Are there measurable benefits in using a lottery to select leaders? A scientific experiment

Short answer: Yes, and no!

Longer answer:

Hubris is a tendency of leaders to hold an overly confident view of their own capabilities and to abuse power for their own selfish goals, sometimes with disastrous consequences for organizations. A major reason for hubris is the rigorous selection process leaders typically undergo. This study proposes a governance mechanism used successfully in history to tackle hubris: partly random selections, which combine competitive selections by competence with lotteries. A frequently voiced concern about the use of lotteries is that it takes no account of the competence of the leader chosen. We propose that partly random selections can mitigate the disadvantages of both competitive selections alone and lotteries alone and reduce hubris in leaders. We conduct a test of this governance mechanism by means of a computerized laboratory experiment. Our results show that partly random selections significantly reduce the hubris of group leaders. [my emphasis]

This is the Abstract from the Report. The full citation is: Joël Berger; Margit Osterloh; Katja Rost; Thomas Ehrmann (2020, May 13) ‘How to prevent leadership hubris? Comparing competitive selections, lotteries, and their combination’ The Leadership Quarterly, ISSN: 1048-9843 (paywall)

In order to test their theory, this group of Swiss and German scientists conducted an experiment, using a method instantly recognisable to experimental economists (and others, but they are the ones I’m familiar with). Their hypothesis was that a lottery could play a useful part in limiting hubris when selecting leaders.

We conducted a computerized laboratory experiment   ….  864 students of the University of Zurich and ETH Zurich, were randomly selected from a pool of students who had volunteered to participate in behavioral experiments for monetary compensation. Participants on average gained USD 30 for 45 min……The 864 participants were randomly selected into groups of six and randomly assigned to one of three treatment conditions.

Wow! As you can see, this sort of experiment is not cheap, so well done to the guys in Zurich to obtain the funds from the Swiss government to conduct an experiment on lotteries-for-jobs. Note, too, the use of a randomly selected sample and sub-samples. Ok, so it’s students, it generally is in these scientific tests, but for obvious practical reasons.

Briefly, the experiment proceeded thus: A leader for each group were produced by one of three methods. 1. Using a general knowledge test and appoint the top scorer; or 2. Same test, but select at random from the top three scorers; or 3. A simple lottery where every member of the group has an equal chance.

How ‘hubris’ of the selected leaders was measured was complicated, and if you want know, you’ll have to read the article, but it did involve the well-known ‘Prisoner’s Dilemma Game’. It was from this, and 11 pages of statistical analysis of regression models that the conclusion was reached.

Our study follows a pioneering approach to investigate an unusual selection method for appointing leaders in organizations, partly random selection. This selection method has been extensively used in history but has nearly been forgotten. Today, random decisions are considered by many people to be “irrational”. Our study shows that purposeful random selection, in particular combining competitive selections with a random component, is a rational and promising way of recruiting leaders that tackles hubris in overconfident leaders. Our proposal to “draw your CEO by lot” is provocative but may be promising.

Most of the members of this group engage in philosophical discussion, where the merits of a proposal are a matter of persuasive rhetoric. Elsewhere, exhortations to ‘follow the science’ abound, and mere rhetoric is treated with caution. Even calling in aid ‘common-sense’ can be suspect.

This is, I believe, the first time any hypothesis of us Kleroterians has been subject to what has been described as ‘The gold standard of science’. I have another example from Levitt of Freakonomics fame which almost constitutes Science, which I will post about later.

Executive Harmony

In the third post in my executive series, I explore how a pluralistic executive deals with conflict among independent office holders. While this apparatus might seem like a waste of resources, what is the cost of authoritarianism? I think it is much better to ask the question: Can’t a pluralistic executive just get along with itself?

Chumbley: Abolish student government elections now

Robert Chumbley writes in the Tulane Hullabaloo:

Elections are detrimental to the establishment of diversity of thought in any given student government. Cognitive diversity is more important to the success of political leadership than relying solely on demographic diversity, which can potentially foster differences in thinking but does not guarantee it.

When individuals with varying opinions interact, these relationships are more conducive to innovation and the development of problem solving abilities. Given that cognitive diversity and the ensuing boon to collective problem solving should be a higher priority than the maintenance of elections for traditional-ideological purposes, Tulane ought to replace USG elections with sortition, the random selection of individuals for offices.

The reason for that logical jump may not be intuitively obvious, but the fact is that random allotment of political offices promotes cognitive diversity and improves problem solving ability.

Random selection does not produce a mob of unqualified commoners. In truth, those who object to sortition on the basis of “lack of qualification” are effectively dividing the population into commoners and elites, the former of whom deserve to be managed and the latter of whom deserve to manage by virtue of their special “qualifications,” whatever those are alleged to be.
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Citizen initiative review in Switzerland

Grégoire Baur reports in Le Temps about “Demoscan” – a Swiss experiment with citizen initiative review initiated by Nenad Stojanovic, a University of Geneva political science professor:

The concept of the Demoscan project is simple: “ordinary citizens” inform their peers during a referendum campaign. An allotted panel representing the population, having had the opportunity to hear the experts as well those pro and against the proposal put up for a referendum, write a report which is sent to the citizens together with the voting materials.

“Very encouraging” results

At Sion [the capital of the Swiss canton of Valais], 20 people took part in the experience as part of the campaign regarding the popular initiative proposition “More affordable housing” last February. “The objective of the pilot project was to see to what extent could information provided by citizens encourage people to vote, what level of confidence the citizens would have in an allotted panel. The result are very encouraging”, says Nenad Stojanovic.

Whereas usually the turnout in Sion is low, in this case the turnout was somewhat higher than the average in the canton. The confidence accorded to the panel by voters was higher than they have in the federal parliament. In addition, the citizen report was the second most consulted source of information, behind the official brochure of the Federal Council, but ahead of the media and the campaign party slogans. “The citizen panel will not replace the democratically elected authorities, but it can complement them”, emphasized the political scientist.

Stojanovic is already engaged in another experiment in Geneva and hopes to launch others.

People in “increasingly autocratic” regimes show confidence in “democracy” in their countries

The Centre for the Future of Democracy is based at Bennett Institute for Public Policy at the University of Cambridge aims “to explore the challenges and opportunities faced by democratic politics over the coming century”. Back in January, the Centre has published a report [PDF] titled “Global Satisfaction with Democracy 2020”. The report is based on what seems like a very useful data set created by combining multiple survey data sources comprising 3,500 surveys from many countries around the world over the years 1973 to 2020 asking citizens whether they are satisfied or dissatisfied with democracy in their countries.

The key findings are not surprising:

Across the globe, democracy is in a state of malaise. In the mid-1990s, a majority of citizens in countries for which we have time-series data – in North America, Latin America,Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Australasia – were satisfied with the performance of their democracies. Since then, the share of individuals who are “dissatisfied” with democracy has risen by around +10% points, from 47.9 to 57.5%.

This is the highest level of global dissatisfaction since the start of the series in 1995. After a large increase in civic dissatisfaction in the prior decade, 2019 represents the highest level of democratic discontent on record.The rise in democratic dissatisfaction has been especially sharp since 2005. The year that marks the beginning of the so-called “global democratic recession” is also the high point for global satisfaction with democracy, with just 38.7% of citizens dissatisfied in that year. Since then, the proportion of “dissatisfied” citizens has risen by almost one-fifth of the population (+18.8%).
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The French Assembly votes to allow the CESE to convene allotted citizen bodies

Following up on Macron’s commitment to reform the CESE (Conseil économique, social et environnemental) as part of a drive toward “participative democracy”, the Assembly has voted for a law making several changes to the CESE. One of the changes is allowing the CESE to convene allotted consultative citizen bodies, modeled after the recent Citizen Climate Convention.

The conservative Républicains party voted for the reform but was displeased by the idea of using allotted bodies: “Sortition does not guarantee competence” and does not guarantee representativity either, said Julien Aubert, one of their MPs.

The Jury of the Whole

In my latest post on the legislative branch, I look at what happens after a set of concrete proposals are made and published. This is the most transformative aspect of the proposal-jury model. It engages every aspect of a polity, from intellectual and business elites, to the news media, to ordinary citizens. And it is the closest that any large, modern society can come to experiencing direct democracy.

Mark Rice-Oxley: Should citizens assemblies be mandatory?

Mark Rice-Oxley, acting membership editor of The Guardian, wrote a short piece entitled “Should citizens assemblies be mandatory?” He is supportive of the idea, writing: “Last year, I went to a citizens’ assembly. It was one of the most optimistic moments of 2019 for me.” “Perhaps a stint or two on a citizens’ assembly should be mandatory, like jury service or driving tests.”

Martin: convert the Upper House to one based on sortition

Peter Martin, a reader of the Adelaide, SA, Australia newspaper InDaily, wrote to share his thoughts after reading an article complaining about the going-ons in the SA Upper House:

Commenting on the opinion piece: Richardson: The House where democracy goes to sleep

An interesting account, but not really surprising.

Why doesn’t SA lead the nation (again) in social and political reform and convert the Upper House to one based on sortition – ie members are selected for short terms via random ballot from the electoral list, just as juries are chosen for our legal system.

We know juries work well, and that the task is taken very seriously by all citizens. People would be paid for their time, and could receive ample expert support in their deliberations.

Such a change would end the need for politicians in the Upper House, make political parties and lobbying redundant. – Peter Martin

Jacquet, Niessen and Reuchamps: Sortition, its advocates and its critics

A new paper (full text) in International Political Science Review by Belgian academics Vincent Jacquet, Christoph Niessen and Min Reuchamps titled “Sortition, its advocates and its critics: An empirical analysis of citizens’ and MPs’ support for random selection as a democratic reform proposal” is a useful survey-based study comparing the attitudes of Belgian citizens towards sortition to those of Belgian MPs. As may be expected, and as can be seen in the figure above, MPs are much more reluctant than citizens to hand off power to allotted bodies.

Abstract: This article explores the prospects of an increasingly debated democratic reform: assigning political offices by lot. While this idea is advocated by political theorists and politicians in favour of participatory and deliberative democracy, the article investigates the extent to which citizens and MPs actually endorse different variants of ‘sortition’. We test for differences among respondents’ social status, disaffection with elections and political ideology. Our findings suggest that MPs are largely opposed to sortitioning political offices when their decision-making power is more than consultative, although leftist MPs tend to be in favour of mixed assemblies (involving elected and sortitioned members). Among citizens, random selection seems to appeal above all to disaffected individuals with a lower social status. The article ends with a discussion of the political prospects of sortition being introduced as a democratic reform.