Short article by Stephen Kinsella, a lecturer in economics at University of Limerick, on Ireland’s democracy deficit. I am always happy to hear the word “sortition” discussed. I’m amazed by how many people–even academics, even political scientists, even scholars studying democracy–are not familiar with the term.
The process of selecting officials in ancient Greece was called sortition. All citizens – men of course – were eligible for elected office. Effectively, the citizens drew lots for ministries (the one with the shortest straw probably became minister for health).
This 6th Century lottery-style choice of government meant that although tribes did exist in Athens, no parties could form, no ‘insider’ deals could be done, and no one could become a professional politician.
Lasting influence came either from military victories – meaning you put your life on the line as a soldier – or vast wealth, which was useless in helping to attain power but helped you gain influence elsewhere.
Aristotle wrote that true democracy only came from such random selection between equals. He felt elections only encouraged oligarchy, where power ends up in the hands of a small number of people. The problem with oligarchy is simple, and it is not too much power, nor the oligarchs becoming self-serving. The problem with all oligarchies is their inability to process information.
Readers will be aware that the Government’s Economic Management Council was effectively where the last Budget was decided, where a regressive measure like the cut in child benefit was decided on rather than a progressive hike in taxation for those earning more than €100,000 per year. These decisions were presented to the Cabinet for signature as done deals.