New Paper on Appointment to office by lot in Ancient Athens

Constitutional choice in ancient Athens: The rationality of selection to office by lot” by George Tridimas (University of Ulster) is forthcoming in Constitutional Political Economy.


Contrary to modern democracies ancient Athens appointed large numbers of government officers by lot. After describing the Athenian arrangements, the paper reviews the literature on the choice between election and lot focusing on representativeness of the population, distributive justice, minimization of conflicts, quality of appointees and administrative economy. It then examines why in drawing up the constitution a self-interested citizen may give up voting for government officials and appoint them by lot. It is shown that appointment by lot is preferred when the effort required to choose candidates is less than the benefit expected from their actions as government officials. It is also found that, given the choice, office motivated candidates may unanimously agree to selection by lot but not to election.

Mark Fredrickson: Citizen responses under election and sortition

Mark Fredrickson writes:

I am a follower of the Kleroterian blog, and I am excited to announce
that I have something to contribute. As a possible lead up to a field experiment for my dissertation (Department of Political Science, University of Illinois), I undertook a survey experiment in which subjects either read a story about an elected committee or a randomly selected committee (along with several other manipulations). I recently completed my first draft and have published a working paper: Returning to the Cradle of Democracy.

The data and computations for the analysis are also available online: election-sortition-corruption-survey-experiment.

I hope your readers find it useful, and I look forward to their feedback.

The paper’s abstract:

The hallmark of modern democracies is the competitive election. This
institution is seen as the primary connection between leaders and the population. This has not always been the case. Sortition, the random selection of leaders from the population, served as the primary institution of democracy in ancient Athens. How would citizens in a modern democracy react to the use of sortition to select leaders? This study employs a survey experiment in which subjects read about a local development grant, overseen by either an elected or randomly selected committee. I fi nd that sortition encourages more citizens to seek leadership positions, though other forms of participation remain unchanged. I also find that despite a stated preference for election, subjects see the two committees as equally capable and responsible, even when confronted with corrupt acts and closed door meetings.

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

I’ve been commissioned to write an ‘in brief’ review of Peter Stone’s new book (OUP, 2011) for Times Higher Education but wanted to bring up a couple of points here that I can’t squeeze into their measly 60-word limit. The book is an attempt at a theoretical clarification of lotteries as an equitable method for the ‘allocation of [scarce] goods’ and ‘assignment of responsibilities’ (both wanted and unwanted) (p.13), Peter’s thesis being that the distinguishing feature of the lottery is its ‘sanitizing effect’ (p.16). This is on account of the essentially arational nature of the lottery – it serves an entirely negative function by shielding the decision process from reasons of any kind (good or bad), therefore protecting it from partiality and corruption.

A lottery is a process capable of generating a set of outcomes, in which the particular outcome to be expected whenever the process occurs is unpredictable given available information (p.20).

Much of the book deals with allocative justice and covers similar ground to Barbara Goodwin’s Justice by Lottery but from a rigorous theoretical perspective that is hard to disagree with (presupposing certain Rawlsian assumptions).
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“The Common Lot: Take Off” novel

I have just completed a novel based on a Citizen Legislature selected by sortition.  It is provisionally titled “The Common Lot: Take Off”.  I have posted the first three chapters on website

This is an excision, re-write and update of a longer novel written twenty-five years ago.  The original follows six newly sortitioned legislators.  The re-write follows only two of those but mentions the other four.  This version ends in an open-ended manner that is intended to lead to sequels that would follow the other four.

I would appreciate assistance and advice in finding an agent, editor and publisher.

Thank you, David Grant

Riots: Benefits e-petition hits crucial 100,000 mark

The BBC reports:

An e-petition calling for rioters to lose their benefits has hit 100,000 signatures and become the first to be considered for a Commons debate.
It has dwarfed others on the government website, which has struggled to deal with the volume of people accessing it.

The petition has now been formally referred to a committee which will decide whether to hold a debate.

As I argued in Part 1 of this thread, e-petitions would be an excellent way of setting the agenda for an allotted legislature. Others have claimed that any form of elective or referendum-based system allows the agenda to be set by the rich and powerful (in particular media and lobby groups); but in the case of the London riots, the media has been reflecting (rather than initiating) public anger (by contrast to phone hacking, where the “outrage” has largely been manufactured by the commercial rivals of News International, including the BBC). Anyone who examines the most popular e-petitions would find it hard to argue that they were being manipulated by the rich and powerful. Although many of the petitions have a right-wing and populist flavour, there is no equivalent in the UK of Fox TV or the shock-jock radio networks which have helped fuel Tea Party support in the US. The media in the UK (especially the BBC) are normally viewed as considerably more left-liberal than the population in general, so it would appear that the e-petitions site is a reasonable indication of public priorities, hence my argument that it should become an instrument for setting a democratic agenda for an allotted legislature.

The only problem I have with the present arrangements is that the parliamentary debate is left to MPs and government ministers. As has been argued consistently on this forum, elections do not lead to a descriptively-representative chamber and the decision-making process is poor from an epistemic perspective (MPs do not have a wisdom that the rest of us lack, and are no longer viewed as “honourable” members). Hence my own petition (signatures welcome) for an allotted chamber to debate any e-petition that exceeds the threshold. If MPs and ministers wish to take part in the debate then they should act as advocates, arguing the case for or against the petition under deliberation.

Lawson and Simms call for a People’s Jury to represent public interest

Harald Korneliussen found the following item:

A People’s Jury of a thousand angry citizens

From banking to hacking public horror has failed to tame Britain’s feral elites. We need a People’s Jury

A new routine is emerging. First, a crisis occurs in a vital part of our lives: banks crash, MPs fiddle expenses, a media empire hacks phones. Public anger and outrage rises. Everyone says that something must be done. But frustration and apathy set in as it becomes obvious that nothing is done. A moment for change slips through our fingers. Meanwhile the next – possibly bigger – crisis lurks round the corner, perhaps banking again, or the energy companies. Why is this happening and what can we do about it?
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