Can Sortition really change this?

Civil government, so far as it is instituted for the security of property, is in reality instituted for the defense of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have none at all.

― Adam Smith (not Karl Marx as you might have thought!)

10 Responses

  1. The answer is no. The quote is from the Wealth of Nations, Bk.5, Ch.1 and it’s interesting to note the sentences immediately before the extract:

    “The rich, in particular, are necessarily interested to support that order of things which can alone secure them in the possession of their own advantages. Men of inferior wealth combine to defend those of superior wealth in the possession of their property, in order that men of superior wealth may combine to defend them in the possession of theirs. All the inferior shepherds and herdsmen feel that the security of their own herds and flocks depends upon the security of those of the great shepherd or herdsman; that the maintenance of their lesser authority depends upon that of his greater authority, and that upon their subordination to him depends his power of keeping their inferiors in subordination to them. They constitute a sort of little nobility, who feel themselves interested to defend the property and to support the authority of their own little sovereign in order that he may be able to defend their property and to support their authority.”

    The problem to Smith is not the unequal distribution of property but the fact that some people have NO property. Thatcher’s solution was to build a property-owning democracy in which everyone has SOME stake, even if only a few shares in British Gas. That way everyone would be disposed to defend those further up the food chain. (Thatcher’s solution was not so far removed from Ireton’s claim at the Putney Debates that citizenship should be restricted to those with a permanent [freehold] interest in the state.) Unfortunately some of Thatcher’s children chose to sell their shares and spend it all down the pub. I don’t see why changing the balloting system would alter this one whit as most citezens own some property.


  2. The notion that government is all about enforcing ownership seems like a classical notion typical of the Enlightenment. The ideas of the natural aristocracy and the mechanism of elections are also parts of this elitist ideology.

    Modern ideology is much more democratic – it sees government as a device whose aim is to serve everybody equally. Sortition fits naturally with the modern ideology.


  3. Hi kleroterians, here is an article I wrote, about sortition and constituent process, it would be nice for you to share it maybe. Tell me what you think about it! Hi to all, here is an article I wrote, about real democracy and sortition, please share!


  4. Welcome Nikita – I created a post linking to your article.


  5. Poletecracy

    by Jon Roland

    A political or management system can be characterized by the kind of people it elevates to positions of authority. A number of terms have been proposed by cynics, such as plutocracy, rule by the rich, kleptocracy, rule by thieves, or kakistocracy, rule by the worst. But from this writer’s experience with the most influential legislators, bureaucrats, judges, and corporate executives, the finding is that what attribute is most important to the success of most of them is the ability to sell and make connections with other people. In Greek a salesman is a πωλητής, or poletes. This suggests a word, poletecracy.

    In a few cases technical skills help enable someone to rise to power, but most people in high positions are not experts in anything but campaigning and dealmaking. Most are politicians (πολιτικοί) first and foremost. If they acquire any expertise, it is usually after being on a job for a while, not while they are climbing. Their personal assets are favors earned and paid, and being able to have other influential people take their phone calls.

    Robert G. Kaiser, a reporter for the Washington Post, has a new book reporting the inside story of how the Dodd-Frank Act came to be. Kaiser’s “Act of Congress: How America’s Essential Institution Works, and How it Doesn’t”, uses the long battle over the act and his access to Christopher Dodd, Barney Frank, and their staffs to show how modern congressional legislating really works. He has identified three main things wrong with Congress as it presently operates, and one of the most important of these is the lack of real policy expertise on the part of members. They are only generalists, depending on the expertise of staffers, lobbyists, and agencies, and often not understanding issues well enough to know who, if anyone, the experts are. It is this dependence on the expertise of others that makes staffers, lobbyists, and agencies more powerful than they should be for Congress to operate as the Framers intended.

    Because it takes more time than one term provides to learn enough about how to be effective, and to build the connections they need to get anything done, they are almost compelled to spend much or most of their working hours raising funds for re-election, to protect the investment already made in preparing to be effective, both on the part of the members and of their staffs and contacts.

    The problems are more complicated and difficult for Congress and the federal government, as it is for large, multinational business organizations, than it is for local government. States and large cities fall in between. But as the systems to be managed become larger and more complicated, they also become increasingly unmanageable.

    The problem was discussed in a 1970 paper by Jay Forrester, “The Counterintuitive Behavior of Social Systems“, in which the author used computer simulation models to demonstrate that most people, even experts, are not very good at predicting how any given intervention in a complex system will play out. That leads to the observation that “if a solution is simple, obvious, and appealing, it is probably wrong.” Computer models may not work, either, but without them the policy proposals most people will come up with are more likely than not to be ineffective or counterproductive.

    One innovative proposal to remedy this problem is sortition, or random selection of decisionmakers, similar to the system used by the ancient Athenians. That doesn’t mean a one-step process of random drawing of names from the rolls of registered voters. The most successful system that used sortition, that of Venice from 1268 to 1797, combined random stages alternating with screening for talent and wisdom. Properly structured and conducted, it might select legislators who both have personal expertise from the day they start work, and who, because they can’t be re-elected, don’t have to spend any time or resources getting re-elected. The Greek word for such randomly selected legislators is nomothetai (νομοθέται). If a merit-weighted sortition process were extended to their staffs, and to the agencies for which they legislate, then we might expect better performance than we are currently getting.


  6. Thanks, Jon – made this into a post. If you would like to post regularly, let me know – I’ll grant you contributor access.


  7. I seem to recall I used to have contributor access. Then it went away. I would like to have it, since some of what I have to post deserve to be separate articles with titles and comments of their own.


  8. Yoram,

    You also set me up as a contributor a while ago…but I noticed I am not listed on the contributor page. so here is a short bio for that page (You can edit it and shorten it as you like):

    Terry Bouricius served ten years as a city councilor and another ten years as a legislator in the Vermont House of Representatives in the U.S. He has worked as an election reform policy analyst and election administrator for non-profit organizations. His experience and research led him to conclude that elections are simply not the right tool for running a democracy, and has focused on sortition for the past several years.


  9. Jon,

    I forgot that you are already a contributor. You should be able to post by logging into your wordpress account: go to and type in your email and password. Then click on “my blogs” and select “equality by lot”. Let me know if you encounter any issues.


    Added. Let me know if you have a page you want me to link to.


  10. It works now. Earlier, Equality by Lot didn’t show up on my list of blogs.


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