A Mars experiment to save our Earth-bound political systems?



“Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life”
– Jack Kerouac

I was very taken with an assignment recently set by a Yale political science professor for her students and the results it elicited.

Hélène Landemore asked students to write a constitution for Mars. They promptly sketched out an egalitarian framework for participative and listening politics.

The Martian system imagined by those young learners suggested “mini-publics”, which were really citizens’ assemblies made up of 250 randomly selected citizens. They would legislate on economic, social and environmental policy, civil rights, government oversight and interstellar relations. One-fifth of each of those bodies would participate in the deliberations of a central legislative body that would examine the government’s budget and pass laws or veto them.

One of the more interesting conclusions to be drawn from the students’ plan for a Martian political system was that Earth-bound electoral democracy is just not paying off. Professor Landemore has been quoted to say that traditional electoral politics has been taken hostage by the rich and networked “At some point you have to be honest and say there is not much that can be salvaged from this electoral model,” she has said.

Citizens’ assemblies, which are notable for their random selection and diversity, aren’t easily taken over because they have too many imponderables and moving parts. The professor says that diverse opinions are better when trying to solve hard problems rather than a bunch of ” very, very smart people”, all of whom “think the same way”.