Calling all academics–is anyone planning to attend the upcoming annual meeting of the Western Political Science Association (WPSA) in San Francisco? It’s going to be held on April 1-3. Joel Parker (another Kleroterian) and I will be presenting papers on Saturday Afternoon (April 3), and I gather the panel still needs a discussant. Let me know if you’re interested.

Here’s the web address for the WPSA, with information about the meeting–


And as for my WPSA paper–well, hopefully, the Kleroterians will be hearing about it shortly. (I hope to have a draft ready to circulate later this week.)


5 Responses

  1. Again an incisive paper which clarifies significant issues around the use of sharing-lotteries. (as opposed to lotteries which replace electoral politics)
    The difficulties with describing the value or meaning of the ‘expected shares’ is spot on. I too have had misgivings about it. The ultimate tragic example is the hypothetical case of a 1-off lottery to decide which of 2 equally deserving patients should get the single life-saving kidney lottery. The outcome would be so tragic that it was insupportable. As Elster suggested, the doctor should secretly toss a coin to decide, but convey the ‘decision’ in some pseudo-rational way to the 2 patients. A wise fudge?
    Another way around the unsatisfactory nature of 1-off lotteries is to give applicants a 2nd or even a third chance. This is what happens in the famous Dutch medical school lottery. The tragic nature of being rejected is softened a bit by being allowed 3 attempts. The ‘expected share’ tends closer to an actual (deserved) share the more the lottery is repeated.
    Developing this theme, in Barbera Goodwin’s Aleatoria, where all the events of your life would be decided by lot then at least cumulatively through life you will approach your just deserts.
    Statisticians especially of a frequentist turn of mind will recognise this situation: The result of 1 toss is meaningless, 50 tosses will narrow the result down to within1 or 2 % of the right (deserved) result, 1000 tosses damn near perfect.
    On the other hand your characterisation of a lottery as an ‘impartial’ mechanism chimes in well with notions of procedural justice. Evidence comes from experimental economics that people put a value not just on what they get, but the procedures used to get it. With a lot of nudging and prodding people can get to like the idea of a 1-off lottery for school places (evidence in my forthcoming book Lotteries for Education). ‘Lottery as an impartial process’?
    On p14 you touch on : why do people buy lottery tickets. I remember some work by psychologists on this (sorry no ref!) People buy hopes, dreams of what they might do if they won. The size of the prize is irrelevant so long as it huge. Small lottery prizes are meaningless – the operators know this and would love just 1 vast prize – el gordo in Spanish. (oops I’ve just spotted a footnote (12) where you elaborate on this.)
    Thanks Peter for clarifying an important consideration in random distribution.


  2. Peter,

    Your support of the impartial treatment position rests on viewing distribution by lottery as being an action without reason, and thus exempt from the prohibition against relying on irrelevant reasons. But I think a similar argument can be used to support the expected shares position. It could be argued that the distribution of a good by lottery is not a deliberate allocation at all but, say, an act of nature and thus it is exempt from the rule of equal shares.

    Thus, it could be argued, contra Wasserman, that the use of the lottery does not supplement the allocation of the original indivisible good with the allocation of expected shares but replaces the former by the latter.


  3. Conall–I very interesting source relevant to this topic is Lesley Jacobs’ book Pursuing Equal Opportunities: The Theory and Practice of Egalitarian Justice (Cambridge University Press, 2003). Jacobs argues there that a crucial part of equality of opportunity is what he calls stakes fairness. It’s not enough, he points out, for competitions to be both formally and substantively fair; it’s also important that the stakes of the competitions be reasonable. In other words, winning shouldn’t be all-important, and losing shouldn’t suck more than it absolutely has to suck. While I don’t associate lotteries with the idea of equality of opportunity (again, for reasons discussed in Jacobs book, as well as my own forthcoming book), I think the concept applies here as well–by all means let’s draw lots, but let’s only draw lots when we cannot provide everyone with the relevant benefit, and let’s make life as decent as we can for everyone, winners and losers alike.

    Yoram–The trouble with the “expected shares replaces actual shares” view, as I see it, is essentially the one articulated in the title of Wasserman’s paper. You can’t eat chances. Clearly, the people who win the lottery are getting SOMETHING better than the losers. And once that is admitted, it becomes hard to make sense of just what kind of good expected shares are.

    Thanks for the comments. And I hope to see some Kleroterians in San Francisco next month. And is anyone going to the MPSA meeting in Chicago?


  4. Clearly, the people who win the lottery are getting SOMETHING better than the losers

    But, again, this argument can be turned against the “impartial treatment” position: “Clearly, the people who are given the prize of the lottery are treated better than those who are not.”


  5. I agree–I would hope that all positions would agree that using a lottery is a second-best solution. The best solution would be to give every person with an equally valid claim the good. The question is how to account for this “second-best-ness”. I think the right way to do this is to say that we can’t help giving people unequal amounts of stuff, but we can still treat them impartially, i.e., not favor one over the other on the basis of any invalid reasons.


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