Somin: Sortition won’t solve political ignorance


Ilya Somin, Professor of Law at George Mason University, is the author of the book Democracy and Political Ignorance: Why Smaller Government is Smarter. Somin opens an opinion piece in the Washington Post thus:

Widespread political ignorance is a serious problem for modern democracy. In recent years, many scholars have argued that we can overcome it by relying on “sortition”: delegating various political decisions to jury-like bodies selected at random from the general population. In this post, I explain why such proposals are unlikely to succeed.

Before going into the substance of Somin’s arguments about sortition, it is important to realize that ignorance is actually only the second most important problem with the current system, the first being the difficulty of mass scale agenda setting. More details here. The emphasis on ignorance rather than agenda setting is typical of the “rational choice” line of political argument which ignores the complexity of organization largely for ideological reasons. That said, the ability of decision makers to become informed about their subject matters is important and worth discussing. Some of the considerations that are discussed below apply also to the matter of agenda setting.

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