Saturday, March 29, 2008

If We're All Incompetent Anyway, Why Not A Lottery?

In a timely follow-up to my recent post on incompetence, Keith Sutherland writes a very interesting post over at OpenDemocracy. He claims "surveys show that the public does slightly worse in estimates of the parties’ positions on most issues than it would do if it proceeded by flipping a coin", though sadly the link only reveals the table of contents from this book (certainly seems worth checking out).

If this was true, it would certainly be a blow for those who defend epistemic theories, such as David Estlund, who places considerable stress on democracy being 'better than random' (although he does, in fairness, nuance this account somewhat - for example, noting that what really matters is avoiding what he calls 'primary bads').

If voters are so incompetent that their votes are effectively random, then we can't have much faith in majorities, for the majority itself is effectively random. This means there's no real reason to prefer a random majority to a randomly chosen individual voter.

In fact, Sutherland proposes randomly constituted chambers. His forthcoming book (a much revised version of this one) in Imprint Academic's exciting new series on sortition (which, by the way, also includes my friend Olly) presumably sets out the argument in more detail. I have to admit, I'm not sure the solution to low political competence is more democracy; but then as Carole Pateman noted long ago, competence may be an endogeneous factor in the political system.

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