Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Downsizing Lottery

A US Court once judged that, where there were too many people at sea for lifeboats, places should be allocated randomly (United States v Holmes, reported in this paper by John Broome). No, this post isn't about the recent Costa Concordia disaster - where the captain apparently tripped and fell into a lifeboat, without a lottery - but rather about the recent news that street cleaners in Edinburgh were downsized by lottery. This has, it seems, proven controversial and the workers in question have apparently been reinstated until a more acceptable basis can be found to determine who to lay off. Odd, I think, that a lottery should be a fair way to make life-or-death decisions, but not to decide who suffers the fate of unemployment...

1 comment:

  1. Lotteries have also run into resistance when used to allocate school places in oversubscribed schools, as piloted in Brighton.

    The idea of using lottery to determine who is made unemployed among equally qualified, or unqualified, individuals and in allocating school places where academic selection is not used, seems to me to be a reasonable idea. That they are always opposed suggests to me that they are opposed by people who think they stand a better chance of success in another model. That is, one that is less random and perhaps able to be shaped by the particular advantages of those individuals (sharp middle class elbows, strong trade union representation or other basis of power).

    I think lotteries could be used rather more widely as a way of promoting equality and making decision blind to questions of gender, race and disability. As an aside, my very egalitarian former boss used to insist on deciding the chair of a meeting by giving it to the person whose birthday was nearest the date of the meeting.