Athenian Democracy? A few funny things will need to happen on the way to the forums… #AdlFoI

[First of a series of blog posts about sessions at the Adelaide Festival of Ideas on Saturday 22nd October]

Nicholas Gruen started out with a stark example of the limits/dangers of ‘Vox Pop Democracy’. In the aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis the Obama Administration asked for people’s suggestions/priorities. And the answers were not ‘health/education’ etc but the legalisation of pot and that birth certificate. Ooops.

Gruen argues Vox Pop Democracy is ‘asking people what they think before they’ve had time to think” which tends to get a poor response. He made the point that the orange monstrosity will get 40% of the vote in the US elections.

Taking an Australian perspective, he pointed out that if there had been replacing a carbon price (the tax would have raised 10bn a year) with a carbon subsidy for polluters would not have got through parliament if each MP had been asked to vote on their conscience/ intelligence. For Gruen, the political culture is suffering from something we see also in other areas of life, with the instincts that helped us survive on the savannah less useful in complex societies. Gruen threw in a couple of really good quotes from Schumpeter on the question of collective activity, LINK

I learnt a word – isegoria “equality of speech”

On citizens’ juries (something the South Australian government is currently keen on) Gruen observes that jury members were appalled with the way their deliberations and activity are (mis)represented in the mass media [something anyone who has been on a demonstration probably knows well too].

Gruen then turned to his suggestion for a third chamber (a ‘people’s chamber) to sit alongside the two elected ones, with people chosen by lot (as per citizens’ juries). However, he ran out of time to detail the mechanics of this.

The questions from the audience were therefore relatively limited (including from me) because we were not sure about the mechanics of how such a chamber would work, how it would overcome the counter-measures of the vested interests within the political system, the permanent bureaucracy, the media and the business sector. But certainly SOMETHING(S) have to be done, and hopefully Gruen will expand on this activity!

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