Chinese Land Rights?

Darren Hill mail at
Fri Jun 11 23:29:42 BST 2010

Anyone know anything about the Chinese jury looking at land rights 
mentioned in this article?

  Deliberative democracy

Ancient Athens online

    Democracy is about discussion, not just voting

REFLECTION and representation are not an easy fit. For an individual 
voter, being well-informed about every twist of public policy is an 
irrational use of time. But leaving a self-selecting elite of wonks and 
careerists in charge of policy-making is unappealing. In ancient Athens, 
which invented both democracy and the dilemma, a machine called a 
kleroterion picked a random 500 people to make policy from the 
50,000-odd polity. The jury excluded women and slaves and the decisions 
it reached were sometimes dodgy (condemning Socrates was probably a 
mistake). But the approach is returning in a modern guise, under the 
label of “deliberative democracy”.

A leading practitioner is James Fishkin of Stanford University. He 
starts by canvassing views from a large sample of people. Then a smaller 
subset (normally around 300-strong) receives briefing materials from the 
opposing advocacy groups. Moderators lead small group discussions which 
then draw up questions for experts and policymakers. If the samples are 
statistically representative, that should, so goes the theory, give a 
credible picture of what the entire population would think, were it as 

Such polls have covered aboriginal rights in Australia and traffic jams 
in La Plata. A Chinese jury is looking at land rights. In Fujisawa in 
Japan a poll on local-government planning will start in August.

Discussions and briefing often lead to a shift away from populist 
viewpoints. In a recent poll in Britain support for making party 
manifesto promises legally binding plunged from 41% to 18%. In 
recession-hit Michigan a discussion raised support for bigger taxes 
(from 27% to 45% for income tax, for example). By contrast, support for 
cuts in corporate taxes rocketed 27 points to 67%: the more people 
thought about the issue, the more they wanted a better business 
environment and a lower deficit. But some results are discomfiting (at 
least for those with this newspaper’s views). A pan-European poll in 
October 2007 found that support for European Union membership for Turkey 
and Ukraine fell by a fifth as the discussion progressed.

Deliberation counts for something, with a statistically significant 
shift in opinion on three out of four questions, and the biggest changes 
coming from those whose gains in knowledge are the greatest. The 
internet means that the discussion no longer needs to be face-to-face, 
though it involves fixes to ensure a statistically fair proportion of 
the unwebbed population is included. But being online can cut costs by 
as much as 90%. Mr Fishkin recalls that the first America-wide 
deliberative poll, in 1996, required airline sponsorship to fly 
participants to the venue in Austin, Texas.

Trademarking the methodology of a deliberative poll (as Mr Fishkin has 
done) may be a form of quality control. Even so the polls risk remaining 
an interesting gimmick, rather than a substitute for the messy business 
of elections, referendums and media campaigns: unless, that is, their 
conclusions have real bite.

But some signs suggest this is happening. In 2007 the Panhellenic 
Socialist Movement (Pasok), then in opposition, used deliberative 
polling to select its mayoral candidate for the Athenian district of 
Marousi (in the real election, he lost). Traditionalists looked in vain 
for the kleroterion, however: a personal computer drew the sample 
instead. In 2005 the local authorities in Zeguo, China, used the 
technique to apportion a 40m yuan ($5.9m) infrastructure budget. In 2008 
the approach was extended to the township’s entire kitty. On May 10th 
the Central Party School, a hatchery for Beijing’s top cadres, will 
start a pow-wow on the theory and practice of deliberative democracy. In 
a country where rulers are edgy about the masses getting too much power, 
the carefully channelled discussions of a deliberative poll could prove 
a useful safety valve.

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