Upcoming Workshop in Dublin

As you may know, I am organizing a workshop at Trinity College Dublin on “The Lottery as a Democratic Institution.” This workshop will be co-organized by Gil Delannoi (Sciences Po) and Oliver Dowlen. The workshop will be held on October 11-12, 2012. Details about the workshop can be found at http://www.tcd.ie/policy-institute/events/Lottery_workshop_Oct12.php. Please consider attending, and spread the word about the event. Should you have any questions about it, please don’t hesitate to ask.

Lanni and Vermeule: Precautionary Constitutionalism in Ancient Athens

Harvard Law school professors Adriaan Lanni and Adrian Vermeule discuss sortition among other Athenian political mechanisms. They write:

In the ancient Greek world, selection of magistrates by lot was nearly synonymous with democracy. One of the most important functions of the lot in the Athenian democratic structure was to prevent any individual magistrate from amassing too much power and thereby threatening the sovereignty of the popular Assembly. We argue that the lot, taken together with the principles of rotation and collegiality, operated as precautionary measures against individuals gaining too much influence. Continue reading

Gary Gutting: Should We Cancel the Election?

Gary Gutting is a professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, and an editor of Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews. Mark Fredrickson found a post of his on the New York Times online opinion pages. The post is set up as a dialog between the author and Socrates. It is a typical mix of valid points and elitist dogma.

SOCRATES: I’m against it.

GUTTING: I see what you mean. It’s going to be nasty, brutish, and long — not to say immensely expensive — but of course if we want a democracy, there’s no alternative.

S: I disagree. You shouldn’t hold the election at all. You should flip a coin instead.

G: You don’t see any difference between Obama and Romney?

S: Oh, I do. I’m very impressed with Obama, no question. He’s intelligent, courageous, self-controlled and has a good sense of justice. Just the sort of person I had in mind for my philosopher-rulers. But none of that’s going to make a difference to the American voters. The election’s likely to be close, and in any case the outcome will turn on the October unemployment report, the price of gas, an Israeli attack on Iran, who has the most money for attack ads in the last two weeks or some other rationally irrelevant factor that you don’t yet have any hint about.

G: But surely you’d prefer to let Obama make his case to the American people rather than let blind chance decide the outcome?

S: I think letting the American people decide is no different from leaving it to chance. The vast majority of you don’t know enough about the issues or the candidates to make anything like a reliable decision. (It was the same in Athens in my day.)
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Party policies?

Without political programs there are no political movements.

I’m putting this very mildly with this article (though I may not be as mild with my comments), but this is a different spin on the Exclusions post by Yoram Gat. Over there, I suggested that policy proposals be the exclusive domain of expert bodies filled by random selection, with the general body being left to vote up or down on each line of every policy proposal. In other words, I put forward stratified sampling.
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Talk Show Appearance

A few weeks ago, I got contacted by “The Point,” a weekly online panel discussion show put out by the Young Turks. The format of the show is that an expert delivers a “point” on some issue of the day, and then the panel discusses it for 15 minutes or so (with 3 points to a 45-minute show). They asked me to contribute a “point” about lotteries. The reason they asked me was because one of the panelists, Walter Kirn, had recently written an article on Obama’s decision to raffle off a dinner to a randomly-selected campaign donor. See–


I originally tried making a point specifically about Obama’s lottery, but the producer of the show wanted a more general point about lotteries. The resulting show is online:

I’m at the start of the second segment (about 18 minutes into the show). The show has been up for a couple of weeks, but I’ve been traveling, and only had the time to watch it yesterday. The good news is that they give a plug both to my book and to Equality by Lot (in the closing credits). The bad news is that the discussion of my point is complete garbage. None of these idiots seem to have even heard of lotteries before me. I think the hostess might even think I invented the idea of allocating goods by lot! I plan to drop them a line, but you might want to make a few comments on Youtube.

Randomness vs. Stupidity

Randomness vs. Stupidity is the eye-catching front cover of the latest issue of Improbable Research.

These guys have form, having picked our Sicilian friends, Pluchino et al. for their ‘IgNobel Prize’ in 2010. It was they who suggested, using maths, that we’d be no worse off using randomness to pick politicians and employees. (Earlier entries on this topic have already appeared here in equality-by-lot.)

As well as this issue devoted to this topic, the Editor, Marc Abrahams, has a 2-page spread in the London Observer, (which you can read at http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2012/aug/19/most-improbable-scientific-research-abrahams).

In the article, Abrahams refers to an old-ish paper by Phelan (2000) which seems to support the idea of random promotion: “random promotion systems (supposedly a baseline condition) outperformed up-or-out and relative merit-based systems …”.

I am greatly encouraged that my hobby-horse of lotteries for hiring, firing and promoting employees is supported by these studies, and that they are getting a widespread airing in mainstream media.

Now, is there anyone else who might be interested in studying ‘Lotteries for Jobs’?

Online discussion of lottery voting

Jon Roland writes:

I will be on along with Eric Liu, former Clinton speechwriter and adviser, and others.

Here’s the link to the topic we’ll be discussing:


Other sites for this topic:

Watch us on @HuffPostLive tonight, 8/13/12, 8:00pm CT live.huffingtonpost.com


Historically, voting rights have gone through a process of expansion from being exclusive to a minority to being quite inclusive. Interestingly, proposals for sortition-based government often come with various exclusion mechanisms. Such mechanisms can be classified by the stage at which they operate:

1. Pre-selection. These exclusions operate much like exclusions from suffrage did, and still do to some extent. Some general bureaucratic criteria are defined and all those who are determined to fall within those criteria are excluded from the sortition pool. Examples are the following groups: children, felons, non-citizens, those who do not take some sort of a loyalty oath, and citizens who are not registered (to vote, or to the sortition pool).

2. At selection. Qualification tests are administered at selection time, and only those who pass them are allowed to become delegates. Examples are: literacy tests and civics tests.

3. Post-selection. These are mechanisms for removal of serving delegates. Examples are popular recall or removal by a scrutinizing body.

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Pot-Shop Lot in Arizona

Arizona to operate medical marijuana dispensaries, including one in Sun City West.

The random selection process culled 404 applicants who were in competitive bids to get licensed in 68 of the state’s “community health analysis areas.” Slots for another 29 areas drew only one applicant each.

You can find out more about this fun-lottery at:

Open letter: Sortition as a tool of democracy

Dear Mr. Scialabba,

I am writing to you following your article “Plutocratic vistas: America’s crisis of democracy”. I am a committed sortition supporter and advocate and a member of a group of like-minded people. We have a blog – Equality by Lot (https://equalitybylot.wordpress.com) – devoted to discussing and promoting sortition as a tool of democracy.

I liked your article a great deal. Articles discussing sortition in one way or another appear occasionally in the mainstream press (you can find a running record of such articles on Equality by Lot – the most prominent of these is Joe Klein’s 2010 Time article ”How Can a Democracy Solve Tough Problems?”). I think yours was substantially different.
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