More from Pluchino et al.

A new article by Pluchino et al. is linked to in a recent edit to the Wikipedia entry for sortition (possibly by Pluchino himself):

Accidental Politicians: How Randomly Selected Legislators Can Improve Parliament Efficiency

by A. Pluchino, C. Garofalo, A. Rapisarda, S. Spagano, M. Caserta

We study a prototypical model of a Parliament with two Parties or two Political Coalitions and we show how the introduction of a variable percentage of randomly selected independent legislators can increase the global efficiency of a Legislature, in terms of both number of laws passed and average social welfare obtained. We also analytically find an “efficiency golden rule” which allows to fix the optimal number of legislators to be selected at random after that regular elections have established the relative proportion of the two Parties or Coalitions. These results are in line with both the ancient Greek democratic system and the recent discovery that the adoption of random strategies can improve the efficiency of hierarchical organizations.

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19 Responses

  1. Nice to see a few of us Kleroterians cited in the references. I had some email exchanges last November with Garafalo (re: their paper on the ‘Peter Priciple’) which may have something to do with it! The authors are based in Sicily, and seemed unaware then of the historical examples of Venice, Florence or San Marino.

    I’m looking forward to reading this paper although it looks quite theoretical.

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  2. Random introduction of a portion of the legislative body into the mix of those elected by ballot is futile if the positive results of election by lottery are to be achieved. Diluting dirty bath water with clean water gets us nowhere. The scum will continue to rise to the top. And the scum (venal politicians) is what we’re trying to eliminate and/or curtail. Gradual transition is self-defeating. BLANKET ELECTION BY LOTTERY is the only answer . Anything less will be a complete waste of time. hdh

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  3. An interesting little paper…Of course their model has minimal relevance in the real world. Once “independent” legislators selected by lot are inserted into a partisan parliament, the recruitment, reward and punishment processes will quickly cause most of them to “take sides.” An allotted chamber needs a level of protection from partisan influence in order to work effectively.

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  4. Terry: Once “independent” legislators selected by lot are inserted into a partisan parliament, the recruitment, reward and punishment processes will quickly cause most of them to “take sides.”

    Would that be the case if allotted MPs were to make up the majority? I suppose the biggest danger would still be corruption — that independents would become the target of bribes. But it might well work if enacted along with a process of secret voting and other measures to ensure that elected and allotted MPs were kept separate, and (the latter) subject to a short period of service.

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  5. The paper (and its predecessor) are rather dismissively treated at…

    http://www.technologyreview.com/blog/arxiv/26488/?ref=rss

    I would encourage bloggers to let this author know that sortition is not so nutty an idea as to deserve an IgNoble prize once, let alone twice.

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  6. I have now briefly looked at the paper and must say it is rather flimsy work. The model requires a whole litany of arbitrary assumptions – qualitative and quantitative – which the authors do not bother to motivate. The analysis is little more than a series of simulations, leaving those readers who might be interested in understanding the workings of the proposed model with no insight into how each of its components affects its overall properties.

    I wonder if this kind of work passes for respectable research in physics, what appears to be the home field of the authors.

    Also, what is Hayek doing in the references? I am suspicious it was simply copied from the Wikipedia entry for Demarchy. (I have no idea what it is doing there either – it was inserted by someone without any explanation back in September 2009.)

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  7. >Also, what is Hayek doing in the references?

    Because that’s where he coined the term. Search for demarchy at:

    http://www.amazon.com/Law-Legislation-Liberty-Political-People/dp/0226320901#reader_0226320901

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  8. I am embarrassed to say I didn’t know that.

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  9. I confess I didn’t know either until John Burnheim told me. I guess we should all read John’s book rather than just referencing it.

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  10. Others have used the term before Hayek. So unless Hayek used the term specifically to indicate a sortition-based government – something that he doesn’t appear to have done – then I do not see why his use of the term is relevant.

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  11. In fact, the Huxley footnote is worthy of a post of its own.

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  12. A Google Alert was generated for an article about this paper in the Australian ABC: Randomness could ‘improve democracy’.

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  13. Yes I think John acknowledges Hayek as the source of the word, rather than his own meaning, but I believe that for Hayek it was a positive term (unlike democracy), as the emphasis was on rule-making rather than raw political power.

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  14. Another Google Alert: A slightly modified version of the ABC article is now on DailyIndia.com.

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  15. FWIW, it turns out that I did know about the Hayek connection, at one time at least. It’s mentioned in the notes I took on Burnheim’s book. (I have actually read the book, Keith–both the original and the revised editions.) There’s probably an interesting paper on the history of the term. (In fact, I’m now thinking of writing it…)

    FWIW, the Oxford English Dictionary dates the term as going back to 1643. See–

    http://www.oed.com/viewdictionaryentry/Entry/49600

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  16. > I have actually read the book, Keith–both the original and the revised editions.

    Keith’s unwarranted assumption seems to have been that other people’s scholarly standards are similar to his own.

    > FWIW, the Oxford English Dictionary dates the term as going back to 1643

    Hardly any younger than “democracy” – first known to be used in 1576 according to Merriam-Webster. Did you see this, BTW: English lessons for English people?

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  17. I’ve finally read both papers now, and I agree–the first paper (on the Peter Principle) was the stronger of the two. For the second paper, there are a lot of assumptions that seem questionable.

    For example, I’m not really sure what the point assigned to each agent is supposed to represent. This is the proposal the agent would generate on his own, if forced to offer a proposal? But do agents who are stupid know they are stupid? If so, why would they ever make proposals at all? If not, why would they be able to recognize proposals that are better than their own? And why would they only vote for proposals that yield more individual AND social utility? Might one of them be willing to sacrifice some social utility for extra personal utility, and vice versa?

    That said, contrary to a number of people on this blog, I do like the fact that the paper tries to distinguish the ability/tendency to promote the general good and the ability/tendency to promote one’s own self-interest. One of the most important points in the sortition literature, I think, is the possibility of a tradeoff between competence and public spiritedness. It could be that the people most motivated to study and understand a public issue are the people who stand to make a buck off it. And so you might expect selection methods to yield either a lot of stupid/naive legislators or a lot of bandits. It might be hard to find intelligent people–meaning not people with high IQs, but people with BOTH the opportunity AND the inclination to create very good public policies. So I do think there’s more work to be done here.

    I liked the first paper better, like I said, although there I also think there’s more to be done. Does anyone on this blog know anything about NetLogo, or any similar simulation software? If so, drop me a line, and perhaps there’s a paper or two to be had in this.

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  18. > One of the most important points in the sortition literature, I think, is the possibility of a tradeoff between competence and public spiritedness.

    If I am one of those you contrast yourself with, then I would like to say that I am quite open to this possibility, but I think that it is not obviously the case. It is also not a necessary assumption in order to explain the self-serving nature of policy setters. It may very well be that the public-spirited experts tend to get weeded out of power by interested parties.

    I do accept, however, that there is an inherent tradeoff between expertise and representativity. By definition, most people are not experts, making the expert non-representative.

    > Does anyone on this blog know anything about NetLogo, or any similar simulation software? If so, drop me a line, and perhaps there’s a paper or two to be had in this.

    I am not familiar with this particular package but I would probably be able to use other packages to carry out the same kind of calculations, so I could give this a try.

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  19. […] of the Ig Nobel prize, turns in his “Improbable research” column in the Guardian to Pluchino et al. in support for sortition: Improbable research: why random selection of MPs may be […]

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