Sometimes it isn't possible to distribute goods evenly.
Posted by Peter Stone
It's taken me a couple of days, but I am finally putting in an appearance here. Many thanks to Ken and John for having me on the show, and I hope people found the topic intriguing.
Anyone is interested in thinking further about lotteries might want to check out the a new series of books being published by Imprint Academic. The series is entitled "Sortition and Public Policy." ("Sortition" refers to selection by lot--particularly political officials, as was the standard practice in ancient Athens.) There are a number of interesting titles in the series, including a reprint of a little book entitled A Citizen Legislature, which argues that we should select the U.S. House of Representatives by lot. (I have written a new introduction for the reprint, which will appear shortly.) For more on the series, visit http://www.imprint.co.uk/books/sortition.html.
For what it's worth, I'm cautiously optimistic about the idea of bringing a little ancient Athens into the modern world by selecting officials by lot. I do think it would require a lot of further changes--i.e., we couldn't just select Congress by lot, and keep everything else the same. We would have to do a lot more to ensure that, for example, the officials selected have access to all the information they need. But that's the sort of practical problem that any serious change to the status quo must confront.
More serious, I think, is the theoretical challenge. In the modern world, most people take for granted that being a democracy means that the people elect their officials through voting. But this wasn't the ancient understanding. Aristotle said that in a democracy, rulers were selected by lot, while in an aristocracy, the "best" are chosen through elections. (We don't usually think of our elected officials as being our "best," but that's another story.) That may be a little extreme; there's no denying that there's something democratic about elections. But there's also something democratic about lotteries, and explaining how 2 such radically different procedures can both be democratic is an important and interesting question, IMHO.
Hope that provides some food for thought. If you'd like to see more about my work, just visit my website at http://www.stanford.edu/~pstone