Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Proposal for Representative Government

"Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."
(Winston Churchill, from a House of Commons speech on Nov. 11, 1947)

The quote is usually offered as a defense of democracy. I prefer to read it as a critique of government. If the best form of government is still very bad, that is a strong argument against using government to do things.

I cannot, however, resist the temptation to offer my own proposal for an improved version of representative democracy. Not, I hasten to say, one that I have any reason to think would work better, merely one that more nearly lives up to the label. It works as follows:

1. Anyone who wishes may be a congressional representative.

2. Any voter may choose any representative to represent him, but only one at a time. A voter is free to switch from one representative to another on 24 hours notice--less if the relevant technology makes it practical.

3. A representative casts a number of votes in the house, or on committee, equal to the number of voters he represents.

4. Any representative representing at least 240,000 voters gets a seat in Congress, can introduce bills, speak on the floor of the House, act as a representative now does. Representatives with fewer than that number of votes can group with other such representatives to satisfy the requirement, giving them one seat which they can share among themselves in any mutually acceptable fashion. The limit can in the future be adjusted to keep the total number of seats in the house at about its present level.

I make no claim that this system would work better than alternatives, including the one we now have. It is, however, a more elegant solution to the problem of representative government than current systems and comes closer to justifying the label.


At 7:52 PM, November 11, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, this is a really great idea, and it could apply to state and local levels of government as well as federal level government. As you stated, this may not work better than the current system, but at least it could legitimately be called a representative democracy.

At 8:11 PM, November 11, 2008, Blogger Bob Murphy said...

Actually, your post has forced me to reconsider Churchill's statement. Isn't he implying that any possible new form of government we implement, will necessarily be better than democracy and every other form of government ever tried?

At 8:37 PM, November 11, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is how "representative" a government is really that important anyway? Especially as the Churchill quote does not even refer to that aspect. I personally think the effectiveness of a government in achieving its goals is far more important than how much it reflects the population. Indeed current systems of democracy seem to be designed with the trade-off in mind - although a pessimist might see it as being intentional concentration of power.

I think there's a good chance that this would not alleviate (and quite possibly exaggerate) the main problems with democracy - rent-seeking and systematically poor voters. Indeed, though I haven't done any intense research on the topic, I suspect that the US has higher levels of rent-seeking than other Western democracies because of its more decentralised political system. If there are a couple of major parties with reasonable party discipline, they have a reasonable incentive to work in the best interests of the country. The more decentralised the system becomes, the more likely it will be many candidates will succeed promising to logroll their way to providing pork.

At 8:38 PM, November 11, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, a similar system occurred to me recently as a solution to the problems of district-drawing and jerrymandering: if each representative carries voting weight proportional to the number of his/her constituents, there's no need for districts to be of equal size.

But I was still thinking of geographic districts, rather than "districts" made up purely by individual choice. Which has some appeal -- who was it who said "surely the least important fact about a person, in choosing political representation, is where he lives"?

At 8:39 PM, November 11, 2008, Blogger Unknown said...

I recently found myself thinking about something similar though I approached it from a different direction.

At 9:19 PM, November 11, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David, I expect that you recall Prof de la Paz's exhortation to the committee establishing Luna's electoral system in 'The Moon is a Harsh Mistress'. Your proposal brought this to mind.

On a more practical note, would this be significantly different to a single-electorate proportional representation system? Such systems (eg. New Zealand, which recently elected a centre right government after a decade of centre left) usually have a minimum quota requirement (eg. get less than, say, 5% of the vote and you don't get counted), whereas your system encourages coalition building amongst the representatives of small groups of voters. The main problem with PR has been governmental instability since it is rare for the main centre-left or centre-right party to be able to gain full control of the parliament. Of course, that may not be a bad thing.

Your system would be far more organic, with no lumpy changes after election days, but swings in power from day to day. Would the system allow some overwhelmingly popular representative to have an absolute majority within the house of representatives?

At 10:34 PM, November 11, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Under this system you would see all the candidates being sympathetic towards the views of those in NYC, Chicago and L.A., since those are our most population dense cities. Those in rural areas would not see their views being represented no matter who they choose, because all candidates would have less of an incentive to listen to them.

At 11:23 PM, November 11, 2008, Blogger Jonathan said...

I also recently proposed disassociating political representation from geography, though not in quite such a radical way. As usual, your idea is better than mine, though in this case probably too revolutionary to be adopted in the near future.

At 11:59 PM, November 11, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How about a direct democracy like the Swiss have? It's worked quite well for them for about a centrury now.

At 12:39 AM, November 12, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I too have had a similar idea kicking around in my head for a long time, although I never thought of allowing voters to change their representation from day to day.

The one structural problem I see is, how does a voter indicate his choice? You can't have a ballot with the names of everyone who wants to be a representative--it'd be a phone book. So you have to write in a name, or something similar. In a group the size of the pool of would-be reps, there are bound to be quite a few with similar or identical names, either legitimately or. . . have you seen "The Distinguished Gentleman"?

At 1:24 AM, November 12, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To Anonymous at 10:34:

I don't think you are fully considering the implications of geography being so much less relevant. NYC may be bigger than a particular small town, but if everyone in all small towns in the US had the same (or similar) representative they'd have lots of power.

At 1:32 AM, November 12, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rex: I assume some sort of computer system would do the trick. People could go to some web site and change there representative in minutes. There could also be a phone interface.

To solve the duplicate name problem, we could just number every citizen in a seperate way from social security numbers. You'd then just figure out your candidate's number (he'd have it on his website/advertising). Or the UI could present a list of disambiguating options to you to let you pick between candidates with the same name.

It would also be cool if you could specify "I want my representative to be whoever David D. Friedman selects as his representative", so my selection would change whenever his did. Basically the representative structure would be a giant tree.

At 6:41 AM, November 12, 2008, Blogger Arthur B. said...

An immediate consequence of this (overall a good one in my opinion) would be to break bipartism which results from voting percolation. There would be a wide variety of parties in congress.

In France, the parliement is elected by having 577 votes in 577 circonscriptions. The winner of each gets a seat and a vote. For many years, a far right nationalist party has obtained close to 15% of the popular vote and yet hardly ever got a single seat. They just happen to get 15% uniformly over the country, and thus they lose everywhere. Many small parties have been pushing for a proportional representation, with a national vote for huge lists and seats being assigned for each list at the pro rata of popular vote. It is very close to your suggestion.

At 6:51 AM, November 12, 2008, Blogger Raphfrk said...

This system (slightly different) was proposed by Abd Lomax.

The main point is that you break the link between the right to speak in Congress and the right to vote on a given bill/motion.

Rather than set a fixed amount of voters, you could just say that the top 100 representatives have speaking rights in Congress.

Each voter would be allowed to vote directly on a bill/motion and if the voter doesn't have the time, then his vote is cast the same as his representative (who may not have speaking rights either). For a voter, changing Representatives is as fast/easy as technology allows.

However, there is little lost if speaking rights are be updated once every month or so. They certainly shouldn't be updated during a given meeting (except maybe to add an additional temporary member).

At 8:33 AM, November 12, 2008, Blogger Jacob said...

I'm not sure that your description comes closer to a "representative democracy" than the current system in the US. People often mistake the term (itself) 'democracy' for meaning 'rule by each individual'. Representative automatically means that each individual cannot have all decision-making ability. In the system you propose, each person effectively has his 'rule' (read: vote) decided by a representative. I could presumably select myself, or we could all pick one national hero (as someone mentioned earlier, who has a substantial majority). It's interesting this hypothetical system could vary the government type from an Athenian concept of democracy to a form of democratically justified tyranny.

Worse, I think that your system, however, fails to address some recent advances in culture and technology. One mistake made in determining the original size of the House of Representatives was picking a number (like your 240,000) which would determine the number of legislative representatives. Following previous framework (I forget actual numbers), the size of the current House would be somewhere around 10,000 representatives. Managing this many people who need to show up regularly, and regularly read up on current law , etc., is wasteful. There is danger in setting numbers.

I have another proposed system of representative democracy, which leverages some advances in science and technology. As we saw in this last presidential election, there is a disconnect between voting systems and collective voting ethics (that everyone should exercise this 'right' and 'duty'). It's too costly to have everyone vote all of the time. Instead, let's have a fixed number of seats in one house, like the Senate, that drafts bills to be passed into law. We can then sample the population (using any probability sample is appropriate: simple random, stratified, etc.). Just like being picked for jury duty, the selected individuals will be responsible for "representing" the people. Unless you have a legitimate excuse for inclusion, you are required to make a decision.

There might even be state and private organizations that could serve as educators for voters who haven't been picked in a while and are "out of the loop". There are appropriate circumstances in which a census vote would be used, but they would be rare, e.g. if citizens believe a sampled vote on a bill was mishandled or the sample was not representative (a rare case indeed for probability samples). Enough signatures could force a re-vote by another sample, or the entire population of citizens. For important decisions, election of executives, legislatures, and judiciaries, could simply use an enlarged sample, to ensure accuracy of representation.

This would eliminate potential chaos that could erupt from all people being allowed to change their representative at 24-hour's notice. Instead, we're all constantly potentially allowed to be involved in government, but we aren't overloading the system. A modern version of Athenian democracy. In one swoop, we have: (1) a real democracy (in which people, who are much more educated today than during the Framing of the constitution, make fundamental AND auxiliary decisions about government and law); (2) a non-proportional representation system (by probability); (3) a system that saves money and state resources; (4) as long as the sampling process was monitored and made public, is always accurate; and (5) is scalable to any size of country.

I call it a "scientific representative democracy".

Sorry for the long post ;)

At 9:19 AM, November 12, 2008, Blogger Karl said...

I came up with something similar for a country in the world I've developed for RPGaming. The Federated Althing has a similar structure for representatives.

1) Anyone may stand for election to the Althing.
2) Any voter may choose any representative to represent him, but only one at a time, and may change representatives only with sufficient notice (I think it's one week)
3) (no parallel -- seated representatives get one vote in the Althing)
4) Any candidate who obtains a number of votes greater than or equal to a stated minimum is seated on the Althing

This has not impacted gaming at all. At most, people see campaign posters in the taverns.

So far.

Just in terms of the voting process, this has created some interesting incentives.

Seated members have an incentive to win more votes than the minimum, as a buffer against citizens changing their votes and dropping them below the minimum.

The Althing has an incentive to raise the minimum over time, to keep the barrier to entry high.

On balance, the number of representives seated in the Althing has increased over time, as the floor can't be raised too quickly lest an unacceptable number of representatives lose their seats.

Ultimately, I decided that with the ability to solicit votes from all over the FA, this allows representatives with specific fringe agendas to attract the votes of all citizens who share that agenda, raising the possibility that the Althing will contain a number of members who are advocates of extreme, even lunatic, positions.

I may use this property to my advantage some day. :-D

At 9:22 AM, November 12, 2008, Blogger Karl said...

One question, though...

Does representation "pass through"?

That is, if person A represents 100,000 votes, and person B represents 150,000 votes, can they throw their support behind person C, giving him 250,001 votes and a seat on the council? Or would that violate the "one representative at a time" rule?

At 9:24 AM, November 12, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've suggested such a scheme previously eg., here and here.

A few years ago I tried to get UKIP to include it in its manifesto -- believe it or not the objection was that it would be "too complicated" for the public to understand, compared to PR under the Single Transferable Vote, Multiple Transferable Vote or list systems. Honestly!

One could avoid excessive proxy swapping by imposing a modest registration charge (say £10) for each change (online or by post), which would also pay for the publication of representatives details and manifestos.

At 10:28 AM, November 12, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David -
Your point (3) creates the problem of a representative controlling an n-vote bloc, which is more powerful than the n votes individually - which means that the incentives are for all the votes to go to one or two persons.
(In effect, an elected dictatorship.) You can see this in practice with stockholders' proxy meetings (which work similarly to this, except that the blocs are to some extent preformed), and there are mathematical explanations such as "Banzhaf power" that come to the same conclusion.

How would you keep your Congress from becoming just the majority leader, minority leader, and 433 spectators? (Or: if you would allow it, how do you keep it from becoming tyranny?)

At 12:01 PM, November 12, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

@drederick 1:24

You are leading with a false assumption that all people in population-scarce areas throughout the country have similar views.

At 12:47 PM, November 12, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Blackadder Says:

I'm afraid that the outcome of such a system would be inferior to the one we have now.

At 12:51 PM, November 12, 2008, Blogger Raphfrk said...

> How would you keep your Congress
> from becoming just the majority
> leader, minority leader, and 433
> spectators? (Or: if you would
> allow it, how do you keep it from
> becoming tyranny?)

I think a reasonable rule would be to set an upper limit to the number of votes per representative.

For example, a representative with more than 3 times the minimum is considered to just represent that number of voters.

However, it mightn't be necessary. If the system was in place, would you vote for the minority/majority leader?

A better plan would be to vote for someone who has views as similar as possible to your own.

Would Nader or Ron Paul supporters vote for Obama or McCain (ignoring the Presidential/Congress split)? There is no loss to the voter in voting for some outside candidate. Either their vote doesn't matter or they end up with balance of power.

Also, if the result was

Obama: 200
McCain: 200
Nader: 35

Nader would hold just as much power as the top 2.

This should result in an equilibrium. There would be a reasonable number of small parties as they all try to get balance of power (but more small parties mean that each one can be played off against each other by the large parties).

If the result was

Obama: 200
McCain: 175
Nader: 20
R. Paul: 20
Barr: 20

Obama only would need 2 of the 3 small parties, so he can play them all off against each other. This weakens their position considerable. The effect is that they would likely try to group up to form a 'party' of independents.

The extra power when you hold balance of power is offset against the potential zero power you would have without balance of power.

I think the opposite problem to tyranny might be a bigger issue. If the public can switch their votes at will, then it would be very hard to get unpopular but necessary policies passed.

In practice, I think enough voters would not bother to change their vote very often to provide reasonable stability, while at the same time allowing the public to block 'crazy' policies.

At 4:52 PM, November 12, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think this system is more-or-less the one in the Confederate Congress in _The Probability Broach_.

At 8:54 PM, November 12, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Speaking of the "Probability Broach", here is a link to the relevant pages in the graphic novelization of the book.


This could do till we got a proper anarchy.

At 11:10 PM, November 12, 2008, Blogger Damien Sullivan said...

one person, one vote

Wow, I'd literally just been thinking about this in the past day or two. I have no idea what it would be "in the air" but obviously it is. It's displaced range/score/approval voting, my previous love, though they're still good for single-winner elections -- but now I want as much PR as possible. And this is much simpler than STV or re-weighted range voting, and doesn't have the party-dependence of lists.

My ideas stay away from trust Internet security, so there's less real-time flexibility. But yes, legislators would have voting power equal to the number of votes they got; if you can win 80% of a district, you should have more representation power than someone who squeaked through with 51%.

My basic idea is that there's an election, then maybe a month for the winners to pledge support in exchange for promises regarding some issues (the 51% winner trying to make promises that won't piss off his base, regarding things the 49% cares about), and after that the top three enter Congress. So we'd have larger, multi-member districts (currently illegal, but the US used to have at-large elections, it's not a Constitutional problem though the voting power probably is.)

Why districts? Partly for familiarity (and states will be districts anyway), partly to localize where you need to campaign, partly as a firebreak -- demagogues can't sweep the nation.

Of course, there are lots of variants to imagine, and we can use multicameralism -- one house might be districted, another at-large by states. President/governors could be approval or score voting... or we use this system again! At-large across the whole nation, trade support, and only those ending up with say 5% support end up on a Council, the majority leader of which is the head of state and emergency leader. But most real decisions -- signing laws, appointing judges -- would take majority votes, leading to more centrism and interest balancing, vs. having things tip for 4 years based on a 51% majority (or a minority that wins the EC.) Think of it as a very small extra legislative house... and yes, I do think parliaments are better than our fixed-term strong leaders. Actually, closed-list PR isn't much different; 43% votes gives 43% power to a party leader, with very loyal warm bodies casting the Parliament votes. Proxies cut out the middlemen.

I like random selection as well, though these ideas almost make sortition obsolete, at least for general fine-grained representativeness; it does still have the advantage of cutting out campaign money. But no one likes the idea of forcing people to serve, even at good salary, yet this can disenfranchise those who won't or *can't* serve. Solution: if someone is picked to be a rep, they can instead appoint someone else to do it for them. Or if that's too public and subject to pressure, we can have random ballot/lottery voting, where people vote -- including for themselves, if they wish -- and one ballot is chosen and that's the rep.

One house random, one house proxy-districts, leadership proxy-at-large? I'd try it it.

key words: "proxy voting, "asset voting" (that governs the trading, rangevoting.org has links.)

Paul Birch: hi! Orion's Arm likes your mass beam ideas. Wish your articles weren't ZIPs of page scans, though...

At 11:12 PM, November 12, 2008, Blogger Damien Sullivan said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 4:51 AM, November 13, 2008, Blogger Raphfrk said...

> My basic idea is that there's an
> election, then maybe a month for the
> winners to pledge support in exchange
> for promises regarding some issues (the
> 51% winner trying to make promises that
> won't piss off his base, regarding
> things the 49% cares about), and after
> that the top three enter Congress.

So, basically, standard Aseet voting, the voters actually pick Proxies/Electors (who's vote is equal to the number of people who vote for them). and then these people can then assign that vote to anyone.

3 seems a little low to be the final group elected. I assume that this is 3 per district btw? I would suggest any odd number greater than 5 as a reaonable number. With 3 'seats', up to 25% of the votes in each district are 'thrown away' (if the split is 26-25-25-24) for example).

Another option would be to have voters vote in districts for electors, but allow the electors to vote for anyone. A reasonable number of Electors would probably vote local anyway.

Also, if you allow the Electors to change their mind at a later date, then you get immediate feedback like the direct system. However, the direct feedback is due to Electors changing their minds rather than the actual voters themselves.

At 6:22 AM, November 13, 2008, Blogger John Sullivan said...

As long as we don't have government under law to the degree that we don't, namely, in the categories of property, the best way to rectify runaway legislation is to amend the constitution to require that there be more consent.

I think requiring 75% approval in both chambers of Congress for anything to pass is a start. This will eliminate the cancer in our present system.

Everything short of increasing consent is a waste of time.

At 8:38 AM, November 13, 2008, Blogger Damien Sullivan said...

Raphfrk: maybe standard asset voting, it's just that I'd been seeing that as a way of selecting winners from an area. Maintaining the proxyness, so that they vote in Congress with the power of their votes rather than as equal representatives, seemed new.

3 -- maybe small, but there's a tradeoff. Assume we keep the House the same, we'd be combining districts, so the more members the bigger the district and the bigger the campaign area and possibly ballot. Also, the higher the number of votes a single rep could potentially have. As it is, Wyoming is stuck with a 300,000 vote rep, while a triple-sized district could potentially have 2 million votes.

I don't think there's a magical best way of handling it; 3 just felt like a decent step up from 1. The 24% votes might be thrown away, but there's still the option for bargaining. And 5 means 19% could be thrown away by the same reasoning (21 20 20 20 19); the marginal gain is much smaller from 3 to 5 than from 1 to 3.

And actually many more votes could be lost! From a single-winner district you might have a 40% rep, with the other 60% being so toxically divided as to be unable to ally with each other or the winner. Unusual but possible... and I'd say a good case for not pretending that the rep speaks for his whole district.

I later realized that yeah, you could have transferrable proxies without too much trouble. Not by the voters, but proxyholders left out of the Capitol could change or withdraw their support monthly. Or maybe even less; I'm just being conservative, avoiding computers, and trying to not overwork the clerks who'll have to tally floor vote totals. Also there might be stability benefits to being able to count on X votes for a period... dunno.

John: California requires 2/3 approval for budgets; this has been paralyzing. You might see that as a virtue, most don't.

At 9:13 AM, November 13, 2008, Blogger Raphfrk said...

On the consent thing. One option is to require 50% to repeal a law, 60% to pass a law which inserts an exemption to some other law and 75% to pass all other laws. Any law which increases State power in any way would require 75%, even if it is technically a repeal (for example repealing a law which inserted an exemption to some other law).

Also, the requirement that the laws be read in their entirety before passing them might help.

What about a requirement that the entire legal code must be read to legislators every two years (with a required 50% quorum for all 'reading' meetings of the legislature). The legislators would then vote to reaffirm the laws en bloc (or maybe in sections). If they vote against it, then they would vote on each law one by one.

Ofc, this would likely result in laws containing references, so a rule saying that the laws should be self contained may be needed.

With regards to the electoral proposal. One option would be to have the top 3 from the district go to Congress, but once the 3 are decided, the electors who voted for any other candidates would be given the ability to reassign their votes.

So, if the results were


then the '24' group would be allowed to reassign their votes to one of the winners. This means that at least their votes are usable, even if they don't get their favorite representative.

This pretty much happens automatically, if you allow electors to reassign their votes. You could have a rule that Congress only changes once per term, but the electors get to change their vote at any time.

At 10:26 AM, November 13, 2008, Blogger Damien Sullivan said...

Was I unclear? My original idea was that the other vote-getters can support the tops. Or rather, there's the election, there's jockeying and negotiation, and finally the top 3 resulting proxy-holders go. If there was a 26-25-25-24 split after that, it's because the first three were unable or unwilling to make a deal with the 24 (or vice versa); the 24 at least gets the consolation of openly denying support, and the reps being weaker, vs. the current system where a 51% win gives you full power.

Whether they get to swap support in between election is an orthogonal issue, I think.

Consent: part of the problem with the CA 2/3 budgeting is that the taxes have already been collected, and now 1/3 of the legislators can block spending without consent of the 2/3 majority. Bigger majorities for raising taxes or passing some restrictions might have merit. OTOH, pollution regulations address consentless consequences of economic activity; making it easy to block those may not be optimal.

Reading all laws every two years may be extreme, if society is legitimately complex and thus are our laws. I favor laws expiring one term (maybe 1.5 terms, e.g. 3 years for us) after being first passed; if renewed, they're then good for 20 years. Modifications reset the clock to 1 year. So a law automatically comes up for consideration one election after being passed; if it passes that check, it's good for a generation, before expiring or being renewed. Sunset provisions for everything.

At 4:54 PM, November 13, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's been a lot of work done on similar concepts. Search for "liquid democracy," "delegable proxy," or what it's called in Europe sometimes, "delegated voting." Proxy voting is, of course, very old, it's standard in business and is a common-law right whenever property rights are involved. One way that we know that the people don't own the government is that they cannot vote by proxy (usually). Lewis Carroll, however, in the 1880s, published what was more recently called Asset Voting by Warren Smith, as a tweak on Single Transferable Vote, used for proportional representation, to enable voters to simply vote for one without losing their voting power. What Carroll probably didn't realize is that Asset Voting could radically transform the whole way we think about government. Some of the prior work was touched upon above. The way I'd see it, you'd register as being available to serve as a "public voter," really, an elector, paying a modest fee that is sufficient to list you in a directory. That would give you an official name or number. The booklet would be available for use by voters with their ballot. Then, essentially, the real election takes place using, quite possibly, standard STV. Someone with enough votes could give some of them to himself or herself, thus being elected with no further ado, but electors, thousands of them, would normally combine votes to create winners. How would they coordinate this? Again, delegable proxy is an obvious solution; those proxies don't necessarily actually have the power to vote, rather they recommend to those who chose them where to assign their votes. The ultimate decision rests with the electors, who were freely chosen by the voters.

But there is more. Once there is a set of public voters, those whose votes are public, it becomes possible to have a hybrid direct/representative democracy, for representation in an Assembly to be continuous. I'd guess that most votes would be cast by members elected to hold seats through the process, but electors could vote (but not address the assembly or enter motions) at any time, and when they vote, the vote of the seat they contributed to would be devalued. Again, my guess, those devaluations would only rarely change results. In a system like this, there is little reason for representatives to substantially deviate from their constituencies.

And, I won't describe how, constituencies would be various; most people would be represented by someone who represents people in a particular locale, but the seats aren't directly tied to locale; rather the "districts" would be floating, put together as needed by electors figuring out how to reassign their votes cooperatively.

And, the kicker: we don't need changes in law to make something like this real. And that is a huge story, look for FA/DP or Free Associations with Delegable Proxy. Good luck. -- Abd ul-Rahman Lomax

At 4:04 AM, November 14, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The previously mentioned item from my UKIP Manifesto Proposals for 2004:

"15. That General Elections shall be abolished, individual voters being like shareholders at liberty to grant their proxy to any candidate they wish and to change their proxy at any time, members of parliament then voting proxies not constituencies; that members of parliament shall be limited in number, but that proxy holders with insufficient proxies to obtain a seat shall be at liberty to loan those proxies temporarily to any member they choose; thus by contrast with the present arrangement it will be possible for everyone to be fairly represented at all times."

Damien Sullivan: I'm afraid the zipped gif scans were the only practicable way I could find to get those papers online. Subsequently, a kind person did put them into pdf format for me, but the files were bigger and slightly inferior in resolution, and at that time there wasn't room on the website for both. I may revisit the question when I get around to it.

At 8:30 AM, November 14, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wasn't Churchill the prime minister if His Majesty?

At 7:12 PM, November 15, 2008, Blogger Justin du Coeur said...

Hmm. This seems to have strengths and weaknesses that are very similar to the relationship between the traditional media and the blogosphere. As such, I'd expect it to have similar effects.

Specifically, from an individual perspective, I'd expect this to be more satisfying, much as blogs are (for many people, anyway) more satisfying than traditional media. Just as blogs allow you to read viewpoints closer to your own, this would allow you to find representatives that are potentially much closer to your own preferences.

On the downside, many have observed that the decentralization of media has led to a bit of fracturing of society: since it's easy to find someone whose viewpoints match your own, there is less pressure to pay attention to contrary viewpoints.

In like wise, I suspect that this proposal would lead to more-extreme representatives. Bluntly, since they don't need to learn how to pander, they don't need to learn how to compromise as the electoral stage. And their constituents would *expect* them to be hard-assed and uncompromising, since it is so easy to find a new representative.

I don't think this objection is obviously fatal: for a representative to be effective, he might well need to learn compromise. But I do think it's a significant concern, and needs some examination -- this model might discourage the consensuality and compromise that (I believe) is necessary for a society to actually function...

At 1:12 PM, November 21, 2008, Blogger Leonard said...

I thought of a similar system back in April.

One weakness any unblinded proxy system has over voting is that people vote publicly for their proxy. Thus, they can be intimidated. How much a problem that would actually be, hard to say.

Nonetheless, in my democracy hack, in addition to "pure" proxying, I added several twists on your system that I think you might like as a libertarian.

First, there are "no" and "abstain" proxies available (but no "yes"). People who choose these always vote against any new law, or abstain. (Abstention can be more easily gotten by simply not registering to vote.)

Second, I proposed a bicameral legislature, where one house creates new laws, or can abolish existing laws. Whereas the second can act unilaterally, but only to abolish existing laws. This second house ("Senate" for convenience) is elected more-or-less normally. It is there to cut off any problems potentially caused by voter intimidation. Even if you threaten me and get me to register a Democrat proxy, I can still secretly set my Senate proxy to "no", which is defined as voting for all Senate proposals to abolish laws.

At 12:04 PM, November 28, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would add one thing to this: one house in which the votes are proportional to the taxes paid by the voters choosing each representative.

At 5:13 AM, December 09, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This seems very similar do what Professor La Paz advocated in "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress". Very good idea.

At 10:11 AM, January 18, 2009, Blogger Tim of Angle said...

Donald Kinsgbury, "Courtship Rite", 1983.

At 12:12 PM, December 02, 2016, Blogger Ken Myers said...

I have frequently cited that same quote by Churchill, for the same purpose as you, to attack the notion that our present form of democracy is somehow the "ultimate" form of free and good government. In the scheme of governmental evolution, we are just crawling out of the slime and it is unwarranted hubris to think democracy in the American government.

I have my own proposal for an alternative form of representative government, which I call randomocracy. Basically, all positions for high office are filled by lottery draw from eligible and willing citizens. This does away with voting, campaigning, and the inevitable corruption linked thereto. This does away with the problem of money in politics since there are no campaign contributions and no career politicians. Simple audits during and after terms in office can ensure appointed leaders are not getting bribed by special interests.

Technically, this is an even more “representative” form of government, as it should consistently lead to leaders who are a true cross-section of the populace, including proportionate representation for people of all types (rather than a Congress disproportionately full of rich, white Christian men).

We actually have a model of this system in our society -- the jury system. Randomly selected members of the community sit in judgment and make the most important decisions related to disputes over crime and civil disagreements, why not similarly charge them with making decisions about our governance? We trust them because they are unbiased and represent a fair sampling of community values, which is what is sorely missing in our government. If you study juries, you see that while many people may try to get out of jury service, once they are stuck with it, they are very diligent and honest in trying to mete out justice. Sure, there are exceptions, but then we also have really bad elected officials, right? This system does not have to be perfect to be better than the present system.

I can think of no other way to eliminate the corruption that seems to be inherent in an elected democracy. I have played Devil’s Advocate trying to think up reasons a randomocracy could not work in reality. While there are concerns that need to be addressed, it is not to hard to think up solutions for each. Again, it may not be risk-free, but neither is our present system. For example, if there is fear the highest office of President might go to a totally ignorant or unbalanced or amoral nut, we can have a system for the highest offices that involves a two-step selection whereby we select a pool of potential candidates, like 20, and they are put together for a month, and at the end of that time they all get to list three people they think should definitely not be President. Anyone who gets enough of these strikes will be eliminated and a second random drawing done from the remaining people. After each random selection, there can be a statistical audit to ensure that the result is not highly disproportionate to the cross-section of the populace. I mean, luck could theoretically lead to every candidate being a female Catholic. The process can involve a re-selection if the results deviate too significantly from a cross-section of the populate, to ensure the government remains representative. As for "experience," we already elect politicians with no prior experience, and there are systems in place to train these rookies in how the political system works, and this could be beefed up a bit but should be adequate for my system.

Ultimately, every risk can be reasonably addressed, and while it is not entirely risk-free, neither is our present form of vote-based democracy.

Frankly, I would feel better with a President who had been a plumber than one who was a career politician or billionaire, neither of whom is in touch with the common man.

At 10:35 PM, December 04, 2016, Blogger David Friedman said...


You are describing the system used by the most famous democracy in history, Periclean Athens. All offices, except generals, were fill by lot, random selection from adult male citizens (I think over 30) for a one year term.


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