Episode 23: Alternatives to Democracy / April 23, 2021

With Dr Lewis Ross

Hosted by Keir Aitken Kate Moody

Edited by Signe Emilie Eriksen

Posted in Political Philosophy Main feed

In this episode Keir and Katie speak to Dr Lewis Ross, Fellow of Philosophy and Public Policy at the London School of Economics, about the problems with democracy and some of its alternatives. 

What’s so good about democracy? Is it really better than the alternatives? In this episode, co-hosts Katie and Keir talk to Dr Lewis Ross, a fellow in Philosophy and Public Policy at the London School of Economics. They explore the limits of democracy and some alternatives that have been proposed: Lottocracy, Epistocracy and Lewis’ favoured approach, Plato’s philosopher kings.


01:12 -Critiques and justifications for democracy in our current world

06:03 - The “philosopher king” and Brennan’s argument for a test-based epistocracy

10:36 - The flaws in democracy’s defence of “two heads are better than one”

14:40 - Voter motivation in democracy

15:42 - The “fairness” of democracy, capture of power by influential figures, and lottocracy as an alternative

22:18 - Lottocratic systems as comparable to a “jury” and potential setbacks

27:13 - Lewis’ ideal political system – the potential of experimenting with lottocratic systems


Lewis Ross: So, I quite like the… the philosopher king model, so I would probably go for that and put myself in sole command.

Katie Moody: [laugh]


Katie Moody: Hello everyone! Welcome back to another episode of Thoughts. My name’s Katie.

Keir Aitken: And my name is Keir.

KM: Today on the show, we have Dr. Lewis Ross, a fellow of Philosophy and Public Policy at the London School of Economics whose main interests are epistemology, political philosophy, and the philosophy of law.

KA: And now here are some Thoughts on democracy and its possible alternatives.

KA: Hello, Lewis! Thank you so much for coming on.

Lewis Ross: Yeah, thanks for having me on the show! So, I was an undergraduate at Glasgow from 2010 to 2014, so it’s really nice to try and connect with the department again. I had such a great time studying there with lots of great philosophers. It’s good to sort of revisit my days at Glasgow and get in touch.

KA: Your younger years, you know? The glory days? [laugh]

LR: The glory days, yeah! It was all downhill from there for me. I think I peaked too soon.

KA: No, don’t say that! I just graduated! No! [laugh]

KM: [laugh] Okay, so I think today, we’re going to be talking about democracy and some alternatives to it. So, the first question is, obviously everyone thinks democracy is amazing. But how do we actually justify it?

LR: So, it’s a good question, and I wonder if everyone does think that democracy is amazing. So, if you think about political culture over the last five years, there’s been a huge amount of angst about the results of democracy. So, if you think about the Brexit process or the election of Trump, I think there’s been a huge amount of uncertainty about the value of democracy in modern political culture. So, today I want to try and make some progress on understanding, well, why is democracy better than alternatives, and indeed are there attractive alternatives to democracy?

So, I think often people are introduced to the criticism of democracy through the work of Plato and ‘The Republic’, and I think his arguments are sort of just as compelling today as they were when he wrote them thousands of years ago. So, he starts with this analogy with other types of high-stakes decisions. He points out that when we have other sort of complicated and high-stakes decisions and procedures, we wouldn’t often entrust them to the uninformed. So, for example, we wouldn’t trust someone who’s not skilled in surgery to operate on us. We wouldn’t let the untrained crew of a ship pilot the ship. Rather, we depend on the expertise of the ship’s captain. And so he poses the question, well, given that politics is uniquely high-stakes, why is it that we entrust political decision-making to the what you might think is the uninformed masses? Why is simply reaching the age of 18 a sufficient qualification for having a degree of power over political outcomes?

KA: Very true.

KM: So, how do people tend to go about trying to justify democracy?

LR: Okay, that’s a great question. In general, there have been two different ways that people have tried to justify democracy. One strategy is what’s called the instrumental strategy, which basically says, well, democracy actually leads to good outcomes. Even though you might think that the Platonic analogy is on its face a compelling one, regarding the surgeon and the surgery, some people have said that we actually have reason to believe that democracy in fact leads to good outcomes. And the second way that people have tried to justify democracy is to say that, well, let’s forget about the outcomes for a moment. But there’s actually something about democracy that makes it an intrinsically good process, irrespective of what outcomes it leads to. So, for example, that democracy’s uniquely fair, or it treats people as equals, or something like this. So, these are the two broad strategies. One focuses on the outcomes that stem from democratic decision-making procedures, and the second tries to say, well, even putting the outcomes aside, there are still some inherent qualities of democracy that make it intrinsically superior to other types of political decision-making.

KM: So, just- so focusing on the outcomes, how compelling do you think that really is? Do you think that’s right?

LR: So, I think it depends on what sort of outcomes we’re interested in. So, to start with, there have been some attempts in history to say, well, the outcome that we get from democracy is that it’s sort of builds character. So, em, famous theorists like Mill have defended this view, but also pragmatists like Dewey have thought that, well, coming together and selling things’ a democratic procedure. And I suppose we’re thinking about deliberation rather than voting here. They’ve thought that this is, like, character ennobling. It builds character, as it were. But em, empirically, I mean if you look back at the last five years and the debates about Brexit and Trump, you might wonder whether that’s true. Some people have thought that democracy’s actually tearing society apart as it divides people into different factions, so…

KA: Issue I have that argument, however, is that it’s hard to say if Trump was a good example of democracy or if we even have the level of democracy that the people are making this argument from? Like, with these current examples?

LR: Yeah, so I think that’s a nice point. So, there’s a difference in what philosophers sometimes call ideal and non-ideal theory. So, ideal theory is basically like, well, imagine that the best democracy you can think of, would that lead to good outcomes? And then you might say, well, hey, sure, why not? Maybe that would ennoble our character. But I think that the strategy’s got to be, well, how can we justify democracy as it is on the ground just now?

KA: Just now.

LR: I think that’s… To me, that’s the most interesting project. Although I think it’s of course conceptually interesting to think about the perfect democracy and what that might be like, but for me, I think the action is trying to work out how can we defend democracy as it is as we find it in sort of the contemporary world.

KA: Absolutely, yeah.

KM: Yeah. I remember in a political philosophy course talking about, I can’t remember who’s theory it is, but you divide people into Hobbits, Hooligans, and Vulcans. And I think the majority of people are Hooligans. Em…

LR: Oh, so that sounds like Jason Brennan.

KM: Yes! It’s Jason Brennan! Yeah, yeah.

LR: He’s made a career for himself of sort of trenching critiques of democracy. I think his latest book was called ‘Against Democracy’. But I think his work’s excellent because it really… It really represents the alternative view, and he’s posed a lot of difficult questions for people who have tried to question democracy that I think are worth dealing with. Yeah, so, it’s interesting that you mention Brennan because Brennan is a proponent of what is called epistocracy. So, his thought is that, well, if outcomes matter, that should push us towards trying to devise the system that has the best outcomes. And he takes the Platonic analogy seriously. He thinks we should have rule-by-experts, in a way. So, he doesn’t quite defend the Platonic idea of philosopher kings.

KM: [laugh]

LR: Unfortunately, given the current state of the philosophy job market, it’d be nice to have a little boost there. But he-

KA: What’s a philosopher king, sorry, just to clarify?

LR: Okay, so… So, the philosopher king, I think… [sigh] It’s been a while since I’ve, em, read my Plato, but the idea roughly was that the perfect society for Plato would be one in which people would be selected from birth and given a sort of rigorous philosophical education and separated from the masses, and they would be the people to whom we entrusted political power to. So, this really takes the idea of the expert seriously. But Brennan’s thought is more that, well, perhaps what we should do is we should have competence exams for voters. So, voters should be selected on their competence rather than it simply being the case that everyone over the age of 18 should be allowed to vote.

But this is just one type of epistocratic system. There’s a whole variety. So, you might imagine we could have, em… sort of councils of experts that could veto government decisions, for example, or you might think that maybe voters should just pick certain outcomes to which the political system should aspire towards and experts should decide how we get there. And these are just a variety of different epistocratic systems that some people have thought make an interesting alternative to democracy.

KA: The issue that I have with the test-based epistocracy is that, who gets to decide what’s in the test? And for example, with the AIs that they have, there’s this prejudice they have where they can’t recognise female faces of faces of people of colour as well as they can a white male just because it’s these tech bros in Silicon Valley that are coding them. And they’re not meaning to be prejudiced, but it’ll come through even if they don’t mean as such. And I think that would be the same in any testing you could present to voters.

LR: Yeah, I think that’s a very good objection. In fact, this ha been one of the biggest objections in the literature, so you’ve really hit the nail on the head with that one. And, yeah, of course you might think there are types of bias, but even if we think, well, what’s the most plausible proxy for sort of being competent in politics? And maybe this is a self-serving response, but you might think it’s something like education. And there’s obviously lots of political scientists that have studies saying that, well, education is positively correlated with sort of understanding how the political system works. But even if that’s true, you’re completely right that we can predictably imagine that if you exclude certain people based on education, this will lead to a very unrepresentative voter base. People who are systematically disadvantaged would be left out in the cold in such a system.

KA: It sounds like an academic’s answer to me.

LR: [laugh]

KM: I mean, it really doesn’t seem… I mean, I know that you want… talking about this not being ideal. Like, when we were talking about it, we don’t want it to be ideal. But it doesn’t seem like that isn’t a problem for the theory, you know? That seems like a social issue that needs to be solved anyway. Until we want to solve that, and then we can get an epistocracy.

LR: So, Brennan might say something like this, if I put my sort of Brennan hat on. He might say, well, okay, so, fair enough. My theory would be unrepresentative and that it might exclude people from poorer backgrounds, plausibly enough. But he’s going to say, well, to what extent are these people’s interests being looked after at the moment, anyway? He would say, well, these people would be more advantaged by rule by, uh, unrepresentative epistocracy, rather than by a stupid democracy. I think that would be the sort of Brennan-esque response.

KA: Fair enough.

LR: And that’s the… That’s the line that he’s pushed to the responses to this, what I think is a very important criticism.

KA: I think that’s fair response, honestly.

LR: So, maybe it’s worth… It might be sort of interesting to think about another way that people have responded to this epistocratic challenge. And that’s to say that despite appearances, democracy is in fact very smart. Democracy is in fact quite reliable at producing the right outcomes. So, this has been one of the ways that political theorists have tried to sort of grasp the nettle. They say yes, outcomes are indeed very important, but democracy is actually smart. That’s been a prominent response.

KA: And do you think that’s the case?

LR: I’m not convinced. So, some people have tried to defend the idea that democracy’s smart from these rather simplistic sort of a priori assumptions. So, maybe the most famous example is the Condorcet Jury Theorem. So, Condorcet, back in I think it was the 1700s, was trying to defend why we use juries to make decisions. And he said, well, just grant me one thing. Grant me that the individual chooser is just better than flipping a coin and getting it right. If you can just grant me that, then democracy is actually in very good shape. Because if you take a bunch of people who are only just slightly better than random at making a choice, the more of those people there are, the more reliable the process will be. So, this has been one way that people have tried to sort of defend democracy.

And other ways include, well, I guess there’s a sort of idiom, a sort of wisdom of the crowd. You know, sort of, two heads are better then one, three heads are better than two, sort of thing. Other people have used this sort of idea to defend democracy, because the idea of sort of pulling together our collective wisdom to make progress on political questions. Of course, you can defer things to one expert, but if you get tens of thousands of people to try and make decisions, some people have thought by sort of pulling everyone’s distinct expertise and perspectives together, that’s what really makes democracy an extremely reliable process.

KA: There seems to me to be a fallacy of linear thinking there, because I imagine it could be a bell curve. Yeah, two heads are better than three and, eh… No. [laugh] Sorry, three heads are better than two, and four is maybe better than three, but I don’t know if 500 heads is actually better than 499. Like, there could be a point where actually, too many people… It will not…

LR: Too many cooks spoil the broth, as it were.

KA: Exactly. Yeah, there you are.

LR: That’s true. And another worry might be, well, is that even true that two heads are better than one? So, let’s think, who’s at Glasgow? So, you’ve got wonderful thinkers like Ben Colburn, who’s a philosopher of political philosophy, right? And imagine there’s a task, and the task is to write a very good paper on autonomy. Is there any number of undergraduates that you could get into a room and put them together such that they would do a better job than Ben at writing that paper? I dunno. I don’t know if that’s plausible.

KM: I think that’s definitely true, especially- I mean, with complicated issues as well. I think that’s the main thing with politics. You can get any number of people… Like, I think a really good example right now is the vaccine. Because I was listening to [laugh] a radio programme. Lots of people were sort of phoning in and talking about their worries about the vaccine, and one of them – or several – were like, oh, it affects your DNA. It’s going to affect future generations. [laugh] And I think it’s a good example of one of those things that’s, like, really complicated and you could probably get about 500 people trying to understand it and you’d still be much better with just [laugh] the people who designed the vaccine, like 10 of them. Do you know what I mean?

LR: Exactly! Exactly. I think some of these models work best if you assume that everyone is kind of on the right track, or everyone is sort of approaching the right answer. Then maybe in those cases, by putting them together, they can get it right. But if you…

KM: Yeah.

LR: If you sort of take a bunch of nonsense and collate it, I think it is perhaps optimistic to say the least to say that’s going to get you the right answer. So, the types of examples they use is often things like, well, say if you got a bunch of sweeties in a jar and you ask 20 people to estimate how many there are, often if you take like the sort of… the median or mean answer, that’ll often be more accurate than just relying on one person’s say-so.

KM: Mm.

LR: But you might think, well, actually, democracy’s nothing like that. People often are just wildly misguided.

KM: Yeah. I think what’s interesting though is that people are maybe not good at knowing how to do stuff, but they’re good at knowing what would be good for them. And so then, the thing you were talking about, about people sort of voting on what they would like to see happen and then experts being involved in how that can actually be realised, that was one of the examples of epistocracy, is it not?

LR: Yeah. So, that’s a wonderful… a wonderful question, because what you’ve said is, well, people are really good at what’s good for them. And this raises a really difficult question for thinking about the democratic process. What should people be motivated by when they vote? Should they be motivated by self-interest?

KM: Mm.

LR: Or what’s in the best interest of the community at large? So, when Mill talked about this, he said being an elector is like being a member of the jury. You’ve got to put all of your personal interests aside and just do what you think is sort of correct overall. You’ve got a duty to care about the interests of society, but you might think that when it comes to elections, well, people kind of weigh the two things. They think, well, that tax break will be good for me, but I do think it’s important to, you know, do this social policy because that’s good for other people, and we sort of have this mixed motivation base. So, that raises a lot of tough tough questions when we’re thinking about how reliable voters are, because they seem to be motivated by just different things.

KA: So, we’ve talked a little bit about epistocracy. I was wondering if there are any other alternatives that we could look at to democracy?

LR: Good question. So, maybe let’s think about the other way that people have tried to justify democracy. So, that’s with this idea that, well, maybe democracy is just sort of intrinsically good, because it’s fair or it treats people as equals. So, that’s a pretty plausible thought, I think. So, democracy does seem to treat people as equals in that it gives everyone an equal say, and you might think it’s fair because you might- I mean, often in everyday life, we think, well, we disagree. What’s a fair way to decide how to progress? Well, simply take a vote. I think when you dig down, it becomes quite hard to make precise exactly what makes democracy fair. So… People disagree about democracy too, after all. So, some people disagree that taking a vote is the fair thing to do. Some people might say, well, simply appoint the expert.

Adam Rieger at Glasgow has what I think is maybe the funniest philosophy paper of all time. It’s a one-page paper and analysis where he… He tries to bring out a paradox about democracy where he says, well, suppose people disagree on what voting systems we should we use. How should we settle that? Well, you might think, well, let’s simply take a vote on it. But then, what if people disagree about the voting system to use for the referendum?

KA: [laugh]

LR: “Well, we’ll just have a vote.” And then obviously, this conversation would go on forever. So, there’s a sort of… There’s a sort of paradox. Even if you have disagreements about democratic processes, it’s not quite clear what the fair thing to do would be to resolve those issues. So, even though there are these paradoxes, it’s still seems to be somewhat plausible thing that democracy is somehow fair. But then after all, there are other ways of making decisions that also seem fair. So, flipping a coin is often thought to be fair. If people have different views about where we should go for dinner, you might think, well, just put them all in a hat and we’ll pick one out. That seems to be fair, too.

So, it isn’t entirely clear that just thinking about sort of fairness or not privileging the views of certain people over others uniquely supports democracy, because there seems to be other ways to be fair or to treat people as equals, as well. And this leads us to what I think is in some ways the most attractive alternative that’s been defended, and this is the idea of lottocracy. So, intriguingly, this idea of lottocracy is actually a very ancient idea. So, the Athenians used to choose magistrates by lot, i.e. by lottery, to work out how they should apportion influential positions in society. And there’s this fascinating quote in Aristotle and his politics where he asserts, “the appointment of magistrates by lot is thought to be democratic, and the election of magistrates is oligarchic”.

KM: Ooh.

KA: Could you explain that?

LR: So, while I’m not an Aristotle expert, he might be worrying about the phenomenon of what’s often called “mob rule”. So, I think in ancient Athens, there was a phenomenon of demagogues who would make very flattering and fiery speeches that would convince the masses to support one particular position, even though their support for that position was simply based on the sort of say-so of some influential person. So, the though is that maybe sort of majority rule or democracy can be captured by the say-so of certain powerful people.

And you might think, well, does that have any relevance for modern society? Well, while the influence of the mass media has weaned somewhat, and I can’t remember the exact statistics, it was, em… a tradition or even a requirement that every prime ministerial candidate that was up for election had to go and have a meeting with Rupert Murdoch to see which way The Sun or The News of the World would go before the election campaign. Because the thought was that so many… so many voters would use what The Sun said as a proxy for who the best candidate was. And it was actually… it was a deeply important group to win over before the election. So, the thought here might be, well, given that the owners of certain newspapers are the ones who decide who the newspaper will support, the thought is that in this sense, there are certain aspects of democracy that tend towards oligarchy, which is prioritising the interests of a small group of rich and powerful people,. While in contrast, if you simply select politicians, for example, by lottery, you completely remove that possibility. You surrender the choice to chance, and in that sense, there’s no room for the rich and powerful to capture the democratic process. So, I think maybe that’s what Aristotle meant by this, and I think… I think there are real analogues about this worry in modern society, too.

KM: That’s kind of similar to the idea of, em… capture. I think, was it… Guerrero? I can’t say his name. But that whole idea that like, political candidates can sort of be captured by the rich and powerful, and then their policy is more in line with that than the interests of the majority.

LR: Precisely. So, we can put it this way. What’s the one thing that you need to get elected as, let’s say, President of the USA?

KA: Money.

KM: Yeah. Cash.

KA: Cash.

LR: Correct.

KA: Yeah. [laugh]

LR: Cold, hard cash.

KM: [laugh]

LR: And who gives you that cash? Well, at least in some cases, it’s going to be the rich and powerful. So, this idea of capture is that the democratic process can be captured by the interests of certain rich and powerful people, and this happens right at the beginning, right? You need to get their support in order to get elected, because you need campaign finance. And you also see this in other aspects of the democratic process, too, because as a politician, you often gain influence. You often gain connections with other people who you could influence. So, having a politician sort of on your side is a very valuable thing to have. So, you can often find this two-way process where people are offered consultancy jobs when they leave politics, for example, and everyone’s aware that his sort of thing goes on, and this can provide a motivation for politicians to do things that are in the interest of those who can offer them these jobs. So, all throughout the political process, there is a risk… I don’t want to speculate as to what extent that risk is realised, but there’s a risk that politics and political influence can be captured by people who have the money to pay for it.

KA: Could you give a quick overview of a process of a lottocracy and how that would differ from democracy, in you could just be bought out even though you’d been picked by lottery?

LR: So, good question. I think there are different types of lottocracy. One of the one that’s been… One of the ones that’s been most widely discussed is this idea that you would, em… Think about it like a citizen jury. So, let’s say there’s some political issue that needs to be decided. A thought might be that you’d gather together a sort of group of citizens, whether it’s 100 or 200 citizens, and you choose them by random in the same way that we choose jury members. So, you might just look at the electoral roll, for example. And these people are appointed to, say, write a report or make a recommendation on a particular policy proposal. And in fact, they’ve used this- There are some real-life examples. There are some very trivial ones. So, in Finland, they had such a citizen jury to think about how to reform snowmobile regulations. But a slightly more momentously, in Ireland recently, they had… They’ve got what is called the Citizens’ Assembly that decided the way in which they would present the Abortion Referendum to the Irish people. And one… one sort of potential advantage of this was it kind of took the political sting out of a very controversial issue, because we said, look, we’re going to put it in the hands of the people, and these people will have time and the resources to reflect on what should happen. And this was a way to draw the sting from what could have been a very toxic public debate about how the referendum should have been set up. So, these are all projects that are in their infancy, but there have been real life examples of these lottocratic systems in action.

KM: So, would you have any minimum requirements for being a candidate in a lottocracy?

LR: Oh, so I see where you’re going with this. So, you’re thinking, maybe we can combine the two elements. We could combine the epistocratic idea of having, like, a competency test and the lottocratic idea of picking people randomly. So, that would be an attractive model, I think, if you’re convinced by the sort of Brennan-esque argument. But then- then we get back to the same worries about representativeness. Because you might think that what’s especially good about choosing people randomly is that it provides you with this great cross-section of society. But the more… the more requirements for entry that you impose, the more homogenous the sample will be. So, I guess a thought is, well, lottocracy is a good idea because it’s going to give you this cross-section of people, not the sort of people that just do PPE and then become sort of parliamentary advisors and then MPs. It’s actually going to give you people from all different sorts of backgrounds. So, I think- I think you’ve really got to thread the needle here by being impressed by these competency requirements, but also keeping the advantages of lottocracy.

KM: Yeah. I mean, it seems as though some competency requirement, you maybe kind of fall back a little bit into Plato’s problems of democracy, in that you’re not going to get someone who’s not a surgeon to give you surgery. [laugh]

LR: That’s true. So, I think often when people propose these lottocratic systems, they imagine that it would be aided by an expert panel. So, it would be a bit like a jury. So, when you go to court and you serve in a jury, the lawyers present you with the evidence and you make up your mind. I think the thought is that, well, in a lottocratic system, we’d be a bit like that. You have experts come in and present sort of the facts and the figures and the relevant issues, and then you would debate together just like a jury does in order to issue your decision.

KM: One of my friends who’s studying Law right now was telling me about part of their course. They were talking about how a huge part of it is convincing the jury, how there’re all these sort of techniques for keeping the jury interested. So people don’t just get bored and let all the information just go over their heads. And I thought that was interesting, because it does sort of seem like there’s some element of manipulation happening on the point of the lawyer, and that could maybe be a slight issue in that, like, ostensibly, it’s the expert- it’s the sort of random citizen who’s running things, but they could be quite easily influenced by the most persuasive expert.

LR: Yeah, I think that’s – that’s an excellent question, and I’m not exactly sure how they would defend themselves against that, because obviously, as any student knows, experts differ in their level of charisma. Em…

KM and KA: [laugh]

LR: And if you have… If you have an expert who wants to push a certain agenda, then of course you might think, well, he could lead- he could lead the members of the sort of lottocratic jury by the nose.

KM: Mhm.

LR: Just as, for example, the media mogul can lead the electorate by the nose. So, I think that’s really an excellent… an excellent point. Especially if you thought you are going to entrust momentous decisions to these lottocratic juries.

KM: Yeah.

LR: I mean, imagine you entrusted, say, Brexit to a citizen…

KM: [laugh]

LR: To a citizen assembly! Can you imagine the level of scrutiny there would be on these people, on the experts who are presenting evidence?

KA: Okay, so, you get put in charge of the whole country. You get to decide how we organise ourselves. How do you do it?

LR: So, I quite like the… the philosopher king model. So, I would probably go for that and put myself in…

KM: [laugh]

LR: In sole command.

KM and KA: [laugh]

LR: If that’s not… if that’s not possible, I do think that we should experiment more with the lottocratic system. I mean, I think especially for local issues, it just makes a lot of sense to devolve power in ways that involve the people in politics in this way. And I think a nice feature of these lottocratic systems is that it prompts a more sort of slow and careful and rational approach to doing politics that’s a bit different from the sort of high tension of electoral campaigns. So, a guy called Robert Talisse recently released a book called ‘Overdoing Democracy’, and he sort of worries that we’re allowing democracy just to encroach on too much of our personal lives, right? When you see people, you’re always wondering, well, where did they vote on, say, Brexit? And it just colours the way we interact with each other. So, you might think a nice thing about this lottocratic system is that it sort of draws the sting from this fervid political debate, and sort of… It sort of isolates some issues, because you’re delegating responsibilities to citizens, but you’re not keeping yourself on a sort of political high alert at all times. So, I think we should at least experiment more with them.

I think a nice- So, my- I suppose my practical proposal would be… So, think about the House of Lords, right? I think there’s a sort of progressive tendency to say, well, that should just be elected. Everything should be elected. Power to the people. But it’s not clear to me that having an elected House of Lords would be a good thing, because it would often replicate many of the same issues we have with the House of Commons. There’s a dominance of political parties, people are whipped to support one policy or another, and people’s careers are determined by the extent to which they’re loyal to their political party. And you might think there’s room for using the House of Lords to try something a bit more radical and innovative. So, whether that be the use of experts, so appointing people with expertise to make decisions, or whether it’s appointing people by lottery. And I think this should be a way to sort of reinvigorate the way we think about politics, to think about these alternative systems.

KA: Well, that is such an interesting take on it! I’m also one of those progressives that thinks we should have power to the people in the House of Lords, but I say why not throw a curveball in there and do it by lottocracy? I really like that.

KM: [laugh]

KA: Thank you so much for coming on today, Lewis. It’s been an absolute pleasure to think about democracy and its alternatives.

KM: Yeah, thank you so much.

LR: Yeah, thanks for having me on. I had a great time. Em, and I hope you enjoy the rest of your time at Glasgow.


KM: Thank you for listening to another episode of Thoughts. Remember you can find us on Instagram at @thoughts_uofg and on Facebook and Twitter at @ThoughtsUofG.

KA: See you next time.

Transcript written by Monique Raranga