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If the title's not enough of a clue for you, then let me be explicit in saying that what follows is presented mostly tongue-in-cheek.

This proposal was spurred by an off-hand comment I read on an earlier diary, that I most unfortunately forgot to bookmark, but was surely presented in snark.  It was about another failure of our representatives in government to even pretend to represent their constituents.  The comment suggested something like, "Maybe we should just select our representatives by lottery.  They couldn't do any worse, could they?"

I think this offhand comment has a lot of merit to it, and deserves some exploration.  Follow me past the squiggly to get into some details.

"Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others." -Numerous sources, mostly attributed to Winston Churchill.

Let me say that I agree wholeheartedly with the quoted sentiment, and wish to add merely, "that have been tried so far."  So far as I have been able to determine, after literally minutes of thinking about looking it up, no major national government has ever tried "representation by lottery."  And why would they?  It's absurd!  You could end up with some stoner or criminal or deviant as a representative!  A reasonable person could only think of appointing our representatives by lottery as a joke.

But if it is a joke, then maybe it's funnier than we think.  Selecting a sample from a population at random is what scientists do when they want to get a good representation of the population.  It turns out you can calculate how many people you'd need to pick to get a good representation of 300 million people, and it's less than the current size of the House of Representatives!  (385 if you want 95% confidence their decisions will be within 5% of the national opinion.  666 if you want 99% confidence of the same, which is an...interesting result).

"But wait a minute," you might say.  "Crafting legislation is hard work!  You've got to get opinions from all the stakeholders on an issue, craft a well-informed position, and get the right legislation passed!  That takes time and effort and intelligence!  Besides, our government gains its authority to govern from the just consent of the governed, which we exercise through the vote!"

Well, ok, those are some good points I guess.  Let's deal with the latter one first.  First of all, government doesn't gain its authority from the consent of the governed, and never has.  It gets its authority because it's necessary to have someone (or something) ultimately in charge.  We can't have a modern society without it, so it's gotta stay, whether we like it or not.  The best we can hope to do is make a government that we like, but if we can't withhold consent and just do without government when our choices are a bunch of bad ones, then what good is consent?  None at all, I say.

Besides, the whole point of electing someone is to pick someone to represent us, that is, to make the sorts of judgements about policy we'd make if we could.  When we elect our representation, we have to go by what the candidate says and what we think about what they say.  The problem is that candidates can and will say anything they feel like they need to, and we're not really as good at thinking as we think we are.  Why should we have to rely on what some lying liar says, or what our own faulty thinking thinks?  We can do better!  (Or at least, not much worse)  We can found the authority of our government to govern on sound statistical science!

The former objection has to do mostly with the presumed expertise necessary to craft and pass good laws and policies.  I say presumed because it mostly seems as though lawyers and lobbyists actually craft the laws.  But I'll go with the presumption, because it's still up to the lawmakers to bring the bill up for consideration, and to actually pass the thing.  However, it seems the thing most lawmakers are currently concerned with is raising money.  I guess that's a kind of expertise.

And here's where we get into the knitty-gritty of this idea.  Yes, some expertise, time and intelligence is necessary be a good lawmaker.  So let's reorganize our government to see if we can incorporate random selection of representation as well as expertise in our government.   First, we keep the country divided into its 435 districts, and we select a representative at random, using a verifiably random process, from that districts qualified residents (+18, voter, not currently in prison, etc).  And we treat it like the lottery.  Whoever wins gets $20 million, to be paid out how they wish, but they must serve for 4 years as a Representative in DC to get it.  The winner may decline the seat and the money if they wish, which will result in a new drawing.  Drawings are done every 2 years, so the House rotates in membership much like the Senate currently does.

The Senate we return to the State legislatures to appoint, and the State legislatures we modify to work much like the federal legislature now would.  State representatives would be selected at random from their districts, awarded a smaller prize, and State senators could be elected the old-fashioned way, to appease those worry-warts who want some "expertise" and an ability to "vet" their politicians.  

When I first thought this up some hours ago, it was very much a jest, but the more I mull it over, the more enamored I become with it.  For one thing, I think it almost treats the task of crafting and passing legislation the way it ought to be treated, as just about the most horrible job on the planet that a reasonable person would only take on if attached to a massive prize like winning a lottery.  You're basically the nation's customer-complaint department, and you've got to take it while at the same time try to negotiate the half-million shysters and con-men lobbyists from the honest representative groups your constituents really care about or need.  And they've currently gotta do it while begging for money.  That's worse than being a garbage man working at a sea-side dump in August.  Only the most noble or the most vile of us would choose to take on that job, and good luck telling the difference.  But there's really better things for our most noble to be doing, there's kids that need feeding, and illnesses that need curing, and energy sources that need discovering.  And I don't want the vile anywhere close to my government with anything like a reasonable chance.

At least selecting them at random, bypassing all the campaigns and election bull-crap, means they don't have to beg for any more money.  And cutting out campaigns removes the only reason a decent and reasonable person would even listen to a lobby they didn't believe represented the real values of their constituents.  

Think about how you would react if a Secret Service agent knocked on your door, handed you a post-dated check for $20 million, and told you you had to serve as a U.S. Representative for the next four years to keep that check.  Most of us would probably panic a little bit, both because of the money, and because of the implied responsibility of the position we were asked to take on.  Most of us would be gratified for the money, and honored to serve.  We'd reach out to our friends and family, our old college professors and our community in general to build the network of information and support we'd need to make decisions about proposed laws, and maybe propose our own.  We'd build a society that built up those networks because our lawmakers would naturally rely on them to do their jobs.

And if you're still skeptical, all I can say is that to believe that this would be a superior form of government, you'd only have to believe that some random guy you pass on the street could pass better legislation in a more timely manner than this guy.  Sadly, in this day and age, that's not too hard to believe.

Originally posted to Nellebracht on Mon Feb 25, 2013 at 12:27 AM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Someone else can fix the tags. (2+ / 0-)

    I hate tagging my own stuff.

    From such crooked wood as that which man is made of, nothing straight can be fashioned. -Immanuel Kant

    by Nellebracht on Mon Feb 25, 2013 at 12:37:02 AM PST

  •  an intermediate solution would be to (2+ / 0-)

    pick a few (10? 100?) people at random from each district and let them elect the Representative from among themselves. This would filter out the obviously incompetent but preserve the rest of your suggestion.

    I've also wondered if a two (or even three) tier system would make sense:  each group of 1000 people elect one first-level rep from their local precincts.  Those first-level reps would vote on a few second-level reps, who each would represent about a million people each.  (With three levels, each group of 100 people at one level would elect one person at the next.)

    The advantage of such a system would be that everyone would have first-hand experience (even if fleeting) with the people above and below them in the hierarchy.  This would largely obviate the need for mass-marketing campaigns: each candidate at any level would just need to focus on a group of 1000 people (some of whom are kids, etc.)  whom they could meet with personally in just a few months.

    Adding a random component seems compatible with this: either level could use random selection while preserving a vote at the other level.  Either way, the true nutcases would be filtered out, while reducing the need for mass campaigns and reducing the strength of established parties.

    On the other hand, as with any organization it makes sense to have a collection of seasoned veterans with institutional memory to provide continuity.   So it would seem rash to eliminate the notion of career politicians without thinking through the consequences of such a change.  (Maybe those who have served a term or more could have some kind of first shot at being re-elected, but with substantially higher thresholds than newcomers -- say 2/3 approval from their next-level constituents.)

    Just musing...

    •  Let's just remove the middlemen altogether (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Nellebracht, cynndara

      I say we remove the middlemen altogether and just have the corporations write the laws.

      "The fool doth think he is wise: the wise man knows himself to be a fool" - W. Shakespeare

      by Hugh Jim Bissell on Mon Feb 25, 2013 at 10:15:42 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Re: Seasoned veterans (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      cynndara, TheDuckManCometh

      That's where the Senate comes in.  It was traditionally the place where dignity and expertise in the legislative body resided.  It'd be nice if it could return to that tradition.

      From such crooked wood as that which man is made of, nothing straight can be fashioned. -Immanuel Kant

      by Nellebracht on Mon Feb 25, 2013 at 12:00:53 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  I love it! (0+ / 0-)

      And this sounds like a good plan to transition from our current system. (BTB- don't forget that the Post Office is handling absentee ballots.  Do we want a for profit corporation doing that job?)

      It's a great way to  kneecap lobbyists and career politicians.

      Corporate memory would be the bailiwick of civil servants whose loyalties lie with the People.  Think how much money we would save eliminating contractor 'feasibility studies!'

      Local government by local people for their general welfare.

      Jesus died to save you from Yahweh.

      by nolagrl on Mon Feb 25, 2013 at 07:48:06 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  This is an argument given for House of Lords (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Justus, FG, SilentBrook, Nellebracht

    Since the lords are chosen by inheritance, after a few generations they effectively become a random (if generally more privileged) sample across the political spectrum.

    It's also behind the notion of a jury, so not that far-fetched as your "satire" tag would indicate.

  •  Consider the Florentine Signoria (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    HeyMikey, Justus, Nellebracht

    Nine priors were selected by lot every two months and immediately sequestered in the Palazzo della Signoria and barred from communicating with the outside.

    Didn't really work that well.

    Too late for the simple life, too early for android love slaves - Savio

    by Clem Yeobright on Mon Feb 25, 2013 at 03:12:28 AM PST

  •  I much prefer the 'Liberty dollars' idea. (6+ / 0-)

    The problem with current U.S. 'representative' government really boils down to money. More specifically, the sad truth that Congressmen and Senators have to spend most of their time raising millions of dollars to run their campaigns, and become beholden to the rich white guys writing the checks.

    Since the Supreme Court has taken the ludicrous position that wealth is exactly precisely the same thing as free speech, attempts to restrict the flood of campaign cash are fruitless. The only way to end the commanding influence of wealthy donors is parodoxically to flood the system with cash.

    Here's the proposal I have seen: every citizen of voting age gets a certificate for $100 every year. But it can only be 'spent' on campaign contributions. Any Federal campaign, any candidate you want. Use it or lose it, and it's non-transferrable. Only you can direct who it goes to.

    This floods the campaign 'market' with about $20 billion every single year, enough to swamp the influence of even the wealthiest donors. And for the nation, it's cheap at ten times the price, because we stop embracing stupid policies that benefit only the 1%. Candidates no longer have to pander to plutocrats, because they already have a revenue stream to run their campaigns.

    Which is why it will never happen, of course.

  •  So if I get this straight, (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DrLori, seefleur, Nellebracht

    these reps chosen by lottery would basically be drafted?
    Would you have to buy a lottery ticket to vote? Would you have to buy a ticket to be considered for the post? Or does it just land on you out of the blue? Would there be a lottery for recall? Or any other mechanism? because,

    You could end up with some stoner or criminal or deviant
    and there should be some escape hatch. (not that I'd have a problem with most stoners, but still....)
    I've long believed that our Congresscritters should be well paid by us and not allowed to accept a DIME or a cup of coffee from anyone but their paycheck and that should extend a couple years after their tenure. That way, people who are in it for the money wouldn't be, they could make more money elsewhere. It would be a form of penury, a sacrificial service to the Nation and one that would attract only the most selfless public servants.
    And that's not just a laugh line, having known Civil Servants that have made exactly that choice.

    If I ran this circus, things would be DIFFERENT!

    by CwV on Mon Feb 25, 2013 at 06:18:55 AM PST

    •  Like jury duty. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      CwV, Nellebracht, cynndara

      You can get out of it, but you have to have a REALLY good reason.

      "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

      by HeyMikey on Mon Feb 25, 2013 at 07:41:34 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Out of the blue (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      CwV, cynndara, Bisbonian

      and easier to get out of than jury duty.  Just decline, but you don't get the money either.

      Part of the problem of Congress is the large number of people who are "in it for the money."  The bigger problem of Congress is that, because they have to campaign for the office, they're forced to be in it for the money,

      From such crooked wood as that which man is made of, nothing straight can be fashioned. -Immanuel Kant

      by Nellebracht on Mon Feb 25, 2013 at 11:31:02 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Get Corporate Cash Out (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Oldestsonofasailor, Nellebracht

    That makes this idea 100 times more favorable than what we have.
    Or.....just get corporate money out.

  •  Minutes+ research <g> (5+ / 0-)

    From Wikipedia on Athenian democracy:

    Selection by lottery was the standard means as it was regarded as the more democratic: elections would favour those who were rich, noble, eloquent and well-known, while allotment spread the work of administration throughout the whole citizen body, engaging them in the crucial democratic experience of, to use Aristotle's words, "ruling and being ruled in turn" (Politics 1317b28–30). The allotment of an individual was based on citizenship rather than merit or any form of personal popularity which could be bought. Allotment therefore was seen as a means to prevent the corrupt purchase of votes and it gave citizens a unique form of political equality as all had an equal chance of obtaining government office.
    The random assignment of responsibility to individuals who may or may not be competent has obvious risks, but the system included features meant to obviate possible problems.
    •  Tricky tricky (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Those are office-holders, not the Athenian Assembly, or the Courts.  That would amount to selecting the President and the USDA and such from among the Senate by lottery, rather than being similar to what I propose.  And it was opt-in, rather than opt-out, like I suggest.

      The running of government absolutely requires experience and expertise, so I'm not at all in favor or picking the President or any of the bureaucrats necessary for the government to function at random.  That would be stupid.

      But the Legislature doesn't make the government "work."  They decide priorities, set budgets, and then get in everybody's way with oversight.  The Legislature is supposed to be representative in the appropriate ways. That's its function.  The Executive and the Judicial are not supposed to be representative, they're supposed to be competent and efficient at seeing the will of the Legislature done appropriately.

      From such crooked wood as that which man is made of, nothing straight can be fashioned. -Immanuel Kant

      by Nellebracht on Mon Feb 25, 2013 at 12:19:56 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Well (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        I wasn't proposing the Athenian model, merely pointing out a lottery system in the context you were discussing. So far as Athenian courts or the legislature was concerned, there was no need for a lottery, as every citizen was already a part. E.g., Socrates was judged by a body of 500 citizen jurors on an indictment brought by other citizens, who themselves put on the actual prosecution.

        •  I'm familiar (0+ / 0-)

          The story of Socrates death is perhaps my favorite sequence in Plato's works.  I think the point I'm making is that their lottery system of filling government offices isn't really very analogous to my proposal of using a lottery to fill out representation in the legislature.  

          I considered an alternative lottery system that would essentially abolish the House, selecting 435 people at random for every vote that comes up.  But that seems less feasible to me than what I proposed.  There's a lot of procedure involved with every issue or proposal the House deals with that would get really bogged down or have to be abandoned if you had to generate a new voter list for every vote that had to take place.  It also makes selection for committees that much harder to conceive.

          From such crooked wood as that which man is made of, nothing straight can be fashioned. -Immanuel Kant

          by Nellebracht on Mon Feb 25, 2013 at 02:29:19 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  Shades of William F. Buckley (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Justus, Nellebracht
    I should sooner live in a society governed by the first two thousand names in the Boston telephone directory than in a society governed by the two thousand faculty members of Harvard University.
    (from Wikiquote).

    He wasn't seriously suggesting this. He was saying he didn't think college professors were so smart. Also, I wonder if the the first 2000 names would include "Buckley" (grin). Also, nobody's in the phone book anymore, especially younger people who only have cell phones. You'd end up with a lot of older people. And people who legally changed their name to something like Aaaaardvark.

    “If you misspell some words, it’s not plagiarism.” – Some Writer

    by Dbug on Mon Feb 25, 2013 at 09:18:51 AM PST

  •  Hate to sound elitist (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    but if you want to see an accurate cross section of the population go somewhere everyone has to appear-- like the drivers' license bureau and take a look around.   You definitely don't want a government made up by random selection of the general population.  The functionally and politically literate probably is no more than 20-40 percent of the population.  

    •  I dunno (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      pengiep, cynndara, Steven D

      I've been to the DMV and the local Country Club.  I'd rather pick someone at random out of line at the DMV (or from among those hanging around the front with signs looking for work or food or money), than anybody I've ever met who was a member of the Country Club.  Those guys are criminals who just haven't been caught yet.  You should see the locks and security they have at that place.  They obviously don't trust each other, so we shouldn't trust 'em either.

      How long do you really think it would take to get up to speed on these political issues?  I'd rather have someone make the decision who had no clue beforehand, and educated themselves on the issues, than someone who went in with their mind already made up because of their inclusion among these elitist groups.

      From such crooked wood as that which man is made of, nothing straight can be fashioned. -Immanuel Kant

      by Nellebracht on Mon Feb 25, 2013 at 12:05:55 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  random choice of citizens (3+ / 0-)

    Actually, If you used a computer that could analyze our population based on the information available in the Statistical Analysis of the United States of America, could, theoretically, chose a perfect mix of opinions, philosophies,
    religions, sexual orientations to make good government.

    In Greece, if you said you were an Athenian, didn't every citizen run the risk of being chosen to be in the governing process? Weren't they told that this was the price for being an Athenian citizen?

    I recently heard of a problem that existed in a agricultural area of China, where the Chinese Government brought in 2 experts with 2 different alternative answers with the problem: who explained to the audience of un-educated farmers the 2 solutions for the problem: they were allowed to ask questions of the experts, but then were admonished to resolve the issue among themselves.

    Within 3 days they had arrived at a decision that was clearly in the best interests of all the points of view.

    Of course, they were all given the same facts and all of the facts were true. There was no political posturing, they simply resolved the problem. Who says democracy doesn't work? It did pretty well in China.

  •  A splendid idea. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    First, Congress currently spends very little time on actually setting priorities and making laws; that's what they do in the cracks between fundraising and political posturing and licking the feet of wealth donors.  Getting the entire campaigning and campaign-funding problem out of the way with an efficient lottery run by career bureaucrats would provide Congress with enormous amounts of time to actually do their jobs, even if they continue to take six weeks of vacation every year.  That would make up for "lack of experience" within six months, leaving them another 18 months of a two-year term to be useful.

    I strongly suggest looking into methods that would permit this to be adopted.  "Creative" interpretations of some parts of the Constitution would be necessary, no doubt.  But if the President can unilaterally decide that he has the right to blow American citizens out of existence by remote control without trial or conviction, how hard can that be?

    •  I'm pretty sure (0+ / 0-)

      it's impossible.  The Constitution in Article 1 talks about how Representatives should be elected, and numerous Amendments after that refine and reinforce elections as the method of Representative selection.  In other words, it would require a Constitutional Amendment, and probably several of them, which would only happen in a Constitutional Convention, and that's just not gonna happen.

      This is less a serious proposal then an indictment of the current priorities and behavior of our Legislature.  Although, if I were serious about drumming up support for this idea, I could just replace all the links in the diary with examples from the Democratic side of the isle and repost it at Redstate.  I'm half-way inclined to do it just to troll them.

      From such crooked wood as that which man is made of, nothing straight can be fashioned. -Immanuel Kant

      by Nellebracht on Mon Feb 25, 2013 at 01:53:58 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Oh, DO! (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        And as for a Constitutional Convention, not as impossible as some would think.  There's enough pure frustration seething on the level of real voters that if you put it up for referendum, it would be scheduled next fall.  In fact, getting a Constitutional Convention is easier than getting an Amendment passed; it requires a super-majority of individual states to pass it, but once that's accomplished, Congress is mandated to schedule one.

        Jus' sayin'.  The system is crooked, and everyone in the country knows it.  The obvious answer is to change the system, and that could actually be amenable to voter-level initiatives.

  •  i think kurt vonnegut beat you to it, some 30 or (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    40 years ago, in a short story, which the name escapes me at the moment. if i recall correctly, it was the president who was selected at random. this meant that pretty much any idiot could be (and was) president, with all the responsibility and authority that entailed. the danger is that, because presidents have the authority to do certain things, without needing congressional approval, they could conceivably start wwIII, before anyone could stop them.

    probably not what we want.

    •  That's a good reason not to appoint the pres (0+ / 0-)

      that way.  The Legislature is significantly different from the Executive, however.  

      The Legislature is supposed to be both representative and moderated by experience and wisdom.  That's why we have two chambers, a House and a Senate, and that's why the Senate was originally appointed by the States.  We elect our representation to the House, which is moderated by appointees (who tend to be experts) in the Senate.

      The problem is, elections suck at getting real representativeness, and because we're electing our Senators now too, we have neither representativeness, nor wisdom nor expertise in anything other than graft.

      From such crooked wood as that which man is made of, nothing straight can be fashioned. -Immanuel Kant

      by Nellebracht on Mon Feb 25, 2013 at 02:17:17 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I Vote for a Lottery (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I think, given the stoners, deviants and criminals it would put in office, selecting members of Congress by lottery would be a vast step up from the current lot.

    Besides, it would eliminate campaigns, and therefore, campaign finance, and therefore it would eliminate the auction we currently have.

    This would be a distinct advantage for the rich, who currently waste a lot of money on the lottery we have.

  •  What's the movie? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    There's a high concept movie where the US president is precisely selected from a lottery.... I forgot the title. It's a fairly old movie (1980s??).

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