Accidental Politicians: How Randomly Selected Legislators Can Improve Parliament Efficiency

A.Pluchino, C.Garofalo, A.Rapisarda, S.Spagano, M.Caserta


Physica A 390 (2011) 3944-3954



Download the paper from ArXiv (07/03/2011)


Talk presented at the European Conference on Complex Systems (ECCS'11) - 12-16 September 2011 - Vienna


Versione in Italiano



M.Caserta, A.Pluchino, A.Rapisarda, S.Spagano

The fallacy of representative democracy and the random selection of legislators

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Introduction: In ancient Greece, the cradle of democracy, governing bodies were largely selected by lot. The aim of this device was to avoid typical degenerations of any representative institution. In modern democracies, however, the standard is choosing representatives by vote through the Party system. Debate over efficiency of Parliament has therefore been centred on voting systems, on their impact on parliamentary performances and, ultimately, on the efficiency of economic system. In this paper, rediscovering the old Greek wisdom and recalling a famous diagram about human nature by C.M.Cipolla, we show how the injection of a measure of randomness improves the efficiency of a parliamentary institution. In particular, we develop an agent based model of a prototypical Parliament and find an analytical expression, whose predictions are confirmed by the simulations, that determines the exact number of randomly selected legislators, in an otherwise elected parliament, required to optimize its aggregate performance (number of approved acts times average social gain) after that free elections would have established the relative percentage of the two Parties or Coalitions. This result is also in line with the recent discovery that, under certain conditions, the adoption of random promotion strategies improves the efficiency of a human hierarchical organization. ........


Main References:

- C.M.Cipolla, "The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity", The Mad Millers (1976)

- J.W.Headlam, "Election by Lot at Athens", Cambridge University Press (1933)

- R.Michels, "Political Parties: A Sociological Study of the Oligarchical Tendencies of Modern Democracies", Dover (1959)

- J.Buchanan, "The Limits of Liberty: Between Anarchy and Leviathan", University of Chicago Press (1975)

- O.Dowlen, G.Delannoi, "Sortition: Theory and Practice", Imprint Academic (2010)

- C.Boyle, "Lotteries for Education", Imprint Academic (2010)

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Blogs and links about our paper:


- Democracy in Principle (USA, 13/10/2014) "Picking Legislators at Random Would Improve Congress"


- (RUSSIA, 13/11/2013) "From time to time"


- Improbable Research (USA, 08/03/2011) "Math: Advantage of selecting politicians randomly"


- Technology Review, MIT (USA, 09/03/2011) "Why Randomly-Selected Politicians Would Improve Democracy"


- Visionaire Berichten (Netherlands 10/03/2011) "Random politici verbeteren democratie"


- Galileo. Giornale di Scienza Online (Italy, 11/03/2011) "Scienza made in Italy"


- 20minutes - Politique (France, 11/03/2011) "Tirer au sort des hommes politiques, plus efficace que de voter?"


- Neo Fronteras (Espana, 11/03/2011) "Legisladores aleatorios y eficacia"


- Green Mass Group (USA, 12/03/2011) "Scientists propose randomly selecting certain fraction of legislators"


- (Espana, 13/03/2011) "La democracia mejora con parlamentarios elegidos al azar"


- (USA, 14/03/2011) "Randomly selected politicians"


- Equality by Lot: the Blog of the Kleroterians (USA, 16/03/2011)


- ABC News (USA 18/03/2011) "Random selection could 'improve democracy' "


- ABC Sydney (Australia 18/03/2011) "Random selection could 'improve democracy' "


- TopNews (USA 18/03/2011) "Research says randomness could 'improve democracy' "


- IndiaTalkies: News at Your Tips (India 18/03/2011) "Research says randomness could 'improve democracy' "


- (Poland 22/03/2011) "Naukowcy: losowanie bardziej sprzyja demokracji niz wybory"


- (Russia 22/03/2011) "How to make the parliament work more efficient"


- Discovery News (USA 25/03/2011) "Randomly selected leaders may make politics more efficient"


- Science on MSNBC (USA 28/03/2011) "Can randomly selected leaders improve politics?"


- Step1 - Intervista (Italia 21/04/2011) "Quelli dell'IG-Nobel la buttano in politica"


- NWT-Magazine (Netherlands 05/2011) "‘Willekeurig gekozen kamerleden goed voor politiek’"


- D&Democrazy (Spain 05/05/2011) "‘Can randomness improve democrazy?"


- The NonProfit Quarterly (USA 11/05/2011) "Would randomly-selected politicians improve democracy?"


- Edward Willet Blog (Canada 21/05/2011) "The case for accidental politicians"


- ISGTW (CERN, Ginevra 25/05/2011) "The Good, the Bad and the Random"


- To Bhma (Greece 29/05/2011) "Klerotoi ste BoulŹ"


- (USA 23/06/2011) "‘If We Chose Our Politicians at Random, Would it Improve Democracy?"


- Pour la (France Sept. 2011) "Hasard et Efficacité"


- TheGuardian (UK April 2012) "Improbable Research: the laws of human stupidity" of Marc Abrahams


- TheGuardian (UK 16/04/12) "Why random selection of MPs may be best" of Marc Abrahams


- Washington Post (USA 17/04/12) "Best way to pick legislators? At random." of Sarah Kliff


- BBC Radio 4: Material World (UK 19/04/12) Interview to Andrea Rapisarda on Random Selection of Politicians


- Interactive Democracy (20/04/12) "Randomness could improve democracy"


- As Milésoume Epitélous (Greek 20/04/12) "KlerotŹ Demokratďa"


- PaperBlog (Italia 22/04/12) "La lotteria della Democrazia"


- Annals of Improbable Research (USA May-June 2012) "Randomness vs. Stupidity"


- 05/03/2013: "El efecto Dunning-Kruger y el Partito Lotteria" di Ignacio Oliveras su El Huffington Post (Spain)


- 28/03/2013: "In Praise of Random Promotions: Reflections on Diplomacy" by Aldo Matteucci - Deepdip.wordpress


- 26/04/2013: "Le hasard, avenir de la démocratie" on AgoraVox, Le média citoyen (France)


- 22/05/2013: "El sorteo de cargos públicos: un método para mejorar la democracia" di Sebastián Linares (Spagna)


- 02/09/2013: "Random legislators" on "The primitive Thinking" blog




Links about related topics:


Peter Principle Revisited: a Computational Study

- Our Ig-nobel 2010 winning study about the effectiveness of random promotions strategies in hierarchical organizations 

onallboyle Lotteries for social life, education, politics & law, medicine, sport, military

- The interesting website of Prof. C.Boyle 

- Examples where randomisation is being used to distribute prizes

20px-AGMA_Kleroterion Kleroterion

- The role of random choices in ancient Athenian democracy (EN) - see also "Sortition" and "Lottocracy"

orges SégolŹne Royal

- Royal's Participative Democracy: May random elected citizen juries improve the efficiency of political action?


- The Lottery in Babylon: a metaphor for the role of chance in everyone's life

The Illusion of Control

- The Illusion of Control : Individuals underestimate the role of chance in the social context

- Satinover & Sornette - The illusion of control in minority and Parrondo games (Presentation, 2008)

- Satinover & Sornette - “Illusion of control” in Time-Horizon Minority and Parrondo Games (EurPhysJB07)


"The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity": An extract from the original paper of C.M.Cipolla which inspired our work