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Best way to pick legislators? At random.

at 09:36 AM ET, 04/17/2012

Democracies would serve society best, and become more efficient, if they included a handful of legislators plucked from society at random, according to some new modeling from a trio of Italian physicists. More from the Guardian’s Marc Abrahams:

The scientists made a simple calculation model that mimics the way modern parliaments work, including the effects of particular political parties or coalitions. In the model, individual legislators can cast particular votes that advance either their own interests (one of which is to gain re-election), or the interests of society as a whole. Party discipline comes into play, affecting the votes of officials who got elected with help from their party.
But when some legislators are selected at random – owing no allegiance to any party – the legislature’s overall efficiency improves. That higher efficiency, the scientists explain, comes in “both the number of laws passed and the average social welfare obtained” from those new laws.

The study does not go as far to suggest turning our elections into lotteries. Having the entire legislature picked at random would be less than ideal, with fewer organizing principles for the lawmakers.

Still, there is actually a longtime tradition of random selection in government. The researchers find historical examples from Switzerland, Spain, Italy and even ancient Greece of such models. More recently, Iceland has picked 950 random citizens to help draw up the country’s new constitution.

 
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