Elections Are Terrible For Democracy

We should treat public service like jury duty instead

In Greece, they used a kleroterion to put people in office. You ran some balls through a tube, and the row/column the white ball landed on would be ‘selected’. Animation via TedEd

Look, it’s just not working out. Western democracies have devolved into oligarchy. Eastern democracies have reverted to feudalism. We’re electing millionaires and scions and calling it freedom but it’s just not. We need to try something else.

Original, Athenian democracy was not like this. Most people were deemed non-citizens, but if you were a citizen you had actual power. Because you actually held office. They used sortition for most posts — literally drawing lots. We should try this. How could it be worse?

Think about it. Everyone walks into a polling booth and puts their own name in the box (if they want to). Then you shake up the box and that’s how you appoint your local government, your Parliament, hell even your President. Sounds crazy yes, but how are we living now? We seem to elect our worst. Random people off the street simply could not be worse.

Then think about what this does for representation. We’d actually get it. If you select a Parliament randomly, it would be at least 50% women. It wouldn’t be just rich people, all income groups and classes would be represented. You wouldn’t need to raise millions of dollars or be born to the right family. Everyone can put their name in a box. Suddenly you’d have poor people deciding on the policies that effect them, and women controlling their bodies because they’d be in the damn room.

Then think about the policy this would produce. Right now politicians are rich, their donors are rich, and so you get policies that favor the rich. If serving in Parliament was akin to jury duty, however, you’d get ordinary people deciding on what effects them. Most politicians will never take public transit or send their kids to public schools, but most people do. If we were shuffled in and out of power randomly, policies that favor us would come out.

What could go wrong? Lots of things.

Obviously this should be tried at a local, federal level before going the whole shebang, but I will return to the core argument. How could it be worse? Elections elected Donald Trump. Where I live, the only non-inherited route into power is being really successful at crime. We have this myth of politicians being somehow better than us but they’re actually the worst.

All of the arguments for having a specialized political class are actually just complete bullshit. Look at your own politicians. Do they seem educated? Do they seem helpfully skilled? Are they not just the most shameless dicks we could find? A system full of random citizens could go plenty bad, but it could not be worse.

Think about all the objections.

Wouldn’t random people just steal? OK, but what are politicians doing now? At least random citizens would be out in four years. We could prosecute them as plebes (no jail), they wouldn’t be this untouchable caste, literally above the law. The politicians we have now end up stealing from us for generations. Again and again, could not be worse than what we have now.

Wouldn’t random people not understand legislation? Do you think politicians are reading legislation now? Bills are like 400 pages long and they just do whatever the party says. Lobbyists are writing this shit half the time. Ordinary people are plenty capable of reading fine print if it affects us. People that get arrested learn the law pretty fast.

Would random people not be capable of leading? There’s this deep idea that ordinary and especially poor people are not capable of leadership, but this is inherently classist. Intelligence is widely distributed, only opportunity is not. The politicians we have are not smarter than us, they just have more opportunity. Right now we literally depend on rich men to somehow empathize with women or poor people, and they just don’t. It’s much simpler to have women or poor people in the room. It’s called representative democracy for a reason. We don’t want prophets, we want representatives. The very idea that ordinary people are not capable of governing themselves is fundamentally anti-democratic.

So think about it for yourself. We can’t keep saying we have big problems and not think about big solutions. We can’t keep mindlessly defending democracy when the results suck. We have to mindfully fix this, from first principles. We have to go back to the root, and question what democracy means. Power to the people they say. So let’s do that. Put ordinary people in power.

As my wife would tell you, I’ve written this piece before:

Abolish Politicians — Why We Should Just Put Random People In Office
How could it be worse?