Frey and Tridimas on sortition

George Tridimas wrote to draw attention to the recent issue of the journal Homo Oeconomicus which has a set of comments (including one of his own) on a 2017 paper by the Swiss political economist Bruno Frey titled “Proposals for a Democracy of the Future” (PDF).

In the paper, Frey has a section called “True  Democracy  by  Random  Decisions?”. Some excerpts from that section:

The major advantage of random procedures in politics is to guarantee equal chance and therewith fairness, given the underlying body (e.g. Stone 2007). Each and every one in the underlying population has an equal chance of getting elected. It is therefore not necessary to introduce special quotas e.g. for the share of women. Interestingly, random procedures even take into account dimensions not yet discussed or even beyond imagination. Most importantly, the body politic is opened to new ideas and otherwise disregarded views. This also holds for preferences not yet even known but which may be important in the future.

The disadvantage of random decisions in politics is that capabilities, education and the intensity of desires are disregarded. This is the main reason why random choices in politics are rarely, if ever, taken from the population as a whole. The advantage of equality and fairness must be compared to the disadvantage of lower competencies. There are a great many possibilities to combine the two – a worthy subject for future research.

In addition to proposing combining sortition with elections, Frey also proposes deciding the outcome of referenda at random with the probabilities of the outcomes given by the vote shares.

Tridimas’s comment contains a review of the use of sortition in Athens. He concludes with a section called “Why Sortition may not Work”:

Clearly, the Athenian democracy was fundamentally different from the present representative democracy. Assembly deliberation, the rule of simple majority, absence of political parties, citizen participation through the courts, and sortition were a joint constitutional package, inexorably linked and mutually reinforcing. Therefore, an institution like sortition that served the direct democracy well may not be easily transferable to a representative democracy without the rest of the institutional structures. Cutting and pasting sortition from Athens to today is not the same thing as grafting it to the current institutional structure, and may fail to deliver ‘‘a better democracy’’.

3 Responses

  1. Thanks for posting Yoram.

    Of course the last quote is self-evidently true. Things are different so they may not work the same. But that doesn’t really tell us much does it?

    One of the reasons I kept away from academia.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes – the academic discussion of sortition seems stuck. The same rather superficial equality-vs.-competence arguments are being hashed over and over, as if they have never been discussed or addressed before.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The major advantage of random procedures in politics is to guarantee equal chance and therewith fairness . . . It is therefore not necessary to introduce special quotas e.g. for the share of women.

    This conflates two entirely distinct arguments for sortition. In the first case it is true that everyone has a (miniscule) chance of being selected by lot, so it is an example of equality of opportunity. But, if the body created by lot in any sense replaces voting in elections it is manifestly unfair for the vast majority of citizens who are not selected. That’s where the principle of statistical representativity (not mentioned in the excerpt from the article) comes in to force. It should be remembered that Stone and Dowlen, the two principal advocates of equal chance/fairness (which they refer to as the “blind break”) have no interest in the potential of sortition as a form of political representation.

    Cutting and pasting sortition from Athens to today is not the same thing as grafting it to the current institutional structure, and may fail to deliver ‘‘a better democracy’’.

    That’s very true, hence the need to make explicit the analytical distinction between the two principal cases for sortition (the blind break and the “invisible hand” of statistical representation), along with a careful analysis of the different variants of political representation to see exactly what a modern hybrid might look like.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: