The Blind Break and the Invisible Hand, Part 2: Statistical Representation

The claim that sortition produces a portrait-in-miniature that “stands for” the target population is categorised by Hanna Pitkin (1967) as a form of “descriptive” representation. I prefer the term “statistical representation” as it makes clear that the reference is to the sample as a whole, rather than the individuals that it is comprised of. There is a temptation to think of sortition as just an alternative mechanism for selecting political officers, and that the end result is still “representatives” akin to the (individual) Honourable Members selected by preference election. But the notion of an (individual) “statistical representative” is clearly an oxymoron. An individual selected as part of a aggregatively-representative sample is just a data point, as in a randomised public opinion survey. In a public opinion survey the views of any individual respondent are of no intrinsic interest, the purpose of the survey is to aggregate individual responses as an indication of the prevalence of different viewpoints within the target population. The fact that individual x has a certain view is irrelevant, all that matters is what proportion of the target population shares the same (or broadly similar) views and the same principle would apply to a representative group constituted by sortition. “Statistical representatives” (to describe the component units of a aggregatively-representative body) is an example of the rare group of terms that only exists in plural form. This places serious constraints on the actions of a body selected by sortition, as statistical representativity only applies at the collective (aggregate) level; indeed it is hard to see what representatives can do other than to register their preferences/beliefs via voting (all votes carrying exactly the same weight), as the differences in the “illocutionary force” of the speech acts of individual members of such assemblies will destroy its aggregative representativity.
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