Sometimes it isn't possible to distribute goods evenly. When this happens, we often leave it up to randomness – in the form of lotteries – to decide who gets what. Is this just?
Today's episode is about Lotteries -- not the state sponsored gambling type, but the type that allocate scarce goods and also burdens. Think of housing lotteries, school admission lotteries, and the draft lotteries. In Ancient Greece many political offices were alloted by lottery. Our question is whether and when lotteries are a just distributive mechanism. Sometimes they seem just the thing. The draft lottery, for example, seemed like a good way of keeping the privileged and connected from gaming the selective service system. But suppose tax rates were assigned by lot, so that your rate of taxation depending no on your ability to pay but on random chance. That seems like an absurdly unjust outcome.
One thing I'd like to ask our guest, Peter Stone, about are whether there are any general principle that explains when and why lotteries are just. It will also be interesting to explore whether lotteries should be used more or less in our social lives. I know that John Perry is an advocate of using a lottery for college admissions. He thinks it would save a lot of time, labor and money and that it would be more fair.
I read a sort of tongue and cheek article that suggested we might be better off choosing senators and representatives by lot. Though the article was written in a somewhat kidding tone, the point it made was worth taking seriously. If office holders were chosen by lottery, that would certainly go a long way toward taking the money out of politics. There would be no need for interminable and expensive campaigns.
There is even an argument in favor of what's called lottery voting. Put all the votes for all candidates or options in a hat. Choose one. Whatever vote is chosen decides the issue or candidate. Such a procedure would give all voices an equal chance of being heard. Isn't that the very essence of democracy?
Obviously, there's a lot to talk and think about. Hopefully, you'll join in during the show. We'll have somebody monitor the comments on this blog entry during the show and if you make a good one, we'll try to include it on air.