A friend of mine strongly recommended that I read the book “Against Elections. The Case for Democracy” written by David Van Reybrouck. As the title suggests, the main message of the essay is that elections and democracy are not the same thing. And that to preserve the value of democracy, we have to reduce the scope of elections, and fill it with lotteries to select public jobs.
Citizens Assembly for Climate Change), but popular juries and
presidents of ballot stations are selected by lotteries and the results have
been very positive.
There is little doubt that existing institutions are a very small subsample of all possible institutions, but we are often locked in inefficient evolutionary outcomes because of inertia, vested interests and switching costs.
Of course, there are no panaceas, and following the lessons
of Arrow, the perfect mechanism of aggregating individual preferences in a
democracy does not exist. The main problems of a lottocracy, beyond the existence of vested interests that stop it, are how to make it
compatible with the mobilization of discriminated constituencies (workers and women),
and with the political skills (managing alliances and the corridors of power) necessary to
push for fair reforms or social transformations.
Workers rights, women rights, green parties: would they have
emerged without fighting and mobilization of massive groups? Perhaps lottocracy in the form of
citizens’ assemblies is better adapted to solving current challenges such as
ethinc conflict and diversity.
Would Ireland have delegated the issue of Gay Marriage to a
citizens’ assembly without the fight of the LGTB community through (mainly
leftist) political parties in countries that took the step previously? Would
women be even accepted in citizens’ assemblies without the previous fight of
the sufragettes and the (left wing) parties that promoted female voting?
Doesn’t lottocracy take for ganted many freedoms for which
people had to fight through movements, trade unions and political parties? Can we afford to spend massive resources in promoting lottocracy in front of the urgent task of democratically stopping Donald Trump and Marine le Pen?
Elections and political parties will remain necessary for a
while, but it is worth exploring the expansion of sortition to new arenas (starting with sports clubs and universities?).
Elections and political parties need serious reforms. These are difficult, but not impossible. When
reforms happen (as with secret voting in Chile, or electronic voting in Brazil), the results can be encouraging. Take Chile: citizens’ assemblies by
sortition could have helped or complemented the constitutional assemblies that
failed to produce a new Carta Magna, but perhaps also would (complementarily) the reliance on
traditional parties that had experience in reaching broad-based agreements –and
that were marginalized in the constituional process.