Against Elections: The Lottocratic Alternative

PHILOSOPHY & PUBLIC AFFAIRS 42.2 (2014): 137-178

It is widely accepted that electoral representative democracy is better—along a number of different normative dimensions—than any other alternative lawmaking political arrangement. It is not typically seen as much of a competition: it is also widely accepted that the only legitimate alternative to electoral representative democracy is some form of direct democracy, but direct democracy—we are told—would lead to bad policy. This article makes the case that there is a legitimate alternative system—one that uses lotteries, not elections, to select political officials— that would be better than electoral representative democracy. 

This paper diagnoses two significant failings of modern-day systems of electoral representative government: the failure of responsiveness and the failure of good governance. The argument offered suggests that these flaws run deep, so that even significant and politically unlikely reforms with respect to campaign finance and election law would make little difference. Although the distillation of the argument is novel, the basic themes will likely be familiar. The initial response to the argument may be familiar as well: the Churchillian shrug.

This article represents the beginning of an effort to move past that response, to think about alternative political systems that might avoid some of the problems with the electoral representative system without introducing new and worse problems. The author outlines an alternative political system, the lottocratic system, and present some of the virtues of such a system. He considers some possible problems for the system. The overall aims of this article are to raise worries for electoral systems of government, to present the lottocratic system, and to defend the view that this system might be a normatively attractive alternative, removing a significant hurdle to taking a non-electoral system of government seriously as a possible improvement to electoral democracy.