S2E3. Alex Guerrero on Democracy by Lottery
Play • 1 hr 2 min
On this episode of Free Range, host Mike Livermore is joined by Alex Guerrero, a philosophy professor at Rutgers who writes in moral and political philosophy. Guerrero is a leading philosophical defender of the idea of lottocracy—the practice of choosing political leaders through lottery rather than elections.

The podcast begins with Guerrero’s diagnosis of the failures of our current politics and the limitations of reforms such as changes to the campaign finance system. (0:33 - 12:40) Guerrero goes on to challenge what he referred to as the “Churchillian shrug,” which is the view that there are no viable alternative to electoral democracy. For Guerrero, elections are a technology, and there is no good reason to think that there are not better options available. There is no guarantee that elections are not the ideal system, but they are imperfect, and it would be wise to be open to different ways of organizing our politics. (12:40-19:19)

One difference between today and the periods when elections took hold is that contemporary society is much more complex than in the past. As we deal with globally interconnected issues, it is much more difficult for our communities to really understand or see the effects of political decisions. In addition, elections tend to produce unrepresentative outcomes, with a small segment of economic and social elites occupying positions of political power. In an increasingly diverse society, this is a problem. Lottery selection would mean that groups that are frequently underrepresented, such as single parents or members of the working class, would have a voice in the legislature. (19:19-25:56)

The conversation turns to some of the logistics of how lotacracy would work in practice. Guerrero favors  a set of single issue legislatures that would allow members to cultivate expertise. A question that remains is how executive oversight would work in a domain such as climate change where many important decisions must be made by administrative agencies. (25:56-28:47) Guerrero believes that agencies should be overseen by the legislature rather than an elected, or randomly selected, executive officer. (28:47-35:05) Broadly, agencies could operate as they do now, but with a different set of political leaders that they are accountable to. (35:05-52:31)

The attractiveness of the lotacracy idea turns in part on the people one envisions as being selected. Perhaps a randomly choses legislature would be a place where thoughtful, responsible, and diligent citizens deliberate on matters of public concern. Or, it could be cacophony of conflicting voices, with segregationists, QAnon supporters, or simply those who do not have the ability to understand the complex issues at hand vying for influence. Guerrero is optimistic and believes the lottery system cannot be much worse than the current system. Ultimately, he believes that bringing individuals from all backgrounds together to talk about political problems facilitates better discussion and engagement than what exists in our electoral system currently. (52:31-1:01-35)
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