Bergstrom and Varian: Government by Jury

A 1984 draft paper (that apparently never made it to publication) by Theodore C. Bergstrom and Hal R. Varian is called Government by Jury. Its abstract is as follows:

We consider a simple model of social choice where the voters find it costly to determine their true preferences. Since the influence of an individual voter decreases as the group size increases, each individual finds it optimal to invest less time in contemplating his values in larger groups than in smaller groups. This suggests that a desirable social choice mechanism might be to randomly choose a relatively small group of electors to make social decisions, since they would then have more incentive think carefully about the issues. We investigate this idea of “government by jury” in a simple mathematical model and establish some of its properties.

Unfortunately, the paper makes the rather radical assumption that the interests of all the members of the group are identical, except for the fact that each is trying to minimize the personal effort put into reaching a well informed decision. Thus, according to this model, each person would rather have someone else make all policy decisions for them, provided the decision-maker has somehow been motivated to study the policy problems. This assumption limits the scope of the model drastically and makes any results irrelevant to most political situations.

Nevertheless, the paper is interesting for being perhaps the first formalization of a sortition-based government situation, and provides a possible starting point for richer models.