason why this would be a worse representation of the will of the people.

So it seems that you are against the democratic principle itself, and not as it seems here, only against this specific proposal.

Join me in the War on Torture: help eradicate torture from the world by holding torturers accountable.
[ Parent ]

IANAL, but... (4.50 / 4) (#26)
by Pseudoephedrine on Mon Jan 28, 2002 at 11:27:51 PM EST

The point is not whether you can find some way to slam an idea, but whether there are any other ideas that are any better.

The problem with democracy, with all government in fact, is that is involves the use of force. Frankly, I don't trust those 600 people, no matter how random they might be, to use their power wisely. Those 600 people are no doubt populist, and even if we get them an advisory board, that might not actually help matters. If it's a representative random sample of people, 25% of them will be functionally illiterate if the american education system's stats are right.

Personally, I'd like no legislative branch in our government. Yes, that's right, no legislative branch. I'd like the role of legislators to be taken over by common law judges, themselves elected by local constituents. There would be an executive, a military, a police/penal and a judicial branch, and that's it.

While this means no _new_ laws, this is not as restrictive as one thinks. The important laws that govern human interaction are already written down in various legal documents. Humanity doesn't need any more laws. Really, so long as the government can deal with murder, do we really need 25,000 laws governing and regulating the sale of cabbages directly and indirectly?

I'd like to throw out a lot of the current laws, and turn the ones that remain over to the legal system. Common law has shown itself time and time again to be far more sensible and workable than statutes, because of its basis in common sense.

Obviously, new situations can and will appear. No doubt the founding fathers had no idea of computers when they wrote the Constitution, for example. But, common law can interpret the majority of foreseeable legal possibilities in the light of already existing laws. If I become telepathic twenty years down the road and proceed to use my newfound telepathic powers to invade your privacy, is it not still invasion of privacy? Common law would allow us to generalise the principles of invasion of privacy to say 'Yes, this does.' Even better, for all you democrats, is that common law represents the will of the people far more than democracy ever could. Democracy, contrary to the original author's belief, is incredibly prone to factionalism and corruption. On the other hand, common law combines the best elements of several political systems and filters everything through it. No decision is made hastily, any judge may over turn a decision at a later date, any lawyer may challenge it, it changes and reacts to circumstances in a way that polling does not, and it understands the fine nuances of a _specific_case in a way that a statute cannot.

The judges should be elected locally to make them responsible to the people. On top of that, a random selection of "traveling assayers" (judges who travel from district to district - the original guys who made up common law in England way back when) ensure a certain parity amongst various parts of the country in terms of decisions. And of course, the original written law should be retained - I am not by any means suggesting we scrap the Constitution or the Bill of Rights (other than insofar as we make the changes I suggest above :)). Actually, I'm more interested in saving them. Without legislators to violate them constantly by introducing new (and illegal) laws, the Constitution might once again _mean_ something.
"We who have passed through their hands feel suffocated when we think of that legion, which is stripped bare of human ideals" -Alexander Solzhenitsyn

On the point of the functionally illiterate... (none / 0) (#33)
by jd on Tue Jan 29, 2002 at 09:38:47 AM EST

That might be a good thing. Instead of having lots of obscificating waffle, which works great against those who think they should understand, you might start seeing a pressure to have clear language, definitions of terms, explanation of intent, etc.

IMHO, if such a jury was entitled to find a bill "guilty" of being incomprehensible, the quality of texts that went through such a system would rise. To do otherwise would be a good way to get the bill killed.

Let's also say that the jury could find any article in the bill guilty of being "utterly irrelevent" to the text. Riders - bills which sneak through on the back of other bills - would be all but obliterated from the landscape.

All this, precicely BECAUSE these people are functionally illiterate. You HAVE to explain things in detail, carefully, and simply, or they're simply going to tell you to shove it.

IMHO, the more people with low intelligence or poor grasp of language that could make it onto such a jury, the better. They're actually much harder to deceive, as most deception operates on intelligence or linguistic skills. They may not be able to put together two sentances, without checking a dictionary or pausing for breath, but for exactly that reason, those arguing the case can't go much beyond that level, either.

Fictional scenario #1:

Pro-Bill "witness": "This bill will reduce taxes, raise educational standards, unburden industry, defeat terrorism, repair the ozone hole and save the whales."
Anti-Bill "prosecution": "How?"
Pro-Bill "witness": "You're too stupid to understand."
Jury: "Oh yeah? Guilty!"
Pro-Bill "witness": "Ooops!"

Fictional scenario #2:

Pro-Bill "witness": "The guphumple piffleweeps will increase by gorple percent per annum, making you all extremely rich."
Jury: "Huh??! This guy's a joke. Guilty of being terminally incomprehensible."

[ Parent ]

Clarity in law is a virtue, but.... (none / 0) (#36)
by Pseudoephedrine on Tue Jan 29, 2002 at 11:41:21 AM EST

...a functionally illiterate person couldn't read the actual wording of the text and understand it. What happens if they're lied to by a witness? The other jurors might try and explain it, but since they aren't professional lawyers they may not be able to either. As someone else pointed out, you get about half a lawyer out of every 600 representatives.

The functional illiteracy thing was more of a throwawy comment, really. What I'm really worried about is the deeply populist, majority-is-right, short-sighted mindset that this would encourage. Do you really want your neighbour down the street - the one who thinks that your entire income should be taken away from you to pay for her children's schooling, to have the power? I don't.

I'd rather not have that power either for that matter.
"We who have passed through their hands feel suffocated when we think of that legion, which is stripped bare of human ideals" -Alexander Solzhenitsyn
[ Parent ]
That, of course, is the problem. (none / 0) (#37)
by jd on Tue Jan 29, 2002 at 01:36:20 PM EST

Unfortunately, politicians have that power, already, and aren't accountable to those who they purportedly represent for the majority of their time in office.

My proposal was one of what are probably a near-infinite number of ways to adjust the balance of the system, so that there is greater accountability, in one form or another.

For the other point, yes, one (or more) witnesses may lie, as they can do in a regular court. The task of the "defence" and "prosecution" is to challange such lies, again as in a regular court. I'm relying on a major assumption at this point, which is that if an idea is worth defending, it's worth defending well, and that this will sift out a lot of the crud. Not all, sure, but enough to offer a worthwhile cost-to-benefit ratio.

Now, my question would be this. Let's say that my idea does NOT offer a worthwhile cost-to-benefit ratio. What are the alternatives? How can we have a minimally corrupt system, that has maximal ability to get it's job done, and done well?

[ Parent ]

Good question, actually. (none / 0) (#38)
by Pseudoephedrine on Tue Jan 29, 2002 at 01:56:29 PM EST

Well, my _practical_ idea for making politicians accountable is a empowered and elected judiciary - moreso than the group of political appointees and cronies that they are now. As I said above, I genuinely believe that humanity needs little to no more laws to govern itself effectively. It is the role of the judiciary to throw out some laws and tweak the others as necessary, and I would like to see a lot more of the former than the latter, at least for the next little while.

A strong judiciary, devoted to a very close and literal reading of the Consitution rather than just rubberstamping whatever the current administration wants, would probably do more to enforce practical freedoms than any change in the selection of the legislative branch. No matter whom you select to make laws, they'll almost certainly simply pork-barrel one way or another. Separation of powers is the only brake on that.

"We who have passed through their hands feel suffocated when we think of that legion, which is stripped bare of human ideals" -Alexander Solzhenitsyn
[ Parent ]
After some consideration (none / 0) (#43)
by TON on Fri Feb 01, 2002 at 05:00:52 PM EST

When I first read Pseudoephedrine's post I thought, "Now, that is a truly radical idea. Ditching the legislative entirely, and relying on common law would be a very interesting idea. Too bad it'll never happen..."

But, it kept rolling around in my mind. Implementing it in the US would be nigh impossible. What we need is a city-state to try this out on. Who's available? No likely prospects.

But, why a city-state? Why not just a city? True, there would still be whole layers of Federal and State legislation coming down the chute. I think it would be really interesting, and remotely possible, to try this idea out at the town, city, or county level.

Whaddaya think?

"First, I am born. Then, the trouble begins." -- Schizopolis

Ted


[ Parent ]

Jeffersonian Democracy & Random Candidates (5.00 / 2) (#28)
by TON on Tue Jan 29, 2002 at 02:07:03 AM EST

The second chamber as a jury idea is interesting. I just think it is way of trying to enforce the ideal of the legislator that Jefferson and others had in mind. It seems like a radical approach to term limits mixed with the aims of finance reform.

Jefferson, and other founders IIRC, imagined the legislator as the "yeoman farmer" who would serve in government as needed, then return to his fields. They did not envision the kind of professional political class we have today. In fact, this seemed realistic at the time when legislative sessions were shorter and the demand to master vast amounts of information were less. Of course in practice, Jefferson's "yeoman farmer" was not as broadly representative as your jury (the "yeoman temp", "yeoman mechanic", "yeoman stock-broker" ...), but the idea was there; take part, don't take yourself too seriously, then go home. This sometimes seemed true, but didn't really last.

I'm deeply opposed to term limits as a limit on freedom to try to participate in government. I think they are a treatment of the symptoms of incumbency and money-politics. Public campaign finance and "bribing the legislators to do a good job" might be two attempts to attack the roots, but are missing one serious point; access.

Even if campaigns are publicly financed, even if those elected are bribed to do a good job, who qualifies to get the public finance/bribery? This might tend to put power back into the hands of parties or other organizations that can get people on the ballot. So, open up access to the ballot. Ballot acces is a hodge-podge of regs all over the place, and can be manipulated by those who know the system.

If the goal is to get real representatives, I wonder if some part of your jury idea could be put to use here? Juries are drawn by a kind of lottery, why not draw some candidates by a lottery? Allow parties, unions, the independently wealthy, career pols, all the usual suspects to continue to put up their candidates, but also select some random citizens to serve as candidates.

This would pose many difficulties, but be less unwieldy than the full-on jury proposal. I think this might inject a certain amount of "keep them honest" to campaigns.

Some would not wish to be candidates, let them essentially "uncampaign". Their names would appear on the ballot. If they won, they could easily choose not to be sworn in. Even this non participation would have some effect. I imagine an empty podium and two minutes of silence at a debate during rebuttal giving some people time to squirm and others time to think.

Some nutcase might be selected to be a candidate. Probably they won't win. If they do, well, ya get what ya deserve. But at least there would still be the same filter on moronic, axe-wielding, stark-raving (insert favored epithet here)'s getting into the Congress that we have now.

It would most definitely be an imposition on those selected, but as mentioned they could choose not to serve. Not too much more trouble than evading jury duty now in many states. Some people might put up with the disruption to their lived if they were paid a reasonable wage and/or had some guarantee of job security afterwards.

On the upside, I think this revision of your drawing on the random populace could reinvigorate campaigns, challenge the conventional wisdom of candidates, and at least provide better entertainment than the system we have now. The draftee candidates certainly couldn't be too much worse than some we see already!


"First, I am born. Then, the trouble begins." -- Schizopolis

Ted


Uncorruptible? (4.00 / 2) (#30)
by whatwasthatagain on Tue Jan 29, 2002 at 03:45:42 AM EST

corrupting 600 people? Impossible. But who needs to corrupt 600 people anyway? You can be rest assured that there's going to be no corruption in a vote that splits 500 - 100. The dirty stuff comes into play only when it's something like 320-280. Which means 20 of the 320 may "decide" to change sides. We're down from 600/600 to 20/320.

Finding 20 guys who are "willing" shouldn't be too difficult, right? Remember, these aren't members of the legislation house, they're just average guys-on-the-street.

No sir, corruption isn't gonna take a vacation!


--

With profound apologies to whomsoever this sig originally belonged.

If you've got 600 anomynous people (none / 0) (#32)
by pyramid termite on Tue Jan 29, 2002 at 09:34:38 AM EST

... voting on each bill, how does anyone know they've voted on it? Why should the people who would run and report on these votes be trusted to actually hold them or report them accurately? How would we verify this?

I can just imagine a system where a group of hidden rulers pretended to have a random jury "voting" on their proclamations.

We would HAVE to know who these people are, even to be sure they WERE voting.
On the Internet, anyone can accuse you of being a dog.
Wouldn't it be easier... (none / 0) (#35)
by zagnut on Tue Jan 29, 2002 at 09:51:40 AM EST

Would it not simply be easier to change the criteria by which laws are passed and repealed?

How about making it so that passing a law requires 2/3 majority, and repealing an existing law requires >= 1/3 vote. While it would not utterly eliminate the purchase of laws that we see now, it would reduce the volume of laws and make getting bad ones repealed much easier.



What about the Civil Service? (none / 0) (#39)
by Lacero on Tue Jan 29, 2002 at 02:42:58 PM EST

Near the beginning of your article you mention the Civil Service as the real holders of power in the UK. Then you propose replacing the House of Lords with a jury based system so it contains real representives.

What I don't understand is how this will affect the Civil Service? They may not get quite so many bad laws passed down to them, but you can bet they'll be just as inventive with what they do get.

Surely if the Civil Service is the problem in the UK than the only way to fix it is to fix the Civil Service. Which would require a major effort, as they would be resonsible for implementing the required changes.

Yeah, I was wondering that myself (none / 0) (#40)
by TON on Wed Jan 30, 2002 at 02:20:23 AM EST

The civil service can be an insurmountable problem. In this recent story from Japan, with a parliamentary system similar to the UK, a cabinet secretary lost her position in spats with bureaucrats in her own ministry. Ministers often can't get their own directives carried out, let alone overehaul the system.

An extraordinarily popular (and abrasive) politician, Tanaka is the daughter of one of Japan's most powerful post-war politicians. She constantly battled the civil servants who supposedly worked under her. These conflicts came to head, and she's out. This despite that fact that she is incredibly popular with the electorate. The PM chose to bow to the will of the bureaucrats at the expense of popularity with the voters.

Not the US, or the UK, but Japan makes a terrific example of civil service run amok.

"First, I am born. Then, the trouble begins." -- Schizopolis

Ted


[ Parent ]

Better Idea. (none / 0) (#41)
by dadragon on Thu Jan 31, 2002 at 05:17:58 PM EST

Give every person in the UK a gun, remove the guards from the Royal Palace, then give total control to the monarch.

If/when he passes a bad law, he gets killed, and the person who killed him gets to be the new monarch.

Simple.

The Imminent Death of The Republic | 43 comments (35 topical, 8 editorial, 0 hidden)
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