A blog about hybrid politics

5, oh 5, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways…

Or, how I learned to stop worrying and love the political elite

In a previous post, I looked at structuring the political elite. Since much of sortition theory works to eliminate such a thing, I need to explain why I focus there.

It comes down to this: political elites happen. Other things happen, of course, but the existence of political elites in any system is more predictable than most things in life. Communism was predicated on the notion that the dictatorship of the proletariat would allow the State to melt away. How’d that work out? Libertarianism here in the U.S. is all about getting government out of our lives so we will be free. The result? Corporations drop in behind the scenes so that Americans pay exorbitant prices for drugs that cost pennies elsewhere, all in the name of “reducing regulation”. Examples are endless.

Sortition will not prevent a political elite. How will a Citizen Jury decide what to vote on? What information will it use to come to its decision? How will it deal with the military, state secrets, and corporations that possess far better information than the CJ has? This is neglecting the fact that members of the CJ can themselves be corrupted. I agree that a Citizen Jury is better than a permanent, professional legislature, but that is not a high bar.

So now we get to my special love affair with the number 5. I structure my system with exactly 5 political parties, so that the political elite is sufficiently divided so as not to become monolithic. Indeed, the great danger in failing to structure the political elite is that it tends toward monopoly.

So why 5? First the snarky answer: because it is more than 4 and less than 6. Really, it is a goldilocks number; not to small, not too big. 3 is a bare minimum; if there are only two, then negative partisanship takes over as the parties compete to show how bad the other guy is.

With 5 parties, you have room for two or three “big tent” parties; parties that express the political ambitions of large segments of the population on a wide range of issues. And you also have room for a couple of “niche” parties that focus on particular issues or particular segments of society. 8 or more and the system gets confusing and highly atomized. (I guess I could tolerate 6 or 7 if you really twisted my arm.)

So I take a “divide and conquer” approach to the political elite, rather than a “pretend it doesn’t exist” approach. Having 5 prevents it from becoming monolithic. But it doesn’t enable the system to function: the political parties can still get lost in pointless squabbling and procedural gamesmanship.

That is where the jurga comes in. The jurga acts as a screen to filter out bad ideas and people emanating from the parties. It allows us to grant rights to each of the political parties that is proportional to their support in the population. This is not true in any democracy today. Currently, to do anything in a democracy, you have to assemble a coalition of 50% + 1 in some fashion. This sounds great, except that it means that 50% – 1 gets nothing. This is highly unstable, and unfair.

What happens in practice is that assembling a 50% + 1 coalition is a cynical, corrupt exercise. This is the cesspool, the swamp, or whatever other horrible term you can think of. Political parties exist in their current form to win this battle, which is why they have such a bad reputation.

In my system, there is no need to form such a coalition. Each of the 5 parties has an inherent right to propose a certain number of laws, and to put forward a certain number of people to fill the political offices of the country. No “Game of Thrones”, no “Lord of the Flies”, no fighting to assemble 50% + 1. Just make you proposals and hope the jurga agrees with you.

I want the political elite to be both weak and strong: weak in that it is fragmented, and cannot take any official action that is not scrutinized by ordinary citizens. Strong in that each party has an inherent right to put some of its proposals before a jurga, without having to play the cynical 50% + 1 game.

Five. That is how I love thee.