Ep 03: Detoxing our democracy a la Ancient Athens – Nicholas Gruen

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Nicholas Gruen

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About this conversation
Brexit and the rise of Donald Trump have humiliated political elites. But we led the pack in 2013 when the elites in Australia’s Parliament humiliated themselves – abolishing carbon pricing when a predominant majority of parliamentarians understood it was folly. Why did they do it? To meet the imperatives of political combat in our vox pop democracy.

Today democracy is synonymous with representation by election. But another way of representing the people enjoys far more community support and a far older lineage: Representation by sortition or selection by lot as occurs in juries. Injecting more sortition into our existing democracy could bring it back from what’s looking increasingly like the brink.

Conversation notes

  • What’s wrong with politics and why the world is sliding into the worst economic situation since the Great Depression?
  • The reason why we live in a VOX POP democracy
  • Australia’s leadership model
  • Why participatory and direct democracy will make things worse and not better
  • The origins of democracy and elections, those times when democracy was a dirty word
  • Citizen Juries, what are they? How do they work?
  • Example of citizen’s juries in the City of Melbourne, Switzerland and US and how they operate
  • A simple solution for our current complex democracy problem: an upper house elected by lot, a citizen’s chamber


More about Nicholas
Nicholas Gruen is a policy economist, entrepreneur and commentator on our economy, society and innovation. He advised two cabinet ministers in the 1980s and 90s, taught at ANU and sat on the Productivity Commission (then Industry Commission) from 1993 to 1997.

He directed the New Directions project at the Business Council from 1997 to 2000.

He is CEO of Lateral Economics, Visiting Professor at Kings College London Policy Institute and Adjunct Professor at UTS Business School, Chair of the Open Knowledge Foundation (Australia) and Patron of the Australian Digital Alliance.

He chaired The Australian Centre for Social Innovation (TACSI) from 2010 to 2016, the Federal Government’s Innovation Australia in 2013-14 and in 2009 chaired the Government 2.0 Taskforce.


Nicholas’ LinkedIn: Nicholas Gruen

Nicholas’ Twitter: @NGruen1

Lateral Economics’ website: lateraleconomics.com.au


“My vision is of a citizen’s chamber like the bull’s eye like the Athenian bullseye. […] Think of the House of Commons and the House of Lords in the UK. Think of the House of Representatives in the Senate in the United States. Think of the Legislative Council and the start of the Legislative Assembly and the legislative council in most states of Australia which was a property franchise and you get the picture. And I simply want to flip that around to an upper house or an additional Upper House elected by a lot which would, by the way, have stopped us abolishing carbon pricing and the system”.


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