Malcolm Gladwell on sortition

Malcolm Gladwell is a well-known popular science author. Gladwell has a podcast called “Revisionist History”. A recent episode of the podcast is devoted to sortition, with much of it being about Adam Cronkright’s work in applying sortition to student bodies in schools in Bolivia. Gladwell himself visits a school in the US and finds that the students are receptive to the idea. He also mentions the idea of using a lottery to allocate research funds.

4 Responses

  1. While Gladwell was sloppy and annoying, Adam Cronkright shined under the circumstances. Gladwell’s grating voice, bad jokes, and irritating advertisements in the middle of the episode aside, it reduces sortition to a remedy for uncertainty—our inability to predict who will become a good leader or an able scientist—probably the least interesting reason to be interested in democratic lotteries. Sortition made cute and safe for NPR (neoliberals propaganda radio) consumption.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ahmed,

    > our inability to predict who will become a good leader or an able scientist—probably the least interesting reason to be interested in democratic lotteries

    Very provocative point. This argument does take aim at the “aristocratic element” of elections, which is a major part of the electoralist ideology. If we can’t tell who would do a good job, what is the use of allowing people to choose? In a way, this is more radical than the rational ignorance argument which says that people could tell who would be a good leader, but it doesn’t pay for them to put in the required effort.

    That said, it indeed does not address the issue of representativity and the principle of distinction – the fact that the whole notion of electoral choice is largely an illusion because whoever you elect must be a member of the elite. This IMO is the most interesting argument against elections: the most fundamental one as well as the most surprising one. It is also the one that leads most inexorably toward sortition.

    As for the “least interesting reason”, to me the “blind break” (no good/bad reasons) is a good candidate for this unflattering description.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. […] Gladwell, who recently had an episode on his podcast devoted to sortition, was interviewed yesterday on The Daily Show and for a few seconds in the beginning of the segment […]


  4. […] the United States, sortition got some fairly high profile exposure by Malcolm Gladwell (1, 2). On three different occasions sortition was proposed by undergraduate students as a replacement […]


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