2012 review – sortition-related events

There were 100 posts on Equality-by-Lot in 2012. Reviewing those posts, here is what appears to me most noteworthy.

The most notable sortition-related news of the year was the petering out of the 2011 protest movement in the West (Occupy/OWS/Indignados). While in several Arab countries the 2011 protests (“The Arab Spring”) led to significant changes in government structure, in the West the protest movements seem to have dissipated without having a noticeable impact on governmental institutions, power distribution or policy.

A fundamental reason for the failure of the Western protest movement is that in contrast to the Arab movement the Western protesters lacked a clear agenda of institutional reform. The agenda of the Arab protest movement was aimed explicitly at dismantling the existing power structure and setting up a structure that was generally modeled after the Western electoral model. The Western protest on the other hand did not offer an agenda for institutional reform. Having not presented an agenda for reform, it is hardly surprising that no reform took place.

What the protest movement lacked is a proposal to move away from an electoral system toward a sortition-based system.

On the positive side, going over the posts of the past year I was struck by how many different sortition advocates have appeared (or, to be more accurate, have become known to me) during the year, including a few semi-high profile figures:

Ètienne Chouard (and here, here, and here), Lawrence Lessig, David Chaum, Jacques Rancière, Clive Aslet, Jim Gilliam, Loïc Blondiaux, and Andrew Dobson and other readers of the Guardian.

Happy New Year, and best wishes for 2013.

2012 review – statistics

Below are some statistics about the third year of Equality-by-Lot. Comparable numbers for last year can be found here.

2012 Page views Posts Comments
Jan 1,740 10 122
Feb 2,030 9 116
Mar 2,009 11 131
Apr 1,474 8 93
May 2,008 10 101
June 1,333 7 57
July 1,642 5 10
Aug 1,758 11 200
Sept 1,483 7 140
Oct 2,505 4 120
Nov 1,474 9 55
Dec (to 22rd) 1,627  9 106
Total  21,083  100  1,251

Note that page views do not include visits by logged-in contributors – the wordpress system does not count those visits.

The system reports that posts were made by 9 authors during 2012, with one of those authors making only one contribution. (There were, of course, many other authors quoted and linked to.)

There are currently 69 email and WordPress followers of this blog. (The figure 107 displayed on the home page includes those 69 followers as well as “Facebook followers”. I am not sure what Facebook followers are.)

Searching for “distribution by lot” (with quotes) using Google returns Equality-by-Lot as the third result (out of “about 33,600 results”). Searching for “sortition” returns Equality-by-Lot as the 8th result (out of “about 98,900 results”). Searching for “kleroterion” returns Equality-by-Lot as the 6th result (out of “about 5,210 results”).

2010 Page views Posts Comments
Jan 288 8 30
Feb 242 12 29
Mar 417 7 28
Apr 252 5 16
May 344 6 18
Jun 259 6 15
Jul 324 9 20
Aug 372 7 93
Sep 550 10 38
Oct 704 6 97
Nov 1091 10 133
Dec (thru 23rd) 458 6 41
Total 5301 92 558

Metamorphoses in Democratic Governance

When the Athenians reintroduced democracy in 403 the aspiration was to return to the ‘ancestral constitution’ – the lost golden age of Solon and Dracon (Hansen, 1999, p.175) – democracy type one in Aristotelian parlance. Fifth-century democracy had allowed the people’s judgment to be corrupted by demagogues in the Assembly, hence the wish to recover respect for the laws:

In 403 the Athenians returned to the idea that the laws, not the people, must be the highest power and that the laws must be stable, even if not wholly entrenched. (p.174)

Henceforth the powers of the Assembly would be limited to issuing temporary/specific decrees (psephisma), whereas any change to general/permanent laws (nomos) would be subject to trial by a jury of nomothetai. These were to be composed of persons selected randomly from the group of 6,000 older male citizens who had sworn the Heliastic Oath. The main purpose of the nomothetai was the overtly conservative one of ensuring that proposed changes were consistent with past laws – only if ‘there is no [relevant] law I will give judgment in consonance with my sense of what is most just’ (Heliastic Oath, quoted on p.170).
Continue reading

Bill Harper: A Beginner’s Guide to Sortition

harper - sortition

Call for 2012 review input

This year, as in the last two (2011, 2010), I would like to create a post or two summarizing the sortition- and distribution-by-lot-related developments of the year and the activity here on Equality-by-Lot.

Please use the comments to give your input on what you think are the most mention-worthy events or essays of the past year.

Problems with Deliberative and Allotted Decision-Making: Path-Dependency and the Polya Urn

According to Robert Goodin (2008), one problem with a deliberative forum (allotted or otherwise) is that:

conversations, seen as serial processes with dynamic updating, can easily be path dependent. The outcome of the conversation depends upon the sequence of conversational moves, particularly those early in the conversation that set it off down one path rather than some other. (p.114)

A path-dependent process displays the following features:

  1. Unpredictability. Because early events have a large effect and are partly random, many outcomes may be possible. We cannot predict ahead of time which of these possible end‐states will be reached.

  2. Inflexibility. The farther into the process we are, the harder it becomes to shift from one path to another.

  3. Nonergodicity. Accidental events early in a sequence do not cancel out. They cannot be treated (which is to say, ignored) as ‘noise’, because they feed back into future choices. Small events are remembered.

  4. Potential path inefficiency. In the long run, the outcome that becomes locked in may generate lower pay‐offs than a forgone alternative would have. (p.112)

Continue reading

Letters to President Obama January 23 2009

The following two letters were sent by postal mail to President Obama at the beginning of his first term as President of the US.

Until now no response.

First letter:

January 23 2009

The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President,

The reason why I am contacting you is, that I would like to bring to your attention the following important issue (at least in my opinion). The issue is about the establishment of a World Parliament by means of the principle of Lottocracy. The idea of Lottocracy is described in detail in the chapter: A Concept for Government in the book: The World Solution for World Problems. However, the text of that chapter is also available on my homepage. You can go directly to:


The book: The World Solution for World Problems is available as an electronic book on:


However, you can find the book directly on:


The book (ISBN 90-9002592-8) has originally been published as a hard copy and is, for example, available in The Library of Congress in Washington DC. Continue reading

The Veto Nonsense and Unanimity

Herodotus reported about a people that had the custom (like many animals living in tribes) to kill a person who is ill. ‘Naturally’, he comments, ‘the unfortunate man protests that nothing is wrong with him but to no avail’. In such a case, a veto-right, the right of one person in a small scale group being able to torpedo a general decision, would be life-saving (for the man). It would even be advantageous to the group in Summum Bonum fashion. In our case, things are different. When 20 shipwrecked people in a lifeboat should agree with a proposal to drill a hole in the boat except one sane person, who means to survive, the existence of a veto right, then, might well save the lot. This example more or less reflects our state of affairs. But there are other reflections possible.

First of all, one wise man in a boat-load of 20 may compare to a ratio of 100 in the 5 billion, or even to 3 in the 1000 governors.

Secondly, the proposal and vote to drill a hole, can easily be made into the opposite proposal ‘not’ to drill such hole. The veto of a sane man for the first, could be compared to the veto of a crank, the one saving lives, the other destroying life. When you veto the ‘not’ drilling, you in fact drill.
Continue reading

I like you as a voter

Ever since Socrates

It is a long standing tradition to deride sortition for putting in power unqualified people. The critics of sortition interviewed by Kevin Hartnett carry this tradition to the present.

Whether it is because the average person is incorrigibly incompetent, or just because they are inexperienced, the bottom line is the same: you just cannot hand power to the average person and expect good government. Socrates put it this way:

[N]o one would care to apply [sortition] in selecting a pilot or a flute-player or in any similar case, where a mistake would be far less disastrous than in matters political.

The straightforward argument is that the unqualified would simply make poor decisions:

There are ways in which we want our elected officials to look like us and then there are other ways in which we want them to be better than us. We actively try to select for some skills and talents when we choose politicians. (Susan Stokes, professor of political science at Yale University)

Continue reading

The case for governing by lottery

Kevin Hartnett has an article about sortition in the Boston Globe “Ideas” section.

The performance of our elected officials has led many people to wonder whether we might as well just pluck people at random and send them to Washington. For a small but fervent group of political philosophers, that’s not a joke—it’s a serious idea.

The piece focuses mainly on the ideas of Alexander Guerrero, who is a professor at the department of philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania, and who, we learn, has an upcoming book on sortition called “The Lottocratic Alternative”. Others mentioned as proposing various ways to use chance in politics are Richard Thaler, and Peter Stone (“a lecturer in political science at Trinity College in Dublin and contributor to Equality by Lot, a blog about lottocratic politics”) and Scott Wentland.
Continue reading