Article by Adam Grant: “On the eve of the first debate of the 2024 presidential race, trust in government is rivaling historic lows. Officials have been working hard to safeguard elections and assure citizens of their integrity. But if we want public office to have integrity, we might be better off eliminating elections altogether.
If you think that sounds anti-democratic, think again. The ancient Greeks invented democracy, and in Athens many government officials were selected through sortition — a random lottery from a pool of candidates. In the United States, we already use a version of a lottery to select jurors. What if we did the same with mayors, governors, legislators, justices and even presidents?
People expect leaders chosen at random to be less effective than those picked systematically. But in multiple experiments led by the psychologist Alexander Haslam, the opposite held true. Groups actually made smarter decisions when leaders were chosen at random than when they were elected by a group or chosen based on leadership skill.
Why were randomly chosen leaders more effective? They led more democratically. “Systematically selected leaders can undermine group goals,” Dr. Haslam and his colleagues suggest, because they have a tendency to “assert their personal superiority.” When you’re anointed by the group, it can quickly go to your head: I’m the chosen one.
When you know you’re picked at random, you don’t experience enough power to be corrupted by it. Instead, you feel a heightened sense of responsibility: I did nothing to earn this, so I need to make sure I represent the group well. And in one of the Haslam experiments, when a leader was picked at random, members were more likely to stand by the group’s decisions.
Over the past year I’ve floated the idea of sortition with a number of current members of Congress. Their immediate concern is ability: How do we make sure that citizens chosen randomly are capable of governing?
In ancient Athens, people had a choice about whether to participate in the lottery. They also had to pass an examination of their capacity to exercise public rights and duties. In America, imagine that anyone who wants to enter the pool has to pass a civics test — the same standard as immigrants applying for citizenship. We might wind up with leaders who understand the Constitution…(More)”.