Given the legislative paralysis we now see in Washington, it is all too obvious
that American democracy has been undermined by the influence of party politics,
money, lobbyists, and the shallow bread-and-circuses quality of our mass
To remedy things, we need to think outside the box -- and I mean way outside the box.
My solution for reforming our dysfunctional, corrupt
Congress -- specifically, the House of Representatives -- isto replace members
now tied to the unproductive, toxic system of party politics with ordinary
citizens who are qualified but randomly selected. The procedure I envision is this: In each precinct of acongressional district,
one person would be selected at random from a body of citizen volunteers who
meet qualifying criteria set forth in a Constitutional amendment. The district-wide representative to Congress
would then be randomly selected from the body of those picked at the precinct
level. No politicking would be allowed
at either stage of the selection process -- and would in any case be irrelevant
to the totally random system of selection.
The Congressional term limit would be six years, with staggered
selections scheduled annually. The
result would be that in each successive year one-sixth of the Congress would
consist of new representatives.
To ensure that the legislation produced by the citizen
Congress is totally unbiased, all lobbying would be outlawed by constitutional
amendment. And to make sure that members
stay true to their role as citizen volunteers, pay would be limited to twice that
of the average salary of professors in state-supported colleges, and health
care benefits would reflectthose of the general public.
In considering the idea of a randomly selected citizen
Congress, some critics have suggested it could lead to putting a few crooks in
office. To that, my response is this: Better a few crooks than all crooks! Moreover, if a few crooks should get in, they
would be in for six years at most, nota lifetime. There would still be enough
good people around to make the ethics committee credible as a means for culling
out the crooks!
Another reservation people might have is that a randomly selected congressman
from their district would lack the "muscle" or background of a traditional
politician to represent them adequately.
I have an answer for that objection, too. A randomly selected representative meeting
Constitutional qualifications would surely represent their interests more
broadly than a lobby-supported representative. Moreover, the change of representatives every
six years would increase the chance that the specificinterests of each constituent
would at some point be represented. For
the same reasons, I should add parenthetically here that I would also like to
see members of the Supreme Court selected randomly from a roster of qualified
persons, and limited to six years on the bench.
Diversity has been proven to be an essential ingredient for
sustaining the biologicalworld. It is
also essential to economics and politics. Concentration of power, whether
reflected in limited animal or plant species, or single-basket investments of
money, may at times be more efficient, but they are not sustainable.
Who could be against the plan I'm proposing?
Well, politicians, lobbyists, PR firms, the media, and those who simply
oppose change come readily to mind. They
would all fight tooth and nail against implementing a fair system that could
create a true American democracy.
The system I've proposed is of course highly unlikely to be
implemented while the current crop of politicians and lobbyists is in
control. However, in light of the
growing success of Occupy Wall Street, it seems to me that it might well be
within the reach of a similarly empowered people's movement.
Forty years ago I wrote a paper recommending the
implementation of a transactions tax in the finance industry. Now we are close to implementing one. I sincerely hope that random selection of representatives
won't take that long. Our current hard times
make obvious that we can no longer tolerate a system in which money and power
determine the outcome of elections. The
economic fairness we seek can only be achieved in a true democracy that is
responsive to the needs of its people.