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    Randomly-Selected Politicians

    Let's start this introduction of this exploration of how randomly-selected independent legislators could improve democracy off with a definition of Peter's Principle:

    "All new members in a hierarchical organization climb the hierarchy until they reach their level of maximum incompetence."

    This is the insight that physicist Alessandro Pluchino & colleagues worked with to win an IgNobel Prize for in 2010 (The IgNobel Prizes are awarded to those scientific insights which first make you laugh, and then make you think). They demonstrate mathematically, using computational models, why it's inefficient to promote people the way it's quite often done, which is by assuming that because one person is good at one level of competence within an organization that they would also be competent at another level within that organization. They then show that it would be best for optimal avoidance of incompetence in leadership, that it would be best to either alternately promote first the most skillfully endowed and then the least proficient individuals, or to simply select leadership completely at random within an organization. You can view an elaboration of this work, along with a java applet that may or may not crash your browser and destroy all your work if you decide to start it, in the following links:

    This work's understandings parallel with ancient Athenian democracy, which ran counter to what people understand as representative 'democracy' in many parts of the world by doing away with partisan representatives altogether in place of selecting governors by random selection. Recently they've come out with some new research which seeks to demonstrate how a system employing random selection is more efficient than the oligarchic popularity contest we've got going for ourselves. I guess it's important to ask the question here, do you feel represented?

    Lately Pluchino & friends have come up with some more work which extends these ideas to a parliamentary system, incorporating understandings from another Italian named Carlo Cipolla. Cipolla came up with a system of measuring merit based on evaluating the previous results of actions of an individual, by focusing on two factors: Benefits and losses that an individual causes to him or herself, and benefits and losses that an individual causes to others. He separates people into four categories:

    1. Inteligente (Intelligent people): Those whose actions generally cause a mutual benefit to themselves and to others
    2. Futil (Naive/Helpless people): Those whose actions tend towards causing a loss for themselves but a gain for others
    3. Vigarista (Bandits): Those whose actions have been shown to take benefits away from others but cause a gain for themselves
    4. Estupido (Stupids): Those whose actions cause a loss for everyone involved.

    From this, Cipolla highlights 5 laws of stupidity:

    1. Always and inevitably each of us underestimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation.
    2. The probability that a given person is stupid is independent of any other characteristic possessed by that person.
    3. A person is stupid if they cause damage to another person or group of people without experiencing personal gain, or even worse causing damage to themselves in the process.
    4. Non-stupid people always underestimate the harmful potential of stupid people; they constantly forget that at any time anywhere, and in any circumstance, dealing with or associating themselves with stupid individuals invariably constitutes a costly error.
    5. A stupid person is the most dangerous type of person there is.

    Pluchino's model of parliament then takes this to make an agent-based model of parliament which has 500 members, separated into two parties. Each member can either vote for or against acts of parliament, and members are elected democratically as you would expect out of systems currently in place. What makes Pluchino and company's model special is the introduction of a certain number of randomly-selected independents who are placed in this parliament in order to balance out the issues that partisan politics tend towards. Their work finds an 'efficiency golden-rule' which takes Peter's Principle and applies it to government structure, in order to reduce the amount of 'stupid' people making decisions in any given organization.

    You can view their work here:

    & an elaboration on Cipolla's ideas:

    I'm ruminating on ways in which these concepts could be improved even further in practice. Maybe some clear criteria way of selecting the randomly-selected independents from, say, people who have already shown to have the interests of the people at heart... There's a lot of thinking to do on these ideas, but what's also likely important is proven implementation of the benefits on a smaller organizational scale (Say, within a company, or maybe even municipal). I doubt that we'd be able to see this system in place at the federal level anytime soon but I'm sure that to get these ideas out there it wouldn't be all that hard to get this system in place on a more local level of decision making. I'd also like to see these ideas artistically represented so a wider audience may understand them, as they're not the most intuitive concepts considering how much they run against commonplace idealism.

    ( edit / delete )  Mon, Mar 14, 2011  Permanent link

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         Tue, Mar 29, 2011  Permanent link
    Also, I'm disappearing.

    Goodbye, it was very nice talking with all you people. Thank you very much, but I must disappear!
    Autotelic     Wed, Mar 30, 2011  Permanent link
    disappear? that word just screams "please ask, please ask..." so, why the adios amigos??
    rene     Sat, Apr 2, 2011  Permanent link
    dmitri, I want you to know that I, for one, will miss you forever. Many of us here loved you right from the start. It would be great to hear from you again through some other channels. Perhaps even a personal message through SC or via email. Thanks for all the intelligent and provocative insights you contributed to this adventure.
    Apollo     Sat, Apr 2, 2011  Permanent link
    I agree with Rene.
    I haven't been here very long, but in the brief time I've spent here your thoughts and contributions have been a consistent source of inspiration and reflection for me. I wish you all the best in your endeavours. Thank you! You will be greatly missed.
    sjef     Mon, Jul 11, 2011  Permanent link
    Haha damn am I ever late to this party. Tried to find some old posts back & everything was turning up 404. Anyway should you ever be back to read this, best of luck with your things & stuff. It was a good run.