How to make your $$$$ lose value — randomly

Imagine that the Fed were to announce that, a year from today, it would pick a digit from zero to 9 out of a hat. All currency with a serial number ending in that digit would no longer be legal tender. Suddenly, the expected return to holding currency would become negative 10 percent.

This, was the suggestion put forward in 2009 by the economist N. Gregory Mankiw, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President George W. Bush, to overcome the ‘problem’ that the dollar/pound/euro in your pocket could not be taxed when inflation falls below zero.

Socialism in the USA — and they love it!

I’m sure most of you know about the lottery used to allocate newly qualifying players to the NFL football teams. But it unusual to see this described as ‘Socialism’ in the New Statesman, a major UK political magazine.

You can read the full article here (no paywall): The socialist principles at the heart of American Football.

Citizens’ Juries: Taken for Fools?

Following the rejection of the Icelandic citizens’ jury’s conclusions on constitutional reform, it is disappointing to report that much the same has happened in Ireland:

[T]he people who were involved really cared about this thing and did everything they could to make it a model for new ways of thinking about democracy in the 21st century. There was a glimmer of hope that some kind of dignity was being restored to the political process. Instead all it’s really done is to polish up the sign on the gates of institutional democracy: abandon hope all ye who enter here.

The process showed that, given half a chance, citizens are not cynical and want to engage positively with their State. It also showed that that State, given half a chance, will make them feel like fools for wasting their time.

You can read the full article here: Fintan O’Toole: How hopes raised by the Constitutional Convention were dashed.

Why women fail to take an equal share of top posts in academia

Here’s a nice piece in today’s Irish Times, showing clearly the need for lottery selection in jobs.

It asks the question: Why women (despite being over 50% of the faculty staff) fail to take an equal share of top posts in academia?

You can read the article in full (and for free!) at

In the comments section we the usual reaction to any suggestion of ‘affirmative action’

“Here we go, more feminist claptrap. All academic posts must be based on merit.”

To which a wise commentator replies: “You think merit has much to do with academic appointments? There’s usually an assessor’s box called suitability which you can fill with subliminal prejudices: plays golf, politics, sounds like me etc”.

While waiting for grand schemes of sortitionist democracy to be implemented, wouldn’t it be nice to have a bit of genuine equality based on lottery selection over the qualified candidates?

What is a Grand Jury and why is it so controversial?

It would be very disappointing to find that the jury principal was fatally flawed, not the sure defence of the rights of the individual against the over-mighty power of the State that we have always believed.

A Grand Jury seems (for us) a superb idea. Following a significant and contested incident a random selection of 23 (?) citizens is summoned to hear the evidence, debate it and decide on a course of action. Rather than stilling protest, in the US the Grand Jury seems to foment it.

So could I ask our US contributors to explain (and I apologise for using this forum for FAQs).

Is a Grand Jury (GJ) as I’ve described it above?

What is wrong with the process that makes its verdicts so un-acceptable?

Madness! – South Dakota opts for a water lottery

The South Dakota state Water Board has to determine when existing groundwater sources are ‘fully appropriated’ (used to the limit e.g. by farmers for irrigation). Applications for fully appropriated aquifers are accepted during a 30-day time period.  Applications are placed in a lottery drawing system. The winners will then be announced. This is the first time for this procedure; South Dakota is the first (US) state to allocate water resources by lottery.

Comment: Another bizarre example of valuable state assets being gifted to profit-seeking enterprises.

The water in South Dakota, it has been established, belongs to the people. It should be a source of revenue for them. Gifting it to businesses deprives the good folks of SD some relief from taxation. But it gets worse: distributing allocations by lottery means that the precious water may not be used for the most productive use.

By definition, valuable goods distributed by lottery are given away below the price that would balance supply and demand. We accept this for college places because society demands that educational opportunity should not depend solely on ability to pay. But giving away publicly-owned assets to business enterprises for free or by lottery is economic illiteracy.

This is not the only example of such naiveté that can be found in the arch-capitalist US of A: oil-drilling licences, radio-spectra, hunting permits, rafting permits, student accommodation are all given away by lottery! Wake up you citizens of America! Reclaim what is yours! Stop the corporate free-loading! Stop the lotteries for public assets!

Source for this story:

‘Lottery’ system would improve access

A lottery system would help poorer children access better education

Collaborative research by the University of Cambridge, the University of Bristol and the Institute of Fiscal Studies has suggested that a lottery system of admissions could make the intake of Britain’s leading schools and universities fairer.

The research was based on the Millennium Cohort Study, which follows the lives of 19,000 children born in the United Kingdom in between 2000 and 2001.

You can read the whole article here:


Just How Do CJs support ‘Freedom and Democracy’?

In a spate of moronic ‘reforms’ Education Ministers in England (of all parties) have vowed to set schools free from the dead hand of local (elected!) authorities. Hence there are Academies, Free Schools, Foundations including some for-profit schools. Yet all of these are funded by the State through taxpayer money.

So how should these ‘free’ schools be governed? A Governing Body, but chosen by election? No, no! Continue reading

Politics and gambling lotteries

Nice piece in today’s Financial Times (paywall, so I’m reproducing it below). Interesting fact: The “Yes” campaign in Scotland gets 80% of it’s funding (£3.5 mn) from just one lucky lottery winner.

June 13, 2014 7:03 pm

The whims of the super-rich can turn politics into a lottery

By Gideon Rachman

Courting the rich is both necessary and dangerous for politicians


So this is what the future of the United Kingdom comes down to? Harry Potter versus EuroMillions. On September 18, Scotland will vote on independence. The news that JK Rowling, author of the Harry Potter oeuvre, has decided to give £1m to the Better Together campaign is a welcome boost to the pro-union campaign. Until now, it has struggled to match the financial firepower of the pro-independence campaign, which has benefited from £3.5m donated by Chris and Colin Weir, a couple who won £161m playing the EuroMillions lottery in 2011. All told, the Weirs account for about 80 per cent of the funding received by the Yes campaign.
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Lottery Selection for Medical Students scrapped in the Netherlands?

Oh no it is not! There is still a large element of lottery selection, but because of de-centralisation, under the new rules it is difficult to tell how much more (or less) ‘loting‘ will take place. 

Continue reading