Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Old "Randomize Your Choices" Doge

Old doges can teach modern political scientists new tricks, according to a
paper by two computer scientists who analyzed the long and cumbersome - but
ultimately very effective - means by which the Venetian Republic elected its
sovereign-for-life. From 1268 to the fall of the republic, in 1797, Venice's
council of oligarchs took 10 rounds to choose each doge, with the first nine
rounds determining the electors for the next round and the final round
picking a winner. Five of the first eight rounds were decided not by
election but by the drawing of lots. This injection of randomness into the
process, the authors argue, conferred considerable advantages over
proportional-representation or simple-majority systems, and may explain the
republic's great durability. The element of uncertainty forced electors to
weigh minority opinions with special care; it also encouraged compromise and
guarded against corruption. Moreover, by accepting an arduous selection
process (which in the days before probability theory must have seemed highly
arbitrary), Venice's oligarchs demonstrated to the people their collective
commitment to the republic. [Atlantic Monthly]

The actual paper, which is quite interesting.

(Nod to KL)

1 comment:

Prison Rodeo said...

Nice post. Years ago, as a graduate student, I was a co-discussant (with Jim Buchanan -- gulp!) of the Coggins and Perali paper at the Public Choice meeting. Ever since then, I've thought that the voting procedures for the Doge ought to be something we should pay more attention to. Kudos to the HP folks.