Malkin on Greek allotment

Irad Malkin is a prominent Israeli classicist. He has already been mentioned twice on Equality by Lot, when in 2013 and 2014 he penned op-ed pieces advocating for the use of sortition as a tool of democracy. It seems that lottery and its role in Ancient Greek society has become Malkin’s main focus of research over the last few years. The product of this research is a forthcoming book called “Greeks Drawing Lots: from Egalitarianism to Democracy”.

A first taste of Malkin’s research is already available in the form of a chapter in a book published last year edited by Sofia Greaves and Andrew Wallace-Hadrill and titled “Rome and the Colonial City: Rethinking the Grid”. The chapter written by Malkin is called “Reflections on egalitarianism and the foundation of Greek poleis“. It opens as follows:

When Greeks founded new settlements, they were facing the question of how to distribute plots of land to individual settlers. The main reason individuals joined a new foundation was to get such a plot of land (klêros), regardless of other reasons for colonisation. Back home, two brothers would need to share a klêros through partible inheritance by lot. However, if one brother stayed and another left for a new settlement abroad, both would have ended up, each, with a viable klêros. In and of itself, a klêros provides a basis for livelihood and a mutually recognised share of political and military power within the community. Practices of Greek colonisation are parallel to the Greek practice of ‘partible inheritance by lot’, since the same general principles and structures apply to both when it comes to land distribution: equality before the chance of the lottery, and, when possible, equality (sometimes equitability) of the size of the klêros.

From this we learn, if I understand correctly, that (like the English word “lot”?!) the word “klêros”, as in the randomizing machine “klêroterion”, meant in the first place a piece of fertile land, and the use of this word for randomization is derived from the custom of using the lottery for the distribution of such lands.

Malkin’s main thesis appears to be that the lottery was an embodiment of an egalitarian ideology. This ideology was especially influential in newly established colonies was in competition with oligarchization trends in more established settlements. It is this ideology that eventually, over the course of hundreds of years, developed into the Greek democracy.
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Martin Wolf: Citizens’ juries can help fix democracy

Sortition has found a fairly prominent advocate in the Financial Times‘s Martin Wolf. Wolf was introduced to the idea by Nicholas Gruen and is highly influenced by him. Wolf has written a book offering sortition as a solution to “ailing Western polities”. His prominent position and impeccable institutional credentials make him possibly the most prominent promoter of sortition in the Anglophone world.

Wolf is now repeating his argument in an article in the Financial Times. In particular he is implying that the “failure” of Brexit would not have happened if the decision whether to leave or remain were made by an allotted body. But Wolf goes farther and proposes a permanent allotted chamber with not insignificant powers.

“Brexit has failed.” This is now the view of Nigel Farage, the man who arguably bears more responsibility for the UK’s decision to leave the EU than anybody else. He is right, not because the Tories messed it up, as he thinks, but because it was bound to go wrong. The question is why the country made this mistake. The answer is that our democratic processes do not work very well. Adding referendums to elections does not solve the problem. But adding citizens’ assemblies might.

In my book, The Crisis of Democratic Capitalism, I follow the Australian economist Nicholas Gruen in arguing for the addition of citizens’ assemblies or citizens’ juries. These would insert an important element of ancient Greek democracy into the parliamentary tradition.
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Engines of oligarchy: me and Hugh Pope on the Keys to Democracy

One of my favourite discussions so far with journalist, scholar and gentleman Hugh Pope. As readers of this site will know, Hugh has just brought to publication The Keys to Democracy: Sortition as a Model for Citizen Power, a book written by his father in 1990. But being well ahead of its time, the book was unpublishable. It pursued Aristotle’s point that elections installed a governing class and were therefore oligarchic. The institution that democracy represented the people was selection by lot as embodied today in legal juries. And it has a delicious fondness for G. K. Chesterton’s idea that, like a hostess, “democracy is bringing the shy people out”. You’ll also see me learning profound new things — like the fact that one of the things democracy is about is how you change your mind.

If you’d rather just listen to the audio file, it’s here.

Citizens’ Climate Assembly in Westminster City

It is interesting to consider why allotted assemblies for discussing and making recommendations regarding climate policies, and in particular at the municipal level, are such a widespread phenomenon. The City of Westminster in London is about to hold one of those as well.

Westminster Citizens’ Climate Assembly

We are holding the Citizens’ Climate Assembly across June and July 2023 because we are committed to improving the representation of residents’ views in how we tackle the climate emergency.

50 Westminster residents will be selected at random to attend assembly sessions and address the following issue:

How can we overcome the main barriers to Westminster becoming a net zero city by 2040 together? How do we ensure this is delivered in the fairest way?

Members will attend four sessions between June and July 2023 to learn about climate issues, discuss them and make recommendations.

These recommendations will then be reported to the council and will inform an updated version of our Climate Emergency Action Plan.

Westminster informs those interested in participating that this is an invitation-only event:

If you haven’t receive a postal invitation you can’t apply to be an assembly member.

There are lots of other ways to be involved in opportunities across Westminster. Find out more about Our Westminster.

Keep up to date with the Citizens’ Climate Assembly by signing up to the Environment Newsletter and visiting this webpage which will be updated throughout the assembly process.

Bouricius: The Trouble With Elections

In former lives, Terry Bouricius was an elected politician in the US state of Vermont and an electoral reformer. In the present, Terry is a sortition advocate and a regular commenter on this blog. Among other activities, he has published an influential paper offering a multi-body sortition-based government system. In addition, it turns out, Terry has also been writing a book which he is now about to start publishing in installments on You can sign up to get notified as new chapters are published.

Conley: Let’s Randomize America!

Nicholas Coccoma wrote to point out a recent article by Dalton Conley, professor of sociology at Princeton University, in The New Yorker. The rather lengthy article revolves around randomness in public policy. It starts with the story of the introduction of the draft lottery in the US, then moves on to a proposal (a rather unconvincing one, it seems to me) for handling economic inequality using randomization, and finishes off with sortition and with a general call for using randomization to achieve a fairer society.

For three decades, through three wars, the U.S. military draft was directed by Lewis B. Hershey, a general in the Army. Hershey established the first local draft board in 1941; eventually, there would be four thousand of them. […] The boards, which adjudicated claims for reclassification or deferment on a case-by-case basis, had a distinct character. They were disproportionately white, white-collar, and elderly. According to analyses conducted in the nineteen-sixties, draft boards more often granted deferments to privileged young men, and poor Americans of color made up a disproportionate share of draftees. […] In 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson convened a group of experts to study draft reform. They recommended a drastic overhaul to centralize the process, and argued, controversially, for randomizing it. What was needed, they wrote, was a lottery to decide who should fight, in which the “order of call” was “impartially and randomly determined.”

Many people did not find this idea appealing. Detractors argued that haphazardly drafting young men, some of whom were training for critical civilian positions, would be inefficient at best and destructive at worst. Merriam Trytten, a physicist by training, who was the president of the Scientific Manpower Commission—a nonpartisan group set up by the American Association for the Advancement of Science to advise the government on issues of scientific personnel—said that, under such a system, “scientific effort in the United States will pay a substantial penalty.” […] A Gallup poll conducted in 1966 found that only thirty-two per cent of Americans favored a lottery system.
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Random citizens’ panel to advise on German food policy

Julia Dahm writes in EURACTIV Germany about the decision by the German parliament to convene an allotted body to “bring the citizens’ perspective into the political debate” about food policy. Even at this early stage (the proposal was only adopted a few days ago), it seems all the expected elements of such a situation – familiar from the going-ons around the French Citizen Climate Convention, for example – are there: a government elected promising to act on a certain set of do-good principles, established powers pushing against any change, conservatives claiming that citizen assemblies are a sign of weakness and a shirking of authority, and the inevitable suspicions and accusation of manipulation by the organizers.

The German parliament has decided to launch a panel of randomly selected citizens set to advise lawmakers on food and nutrition policies, in an effort to help navigate the thorny issue of the state interfering in dietary choices.

The motion to set up a citizens’ panel on diets and nutrition had been tabled by the three government parties – the Social Democrats (SPD), the Greens, and the Liberals (FDP) – and was adopted by the Bundestag on Wednesday evening (10 May).

The first-ever citizens’ council put in place by the German parliament s set to “focus on the radical dietary changes that are already taking place in our day-to-day” and should “bring the citizens’ perspective into the political debate”.
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Interview with the Classical Republican

I was interviewed some time ago about sortition for the Classical Republican. It was a wide-ranging conversation that included discussion of this blog. The interview is now on Youtube, and can be viewed here. Note that the Classical Republican has an entire Youtube playlist devoted to sortition which features, in addition to my interview, an extended conversation with longtime sortition advocate Oliver Dowlen and other interesting videos. The playlist can be found here.

DiEM25 creates a deliberative democracy collective

DiEM25 “is a pan-European, progressive movement that aims to democratise the EU before it disintegrates”. Its most prominent member is economist and former Greek finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis. In a recent speech in the Greek parliament, Varoufakis presented allotted bodies as a central proposal of his party.

DiEM25 is now setting up a “Deliberative Democracy collective” which will “explore” the topic and is inviting members of the public to participate by contacting them at

Sortition Foundation answers criticism regarding the Herefordshire Climate Assembly

Tom Lord, the director of the Sortition Foundation, responds in a letter to the editor of the Hereford Times to an earlier letter to the editor claiming that the makeup of the Herefordshire Climate Assembly, whose members were selected by the Sortition Foundation, was biased.

This is how we chose Herefordshire Climate Assembly members

FRANK Myers raises concerns (Who are they? April 22) that participants in the Herefordshire Citizens’ Climate Assembly had preconceived ideas about climate change.

The reason that over 80 per cent of participants had preexisting concerns about climate change is simply because that reflects the broader population’s views at the time, according to national statistics gathered every three months.

This issue of the potential for some people to be more likely to sign up than others is exactly why we asked people about their existing opinion about climate change when registering.
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