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.
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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)

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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.
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Interview with Kristinn Már Ársælsson

Kristinn Már Ársælsson, of the Icelandic government reform group Alda, advocates sortition in the following interview: