Research: Sharing the funds by lottery

Hans de Jonge, a university Education Policy Advisor in the Netherlands asks for our help:

“I believe there is some similarity between the arguments used to support lotteries in the allocation of scarce places in medical school and the case for using lotteries in the distribution of research funds. Do you know of any papers in support of this, or instances where it is used?” Continue reading

36% of Americans think they could do a better job than current government

A poll previously mentioned on this blog found that in January 2010 45% of the U.S. public said that a group of people selected at random from the phone book would do a better job addressing the nation’s problems than the current Congress. Some doubt that such a finding indicates that many Americans would view a proposal to allot Congress favorably. Instead, they suggest that the positive responses are merely equivalent to exclaiming that “a monkey could do better than that lot”.

A February 2010 poll by CNN put the matter a little closer to home, asking: “Do you think you personally could do a better job running the country than our government officials are presently doing?”. 36% of respondents answered positively.

The obvious conclusion is that 9% of the public think that a monkey would do a better job than they would.

Other interesting findings from the same poll: over 80% of the public think each of the following describes “officials in Washington”: “Heavily influenced by special interests”, “Mainly concerned about getting reelected”, and “Out of touch with the average person”. Only 22% think the officials are “Honest”.

Democracy – Ancient and Modern

In The Principles of Representative Government (1997), Bernard Manin attempted to explain why Athenian (sortive) democracy was supplanted by election at the time of the birth of modern representative democracy. Many members of this forum have lamented this development and called for a return to classical democracy. In this post I would like to argue that sortition was only ever one element in Athenian democracy and that the other elements, if translated into a modern context, would of necessity be rather like the institutions that we currently bemoan. For analytic convenience I’ll deal with Athenian democratic practice under three categories:

  • One Man One Vote
  • Deliberative Scrutiny
  • Rule and Be Ruled In Turn

Continue reading

‘Replace the House of Lords with a citizens’ assembly, chosen by lot’ (again)

I know it’s an old idea (see Barnett & Carthy Athenian Option 1998/2008, ImprintAcademic), but here’s a letter in today’s (London) Times (Sat 21st May)

Citizens’ assembly


Brian Harris (letter, May 19) is right to question whether the best cure for our dysfunctional Lower House is to create a weaker version in the Upper House. As he suggests, the last thing the public wants is more politicians.

A reform that would indeed mean “improvement, not a near duplication” would be to replace the House of Lords with a citizens’ assembly, chosen by lot from all members of the public (excluding political officeholders) willing to serve for a single fixed term, with adjustments to ensure fair representation by gender, age and region.

By virtue of its democratic credentials, such a popular assembly could be given greater powers to challenge the Commons. Even if these powers extended to a right of veto, there would be no conflict of legitimacy of the kind which, as Mr Harris points out, could afflict two elected houses: election and sortition are different but complementary modes of reflecting public opinion. It would thus be quite reasonable to require legislation to secure the approval of both houses.

Nonetheless, one could provide that an enduring deadlock between the two houses be resolved by referendum: that should encourage constructive compromise, as the Commons would no doubt be wary of trying the public’s patience by invoking such a provision too often.


Robin Smith: Democracy is not working. Sortition – Election by Jury

Robin Smith, a social entrepreneur and Independent Councillor, dedicated to justice in society through economic reform, writes:

[W]e do not need any more CORRUPTIBLE leaders and we do want people to vote for what is best for ALL people, not themselves.

We can see that democracy today, at best, leads inevitably to oligarchy. Rule by the few. This seems to be a natural tendency under current macro economic conditions […].

With sortition, just like jury service, the assembly of leaders are elected, by lot, from a pool of pre selected but random candidates, essentially all citizens who are willing to do it.
With sortition, just like jury service, the assembly of leaders are elected, by lot, from a pool of pre selected but random candidates, essentially all citizens who are willing to do it.

Some will say there is a small risk of electing a bad guy. Yet how does it compare with what we have today where it seems ALL leaders eventually get corrupted. Remember… keep thinking!

The ignorant and selfish kind of leadership we have today could no longer buy the people and would never rule. There would still be problems. But a BIG one would have been abolished and buried out of sight.

Sortition for the House of Lords

Andrew Lilco of the influentual website Conservative Home is currently proposing sortition for the reformed House of Lords:

I propose that half the members (300) should be selected randomly.  It would be better if randomly-selected members knew their random selection from an early enough date to prepare for the role.  Thus I would prefer hereditary – probably with new hereditary families.  But I suspect that would be so controversial as to derail the whole scheme, and it is more important that there be random membership than whether people are prepared.  So I propose that half the members be selected by lot, as with jury service.  If you are selected for Second Chamber service, you must serve there for six months.  I suggest that there is overlapping turnover – so, each month one sixth of the membership leaves to be replace by a new set.  Hopefully, after a while people would see the benefits of expertise, responsibility and obligation being bred from an early stage, and so hereditary would once again be feasible.  But a jury-style (or Athenian-style) component to the chamber would be a good base.

Full article

Plan to DUMP legislators by lottery!

Plans to reform House of Lords could include a lottery to cull peers

Nick Clegg’s white paper to include several options for cutting second chamber seats to 300 by 2015
Patrick Wintour
Wednesday 11 May 2011 21.13 BST

A lottery could be used to decide which peers are thrown out of the House of Lords under one method being discussed to cut the second chamber down to as few as 300 members.

Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, will seek to re-energise his political reform agenda next week when he publishes a white paper on an elected second chamber that will set out plans to cull remaining hereditary and appointed peers.

The government is expected to leave open the question of which peers are selected to stay, but a favoured option being canvassed is for each party group to hold a random draw for each phase of the removal of peers.
Continue reading

Between Burke and the Anti-Federalists: An Epistemic Argument for Descriptive Representation

New paper by Helene Landemore (Yale) just uploaded to SSRN:

Abstract: This paper proposes an interpretation of representative assemblies that strikes a conceptual middle ground between Burke’s ideal of an assembly of trustees and the Anti-Federalists’ ideal of a mirror image of the people. The normative appeal of this conceptual middle ground is supported by an argument emphasizing the epistemic properties of a descriptive assembly of trustees deliberating about the common good. Building on findings about the importance of cognitive diversity for efficient collective problem-solving, the paper argues that given the nature of political problems, a case can be made for the epistemic superiority of descriptively representative assemblies over less accurately descriptive ones. The paper further defends sortition as the best way to ensure descriptive representation over alternatives such as quotas and gerrymandering.

Keywords: representation, deliberation, cognitive diversity, epistemic democracy, delegates, trustees, Burke, Anti-Federalists

Representing Diversity

I’ve recently stumbled on an interesting paper by Bob Goodin from BJPS 2004 (full text in draft form here):

Abstract: ‘Mirror representation’ or a ‘politics of presence’ presupposes relatively modest levels of diversity among those being represented. If the groups to be represented are too numerous, internally too heterogeneous or too cross-cutting, too many representatives will be required for the assembly to remain a deliberative one where ‘presence’ can have the effects its advocates desire. In those circumstances, what is being represented ought be conceptualized as the ‘sheer fact of diversity’ rather than ‘all the particularities of the diversity among us’. The appropriate response to that is legislative reticence.

Goodin starts the paper by affirming the difference between the Federalist and Anti-federalist perspective at the Philadelphia Convention: the Federalists “thought it unnecessary (as well as unwise) for the legislature to mirror the population at large”, whereas the Anti-federalists thought it desirable but ‘wildly impractical’ in so large a union. Goodin cites Hamilton’s rejoinder to the Anti-federalist argument (Federalist 35, para 9):

It is said to be necessary, that all classes of citizens should have some of their own number in the representative body, in order that their feelings and interests may be the better understood and attended to. But we have seen that this will never happen under any arrangement that leaves the votes of the people free. Where this is the case, the representative body, with too few exceptions to have any influence on the spirit of the government, will be composed of landholders, merchants, and men of the learned professions. But where is the danger that the interests and feelings of the different classes of citizens will not be understood or attended to by these three descriptions of men?

According to Goodin, the reason the Anti-federalists did not pursue their argument vigorously was because the resulting legislature would be so large that it would inhibit deliberation. Nevertheless there was a marked difference in desiderata between the two competing factions.

Goodin’s paper goes on to explore the problem of the size of the legislature based on ‘representing with mirrors’. His starting point is Anne Phillips’s Politics of Presence, which is concerned with the representation of particular ‘disadvantaged groups’ such as women and ethnic minorities: given that the composition of legislatures fails to mirror these groups in the electorate, then their interests will fail to be respected (the implicit assumption being that a legislature composed of white males will adequately reflect the interests of all white males). The emphasis on specific ‘disadvantaged groups’ means that Goodin fails to consider sortition as the solution.

I haven’t got round to reading Politics of Presence yet, but notice that Phillips does consider sortition in the introduction. Is she sympathetic to it or is the problem that sortition is not sufficiently radical to meet the agenda of those seeking to improve the lot of whatever disadvantaged group happens to be the focus of activist interest at any particular time (proletarians, women, ethnic minorities, gays/lesbians etc etc)? Can anyone enlighten us further on this?

Sydney J. Harris: I would like to see American officeholders drawn by lot

A short article by syndicated columnist Sydney J. Harris was published in the March 1960 issue of The Rotarian under the title “Pick Leaders Out of a Hat?“. The article – a reprint from the Chicago Daily News – takes a bold stance in its first paragraph:

The chief thing wrong with democracy is that it is not democratic enough. I would like to see American officeholders drawn by lot, as they often were in ancient Greece.

Harris’s proposal finds little favor with the four discussants invited by the The Rotarian to respond. The responses range from

I doubt we should dignify his [Harris’s] proposal by giving time, thought, and paper to it,

to the milder

Obviously, everyone’s name cannot go into the hat – the results could be too entirely fantastic – so the would have to be some plan of selection. It is altogether likely that any suitable selection arrangement would gradually develop into nothing but a duplication of the present system.