While discussing options for Canada’s broken senate, I advocated for making senate selection random, an idea near and dear to many science fiction acolytes. I believe this to be a superior alternative to the current lot of retired civil servants, failed politicians, washed up broadcasters, privileged elite, and a few decent people that currently make up the Canadian Senate. Here’s a study (pdf) that says a mix of random legislators makes for good policy.
We study a prototypical model of a Parliament with two Parties or two Political Coalitions and we show how the introduction of a variable percentage of randomly selected independent legislators can increase the global efficiency of a Legislature, in terms of both the number of laws passed and the average social welfare obtained. We also analytically find an ”efficiency golden rule” which allows to fix the optimal number of legislators to be selected at random after that regular elections have established the relative proportion of the two Parties or Coalitions. These results are in line with both the ancient Greek democratic system and the recent discovery that the adoption of random strategies can improve the efficiency of hierarchical organizations.
Good policy is supposed to maximize social gain. It is difficult for legislators to make good policy in the absence of personal gain, so everyone needs to be in the upper-right quadrant of the figure. The simulation works by denying any party a majority unless they can appeal to a number of independent, random actors. Since these legislators can’t be re-elected and have little to gain personally, they will make decisions based more on social gain than personal gain, and move things upward and right. The simulation also found that having no parties and complete independence conferred little advantage. The optimum was a little more than half of the legislature to be “independent” and “random”.
This is only a simulation. In practice, few people are independent and promises of future positions and future prestige will presumably influence independents to vote to preserve privilege rather than maximize “social good”. But the current system of a very small minority (1-2% of Canadians belong to a party) of people of a very specific kind passing policy based on diktats from the prime minister is not a good system anyway.
So, a senate that is part “elected” and part random would presumably provide the best outcome. A completely lottery senate would be a great, great improvement to the Canadian senate as it exists today. I am glad there’s some research to back my pet proposal.