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.

19 Responses

  1. Why isn’t democracy working in US? Because it is elected oligarchy, not democracy. : #HelpDemocracy #PrayForDemocracy

    Demagoguery drives elected oligarchy.Money drives demagoguery. Billion dollar elections destroy democracy. #HelpDemocracy #PrayForDemocracy

    100 senators? 435 house? 308 million citizens? Congress governs? @_marp rests its case. Reboot: #PrayForDemocracy

    Women in congress, now! Under-representative government,without proper priority,cannot govern. @_marp

    Change is for believers. @_marp #HelpDemocracy #PrayForDemocracy


  2. I’m puzzled as to why sortive representatives would be less corruptible than elected representatives, especially if they were to have a role in introducing legislative proposals. Agreed that they would not have to raise campaign funds, but lobbyists could still offer them inducements for sponsoring their pet projects. Or is this some kind of essentialist view that “ordinary people” are cut from different cloth than the “political class”?


  3. > I’m puzzled

    Off the top of my head I could offer several theories. You already touched on two of them. Electoral campaign financing is an invitation to corruption. What you called an essentialist explanation is also not unreasonable, given that the political class is a self-selected group.

    A taxonomy of corruption should be worth a post of its own.


  4. We shouldn’t overlook the role of ex-post accountability in minimising corruption in an electoral system and also the role of the political party in ensuring ethical behaviour. Both of these constraints would be missing from a sortive system, hence the need to ensure that allotted representatives are not subject to inducements from lobbyists. As for the Machiavellian view that the political elite and the hoi polloi are characterized by opposing “humors”, see my remarks on the McCormick thread (which John will be reviving after the end of term).


  5. Keith

    I’m a politician and have seen how the party overwhelmingly corrupts any ethical behaviour and intimidates rebels until they shut up or leave. I see nothing worthy in the party system except it is what we have. Its amazing how habit of thought constrains us on straight forward matters like this.

    Also I look to deal with the root and leave the branches, if ever needed, until that is done. This is the opposite approach to the mainstream politics I do recognise.

    The idea of the danger in favours from the lobby really concedes the strengths of sortition. With it there is a small risk that maybe the eventual candidate will be corrupted out of a large lottery pick. With the present system it is guaranteed. I like to deal with the big problems first. The corner cases we may get to if needed.


  6. Keith, apologies I missed your first point on who is most corruptible. Yoram Gat answered well I feel.

    On a tangent, no political or voting system can prevent the inevitable. If the law and main social institutions are inherently corrupt, the voting system is pretty moot.

    What sortition does though is allows a better chance of electing people with the integrity, selflessness and wisdom to abolish the above institutions once and for all.


  7. Robin, I’m as gloomy as you about the problem of party politics (reference my 2008 book, The Party’s Over), and I’m also an advocate of sortition. I just think you are being naive in believing that a lottery will lead to government by people of integrity, selflessness and wisdom, as these qualities (and their absence) are evenly distributed throughout the population.


  8. > I just think you are being naive in believing that a lottery will lead to government by people of integrity, selflessness and wisdom, as these qualities (and their absence) are evenly distributed throughout the population.

    Do we really need to repeat the obvious? Selfishness and corruption are inculcated and selected for by the electoral process. It is you who is being naive (or dogmatic – take you pick).


  9. I agree, that’s why it’s important to ensure that an allotted legislature would not be open to corruption. This would limit it to a judgment role and rule out active functions such as advocacy and the initiation of legislative proposals (both of which could/would be corrupted by lobbyists).

    Robin, however, was suggesting an essentialist distinction between the political class and the hoi polloi, which you described as “not unreasonable”.


  10. Politicians are unusually tall, white, and male. How is that for essential qualities?


  11. It was moral qualities that I was referring to.


  12. Oh really? So the electoral process can select for height, race and gender, but it cannot select for moral qualities?


  13. If it did then it would be selecting for superior moral qualities, as in aristoi = the best. Robin, however, with your endorsement, was suggesting the opposite. My position is that these qualities are distributed evenly throughout the population.


  14. Oh really? So it can select for superior moral qualities but cannot select for inferior moral qualities?


  15. Manin’s argument is that election selects for those qualities that voters deem to be best; Robin (with your endorsement) is claiming the opposite with respect to moral qualities (“ignorant and selfish”). My position is that these qualities are distributed equally throughout the population.

    As usual, my puzzlement with a post has resulted in the usual response from you — that I’m naive and dogmatic. Please take another look at my original response and tell me what dogma I’m wedded to — liberalism, pluralism, nominalism, logic?


  16. Indeed, everything is as usual.


  17. Keith et al

    Check out side comments on my blog here from Physiocrat and Derek:

    It shows how elections do not give agency to voters though on the surface its seems they do. Its a neat trick.

    Do we really need any more evidence that democratic general election encourage selfishness and ignorance?

    It seems a big ask, due to the free rider problem for people to vote selflessly. There is more tendency in an enormously and increasingly wealthy world for temptation to result in the opposite. See here for an example of why. Its to do directly with our primary social organisation, something that was never initially voted for by the masses:


  18. I couldn’t agree more regarding the dysfunctions associated with elections. Nevertheless if democracy is a non-negotiable starting point, then there is no alternative to elections or referenda for the initiation of policy proposals, however distasteful we may find that. In my last post I argue that this is merely an adaptation of Athenian democratic practice for large-scale societies:–-ancient-and-modern/

    Those who seek to replace (rather than supplement) elections by sortition really have two alternatives:

    1) Refute my argument (that sortition is only applicable at the aggregate level)


    2) Admit that they do not believe in democracy. Hayek pointed out that adding the word “social” to the concept of justice ended up inverting the term. A similar case can be made for adding the word “deliberative” to the concept of democracy.


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