Kleroterians in Chicago

As usual, there was a Kleroterian presence at the recent annual meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association. There was a panel featuring one paper by myself and Scott Wentland, another paper by Jan-Willem Burgers, and one more by Melissa Schwartzberg (not sure if she’d call herself a Kleroterian, but she’s definitely sympathetic). Eric MacGilvray chaired the session (ditt0), and we received some excellent comments by Jack Knight. A very successful conference panel, I’d say. We also had an excellent Thai dinner the night before. It was attended by me, Scott, Jan, Eric, and Kleroterian Mindy Peden. I posted a picture of the event on the group’s Facebook page:

The response to the conference paper (which is very much a work in progress) has me thinking that there is a lot more work to be done on the way that randomization can influence political decision-making. Much of that influence comes from the fact that it induces a form of ignorance–it prevents people from knowing something. That can be good or bad; if you select jurors by lot, then you don’t know their race or partisan affiliation, but you also don’t know their intelligence or ability either. The goal of injecting randomness into politics is to ensure as much of the good effects of ignorance while minimizing the potential bad effects.  It could take a lot of work to sort all that out, on a theoretical level at least.

Oh, and my book was for sale at the conference as well. Let’s not forget that. Buy your copy today! [Here -Yoram]

5 Responses

  1. > it induces a form of ignorance

    But it is not simply a matter of ignorance – not any randomization will do. The random sampling must be such that every person in the population has the same chance of being selected.

    In fact, maybe ignorance is not the crucial factor: if you could put the entire population in the jury box (and magically nullify the effects of diminished responsibility), then that would be just as good, if not better, than having a random sample, despite the fact that there won’t be any uncertainty left. Don’t you think so?


  2. Leaving aside the democratic/egalitarian point, Surowiecki is adamant that a decent portion of ignorance and stupidity is necessary to ensure good quality decision making. My son (an engineering student at Oxford) has just come back from a project management training weekend and told me about research indicating that a team comprised entirely of the most brilliant engineers will consistently lead to sub-optimal outcomes — you need a decent mix of brilliance and mediocrity.

    In the case of a political jury this is compounded by the fact that when legislators are drawn from a limited set of intelligent and highly motivated people, they will make the mistake of assuming that their fellow citizens are as well-motivated as themselves. Ex-prisoners are usually the hardest nuts when it comes to law and order issues and a decent number of bums, slobs and layabouts in an AC will ensure the legislature doesn’t get too high-minded in its view of human nature. So I think we should relax on this and focus instead, as Yoram suggests, on the issue of diminished responsibility — a function of institutional design and numbers.


  3. Sortition: Organized common sense. http://wp.me/p1fQnO-65


  4. I think that some of the uses of randomization rely on ignorance, and some don’t. Descriptive representation, as you point out, does not. But the defense against corruption does, I believe. If everyone knows well in advance who is going to serve on a jury, then obvious opportunities exist to corrupt the jury (or for the jurors themselves to try and become “corrupted” by seeking bribes). Now this type of ignorance does not require randomization, but randomization can be a particularly useful way of ensuring it.

    The other tricky thing here is that, for some purposes, it’s not clear that you do want equiprobability (but you’re right–you do need it for descriptive representation, at least if you have mandatory participation). In game theory, players employ mixed strategy equilibria, effectively randomizing over strategies. But the optimal strategy is not always equiprobable–in fact, it usually won’t be. What is the relationship between the semi-randomization involved in mixed strategy equilibria and the randomization used in allocating political office, scarce medical resources, etc.? I’m trying to figure that out.


  5. I think we are two senses of the word “ignorance” — a) ignorance of the outcome and b) stupidity. My point was that a decent measure of mediocrity and stupidity in team members is essential for a “good” outcome, whereas the received wisdom is that the smarter people are the better the outcome. “Intellegence and ability” may not necessarily be qualities that one wishes to select for in a decision-making body where the result is arrived at by voting or some other aggregative process (although they are desirable qualities in individual agents).


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