“An Italian Road to Randomocracy”

The latest on sortition from Italy (this time in English)–


The proposal is rather complex, and perhaps worth discussing here.

Analysis programme BBC R4 24 Feb 2014 – feedback

A splendid piece with excellent contributions from Barbara and Peter. (I spoke to the producer and gave him a lot of pointers, but couldn’t do the interview because of a 3-week break in Tenerife)

I was delighted that most of the programme was devoted to lotteries for school and university places. The case for university entrance by lot was well made, as a difficult but inevitable method of choosing between generally well-qualified applicants.

However no mention was made of the highly successful Dutch medical school entry lottery which has stood up very well over the decades. Pity!

Lotteries for school places (seats in the US) produced a less satisfactory result. The obvious fairness of lottery and the unfairness of nearness-to-school were demonstrated.

But the result of using the lottery, especially in Brighton, is deemed ‘unsatisfactory’ because the desired social mixing has not been achieved.

This is entirely predictable, because entry to the lottery is voluntary. Only the determined (middle-classes) go for it. If a representative outcome didn’t happen, at least all parents/children had a rough equality of chance.
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Life By Lottery

BBC Radio 4’s flagship Analysis programme next week is devoted to sortition and distributive lotteries:

Should we use chance to solve some of our most difficult political dilemmas? From US Green Cards to school place allocation, lotteries have been widely used as a means of fairly resolving apparently intractable problems. Jo Fidgen asks whether the time has come to consider whether more of society’s problems might be solved by the luck of the draw.

Producer: Leo Hornak. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03w02sl

The presenter interviewed Barbara Goodwin and Peter Stone and the producer consulted Conall Boyle and myself. Broadcasting on Monday 24th at 8.30 pm.

Voice of the People

Voice of the People describes itself so:

Voice Of the People (VOP) is a new non-partisan organization that seeks to re-anchor our democracy in its founding principles by giving ‘We the People’ a greater role in government. VOP furthers the use of innovative methods and technology to give the American people a more effective voice in the policymaking process.
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Early advocate of sortition in government Robert Dahl has died

Robert Dahl was a prominent political scientist and an early advocate of using sortition in government. He proposed advisory allotted bodies in his 1970 book After the Revolution and made a similar proposal (“mini-populi”) in his 1989 book Democracy and Its Critics.

Democracy and Its Critics presents, among other ideas, a careful and coherent critique of the power of “guardian” bodies like the supreme court. In general, Dahl was noted for being unusually clear in his argumentation in a field whose main occupation is a struggle to explain the advantages of a government system in terms of an ideology which is in plain conflict with it. As an illustration, here is a striking passage from Dahl’s A Preface to Democratic Theory (1956):

The absence of specific meaning for terms like “majority tyranny” and “faction” coupled with the central importance of these concepts in the Madisonian style of thinking has led to a rather tortuous political theory that is explicable genetically rather than logically. Continue reading

Queuing vs. Lotteries

I was watching a talk by Michael Sandel yesterday dealing with his book What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets (2012). He discusses the fact that people have to queue to attend congressional hearings, federal court hearings, etc. Apparently, you can hire someone to wait in line (all night, if need be) to save your place for you. There are even services that you can contact that specialize in this.

There is often discussion about whether lotteries and queues are interchangeable, equivalent, etc. It strikes me that this is a clear case where a lottery would be superior to a queue. (Not sure if they discuss lotteries at all in here, as I haven’t had the time to finish the video yet.)

Sandel’s talk can be found here:

BBC: The Philosophy of Russell Brand

A recent segment on the BBC radio show Analysis is titled “The Philosophy of Russell Brand”. The audience is warned ahead of time to hold on to their hats as “Jeremy Cliffe enters a world without rules, without government, but with plenty of facial hair”. Following this introduction, and the expected sound bites from the Brand-Paxman interview, the segment talks about the attention Brand received, the Occupy/Indignados protest movement and features interviews with Paolo Gerbaudo, David Graeber, Michael Hardt, Peter Turchin, Daniel Pinchbeck, and a few friends of Cliffe.
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Alexander Guerrero: The lottocracy

As was mentioned here before, some time ago Prof. Alexander Guerrero and his ideas about the use of sortition in government were the subject of an article in The Boston Globe.

I thank Prof. Guerrero for alerting me to a recently published essay of his about sortition in the online magazine Aeon. The essay presents Guerrero’s proposal, but starts with an interesting analysis of the failure of elections and follows the proposal with an analysis of the promise of sortition.

The lottocracy
Elections are flawed and can’t be redeemed – it’s time to start choosing our representatives by lottery


The celebrity comic Russell Brand is gesticulating wildly, urgently, in a hotel room, under the bright lights of a television interview. ‘Stop voting, stop pretending, wake up. Be in reality now. Why vote? We know it’s not going to make any difference. We know that already.’ He is responding to his interviewer, Jeremy Paxman, who is taking him to task for never having voted.

We are brought up to think that voting is important, that it is a necessary condition of being a politically serious person, that we can’t complain about politics if we don’t vote. This last principle has echoes of the more reasonable parental admonition, said of lima beans or cauliflower: don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. But that principle is based on sound epistemological grounds: you might, for all you know, like cauliflower or lima beans. The voting thing is, as Brand argues, stupid. There are ways of participating in public affairs other than voting. For example, one can become a celebrity and call for revolution in a television interview.

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