Technology is not the missing ingredient for democracy

An email I sent to the editors of The New Scientist:

To: “”
Subject: Technology is not the missing ingredient for democracy

Dear Editors,

As you write (“A vote for change“, 25 April, 2015), people perceive that “the parties are all the same, the politicians are all the same, they are not like us”. This perception reflects the inherent elitist nature of the electoral process. Within the electoral process people and parties compete for power. Those who manage to win form a select group with those distinct characteristics that allowed them to win: better connections, more wealth, better organizational skills, more ambition, etc. Why would we expect those winners to represent the rest of us?

Since non-representativity is inherent to the electoral process, technology cannot change its nature. Technology may shift power within the system. Those groups that find out how to exploit new technology may be able to gain power at the expense of others who fail to do so. However, the elitist nature of elections will persist. Those new to power will again be a distinctive group with their own particular agenda and interests and will not represent the public at large.

Achieving a democratic system will require a radical change: moving away from our reliance on elections for selection people with power. Representative power can be created by relying on an established scientific method for obtaining representativity: random sampling. When parliament is selected as a random sample of the population then it would truly be “like us” and then it can then be expected to create policy that promotes the interests of the average citizen.

Best regards,

Yoram Gat

4 Responses

  1. Random sampling sounds really interesting. How will that protect the ecology on which all life depends, & how will random sampling set limitations to growth, especially amongst a majority “Conservative” mindset?
    I recall Noam Chomsky recently cited global climate forcing and nuclear proliferation as two of the greatest current threats to all life on Earth. Are politicians issuing the permits that make these threats possible simply ignorant of the laws of nature?

    And do we think random sampling put this genre of denial in the coffin?


  2. Hi Barnaby,

    The ecology is protected to the extent protecting it is a priority for those in power. Currently those in power have no interest in protecting the environment. With sortition (random sampling) those in power will have the same priorities as the population at large. If the population prioritizes protecting the environment this would be reflected by the policy pursued by the allotted legislature.


  3. The kleroterion used in Athens was a machine, a technology. So sortition is inherently a technological solution, don’t you think? To speak more exactly, it is an algorithm.


  4. Hi John,

    Yes – in this sense, sortition (like elections) is a technology, a procedure, an algorithm, a mechanism.

    My point is that “hi-tech” (the internet, smartphones, etc.) is not the missing ingredient for democracy. There is a recurring idea that such technological progress will drive society toward democracy (or at least enable it). This progressivist idea is refuted both by theoretical analysis and by historical evidence.


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