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Criticisms and Replies


Isn’t this just one more socialist/utopian scheme?
Isn't this just one more way liberals attempt to implement thier ideas?
How do you ensure the neutrality of moderators, whether they be drawn from the sample as foreman, or professional moderators?
Relatedly, how do you keep the whole process of the citizen panel neutral?
How do we know that the random samples are really random?  Isn't possible that we leave out certain groups?
If Citizen Panels are so great, why hasn't anyone thought of them before?
If any of the ideas on this site are is widely implemented, what ensures that this system won't (collapse, violate individual rights, do silly things, fill in the blank)?
These ideas sound expensive.
Why not advocate direct democracy?
I don't want average citizens making the decisions, people are stupid.
Doesn't the currect system of general elections and interest group influence work pretty well?


Isn’t this just one more socialist/utopian scheme?

No, essentially this is a way to solve our problems in a more democratic fashion.  It is a way to reduce conflict, increase legitamacy and implement better solutions. 

For example, Robert's Rules of Order is a set of rules and procedures for running a meeting.  But are there better sets of rules and procedures for running meetings?  If we begin to investigate this question the question becomes complex very quickly.  We must decide based on two general areas.  What procedural changes will produce bertter outcomes.  How do we decide which are the better outcomes?

Secondly, what requirements of openness, fairness and equality are present.  I would argue that all organizations should be as democratic as possible, but perhaps some organizations should not be so organized.  That is, in any organization that we want to be democratic we must be mindful of the ideals of inclusiveness, openness and the fairness.  We want as many people as possible to participate, we don't want any groups excluded from the process. 

So, we have these two broad catagories of criteria that our process must meet.  We have moral requirements of democracy and we outcomes that are efficient, effective and fair.

In essence, this is what these reforms are trying to do.  It may be the case that a democratic reform project is utopian and unrealistic.  However, this question must be decided on the merits of the specific reform at hand.  It is not a blanket objection.  Most persons who work with these proposals are sensitive to the frailities and limits of humans, but let's not confuse utopian thinking, ideas that would never work if they were implemented, and good ideas that would work well, but where the ideas are unknown or misunderstood in the wider society. 

One example of a democractic reform project is the feeling that the committee process in congress should be changed.  Whether this is the case or not we can see that any proposed change must be evaluated against certain criteria and goals.

Isn't this just one more way liberals attempt to implement thier ideas?

It does seem to be the case that liberals tend to be more interested in these projects than conservatives.  I think this is unfortunate and does not have to be the case.  Conservatives tend to be distrustful of change, especially change aimed at the processes by which our democracy functions.  However, conservatives are certain for some sorts of change, not all change is bad.  If a democratic reform project such as citizen juries is a way for citizen to present and argue with each other, then I believe this is an opportunity for conservatives to plead thier case.  Conservatives should want improvments to our democratic system because they would have greater opportunity to convince others of the truth of thier views.  If a reform project increases the deliberation and discussion of america, with the power to writer or influence legislation, then why wouldn't conservatives want to implement it. 

Conservatives may just make a judgement that given the state of the world, most likely any sizeable change is likely to be negative.  So, what consevatives can and should expect, is that any proposal under serious consideration should go through a vetting process and should be implemented slowly.  These ideas need to be tested.  

How do you ensure the neutrality of moderators, whether they be drawn from the sample as foreman, or professional moderators?

One way is to keep the process open.  Preferably, transcripts of sessions should be available to the wider public.  The fact that moderators know their behavior will be scrutinized will go to great lengths to keeping them neutral.

Also, professionalizing the moderators, can go to great lengths to curb favoritism.  A code of conduct and expectations, and being given the tools to effectively and moderate in a neutral way.

Relatedly, how do you keep the whole process of the citizen panel neutral?

If this practice is widely practiced, what ensures that this system won't (collapse, violate individual rights, do silly things, fill in the blank)?

Nothing ensures anything.  This is especially true in politics.  But these is no guarantee in any system, including any current system.  A consitution or attending institutions does not guarantee that these things will be efficacious in protecting individual rights.  Not only are the constiution, court system etc. vunerable from legitiamate change due to legistaltion, but they may just be ignored.  What actually protects rights say, is a combination of interlocking things.  Citizens generally believe the U.S. government is legitimate, they believe the laws to be in general, just and reasonable, the institutions of government are not so beyond repair or broken that citizens will attempt to thwart them by direct action.  In fact, if a certain democraic reform project is better able to increase the belief that a government is legitimate, and give that community better laws and policies that more people agree with, then this would decrease the change that the community would do serious harm to persons or groups.  Also, it does not seem to me that any democratic reform project I know of is incompatable with a constitution or other document that protects it, although there must be ways for that document to be legally changed (preferably the a proposed change must be more difficult to enact the more central and basic the change).

How do we know that the random samples are really random?  Isn't possible that we leave out certain groups?

Yes, it is possible.  Like in any democratic system there is room for error fraud and omission. However I believe that we easily have the technology and expertise to create random samples from the population.  Yes, certain groups will be left out or underrepresented if the sampling methods miss them.  However, it would be easy to create instituions, in fact citizen juries themselves, that would be tasked with maintaining and increases sample accuracy. 

Legitimacy comes in degrees.  If .05% of votes in an election are fraudulent does this mean we should not respect the outcomes?  I think not.  There is no definite answer to where that line is, between an democratic process that is flawed but fixable, and a process that can no longer be considered democratic.  All we can do is attempt to improve processes and sometimes make the tough call as to whether we can support them at all.  All political system must rely on humans, or machines controlled by humans to implement the procedures of government.  We should not make implementation overly stress the abilities and frailties of normal humans.  We'll most likely rely on a whole host of volunteers and professionals to implement a democratic procedure, just as we do now.  I don't think the sampling required of the citizen jury overly taxes the implementation any more so than our current system.  The selection of samples should be open to scrutiny and improvement, just like any mechanism for implementing democracy.

If Citizen Panels are so great, why hasn't anyone thought of them before?

There are many reasons, here are a couple.  Firstly, our experience with democracy is almost exclusively with the election of officials.  Once thinkers decided that the direct democracy of ancient Athens was unworkable for modern democracies, elected representatives was seen as the only viable alternative. 

Also, the idea of a random sample and its abilitiy to represent a whole, is relatively new.  Even newer is the abilitiy of private and government entities to get random samples. 

Also, new is the idea that average people can learn and change thier views in a relatively short period of time if taken through a decent learning procedure.