Conley: Let’s Randomize America!

Nicholas Coccoma wrote to point out a recent article by Dalton Conley, professor of sociology at Princeton University, in The New Yorker. The rather lengthy article revolves around randomness in public policy. It starts with the story of the introduction of the draft lottery in the US, then moves on to a proposal (a rather unconvincing one, it seems to me) for handling economic inequality using randomization, and finishes off with sortition and with a general call for using randomization to achieve a fairer society.

For three decades, through three wars, the U.S. military draft was directed by Lewis B. Hershey, a general in the Army. Hershey established the first local draft board in 1941; eventually, there would be four thousand of them. […] The boards, which adjudicated claims for reclassification or deferment on a case-by-case basis, had a distinct character. They were disproportionately white, white-collar, and elderly. According to analyses conducted in the nineteen-sixties, draft boards more often granted deferments to privileged young men, and poor Americans of color made up a disproportionate share of draftees. […] In 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson convened a group of experts to study draft reform. They recommended a drastic overhaul to centralize the process, and argued, controversially, for randomizing it. What was needed, they wrote, was a lottery to decide who should fight, in which the “order of call” was “impartially and randomly determined.”

Many people did not find this idea appealing. Detractors argued that haphazardly drafting young men, some of whom were training for critical civilian positions, would be inefficient at best and destructive at worst. Merriam Trytten, a physicist by training, who was the president of the Scientific Manpower Commission—a nonpartisan group set up by the American Association for the Advancement of Science to advise the government on issues of scientific personnel—said that, under such a system, “scientific effort in the United States will pay a substantial penalty.” […] A Gallup poll conducted in 1966 found that only thirty-two per cent of Americans favored a lottery system.
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Random citizens’ panel to advise on German food policy

Julia Dahm writes in EURACTIV Germany about the decision by the German parliament to convene an allotted body to “bring the citizens’ perspective into the political debate” about food policy. Even at this early stage (the proposal was only adopted a few days ago), it seems all the expected elements of such a situation – familiar from the going-ons around the French Citizen Climate Convention, for example – are there: a government elected promising to act on a certain set of do-good principles, established powers pushing against any change, conservatives claiming that citizen assemblies are a sign of weakness and a shirking of authority, and the inevitable suspicions and accusation of manipulation by the organizers.

The German parliament has decided to launch a panel of randomly selected citizens set to advise lawmakers on food and nutrition policies, in an effort to help navigate the thorny issue of the state interfering in dietary choices.

The motion to set up a citizens’ panel on diets and nutrition had been tabled by the three government parties – the Social Democrats (SPD), the Greens, and the Liberals (FDP) – and was adopted by the Bundestag on Wednesday evening (10 May).

The first-ever citizens’ council put in place by the German parliament s set to “focus on the radical dietary changes that are already taking place in our day-to-day” and should “bring the citizens’ perspective into the political debate”.
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