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Please begin with an informative title:

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.


You must enter an Intro for your Diary Entry between 300 and 1150 characters long (that's approximately 50-175 words without any html or formatting markup).

"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.

Extended (Optional)

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

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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