Proposing is a Team Sport

Bills born in a traditional legislative chamber have many mothers. They start as a proposal from a single member, but then go through a series of steps including committee hearings, amendments, and in a bicameral legislature, synchronization with the other chamber. All of this appears to treat proposing as a team sport.

The problem is, a legislative chamber is not a team. The members of the chamber do not have a common set of goals, nor should they. If they did, they would not be representatives, they would be mere employees of the chamber, like staff. Indeed, party structures often turn back-benchers into little better than glorified staff, in large part because of this very dynamic.

A bill written by a legislative chamber is therefore a monster; a product of some people who want the bill to pass, and others who don’t and are deliberately making it worse. This begs for an alternative. Unfortunately, the only alternative on offer is for the ruling coalition to ram through whatever it wants with no hearings or amendments, turning the opposition into justifiably angry spectators.

Imagine this: on every issue that comes before the legislature, the public gets to see multiple independent proposals, each of which has a real possibility of becoming law. Just the ability of the public to see such proposals, and know that they are honest proposals (because they have a chance of becoming law at the time of their release) would be a revolution. This is possible, but only if we truly treat proposing as a team sport.

For this to happen, each proposal must come from a body that is actually trying to craft the best bill possible. That bodya team, or a party in political parlancemust carry some representative mandate in order to be democratic. In practice, this must be a proportion reflecting support from the general population. Fortunately, the business of sport supplies many examples of how this can be done: the league structure.

Basically, every party is placed into the proposing league. Each party gets a score that comes from a vote of the people. The ability of each body to propose is linked to their score, so that parties with a higher score are more powerful. I have discussed this scheme in detail in another post.

The main point here is to examine what this looks like to the general public. Voters rank all of the parties in order of preference, and parties, in turn, do nothing but propose. This is really the heart of the matter. Parties in the current system get deservedly bad reputations because their real goal is to seize control. They spend all of their energy figuring out how to climb the greased pole of politics, then once they are on top, they try to get away with whatever they can until the next party knocks them off.

Voters in this new system have a large body of reliable information about the parties they are voting for. Every situation is real: every proposal any party makes could become law. In addition, the parties themselves have a proper set of incentives. They are only competing to make better proposals and thereby to increase their own vote share. There is no such thing as total control, so going from 49% to 51% is a difference of… 2%. Just the way it should be.

And who makes the final decisions from among the options? That part is easy: the jurga. In simple terms, the jurga is a single-use assembly of randomly chosen citizens, with compulsory service, just compensation, and sufficient resources for quality deliberation. Its deliberation model is individualistic, however, so the only thing that makes it an assembly is the final vote tally.

I am curious what the framers of the U.S. Constitution would have thought of such a scheme. But even if they had considered it, they would have rejected it as infeasible. A single-use assembly? Impossible in the 18th century. James Madison, in Federalist No. 14, said, “…the natural limit of a republic is that distance from the centre which will barely allow the representatives to meet as often as may be necessary for the administration of public affairs”. And that was for a permanent assembly.

What was impossible then is trivial now. A single-use assembly is barely harder to create than a new smartphone app. And the advantages are enormous, but only if we treat proposing as what it always should have been: a team sport.

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