POLI: Random democracy

The Low Golden Willow (phoenix@ugcs.caltech.edu)
Sat, 15 Feb 1997 15:58:17 -0800 (PST)

} What kind of democracy would you fight: the ideological form or the
} current American political form...they are vastly different.

I thought I'd take this opportunity to throw out one of my wacky ideas

Since it seems likely that we need _some_ government, to regulate
necessary non-local interactions (pollution, other public bane/public
good problems) and to make necessary but arbitrary decisions (which side
of the road to drive on), we still need to think about what form of
gov't to have, and representative legislatures still seem the best bet.
It's more convenient to have a small group decide things than a large
one, and the subset of people can devote more time to studying the
issues than the whole population would.

But our current system doesn't satisfy that very well. PC or not PC, I
don't think that it can be argued that a bunch of mostly white male rich
lawyer-politicians is an accurate cross-section of the nation. This
could be justified in 18th century thought on the grounds that those
people might be better qualified to make decisions than the populace --
implying that the people can judge qualifications to judge better than
they can judge in general, but never mind that.

However, I doubt most people (let alone the ones on this list) have that
much respect for their extant legislators. More theoretically, it is
not clear why they should have superior powers of mind; most obviously
they are selected for the ability to get elected. One would hope that
their electorate was judging them by the ability to make good decisions,
but in fact considerations of pork obtained, seniority, and sheer amount
of advertising seem to be the main factors. And they don't even have
that much time to devote to studying, as raising money is a large

So if our current system seems to lack any of the virtues it should
have, what could replace it? The simplest way to get a representative
cross-section of the population is to select a few hundred to a thousand
people at random. This would rarely be an exact representation, but it
should be much closer and more reliable than our current legislatures.
They would not, of course, be any more qualified than the whole
population, but since we are supposedly a democratic nation this doesn't
seem to be a philosophical problem, and I've alread assumed that no one
believes the winners of elections are all that qualified either. And,
as the representatives have no election to worry about, they have no
need to spend time raising money, and less need to be beholden to
lobbies; "big money" would have much less influence. Admittedly without
re-election the only constraints on them to do a good job are their own
consciences and whatever media attention each gets, but I'm willing to
risk the trade-off.

This also provides a better justification than habit from the House of
Lords and the Senate for having an upper house; one term's crop of the
lower house, or a random subset thereof, can be retained for the next
term's upper house, to provide some experience and continuity and a
brake on silly legislation. WIth 500+ legislators the change of a
skewed house is small; getting a bad skew two terms in a row,
particularly the _same_ skew, is even more unlikely.

This can be fine-tuned of course, but the basic idea is that the current
unrepresentative legislatures, selected for campaigning ability and
access to money, should be replaced with large pools of randomly
selected people, which should be no less qualified, cheaper, and
possibly less corrupt.

(Key sidepoint: lots of media attention on the selection process

Merry part,
-xx- Damien R. Sullivan X-) <*> http://www.ugcs.caltech.edu/~phoenix

"She wondered if one's time at college might be better served with
friends like Thomas than with lovers like Nick." -- _Tam Lin_