Common Lot Productions

Google Alerts notified me about the appearance of the Common Lot Productions website. We have already had the founder of Common Lot Productions drop us a note.

From the “press kit” and the “how might sorititon work?” page on the site it is possible to learn a little about the Common Lot sortition proposal. Two elements seem problematic to me:

  • The Common Lot sortition proposal sets a qualification for the inclusion in the candidate pool of attending a two year long part time “civics training”, and then passing an exam “in order to demonstrate [understanding of] how the legislative process works.”
  • The proposal also suggests setting the salary of the allotted legislators to be equal the median household income.

A qualification of any kind for inclusion in the sortition candidate pool creates a bias in the representation. Setting the bar at attending a two year course, for example, makes it very likely that people of limited resources would be significantly underrepresented in the candidate pool. It is not clear at all that the resulting bias would translate to improved policy results.

A salary equal to the median household income is, it seems to me, completely inadequate to compensate allotted legislators for the inconvenience involved. Like the qualification condition, this may make service in the legislature an occupation that only the relatively wealthy can afford. Furthermore, in a society in which status is connected to income, this sets the status of the legislators uncomfortably low – especially since many of the people they will be dealing with can be expected to be very rich.

In general, the parameters of a sortition-based system have to be carefully considered. It may be that the two features of the proposal discussed above seem to the proposers to be common-sense measures that would increase the chance of acceptance of the proposal. Such tactics, however, are, in my opinion, counter-productive.

At this early stage advocacy for sortition should be about popularizing the principle, rather than about promoting specific detailed proposals. The time for committing to specific details will, hopefully, arrive, once the principle of sortition is established. In the meantime, discussion of those details should occur in an investigative, open-minded manner.