Tag Archives: representative democracy

Picking Legislators at Random Would Improve Congress (Part I)

Nobody would call Congress efficient. It can’t pass anything. The government shut down just last year because Congress wouldn’t exceed an artificial borrowing limit. The legislation Congress does pass is rarely beneficial to the public. We all know this: Gallup polls show that only 14% of us approve of Congress’ ability. Unfortunately, people identify this with who is in Congress. The real problem is how people get into Congress: private campaign contributions, party approval, manipulative advertising. Is this how democracy is supposed to work? There must be a better way.

Unlike modern democracies, classical and medieval republics used lotteries to select officers. The archetype is classical Athens, whose lottery-based democracy flourished until its military destruction at the hands of Macedon. In fact, until the eighteenth century, political philosophers followed Aristotle in considering lotteries a defining feature of democracy. By contrast, Aristotle and his successors considered elections oligarchical, encouraging only the wealthy few to rule.

Contemporary lottery advocates, including John Burnheim, Brian Martin, Josiah Ober, and the Kleroterians at Equality by Lot, claim that we should revive this concept of democracy. I am sympathetic to this viewpoint. But is there any evidence that such a body would give the people more of what we want?

Italian researchers from the University of Catania (Pluchino, Garofalo, Rapisarda, Spagano, and Caserta, 2011) constructed a computational model to see how randomly selected legislators would perform compared to elected, partisan legislators. read more »

Are We, the People, Being Represented?

There is little doubt that a modern democratic state requires representation – the vast numbers of people in a modern nation must have someone to “stand in” for them – to represent them – to other similarly large numbers of people, through their own representatives.  People in modern nations are supposed to be assured of representation by the process of electing representatives.  Electoral representative systems are the means by which representatives are motivated by and informed of the public will. The representative wants access to participation in political power, and so will, in theory, behave in a manner consistent with the desires of the majority of his or her electorate.  When the representative fails in this respect, the public does not reelect that representative.  I think we can agree that this doesn’t really happen – in fact it has become painfully obvious.  I mean literally, it’s killing us.  So what’s the problem, and, more importantly, what’s the solution? read more »