Chapter 7 The CiviCon Citizen Conference

I here propose to investigate a supposed difference in current, and (more) ideal speech thinking about tax by subjecting a group of diverse citizens to a deliberative forum on the topic, which, in one succinct summary (Steenbergen et al. 2003, 25ff), is marked by

  1. open participation, including setting the agenda and deciding on procedures ((???), Chambers (1995), Cohen (1989), Habermas (1992, 370ff))
  2. mutual justification of assertions and validity claims (Habermas 1992, 370),
  3. orientation on the common good (Rawls 1971),
  4. respect for one another, as well as one’s arguments (Gutmann and Thompson (1996), Macedo (1999)), other-directedness, empathy and solidarity,
  5. constructive politics of a widely acceptable decision over well-defined policy alternatives, ideally — though not necessarily — by consensus (Cohen 1989, 23),
  6. authenticity in sincere, not strategic communication (Habermas 1984, 149)

7.1 Reciprocity

Deliberation is no such catalogue of first-order considerations of what would make a good (efficient, fair, sustainable) decision in any given policy field, but instead, a second-order prescription to resolve disagreement over those very the moral and causal arguments (Gutmann and Thompson 2004, 125). Still, and in contrast to pluralism, it places more than just procedural claims, but posits substantive requirements for how agreement must be reached. Succinctly, Gutmann and Thompson (2004) demand that “your fellow citizens must give reasons that are comprehensible to you” (2004 K177). More than merely intelligible, permissible arguments to reach deliberative agreement must raise validity (Habermas 1984) and moral (Rawls 1971) claims universally acceptable to everyone.

Logically, it must then be theoretically possible for any given argument to fail that test, and to be impermissible — including the arguments brought forward by experts. In fact, deliberation reserves no special place for nominal experts at all, except if and to the extent that these experts have arrived at, and present their agreement under the standards of deliberation.

As noted in the above, any research design that axiomatizes any disagreement between experts (or ex-ante logic) as misunderstandings on the part of the non-experts fails the deliberative standard, no matter the supposedly enlightening de-biasing treatments.

The desiderata of taxation and deliberation are seemingly in conflict. Taxation requires people to consider an exogenously given catalogue of abstractions, and deliberation implies that no such set of arguments can be unconditionally accepted. This is a general contradiction of procedural and substantively epistemic formulations of deliberative democracy (Bohman 1998, 402).

This impasse has real repercussions for the proposed research design: apparently, it can serve only one master. Either, participants misunderstandings can be revealed by treating them with introductory economics, or they can deliberate any which arguments they themselves find comprehensible.

As with so much that deliberative theory is up against this is a false dichotomy.148

Argumentative reciprocity implies that expert knowledge be neither presumed, nor negated, but that these arguments — as all others — be allowed to demonstrate their universal causal and moral validity.

Expert- and non-expert (as all other) arguments must not merely be balanced in terms of airtime or affect, but “the considerations offered in favor of, or against, a proposal, candidate or policy \[must\] be answered in a substantive way by those who advocate a different position(Fishkin 2009 K550, emphasis added). Deliberation is, in other words, when non-experts answer expert arguments on their own, expert terms, and vice versa, too. Surely, the relation of this ideal to practice is “aspirational”, too, as all in deliberation (Fishkin 2009 K2679). So far, democratic theorists have failed to show “how to incorporate the need for expertise and technical administration in a deliberative democracy” (Thompson 2008, 515) and “\[a\] great deal of work on deliberative theory focuses on conflicting values, religious toleration, identities and so on, and relatively little on conflicting facts” (Moore 2011, 2).

Yet, for the deliberative experimenter, this aspiration to argumentative reciprocity is the ultimate hypothesis in need of falsification, including reciprocity with expert arguments. If expert knowledge on taxation is presumed valid, and any dissent chalked up as misunderstandings the aspiration of communicative action could never be falsified. Likewise, if expert knowledge on taxation is not given adequate opportunity to be reciprocally considered on its own terms, communicative action will always be violated. Neither of those formats would provide construct-valid deliberation. Expert knowledge is then “a special case of the general problem of convincing those who are not ‘in the room’ to accept the results of a deliberation in which they did not directly participate” (Moore 2011, 2). This problem can only be resolved by a “democratic conception of expert authority” (Moore 2011, 2), that is, if deliberative standards are extended to expert arguments, too. A good deliberative format brings ordinary citizens into this business: they must be enabled to the farthest extent possible to argue expert as well as non-expert claims on their own terms, including the possibility to reject expert opinion if it is found insufficiently reciprocal in argument.

Because bringing ordinary citizens into this business, and equally so, is, as Rosenberg (2002)’s so difficult, deliberations must “be regarded as remedial institutions” (2007, 12) and more, “they must be sites for political education and development” (2007, 13).

7.2 Remedial Deliberation

If their democratic rule is to be enlightened, deliberators must also engage a set of abstractions concerning its optimality, justice and sustainability as well as problematize the view of human motivation, utility and rationality implied by these (economic) abstractions. Deliberators must also understand the means and ends of an (ideal) mixed economy within which taxation reconciles allocation by plan and by exchange, including respective government and market failures. Warren (2008 K1513), reporting on the ca, notes that such learning phases are “crucial to its ability to render a decision, and indeed” and that it can be done: “the decision was a learned and sophisticated one”; “Most members transformed themselves from lay citizens with little knowledge of electoral systems into experts over a period of several months (…)” (2008 K1513). Any deliberation that fails to engage such technical but broadly consensual — if not entirely coherent — concerns, must be considered unenlightened. It would ignore some of the causal relationships and moral alternatives that we must assume exist, if and to the extent that we accept the economic ontology of coexisting states and markets.

The fora, even though featuring learning phases, must not regress to a (traditional) classroom setting in which the economics teacher knows best. Still, this is the inescapable challenge of deliberation in the modern world, as Moore (2011) points out: “the ideal of citizen equality to deliberate issues that affect them is in tension with the inequalities of knowledge that are inherently governing complex societies”, but “the question is not whether expert authority is part of the deliberative system, but how it is integrated and whether this integration is itself subject to deliberative standards(Moore 2011, 14, emphasis added).

7.3 Format

Consequently, a good format for deliberating tax includes a strong learning component, where participants are introduced to the structured choices and relevant abstractions suggested by experts, including their disagreements, conditions and uncertainties. Deliberators are unlikely to cover these extensive grounds by themselves, or pick them up from (very limited) briefing books and will benefit from well-planned lessons. On the other hand, a good format must also feature extensive small-group discussion, where participants talk amongst themselves, shielded from the authority of expertise. Deliberators may benefit from a trained, non-expert moderator and/or scribe to assist, structure and document their discussion. Most importantly, participants must be encouraged to adjudicate the validity claims of economics, to contrast and possibly relate those to their own, and other claims.

As noted earlier, most deliberative formats include — often moderated — small-group discussion, but few add to that a substantive learning component.149

Among those that do are the small-n Danish-developed Consensus Conferences (Grundahl 1995) and especially the large-n, one-off ca in British Columbia, Canada (British Columbia Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform 2004). Consensus Conferences have been held on very technical issues, including nanotechnology (Lee Kleinman et al. 2007) or genetically modified foods, and the Citizen Assembly was tasked to recommend an alternative electoral system for the province. Much like taxation, technology policy, and especially electoral systems design also demand highly structured choices (for example, a seat allocation rule or regulation) and raises a set of abstractions (party systems or risk distributions).

In a Consensus Conference, 12-15 self-selected but diverse citizens discuss a technical matter of political relevance for three or more days (!) and issue a report on their discussions (Lee Kleinman et al. 2007). In preparation for the conference, participants read quite extensive background material, which they discuss during the first of several daylong sessions. At later sessions, they (publicly) share their questions with experts and finally draft a report for the sponsoring body and/or the media. Lee Kleinman et al. (2007) report that a positive atmosphere, good organization and skillful facilitation are necessary for a successful Consensus Conference. They also recommend that participants tell their stories, which moderators then weave into themes, to help citizens relate their experiences to expert knowledge (2007, 159).

The ca expanded on this model. Over the course of a year, 160 randomly selected British Columbians read and learned about electoral systems, held public hearings, deliberated amongst themselves and, after several intermediate votes, recommended a (quite complicated) stv-variant and drafted a report (British Columbia Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform 2004). The extensive learning phase, spanning six (!) weekends stands out among deliberative experiments. In addition to a university-level textbook on electoral systems, Citizens received interactive lectures accompanied by small discussion groups. An expert panel vetted the learning phase for impartiality and accuracy of information. Participants also developed a set of shared values during the learning phase, both (procedurally) for how they wished to deliberate and (substantively) for a desirable electoral system.

7.4 Implementation

The ca provides an ideal blueprint for a deliberative forum on tax; however, limited resources and lack of experience do not permit such a large undertaking for this project.

Instead, the project proposed here is a scaled-down hybrid, combining the ambitious learning phases of a Citizen Assembly, with the more intimate, small-n interaction and participant empowerment of Consensus Conferences.150

A small, self-selected sample of 15-24 diverse, ideally randomly-sampled, citizens will attend around 6 days of learning and deliberation spread over several weeks. A provisional schedule is included in (p. ).

After introducing the format and framing the issue, deliberators are invited to tell stories about experiences with taxation, following Mansbridge et al. (2010, 67)‘s recommendation: ’Stories can establish credibility, create empathy, and trigger a sense of injustice, all of which contribute directly or indirectly to justification’’ (2010, 67). Deliberators also share opinions and grievances about tax as well as identify relevant questions and issues, which will be taken up in, and structure the later learning phases. During these learning sessions, taking up less than half of the time, participants receive information about the structured choices and relevant abstractions of taxation from the author. These lessons are organized around themes and values identified by deliberators in an initial session, and attempt to relate the subject matter to participant experiences. Learning sessions alternate with extensive small-group deliberations, during which participants reflect on the lessons, relate or contrast it to their own experiences and claims and adjudicate the validity of the presented moral and causal arguments. Small-group deliberations are facilitated by a trained moderator, who has no expertise in taxation or economics. At the end of the process, participants must agree on a tax and write a report outlining their recommendation, which can be released to the public. If resources permit, participants will also hear a panel of expert witnesses to discuss their questions.

This will produce (small-n) data, that may not lend itself to a conventional quantitative DP-research design (essentially a within-subjects Likert-type data). A small sample may not be statistically powerful enough to produce significant effects. Instead the same quasi-experimental design could be run with qualitative data, including, open-ended questionnaires and/or semi-structured interviews, or even a record of the deliberations. Such data could be content-analysed (or rather: coded) to distill the (mis)understanding before and after the treatment.

Alternative Initiators of Deliberative Formats
Self-selected participants Randomly-selected participants Stakeholder-selected participants
Initiated by a civic association School-based deliberation - National Issues Forum
Chicago PD deliberation (…) Study Circles (…)
———————————— ——————————- —————————————– ————————————-
Initiated by an NGO National Issues Forum Deliberative Poll National Issues Forum
AmericaSpeaks Citizen Juries (aka Planning Cells) Participatory Budgeting
online dialogues (…) (…)
———————————— ——————————- —————————————– ————————————-
Initiated by government Town Hall meetings Deliberative Poll Deliberative city planning
local councils Citizen Juries participatory budgeting
(…) (…) (…)
———————————— ——————————- —————————————– ————————————-
Alternative Deliberative Formats
Short duration Long duration
Large sample size Deliberative Poll Citizen Assembly (BC: Electoral reform)
Small sample size Citizen Jury / Planning Cells Consensus Conference (Australia: GMOs, NZ: Biotech)
Limited and/or positive knowledge Knowledge-intensive and/or contested
Unstructured ex-ante choices National Issues Forum (race in Philadelphia, PA) Deliberative Poll (Texas: Energy)
Consensus Conferences (Denmar, Canada, Aus: GMOs)
Structured ex-ante choices Deliberative poll (Jacobs community service) Citizen Assembly (BC electoral reform)
Planning Cells
Consensus Conferences
<!-- %\cite{Johnson1998}
%``Would-be political reformers of various persuasions urge deliberation upon us.
%Yet in their pleadings such theorists and reformers frequently invoke deliberation in an uncritical manner.
%They proceed as though the ways in which deliberation and the effects we can expect of it are not just obvious, but attractively so.''

%\cite{Azmanova2010} (also \cite{Fishkin2009}:
%thoughtfulness and reflexivity (as per Fishkin) require 1) reasonably accurate information 2) substantive balance 3) diversity, 4) conscientiousness, 5) equal consideration

%one guy did the learning sessions
    %1) has a selection phase
    %2)  has a LEARNING phase
        %also develop "shared values" about the process
    %3) has a PUBLIC HEARING phase
    %4) has a DELIBERATION phase
    %go to church with group, maybe.

    %"To make a Planning Cell project go effectively, one needs a process of more than four days.
%We can distinguish five phases:
%design, preparation, implementation, compiling the documentation, follow up.
%After the joint formulation of the task, two problems have to be solved in the second phase:
%The issue has to be translated into a program of 16 work units and the jurors have to be selected and invited.
%Building the program is crucial for the Planning Cell preparation.
%Each working unit has to have its clearly defined remit.
%Problems have to be reduced to comprehensible alternatives.
%All this is done by the programmer who is much more important than the moderator''

    %very good summary, get back to this

    %democracies are supposed to fulfill two values;
%political equality and deliberation (K84)
    %``a democracy in which we all had substantive information [and] [\ldots] substantive opinions would seem to take too many meetings.''
    %what's wrong with unenlightened opinions (all K113ff)
            %\item they may be volatile (cite other sources
            %\item people may be manipulated by foregrounding some information (clean coal vs.\ dirty coal, forgetting about natural gas -- compare this to tax choice)
            %\item misinformation (savings rate)
            %\item favor favorable, true arguments over others
            %\item manipulation may ``prime'' one aspect of policy.
%``the hard choice, in other words, is between debilitated but actual opinion, on the one hand, and deliberative but counterfactual opinion, on the other.''
%table with raw/refined opinion, and different kinds of sampling.
%``The idea is that if a counterfactual situation is morally relevant, why not do a serious social science experiment -- rather than merely engage in informal inference or armchair empiricism -- to determine what the appropriate counterfactual situation might look like?
%and if that counterfactual is both discoverable and normatively relevent, why not then let the rest of the world know about it?
%Just as John Rawls's original position can be thought of having a kind of recommending force, the counterfactual representation of public opinion identified by the Deliberative Poll also recommends to the rest of the population some conclusions that they ought to take seriously.''
%self-selected samples will be very limited in what they can achieve.
%citizen juries use quota samples, consesus conferences use self-selected samples, then with some quota sampling
%notes that positions must not merely be balanced in terms of airtime or affect, but ``whether the considerations offered in favor of, or against, a proposal, candidate or policy are answered in a substantive way by those who advocate a different position.''
%three categories for such considerations
        %``the benefits or burdens of a policy or political choice,
        % the causal arguments about whether those benefits or benefits or burdens will actually result from one choice or another,
        %and the values by which those benefits and burdens might best be evaluated.''
%``the problem is that any microcosmis deliberation taking place in a modern society will be one in which there are significant social and economic inequalities in the conduct of ordinary life in the broader society.
            %It seems difficult or impossible to `bracket' these inequalities -- for participants to behave `as if' they do not exist.
            %Indeed the problem goes deeper.
%The possibility of doing so is the challenge of the ``autonomy of the political'', namely, whether or not equality can hold sway in politics in a world in which inequality rules in economic and social relations.
            %The viability and legitimacy of the liberal-democratic process may turn on the answer.''
            %notes that the relation between ideal theory and actual practice is ``aspirational'' \citep[K2679]{Fishkin2009}

%`your fellow citizens must give reasons that are comprehensible to you''
%they introduce first and second-order theories, too!
    %K919, writing about Fish:
%``Giving reasons is the chief way of academics to exercise power in democratic politics.
%All the talk about deliberation, like deliberation itself, is merely a cover for power politics.''.

%cite the sausgruber tyran stuff.

%iris marion young, especially notes that people of lower status may have a hard time getting listened to, or that others may be particularly accustomed to orderly forms of reason-giving arguments that weigh with other participants -- and this may be particulary problematic the more substantive the topic is.

%note that


%tax allows only very limited choice:
%income, consumption or assets;
%a couple of schedules, plus some pigouvian taxation.
% the CIT, notably, is just a special way to raise the PIT.
%Otherwise, only natural persons.
%Tax demands these choices.
%Also, these choices \emph{are} as I explain in the below, political, so they must be made legitimately, and we may not be able to simply outsource them to elites.

%argue exactly why small sub-issues of tax do not work;
%they violate the real choices.

%there remain problems:
%you can't just go about this as if it wwere not controversial;
%it is controversially maongst experts, but more importantly, controversial whether experts have in fact authority and the right context.
%It can't just be an experiment, or a treatment intervention where ordinary citizens must necessarily become more like experts, and if they are not, then the teaching has failed.
%It must be possible for people to disagree with the abstractions they ar epresented with, see the criticism of it.

%tax is very technocratic, simply because the instition is like that.
%this will have to be qualitative
%\end{enumerate} -->


Steenbergen, Marco R, André Bächtiger, Markus Spörndli, and Jürg Steiner. 2003. “Measuring Political Deliberation: A Discourse Quality Index.” Comparative European Politics 1 (1): 21–48.

Chambers, Simone. 1995. “Discourse and Democratic Practices.” In The Cambridge Companion to Habermas, edited by Stephen K. White. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Cohen, Joshua. 1989. “Deliberation and Democratic Legitimacy.” In The Good Polity - Normative Analysis of the State, edited by Alan Hamlin and Philip Pettit. Oxford, UK: Blackwell.

Habermas, Jürgen. 1992. Faktizität Und Geltung – Beitrage Zur Diskurstheorie Des Rechts Und Des Demokratischen Rechtsstaats. Frankfurt am Main, Germany: Suhrkamp.

Rawls, John. 1971. A Theory of Justice. Boston, MA: Harvard University Press.

Gutmann, Amy, and Dennis F. Thompson. 1996. Democracy and Disagreement. Boston, MA: Harvard University Press.

Macedo, Stephen. 1999. Deliberative Politics - Essays on Democracy and Disagreement. Edited by Stephen Macedo. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Habermas, Jürgen. 1984. The Theory of Communicative Action. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Gutmann, Amy, and Dennis F. 2004. Why Deliberative Democracy. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Bohman, J. 1998. “Survey Article: The Coming of Age of Deliberative Democracy.” Journal of Political Philosophy 6 (4): 400–425.

Fishkin, James S. 2009. When the People Speak. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Thompson, Dennis F. 2008. “Deliberative Democratic Theory and Empirical Political Science.” Annual Review of Political Science 11 (1): 497–520.

Moore, Alfred. 2011. “Questioning Deference – Expert Authority in a Deliberative System.” In Annual Meeting of Midwest Political Science Association, 1–16. Chicago, IL.

Rosenberg, Shawn W. 2002. The Not so Common Sense : Differences in How People Judge Social and Political Life. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Rosenberg, Shawn W. 2007. “Rethinking Democratic Deliberation - the Limits and Potential of Citizen Participation.” Polity 39: 335–60.

Warren, Mark E. 2008. “Citizen Representatives.” In Designing Deliberative Democracy – the British Columbia Assembly, edited by Mark E. Warren and Hillary Pearse. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Grundahl, Johs. 1995. “The Danish Consensus Conference Model.” In Public Participation in Science – the Role of Consensus Conferences in Europe, edited by Simon Joss and John Durant. London, UK: Science Museum.

British Columbia Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform. 2004. “Making Every Vote Count - the Case for Electoral Reform in British Columbia.”

Lee Kleinman, D., M. Powell, J. Grice, J. Adrian, and C. Lobes. 2007. “A Toolkit for Democratizing Science and Technology Policy: The Practical Mechanics of Organizing a Consensus Conference.” Bulletin of Science, Technology Society 27 (2): 154–69.

Mansbridge, Jane, James Bohman, Simone Chambers, David Estlund, Andreas Follesdal, Archon Fung, Cristina Lafont, Bernard Manin, and José Luis Martí. 2010. “The Place of Self-Interest and the Role of Power in Deliberative Democracy.” Journal of Political Philosophy 18 (1): 64–100.

  1. For example, political participation versus enlightened understanding versus political equality, as Fishkin (2009) points out.

  2. dps, the pronounced methodological gold standard of deliberation (Mansbridge 2010) are too short to feature long lessons, and confine expert knowledge to ad-hoc question and answer sessions with experts and limited briefing books (Fishkin 2009). Citizen Juries (Smith and Wales 2000), Planning Cells (Dienel 1999) and related formats also include no learning components, and some experimenters even advise against expert knowledge.

  3. The ca also featured a “listening phase” (Pearse 2008, 1609) during which members held public hearings throughout the province, drawing some 3,000 attendees and 1,600 written submissions. Both because I do not have the resources and — absent a mandate — expect limited public interest, I plan no such phase.