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Should we institute a lottocracy?

nodigio, flickr
A typical sign used to designate the opportunity to participate in an election.

Currently, the political sphere of the United States is in shambles. Whether they are on the right or left side of the aisle, the American people do not feel they are being heard and believe that the country cannot be saved from the clutches of the other party. According to Pew Research Center, “since 2007, the pool of respondents saying they can trust the government always or most of the time has not surpassed 30%. Today, 29% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents say they trust the government just about always or most of the time, compared with 9% of Republicans and Republican-leaners.”

This has had a long list of impacts on our society. Senior Economist at the RAND Corporation, Katherine Carman, says that “as distrust increases, people are more likely to act in disruptive or even violent ways, like with the Jan. 6 insurrection.”

Yet, this is just the way it is. This is the trajectory of the American dream.

Yet, imagine, just for a moment, a world where your fate in governance is determined not by the thickness of your wallet or the influence of your connections. Instead, picture a world where destiny takes the form of a humble lottery ball, where your role in shaping the future of your nation depends on nothing more than the sheer luck of the draw.

Welcome to the captivating realm of a “lottocracy.”

A lottocracy is defined by Hélène Landemore in their work “Open Democracy: Reinventing Popular Rule for the Twenty-First Century” as “a system of governance where public officials are selected through random lotteries rather than elections.” In this alternative system, the grandeur of your estate, the prestige of your family name or the slickness of your campaign ads would all fall by the wayside. No longer would politicians wear tailored suits; they’d sport lucky socks.

In a lottocracy, the core principle is that everyone, regardless of their socioeconomic status or political connections, has an equal chance of participating in government. It’s a system that resonates profoundly with the democratic ideal of “government by the people.” Currently, the republic conceived by the founding fathers as a country that holds self-evident truths that all men are created equal skews power towards big names with even bigger wallets. When positions of power are filled randomly, it levels the playing field in a way that no election-based system ever could.

Consider the contrast: in the current election-based system, where candidates spend enormous sums on campaigns and engage in cutthroat party politics, do we always end up with the best leaders? Or do we, more often than not, find ourselves settling for the “lesser evil?” It’s a question that has haunted our political landscape for years.

But imagine a lottocracy where your next-door neighbor, a schoolteacher, a nurse or a plumber could suddenly find themselves at the helm of decision-making. This system would not only bring fresh perspectives to the table but also introduce diverse experiences that are entirely absent in our current system dominated by career politicians.

Currently, as displayed by a study conducted by The London School of Economics and Political Science in 2019, less than 19% of Americans feel represented by their current legislators. In the words of the esteemed Belgian scholar David Van Reybrouck, “it’s very simple: either politics throws open the doors or it won’t be long before they’ll be kicked in by angry citizens.” These career politicians set up a country that is, as articulated by scholar Yannick Giovanni Marshall, “a stars and stripes marionette show of happy slaves and holocaust denial in its place is in itself disqualifying for any party that claims to be the opposition.”

One common misconception about a lottocracy is that it turns citizens into passive observers, letting chance decide their fate in government. However, quite the opposite is true. A lottocracy is a catalyst for active participation and heightened civic engagement. Alex Guerrero, a philosophy professor from the University of Pennsylvania, says that “in a lottocratic system, where the representatives haven’t necessarily sought out power, you might get policies that are more responsive to the people and less distorted by powerful special interests.”

A lottocracy doesn’t dilute the importance of engagement; it magnifies it. It transforms citizens from spectators into agents of change, from passive onlookers into active contributors to the democratic process. This newfound engagement doesn’t just stop at the ballot box; it permeates every facet of civic life, reinvigorating our democracy and creating a more informed, responsible and involved electorate.

While this system may not be the ultimate answer, it serves as a thought-provoking concept, a beacon that guides us toward the fundamental principles of fairness, equality and representation in governance. It reminds us that democracy is not a static, unchangeable entity but a dynamic force, ever evolving to better serve the interests of its citizens. The world of a lottocracy is a world where the political stage is set not by the powerful, but by the whims of chance. As Reybrouck says, “since we have reduced democracy to representative democracy and representative democracy to elections, a valuable system is now mired in deep difficulties.” We must democratize democracy. If not, we will succumb to a dictatorship of elections.

So, as we navigate the complexities of governance, let’s keep the notion of a lottocracy in the back of our minds, inspiring us to find ways to make our system more fair, transparent and truly “for the people and by the people.”

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About the Contributor
Laken Kincaid
Laken Kincaid, Editor-in-Chief
Laken Kincaid is the Editor-in-Chief for The Carroll News from Beckley, West Virginia. They are a senior at John Carroll University who is double majoring in political science and communications (digital media) and minoring in leadership development. Laken has written for The Carroll News since the start of their freshman year and has previously served as a staff reporter, campus section editor and managing editor of the paper. They have received 18 Best of SNO awards, a Society of Professional Journalists Mark of Excellence award for Region 4 and two honorable mentions from the College Media Association. They have also been recognized by universities like Georgetown for their investigative reports. Additionally, they also write political satire for The Hilltop Show and feature stories on global poverty for The Borgen Project. In addition to their involvement with The Carroll News, Laken is involved with the Kappa Delta sorority, the speech and debate team, the Center for Student Diversity and Inclusion, the Improv club and other organizations. They also serve as the news director for WJCU 88.7, John Carroll's own radio station, and as the president for John Carroll's Society of Professional Journalists chapter.  Laken also started their own national nonprofit organization known as Art with the Elderly which they have won the President's Volunteer Service Award and the Humanity Rising Award for. When not writing, Laken can be found doing graphic design for their internship with Union Home Mortgage or working as a resident assistant and peer learning facilitator on campus. Laken also enjoys skiing and watching true crime documentaries. In the future, Laken hopes to become a political journalist for a national news organization or to be a campaign commercial editor for politicians. To contact Laken, email them at [email protected].

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