Equality, elites, markets, politics and sortition

The Australia I was born into before WW2 was probably the most anti-elitist culture the world has ever seen. Vigorous efforts were made to stamp it out in every aspect of life. So a few reflections on how that worked out may be illuminating. We didn’t try sortition in politics, but many other tactics. The point of this isn’t any claim to virtue. Anti-elitism was often a symptom of that resentment against which Nietzsche protested. The point is to understand how practices work and what effects they have.

Elites, at least for purposes of this discussion, are social groups that achieve some high degree of monopolisation of a valued social function and profit by making it difficult to join that group. That monopoly is exploited to benefit the group inappropriately. Remedies for elitism all look for ways of breaking down those monopolies. What means are favoured depends on what is seen as the crucial source of the power to exclude.

One simple diagnosis is that an exclusive focus on a free market can sweep away both political and social bases of elitism. In a free market anybody can offer any service at any price they choose and anybody with money can buy it. It really works, but instead of promoting equality in social and political power, it leads to plutocracy. As regards income, the labour market works by supply and demand. The plutocrats compete for the services of the most skilled, who are in short supply. The best in any respect are necessarily few. So the price of skill goes up. At the other end of the market, those with no particular skill are in oversupply, so wages are driven down. Here the poorest are competing against each other.
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