In the following post Matteo Martini presents a proposal for government reform. Martini’s criticisms of the electoral system are similar to those made by sortition advocates, but his proposed remedy is different.

A system-nation can be defined as “democratic” if the actions taken within such system-nation are according to the will of the people who are part of such system.

A major problem with current governments, including the so-called “democratic” ones, is that the actions of the government of a nation are not according to the will of the majority of the population of that nation: some of the laws that most of the people would like to see brought forward are not even discussed, while the government passes laws and does things that are not according to the will of the majority of the electorate.
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Representation and Children

This is slightly off-topic, but there was a huge discussion earlier on this list on the enfranchisement of children. There’s a new paper out co-authored by Kleroterian Ethan Leib on the topic of representation and children. It’s entitled “Fiduciary Representation and Deliberative Engagement with Children,” it’s appearing in the Journal of Political Philosophy, and it can be found online here–


Expecting More Say

Expecting More Say is a 1999 report of the Center on Policy Attitudes analyzing the U.S. public’s dissatisfaction with its government. The report includes findings from a public opinion survey. One of the questions in the survey was as follows:

Imagine that a group of 500 American citizens was selected from all over the country to be representative of the entire US population. This group then met and were informed on all sides of the policy debate on a number of public policy issues and had a chance to discuss these issues. They were then asked to make decisions on what they thought was the best approach to these issues.

Do you think the decisions of such a group would probably be better or worse than the decisions that Congress makes?

66% of respondents thought the decisions by the representative group would be better, 15% thought they would be worse.

Conall Boyle on university admittance: (1) why lotteries?

I do not for one moment disagree with the principle that Merit alone should determine university entrance. Rather it is the form of merit used that I would disagree with.

Conall Boyle, Lotteries for Education

In Lotteries for Education Conall Boyle presents a case for using lotteries to supplement standardized test scores as the criterion for admission to universities. He first informs us that it is an empirical fact that such test scores (somewhat inconsistently, I think, covering both IQ tests and subject area exams) are not only the best predictor of university academic performance and graduation rates (explaining about 50% of the variance), but the only predictor of any validity (interviews and extra-curricular activities, for example, having no predictive power at all). Having made this point, Boyle sees it as his main task to convince his readers that having standardized test scores as the only entrance criterion should be avoided.

This task Boyle approaches in various ways throughout the book. In the ultimate chapter three arguments are presented:

  • A lottery is a “practical and efficient” way to handle borderline cases. That is, it is an easy way to differentiate between applicants whose scores are identical, or are so close that differences in their expected academic performance are negligible.
  • Accepting the top-scoring quota every year creates “inter-temporal unfairness” in the sense that the cutoff point will fluctuate from year to year. That is, a student with score x would be admitted one year, but another student with an identical score would not be admitted the next year.
  • “Balancing risk”: Boyle argues the risk of accepting students who fail to graduate should be balanced against the risk of the students who are not accepted but who would have graduated had they been accepted.

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7-minute presentation from Common Lot Productions

Using the ’20-20′ discipline as presentational format (i.e., 20 panels, each strictly 20 seconds long), “Next Step for Democracy: A Government BY the People” explains why sortition is — as Aristotle said of the first democracy — the defining hallmark of democracy … and why elections are the hallmark of oligarchy.

Next Step for Democracy” is a plea for a government by the people, all the people.

See the video at www.TheCommonLot.com

The imperceptible selection

Sani Caleb, a lawyer and the head of the Clinic for Educational Rights at the Academic Center for Law and Business in Israel, writes in haoketz.org, a blog dealing with social issues, advocating for the use of lotteries to allocate seats in Israeli public charter schools:

The imperceptible selection

Despite the guidelines of the Ministry of Education and the judicial rulings, many schools continue to decide in effect who will win a place and who will be left outside

It was recently made public that the Ministry of Education instructed the public charter schools (the School for Nature and Environment and the School for the Arts, etc.) to avoid administering entrance exams to students entering first grade. […]

The prohibition of selection exams upon entrance to schools follows, inter alia, from the proven direct association between the social-economic status of a family and its cultural background and the educational achievements of its children. Therefore grouping students based on their educational achievements into “better” and “not as good” schools deepens the gaps and the inequalities. In order to bypass the prohibition, many schools employ inventive ways to select students, such as acquaintance interviews with the students and their parents, observations and diagnoses. The procedure is different, but in most cases the goal is unchanged – to allow the schools to decide, each school according to its own criteria, the identity of the students that are admitted. Continue reading

Thomas Henry Huxley: Government: Anarchy or Regimentation

In Government: Anarchy or Regimentation (1890), Thomas Henry Huxley writes (p. 399, footnote 1):

[I]t would not be far from the truth to say that the only form of government which has ever permanently existed is oligarchy. A very strong despot, or a furious multitude, may, for a brief space, work their single or collective will; but the power of an absolute monarch is, as a rule, as much in the hands of a ring of ministers, mistresses, and priests, as that of Demos is, in reality, wielded by a ring of orators and wire-pullers. As Hobbes has pithily put the case, “A democracy in effect is no more than an aristocracy of orators, interrupted sometimes with the temporary monarchy of one orator” (De Corpore Politico, chap. ii. 5). The alternative of dominion does not lie between a sovereign individual and a sovereign multitude, but between an aristacrchy and a demarchy, that is to say, between an aristocratic and a democratic oligarchy. The chief business of the aristarchy is to persuade the king, emperor, or czar, that he wants to go the way they wish him to go; that of the demarchy is to do the like with the mob.

More from Pluchino et al.

A new article by Pluchino et al. is linked to in a recent edit to the Wikipedia entry for sortition (possibly by Pluchino himself):

Accidental Politicians: How Randomly Selected Legislators Can Improve Parliament Efficiency

by A. Pluchino, C. Garofalo, A. Rapisarda, S. Spagano, M. Caserta

We study a prototypical model of a Parliament with two Parties or two Political Coalitions and we show how the introduction of a variable percentage of randomly selected independent legislators can increase the global efficiency of a Legislature, in terms of both number of laws passed and average social welfare obtained. We also analytically find an “efficiency golden rule” which allows to fix the optimal number of legislators to be selected at random after that regular elections have established the relative proportion of the two Parties or Coalitions. These results are in line with both the ancient Greek democratic system and the recent discovery that the adoption of random strategies can improve the efficiency of hierarchical organizations.

They are simply not ready for free and fair elections

Bernard Lewis, “renowned Islamic scholar”, shares with the readers of the Jerusalem Post what he undoubtedly thinks is a real-politik theory of democracy, the product of his decades of study:

The Arab masses certainly want change. And they want improvement. But when you say do they want democracy, that’s a more difficult question to answer. What does “democracy” mean? It’s a word that’s used with very different meanings, even in different parts of the Western world. And it’s a political concept that has no history, no record whatever in the Arab, Islamic world.

In the West, we tend to get excessively concerned with elections, regarding the holding of elections as the purest expression of democracy, as the climax of the process of democratization. Well, the second may be true – the climax of the process. But the process can be a long and difficult one. Consider, for example, that democracy was fairly new in Germany in the inter-war period and Hitler came to power in a free and fair election.

We, in the Western world particularly, tend to think of democracy in our own terms – that’s natural and normal – to mean periodic elections in our style. But I think it’s a great mistake to try and think of the Middle East in those terms and that can only lead to disastrous results, as you’ve already seen in various places. They are simply not ready for free and fair elections.

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Now Available for Pre-Order on Amazon

Sorry for the shameless self-promotion, but my book will be out in print before you know it…

The Luck of the Draw: The Role of Lotteries in Decision Making

Here’s hoping this blog will find some time to discuss it once it appears :)