Initiatives v Oligarchy

Our Founders' Warning: “Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone. The people themselves are its only safe depositories.” (Thomas Jefferson)

How Does the Assembly Ensure Its Wisdom?

Assembly Ensures Its Wisdom

There are good reasons to believe that the Initiatives Qualifying Assembly (IQA or Assembly) can be wise consistently, optimizing its “wisdom of crowds” through random selection diversity, independence, decentralization, then aggregation.

AcknowledgmentsThe Assembly ensures its wisdom of crowds through random selection diversity, independence, decentralization, and aggregation

CUSDI is particularly indebted to James Surowiecki’s “The Wisdom of Crowds” and also to Professor James S. Fishkin’s “Democracy and Deliberation” and “The Voice of the People” for many of the concepts and ideas underlying the materials that follow. In Surowiecki’s parlance, the IQA possesses the requisite qualities of a “Crowd” that can reach wiser choices than its best experts can. In Fishkin’s parlance, the IQA functions as a “Deliberative Poll®*” making choices that only an exceptionally well-informed Electorate could reach.

Proposing Initiatives is Not Appropriate for the IQA

The creative process of proposing Initiatives requires insight into the problem and solutions that often involve new ideas. Though we do not understand creativity well, it is clear that ego, emotion and intellectual effort usually drive it. These are abilities of individuals and occasionally of small “brainstorm” groups, but not generally of a large IQA.

Therefore, the Initiatives Amendment recognizes that a large Assembly is not likely to be highly creative at developing Proposed Initiatives—this is the responsibility of Citizens, who include many highly creative persons.

Where the IQA Excels

Surowiecki succinctly explains that “…groups are better at deciding between possible solutions to a problem than they are at coming up with them.” (JS p. 60) He goes on to explain that “…under the right circumstances, groups are remarkably intelligent, and are often smarter than the smartest people in them. Groups do not need to be dominated by exceptionally intelligent people in order to be smart. Even if most of the people within a group are not especially well-informed or rational, it can still reach a collectively wise decision.” (JS p. XIII) Moreover, “…it doesn’t matter when an individual makes a mistake. As long as the group is diverse and independent enough, the errors people make effectively cancel themselves out, leaving you with the knowledge that the group has.” (JS p. 278)

Fishkin concisely notes that a deliberative IQA “…offers a face-to-face democracy not of elected members of a legislature, but of ordinary citizens who can participate on the same basis of political equality as that offered by the assembly or town meeting. It provides a statistical model of what the electorate would think if, hypothetically, all voters had the same opportunities [to study the issues] that are offered to the [IQA Members].” (JF-DD p. 4)

People rise to the occasion. The following discussion shows that there is good reason to trust their combined judgment to act wisely in the best interests of the People.

Ensuring that the Assembly Can Achieve Wisdom

Surowiecki notes “…four conditions that characterize smart crowds: diversity of opinion (each person should have some private information, even if it’s just an eccentric interpretation of the known facts), independence (people’s opinions are not determined by the opinions of those around them), decentralization (people are able to specialize and draw on local knowledge), and aggregation (some mechanism exists for turning private judgments into a collective decision).” (JS p. 10) He goes on to note that “Incentives almost certainly help, if only because the prospect of a gain (or a loss) helps concentrate people’s minds, and for situations in which relevant information might not be obvious—it takes a little digging to uncover it—they can be very useful. But what’s interesting is that those incentives don’t need to be financial.” (JS p. 279)

Fulfilling these conditions will enable the IQA to perform the cognition process involved in the IQA’s primary function, i.e., advancing Proposed Initiatives or tabling them. In addition, the IQA must have the skills to manage itself to ensure its independence.

A. Diversity

Selecting the IQA by rigorous random-sample from all Citizens entitled to vote (not just those registered to vote) yields the maximum diversity of Members. It is also worth noting that there are additional good reasons why the Assembly Members must be randomly selected:

  1. Random selection produces a sufficient foundation of diversity to assure wisdom.
    1. In theory, a random sample of 480 eligible voters will have the same opinions as the nationwide Electorate to an accuracy of ±4.5 percent in 95 percent of the decisions.
    2. In practice, this polling accuracy would only hold true if:
      1. Every eligible voter voted, which of course they do not, so the IQA is a better gauge of what the Citizens want than might be expected.
      2. Every eligible voter had the benefit of the information received by the Members and participated in the debates like those in the IQA. Of course, they do not, so the voters may reject some Candidate Initiatives that the voters would not have time to understand well enough.
  2. Random selection produces a IQA that can remain virtually incorruptible—though this benefits the independence of the Members in the next heading rather than their diversity.
  3. Random selection produces an Assembly that is fair to the Constitutional equality of all Citizens’ right to vote.

The accuracy of the randomness of the sample is assisted by paying Members reasonably well to ensure that the less wealthy and poor can afford to be Members and by assuring job security for those who are wealthier. Further, to avoid the occasional capricious or unjustifiable turn down of their duty to serve, the legal system must impose penalties when justified to ensure diversity.

The IQA members will have typical life experiences and knowledge resembling the entire Electorate. As Surowiecki observed, “The fact that cognitive diversity matters does not mean that if you assemble a group of diverse but thoroughly uninformed people, their collective wisdom will be smarter than an expert’s. But if you can assemble a diverse group of people who possess varying degrees of knowledge and insight, you’re better of entrusting it with major decisions rather than leaving them in the hands of one or two people.” (JS p. 31) In fact, the IQA has a remarkable variety of knowledge and insight as discussed below.

The education level of 480 IQA Members by number and percentage will average:






Not Completed High School 81 16.9
Completed High School 153 31.8
Some College 92 19.2
Associate Degree 37 7.7
Bachelor’s Degree 79 16.4
Master’s Degree 27 5.5
Professional Degree 6 1.3
Doctorate 5 1.0
Completed a College Degree 154 32.1 154 32.1
Totals: 480 100.0


Even though over 32 percent of Assembly Members will have a degree, there is a significant difference in education levels between the IQA and Congress. Outside consultants will provide essential knowledge and skills that are unavailable from the Members—the practice Congress generally follows. The IQA’s broad range of views and abilities will permit it to arrive at good common-sense solutions and prepare the drafts, but they will call upon outside lawyers to advise and assist in finalizing the Initiative legislation. Nevertheless, Initiatives’ legal issues should usually be relatively modest because the IQA is expected (but not obliged) to stay away from complex legislation, which is much more the business of Congress.

The average number of Members with business knowledge and skills and some of the typical registered professional occupations are:




Accountants 4.3
Doctors 1.7
Dentists 0.4
Engineers 5.5
Lawyers 2.1
Public School Teachers 9.6
Heads of non-farm businesses 56.5 11.7




The 70 Members who have been heads of non-farm and professional businesses will have faced the hard realities of buying and selling, solving unforeseeable problems, balancing complex tradeoffs, and making a business profitable in the face of competition. The average age of IQA Members will be about 45 years.
By comparison, not only do wealthy special interests and their lobbyists excessive influence Congress, but also Congress’s general lack of diversity tends to work against good decision-making. “… [Scott] Page…a political scientist at the University of Michigan…speculates, grouping only smart people together doesn’t work well because the smart people…tend to resemble each other in what they can do.” (JS p. 30) Congress is remarkably homogeneous with over 35 percent millionaires earning at least a million dollars per year, 42 percent lawyers, 69 percent white, and 87 percent male.

Surowiecki goes on to discuss work by Irvine Janis that identifies an example of a serious government failure caused by this, and in which “The people who planned the operation [Bay of Pigs invasion] were the same ones who were asked to judge whether it would be successful or not.” (JS p. 37) Other failures occurred because sometimes the “…experts don’t know when they don’t know something.” (JS p. 278) The approach taken in the Amendment, where the People propose initiatives and the IQA judges their merit, will avert this type of groupthink.

B. Independence

Members shall have and shall vote their independent opinions; consensus it not desired. They are encouraged to maintain their independence while members of the IQA.

The principle factor creating the independence of the IQA is the Constitutional Amendment. These words state, “The IQA shall be independent, responsible only to the People…” The independence of the Members is also protected in the Amendment by the words “Members shall vote their own independent un-coerced opinion after open-minded deliberation; they shall not participate in voting for any group affiliation, vote trading, sale or favor.”

“Independence does not mean isolation, but it does mean relative freedom from the influence of others. This is important because a group of people…is far more likely to come up with a good decision if the people in the group are independent of each other…relying on ‘private information.’ (Private information isn’t just concrete data. It can also include interpretation, analysis, or even intuition.)” (JS p. 41)

“Independence is important to intelligent decision making for two reasons. First, it keeps the mistakes that people make from becoming correlated…. One of the quickest ways to make people’s judgments systematically biased is to make them dependent on each other for information. Second, independent individuals are more likely to have new information rather than the same old data everyone is already familiar with…. You can be biased and irrational, but as long you’re independent, you won’t make the group any dumber.” (JS p. 41)

Monthly turnover in Assembly membership helps maintain independence. Similarly, the IQA provides separate living accommodations for the sexes, which helps to reduce social gatherings. “Groups benefit from members talking to and learning from each other, but too much communication, paradoxically, can actually make the group as a whole less intelligent.” (JS p. XIX)

C. Decentralization

As noted by Surowiecki, “Expertise is valuable; smart people are valuable. The more information a group has, the better its collective judgment will be, so you want as many people with good information in a group as possible.” (JS p. 277)

The IQA, with advice from many sources, will collectively determine the total set of general materials and information and make them available to all members. The IQA will subscribe to pertinent written materials and paid-access Internet sites and provide access for the members. Governments are obliged to provide information to the IQA. The IQA will provide all Members with easy access to these materials and information while at the IQA facilities.
To encourage decentralization, Members are strongly encouraged to take advantage of self-education and to research issues themselves using the general materials and information accessible at the IQA and from their own private sources. The incentives described below encourage and reinforce this individual research.

Each IQA Member participates in Deliberative Task Forces that will advance their personal knowledge of the issues—decentralized from the IQA as a whole—and enhance their independent information and views.

Members are strongly discouraged from trying to reach a consensus on issues—potentially undermining valid decentralized personal information—but rather to determine their collective opinion by secret vote. The secret vote also has the benefit that, if somehow a special interest group did gain influence over some Members, the inability to know how the Members voted would make any rewards by the special interest group less likely and less effective.

D. Aggregation

The IQA has two principal methods of aggregation. Both methods occur after there has been extensive access to relevant information and debate of the issues.

  1. The primary and formal method is by a secret majority vote of the Members in Plenary Session. The IQA would use this, for example, when advancing a proposed Initiative to a higher level of consideration.
  2. The less formal method uses Deliberative Task Forces (DTFs) that the IQA selects randomly and assigns problems or tasks. Often, it will assign the same problems to several DTFs to confirm accuracy. For example, more than one DTF might make an initial evaluation of a set of incoming proposed Initiatives. After deliberation, the DTFs report to plenary sessions. When several DTFs answer the same question, the IQA can compare and aggregate their answers and evaluate their acceptability.
    This is in accord with Surowiecki’s admonition that “What makes a system successful is its ability to recognize losers and kill them quickly. Or, rather, what makes a system successful is its ability to generate lots of losers and then to recognize them as such and kill them off. Sometimes the messiest approach is the wisest.” (JS p. 29) The IQA may find this approach appropriate in the case that it receives a particularly large number of proposed initiatives.

The IQA and its subsets will avoid use of straw polls. The reason is that voters become emotionally committed to their initial vote “…and debate after that tends to concentrate on getting those who don’t agree to agree.” (JS p. 178)

In like manner, after all deliberations are complete, decisions “…clearly can and should have people offer their judgments simultaneously, rather than one after the other.” (JS p. 65) This avoids the dangers of information cascades in which the “…choices are made sequentially, instead of all at once.” (JS p. 63) By contrast, Congress permits an information cascade by keeping the vote open—i.e., a congressperson’s vote can depend on the preceding votes.

Incentives for Wisdom

Members will generally be highly motivated to be a credit to the Assembly. It is a unique chance to serve their country in an important capacity and have an interesting and rewarding work experience. Only about one in 7,000 Citizens will get this chance in their lifetime.

Two types of incentives are provided to IQA Members:

  1. The IQA will award recognition of effort incentives when Members fulfill their duties and leave. Members will have the choice to make their names public after the fact and to receive thanks from their government.
  2. The Electorate will vote on performance grades and financial incentives based on the results of the Initiatives selected four years ago by the IQA.

In combination, these two incentive programs will provide powerful personal and peer pressure on Members to give their best performance. IQA Members collectively must earn their financial incentives. Though some slackers may get undeserved awards, this should be more than offset by the benefits of peer pressure to get everyone to work for the common good.


The discussion above has shown that the IQA can perform its function to select wisely the worthiest initiatives. In addition, it must contain the basic skills to manage itself. The IQA’s responsibilities are constrained by its function to a narrow scope that is far less than most businesses—e.g., it has no employees, does not have to show a profit, does not have to create new products, is exempt from litigation, has no marketing and sales functions, and complies with no complex government regulations. Compared with many company management responsibilities, the IQA is relatively simple to run.

The information in the above section on diversity detailing education and occupations of the Members illustrates the inherent capability of the Members to run the IQA. Approximately 70 members will have had hands-on experience at managing businesses and/or professional organizations. Others will have un-anticipatable non-business management experiences and rise to the occasion. In total, this will be more than sufficient to provide an adequate pool of management capabilities for the IQA, especially since it will purchase comprehensive outside support for many areas such as accounting, legal, facilities, computers, communications etc.

Distrust of Leadership by a Crowd

Throughout history, people have universally distrusted leadership by a crowd. “The assumption that authority ultimately needs to rest in the hands of an individual is a difficult one to overcome.” (JS p. 222) “…the wisdom of crowds challenges some of our most deeply held assumptions about leadership, power, and authority…the notion that power ultimately has to reside in a single place—a single person—if it’s really going to work. We want there to be one person we can point to and say, ‘He made the decision.’ and we fear that if we don’t have that, nothing will get done.” (JS p. 281)

There is good reason why this should be so. A group expects its leaders to deal with emergencies or unusual circumstances that threaten the group. If the group had to convene a committee, the decision would often be too late. Any society that relied on committees in emergencies would eventually cease to exist. Old jokes like “a camel is a horse designed by a committee” make their rounds in every generation. Distrust of leadership by a group is natural. Dogs, horses, and many other social animals place their trust in an alpha member who leads the others. Thus, we have a valid innate belief that leadership by group is a bad choice.

However, Citizens tend to underestimate their abilities as a group. “…groups tend not [to be] wise about their own wisdom.” (JS p. 278) This distrust must be reconciled with the concept of a wise IQA. Two vital differences explain and reconcile the IQA and its function:

  1. The IQA is unsuited to leadership in emergency circumstances. However, the Amendment never expects the IQA to make emergency decisions. Emergencies are the business of the Executive branch of Government, which can make decisions in minutes. Congress has the power and capability to provide oversight of the Executive emergency actions in a matter of days.
    On the other hand, the IQA cannot cause any response to a situation in less than nine months—the minimum time between the first reading of a Draft Candidate Initiative and the following election. Thus, the IQA is neither expected nor able to assume emergency leadership by IQA.
  2. The IQA Members may not possess the creative talents for good leadership ideas—see above. The solution is simple; the IQA does not propose Initiatives. The IQA only judges to decide which Initiatives are best, a function to which an IQA is perfectly suited.

To see the validity of this reconciliation, consider how we accept and trust group decisions in our Jury system. The above two vital differences apply equally well to Juries. First, juries make their decision at their own pace and no one can force them to rush. Second, juries generally have only a simple guilty or innocent judgment to make, specialists—judge, lawyers, witnesses—deal with the creative arguments. Since we are familiar with juries, we can see the reconciliation without difficulty and accept the wisdom of juries.

Therefore, our innate human distrust of leadership by a group is valid and understandable, but it is inappropriate and irrelevant for the IQA.