Sunday, October 17, 2010

Plato's Job Sharing Scheme

Today's Badi' Blog Essay

Here is today's Badi' Blog post.

Political Job Sharing

By John Taylor; 2010 Oct 17, Ilm 02, 167 BE

A feature in the Globe and Mail discussed last week how few women there are in the parliament of Canada, something like 22 percent. Even countries like Rwanda (56%) and Afghanistan boast of higher percentages of female parliamentarians than us. Of course, the number of woman parliamentarians in some such countries is aided by affirmative action quotas, which Canada does not have. The article reports that Canadian women came together at conferences to look at how to change this sorry state of affairs. They tossed around many suggestions for putting more females into power. How can you make the job of Member of Parliament more female friendly?

The Globe and Mail thought that the best idea of all was to institute some kind of job-sharing scheme. This idea is working well in other areas, such as education. Sharing a job, it seems, allows busy wives and mothers to juggle a half time career in as well. My son in grades two and three was taught by two women teachers, who shared his class on alternate days. As a parent, I remember some confusion at times, getting matters straight with one teacher while the other was not around, but this was a fairly minor problem. Would job sharing work for elected representatives? The reporter did not think so.

I did a double take after reading this article, because I realized that this is precisely what Plato seems to have had in mind in his Laws. I doubt that he was thinking of women in particular, although he did allow female students into his Academy. However, he certainly had the needs of amateur politicians in mind. His idea for choosing posts that involve specialized skill, such as magistrates and commissioners, was to combine free elections with selection by lot. The former he considered to be the people's choice, and the latter the choice of the gods. Naturally, choice by the people and God is better than just one or the other.

Thus, instead of our system of having parties preselect their leaders and having a "first past the post" election to decide which candidate heads the government, Plato's selection process is entirely open. Voters name whoever they please on their ballots. Depending on the job, the top several hundred names that get the most votes become the "candidates." Random selection among them then narrows that number down further. Since these select individuals are the most able members of the community, they have many obligations. They will be busy with their families, farms and business enterprises. And that is where the job sharing comes in. Depending on the nature of the position, many candidates share their duties on alternate days or weeks.

This spreads direct job experience as broadly as possible. Those job sharers who are not on the job at the moment still keep in touch and meet periodically in counsel. Thus a large group makes the major decisions about how the job is done. By spreading the burden of work among many hands, busy people would not be overly burdened, and direct, practical experience with leadership would be common and widespread in society.

This would avoid the fallacy now being foisted on California voters by a billionaire businesswoman. She is saying that her total lack of political experience is a plus, and her job experience as a CEO in private industry "creating jobs" makes her better qualified than her rival, Jerry Brown, who, poor fellow, only has thirty years experience in government on his side. Knowledgeable commentators are saying that business experience has not in the past translated well into government.

Be that as it may, Plato's system would probably do both, it would spread throughout the population a deeper understanding of how different leadership in government and in the private sphere really are. Plus, by having amateurs, chosen by God and the people, spread throughout government and civil service, there would be less of a gap between the average person and the narrow, specialized realm of professionals and experts. In fact, why not have both? Why not have amateurs work alongside qualified experts in most important jobs? A game changer would seem to be modern social networking technology. This should make it easy for dozens of amateurs and experts to share a single public service position, and for one person to work at several jobs, with each member alternating at random. Done right, the sum of many elected and chosen workers serving in the same capacity may well add up to much more than the sum of its parts.



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