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The real test is tiddlywinks

When you lose the big match, try to get the result declared void and run the match again. If you can’t get a rematch, try another game entirely and say that’s the one that matters.

“Citizens’ juries can help fix democracy”, writes Martin Wolf in the Financial Times.

Elections are necessary. But unbridled majoritarianism is a disaster. A successful liberal democracy requires constraining institutions: independent oversight over elections, an independent judiciary and an independent bureaucracy. But are they enough? No.

Thus far, I agree with him. For a moment I thought he was going to defend the rights of individuals against the tyranny of the majority. At one point in his life he would have done.

In my book, The Crisis of Democratic Capitalism, I follow the Australian economist Nicholas Gruen in arguing for the addition of citizens’ assemblies or citizens’ juries. These would insert an important element of ancient Greek democracy into the parliamentary tradition.

There are two arguments for introducing sortition (lottery) into the political process. First, these assemblies would be more representative than professional politicians can ever be.

If your aim is to bypass professional politicians and improve representation, there is a better way than that to do it. With this method you don’t have to worry about how well or badly your representatives represent the population in terms of age, class, sex, race and so on. You can have perfect representation by cutting out the middleman and asking the voters themselves. It’s called a referendum. We have had several. The only slight caveat is that people expect the government to abide by them.

Second, it would temper the impact of political campaigning, nowadays made more distorting by the arts of advertising and the algorithms of social media.

A modest way to do this is to introduce citizens’ juries to advise on contentious issues. These juries would be time-limited, compensated for their time and be advised by experts.

Experts chosen by you.

One of the best examples was on the vexed topic of abortion in Ireland. A deliberative assembly of 100 people, made up of one appointed chair and 99 ordinary people chosen by lot, was established in 2016. It advised the Irish parliament on abortion (coming out in favour of “repeal and replace” of the ban then in force), and on the question to be put to the people in a referendum.

There are other difficult issues that might be (or might have been) handled in such a way: carbon taxation; nuclear power; and immigration. In these cases, a citizens’ jury would be empanelled to listen to witnesses and discuss the issues in depth. There is evidence that such a citizens’ jury would have come to a different decision on Brexit

Who could have seen that coming?

than in the referendum, since Leavers will change their minds in response to the evidence.

Evidence supplied by you.

This fad for citizen’s juries started six years, eleven months and ten days ago and will last as long as they can avoid convening one to give its verdict on what to do with illegal immigrants. With astute management, that might be years. We might be able to celebrate the triumph of the shiny new Citizen’s Juries and the abolition of the nasty, bigoted old sort of jury simultaneously.

24 comments to The real test is tiddlywinks

  • jgh

    We’ve got a citizens’ assembly, it’s called Parliament. Oh wait, Sir Kneel wants to allow non-citizens to participate as well. What would we call it then? Foreigners-telling-us-how-to-run-our-country assembly. Isn’t that what western countries used to do to brown people in hot countries?

  • Fred Z

    A major reason we have representative democracy is to avoid mob rule by emotionally charged up people who would cool down by the time their representatives got together, debated the issue and decided what to do.

    Lots of screaming, ranting and raving ends with a pause and ‘Meh, never mind, I don’t really care that much’.

    If we had direct democracy when the covid nonsense first came out we’d have been locked down even faster and harder than the politicos did, but would likely have been released earlier.

  • Ferox

    Here in Washington state, we have citizens referendums (referenda?) on the ballot in every election. But commonly the state legislature either ignores their results, or alters the referendum proposal in such a way as to negate the will of the people.

    Two examples: we had a referendum for a $30 vehicle registration, to replace the out-of-control registration prices we have now (some people are paying over $500/yr to register their vehicles, every year). The measure passed by a large margin. And years later people are still paying hundreds of dollars to register their vehicles.

    We used to have state liquor stores. A citizens referendum to allow the sale of liquor in privately owned stores passed, again by a large margin. So the state legislature passed an absurdly large tax on liquor which essentially doubled its price on the shelf – a case of the state taking its ball and going home.

    You can have all the citizens advisory committees you want, but if their decisions don’t carry any actual legal weight they are only sound and fury, signifying nothing.

  • Kirk


    Hail, fellow Washingtonian!

    Real problem we have in this state? No consequence is ever delivered unto the corruptocrats in Olympia.

    This crap ain’t going to change until a deputation of outraged voters descends upon the capitol and starts redecorating the place with the dangling remnants of the formerly-corrupt. That happens? They’ll start listening to the voters.

    I note that the Dutch once et a Prime Minister, and that such worthies walked with circumspection for several generations after. I would propose that the salutary lesson requires occasional re-administration, in order to remain efficacious.

    Not that I’m advocating for the invitation of one Jay Inslee, Carpetbagger-at-large, to an impromptu barbecue. Not at all; I suspect the flavor would be horrible.

  • Paul Marks.

    The first “red flag” was the newspaper – the Financial Times, a newspaper not known for its support of democracy.

    The second warning was the name of the writer – Martin Wolf, he is not a person known for his support for democracy or his respect for the opinions of ordinary people. Quite the contrary – as we see from his remarks about the independence of the United Kingdom, which he calls “Brexit” (how I detest that meaningless, made up, word – if you are talking about independence then say independence, or shut up) – rule by the European Union, by its officials, is not democracy or liberty, as Martin Wolf (who dislikes both democracy and liberty) knows very well.

    “There is evidence that a Citizens Jury would have come to a different conclusion on Brexit” – because of the “expert witness evidence” and the “discussion”.

    A cousin of mine served on such a citizens group in Wales – it was on the environment. All (all) the “witness evidence” was from people who supported the C02 is evil theory, no “witness” gave the other point of view. And the “discussion” was “guided” to reach a particular conclusion.

    That is what Martin Wolf wants – on the independence of the United Kingdom, on abortion, on C02, or on anything else.

    The “expert witnesses” giving one point of view (no real dissent), and the “discussion” being “guided” to reach the “correct” conclusion.

  • Glyn Palmer

    A masterly demolition, Mr. Marks!

  • Yeah, but if we’re going to do that we have to get rid of both the politicians (to stop them interfering) and the unCivil Servants (to prevent them effectively refusing to implement the result).

    I’m all for Swiss-style direct democracy, but once we agree on something like “All illegal immigrants must be deported back to their home country”, how do you actually get that implemented in a decent, civilised manner?

    The police? Nope – they’ve given up on enforcement of laws and exist now just to protect the Marxist agitators from being assaulted and run over by the proletariat.

    The Army? Welcome to the British Junta.

    This is why democracy dies.

  • Paul Marks.

    Glyn Palmer – thank you.

    John Galt – on the contrary Sir, under the plan of Martin Wolf (and so many other establishment types) “public servants” would be even more necessary than they are now, choosing which “expert witnesses” the “citizens jury” would get to see, and “guiding the discussion” to the “correct” conclusion.

    To Martin Wolf the problem with the current system is not that the “experts” have too much power – Martin Wolf thinks the “experts” have too little power. The “citizens juries” are a disguise for increasing the power of the international (global) “experts” even more.

    And we must remember who the “experts” are – they are people who, for example, will say that Turkey is suffering from the worst drought in the last X million years (due to Satanic C02 – which is plotting against humanity), as I sit here watching, via the wonders of television, the pouring rain during the inauguration of the President of Turkey.

  • Paul Marks.

    Meanwhile the “experts” of the Economist magazine have finally got around to discussing the persecution of non leftists by the vast Corporations.

    Not that this is the way the Economist magazine puts the matter – it says that evil “Populists” in America (it seems to think that Governor DeSantis of Florida is one of these “Populists”) have “betrayed the principles of conservatism” by daring to side with non “Woke” (non Frankfurt School of Marxism “Critical Theory” dominated) business enterprises – as an alterative to the giant “Woke” totalitarianism supporting Corporations that the Economist magazine loves so much. No doubt it will support the fiat money authorities and Credit Bubble banks (who depend on the fiat money authorities) crushing the alternative business enterprises – we all must obey the DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) and ESG (Environmental and Social Governance) totalitarian agenda, or be punished.

    Have I mentioned that this collectivist-rag is in the entrance area of the Institute of Economic Affairs?

    The same publication that reacted to record high taxation – by demanding that taxes be INCREASED.

  • Steven R

    John Galt wrote:

    I’m all for Swiss-style direct democracy, but once we agree on something like “All illegal immigrants must be deported back to their home country”, how do you actually get that implemented in a decent, civilised manner?

    “If you are here illegally, you have 30 days to turn yourself in for deportation. After that, a $10,000 bounty will be placed on you and once caught you will do 10 years at hard labor before deportation (minors will subject to deportation only) to be served consecutively to any other criminal sentences. People and companies that house or employ you will be subject to arrest, prison at hard labor, and fines. Additionally, you will find all social services cut off to you, including medical care and education for your children. If you attempt illegal entry after that time, you will be subject to 25 years to life at hard labor.

    In short, get out.”

  • Fraser Orr

    @steven R, so you’d like to treat people who, by accident of birth are much less fortunate than yourself, who migrate to work and follow the promise of the American dream (or whatever country)… you want to treat them worse than we generally treat murderers and rapists?

    Perhaps we should just line them up against the wall and shoot them instead?

    The solution to the border crisis is to have a well defined immigration policy with those limits the current residents agree to, and have the infrastructure and man power and international cooperation to implement those laws effectively. Illegal immigrants do not deserve the type of punishment you mention. They just need to be denied entry or sent back if caught, and to be blunt I think they need to be treated with dignity. If I were born in some shit hole country, I guarantee that I’d be trying to immigrate too. They aren’t (generally speaking) bad people. Just people seeking a better life for themselves, and we have to set limits to who wins that lottery. (And to be clear — you and I already won the lottery.)

    Of course if they come here and commit crimes that is an entirely different story.

  • Fraser Orr

    FWIW, I am not really a fan or Swiss style direct democracy. I am a fan of the fact that the Cantons are the place where the power resides and the Federal government has very little power or effect. That is what the USA was supposed to be. If you don’t like one Canton you can just move.

    So it is, we have all these schemes to “fix democracy”, but the problem is that democracy can’t be fixed. Churchill famously stated that “democracy is the worst system except for all the others”, but I disagree. There is a better system. It is called freedom, where the government doesn’t get involved in the vast majority of decisions. It is called federalism where power is widely distributed among states, counties and cities competing for population. It is called constitutionalism where hard limits are put on what each type of government can do, and where there are competing entities with independent powers checking and balancing each other. It is called freedom of speech where the lowliest of citizens can criticise the most high falutin’ among us without fear of government reprisal. It made the most powerful nation in history. After 250 years the haters of freedom has slowly eroded it down to the pathetic nub we have left. But it is the best system mankind has come up with to govern itself so far.

  • Steven R

    It sucks for them, but the simple fact is they don’t belong here. They broke the law just by hopping the border. If they can walk out, great. If not, then I’m good with rounding them up and putting them in a chain gang for a while and then sending them home. Maybe they’ll tell the others it just isn’t worth it to go to the US. I’m also good with doing the same with their enablers who give them housing and work.

    I don’t care about their dignity at this point. I do care about the crimes committed by foreign squatters and I do care that our leaders (who have their own agendas but that’s a different discussion) are importing the Third World to the tune of a million or two a year and what do we get in return? The Third World in our own borders.

  • Kirk

    I’ve got a simple solution for illegal immigration… So long as you’re a net positive, fine. Stay. Live. Do well.

    Impinge upon the rest of the citizenry by committing criminal acts? Deportation. Crimes of violence? Summary execution. Try to sign up for social benefits without citizenship? Automatic sentence to a period of forced labor commensurate with your fraudulent use of benefits meant for actual citizens.

    Try going to Mexico and signing up for their version of welfare, as an American citizen. You won’t like what happens. Turnabout is fair play… Hell, the minimum we ought to do is an exact mirror of their laws, such that if you’re a Mexican citizen on this side of the border, your rights are exactly those of an American citizen on their side of the border. Those ain’t what I’d term “humane”.

  • bobby b

    We certainly have a huge problem with our immigration and border policies – we need a wall – but one point:

    For my sideline career, I have over the decades hired many construction crews.

    Give me – for the same wage as unionized Americans – a crew of illegal Mexican guys who all took a scary and perilous journey to a place where Spanish isn’t spoken, who all pile into small apartments at three times occupancy, who live as cheaply as possible, work their butts off six days per week, and who then send 75% of their pay home to mom or wife or sibs so that they can survive in a jobless country. I’ll take them every time. If we had a work ethic here like they have, if we had such a strong family structure, we’d be in much better economic shape.

    Hate the lack of border enforcement, not the immigrants.

  • Fraser Orr

    @bobby, this is a really important point. If you compare a bunch of people standing around on a corner, one is a group of disaffected American youths, the product of our terrible inner city schools and a horrible culture that leaves our kids feral, waiting around to sell drugs, hassle grandma, steal cars and tag your wall, and a group of Mexicans waiting, hoping they will get a job that day at hard, hard labour. I’d be happy to trade the former for the latter any day.

    But one thing worth noting, perhaps one of the biggest disasters of Biden’s border policy, it isn’t mainly Mexicans coming, it is people from places with rather different cultures, it is gangs and people from outside the Americas. It is Haitians and Venezuelans and MS 13. And much though the American media likes to characterize them all as “brown colored victims who speak funny and are oppressed by the man” these are all very different cultures.

    Biden’s border policy is also the middle man in the greatest human trafficking operation in human history. Their open policy makes it easy for the coyotes to transport people, including women and little girls who are usually raped during the journey and, despite their dreams of working as a maid in a hotel, often end up in sketchy brothels, powerless to save themselves. And as for the men? It is not much short of the largest slave trade in history. The coyotes have to all intents and purposes taken over the border, and Biden seems to care only about the politics rather than the horrors his policy are affecting on the poor innocent victims. Don’t doubt, in the old days it was Mexicans migrating from the border towns across the border on their own to try to find the type of work bobby mentions. Now it is an industry in human trafficking. That is the effect of the Biden policy. It was burgeoning under Trump, but he put a stop to it. So it is all on Biden.

    FWIW, I love the Mexican culture. It is a culture that values hard work, family, morality and decency along with fiesta, color and art. It is spoiled by its horribly corrupt government for sure, but the way things are going in the USA I wonder if we are going to have to soon build a wall to keep Americans in rather than foreigners out. I have friends in Guadalajara, and often think it would be a good place to retire.

  • john in cheshire

    We can make rules forever but the fact will always be that those of goodwill always do the right things regardless of the laws, while those of a reprobate mind will always find ways to ignore them.
    The solution is not more laws, rather it’s to return to the Bible and obey God’s commandments as defined by His son Jesus Christ.

  • Sam Duncan

    since Leavers will change their minds in response to the evidence.

    Well, that’s certainly true. 35 years ago, I was enthusiastically in favour of European union. Seven years ago, I voted Leave. Anyone who voted Remain clearly ignored all the evidence.

  • jgh

    Mr Orr:
    But “coming here” without permission *is* commiting a crime.

    Have you removed the door from your house? Have you banned all your family from complaining about anybody entering your house at will without asking? Do you prohibit yourself and your family from making any decision about who may enter your house?

  • Fraser Orr

    I can only assume you didn’t read what I wrote very carefully, since you evidently think I advocate for open borders. On the contrary, I think the border is a disaster and we need to apply a lot of effort to fix it. Which means building a solid wall, stay in Mexico, internal visa overstay enforcement, and revising the ridiculously tangled immigration laws. But that doesn’t preclude me from feeling compassion from the poor people who come here to try to start a new life. After all, I’m a legal immigrant myself, so I fully understand the desire to move to the USA. I was fortunate enough to have the resources, skills and legal help to negotiate the byzantine bureaucracy associated with legal immigration. So I feel for those who don’t have that going for them but who share the same desire that I did.

    Ultimately the problem is that the open border policy has turned what was a minor problem of poor farmers crossing the border to pick some cabbages or their wives making the beds at the local Marriott, into an industrial scale people smuggling operation. The US border is controlled by the coyotes not the US Border patrol. And, to be clear that is 100% the fault of the Biden administration. Trump largely got it under control, even though a hostile congress denied him the funds that he needed. Biden, it seems, deliberately made it into what it is.

    The open border policy advocates want you to think of men picking cabbages and women making beds, but for my part, I think of fourteen year old girls forced into prostitution to pay off their “debt” or 14 year old boys forced to join gangs and sell drugs. It is horrifying what is happening, and it is entirely, 100%, Biden’s fault.

    And if you don’t feel compassion for that 14 year old girl or boy, who came here believing the propaganda of the coyotes of a new free life in America, a land paved with gold, and ended up in dreadful circumstances then I don’t know what else to tell you.

  • Buzz Lightbeer

    …rather it’s to return to the Bible and obey God’s commandments as defined by His son Jesus Christ.

    Cos the history of ‘Christian’ nations, in which most people went to church at least once a week, isn’t a loony saga of wars & absurdities? 😀

  • bobby b

    FO: “But one thing worth noting, perhaps one of the biggest disasters of Biden’s border policy, it isn’t mainly Mexicans coming, it is people from places with rather different cultures, it is gangs and people from outside the Americas. It is Haitians and Venezuelans and MS 13.”

    Can’t disagree. The character of the influx has changed over time. I just don’t want to see us hating on the wrong targets because it’s easier not to have to draw distinctions.

    I do note – from experience living down on that border for five months every year – that the populace of those areas, which has become very much Mexican, has also recognized this change, and the rather new “ship them up to the sanctuary cities that fight so hard for open borders” movement (which I love) came about just as the Venezuelans and Haitians and Dominicans started arriving in force.

  • Fraser Orr

    @john in cheshire
    The solution is not more laws, rather it’s to return to the Bible and obey God’s commandments as defined by His son Jesus Christ.

    I’m curious John. You lament the rules and regulations of the state, but advocate for God’s commandments. And some of God’s commandments are things we’d find horrifying were we to implement them in our modern codes of justice. For example, of the ten commandments only two or three are actually against the law in the West, and in fact the right to violate some of them are cherished, protected civil rights. Or, perhaps, in my view, the most egregious being that a bride found to not have an intact hymen on her wedding night was to be stoned to death on her father’s doorstep.

    And the New Testament isn’t much different. For example, Jesus advocates for hate crime laws in Matthew 5:22: “Anyone who says to a brother or sister ‘Raca’ is answerable to the court.”[1] The Bible even goes further in demanding an interest in who we sleep with, what we eat, how we defer to our “betters” and many other things that would be, rightly, horrifying in a modern western nation.

    In fairness, God did cap taxes at 10%, so that would be an improvement.

    [1] Raca being an Aramaic word roughly equivalent to my favorite Spanish insult: pendejo.

  • Paul Marks.

    Of course “illegal immigrants” should be deported – the clue is in the word “illegal” they have broken the law.

    Indeed why are they are not also punished for breaking the law – not just deported.

    “Free Migration” may (possibly – and if the migrants really want to join the nation they are entering, not replace it) work when there are no government benefits or “public services” – but in the present situation it is utter madness.