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The Luck of the Draw: The Role of Lotteries…

The Luck of the Draw: The Role of Lotteries in Decision Making (edition 2011)

by Peter Stone

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A prominent scholar once noted that lotteries in politics and society - to break vote ties, assign students to schools, draft people into the military, select juries - are "at first thought absurd, and at second thought obvious." Lotteries have been part of politics since the Greek and Romantimes, and they are used frequently in American politics today. When there is a two-to-two vote tie for prospective school board members, officials will often resort to flipping a coin (as happened recently in California). And in military drafts, the conventional wisdom is that random selection isfar more just than non-lottery drafts. Northerners rioted against the perceived injustice of the non-random draft during the Civil War, and Americans by and large believed that student deferments subverted the justice of the draft during the Vietnam War.Over the years, people who study and practice politics have devoted considerable effort to thinking about the legitimacy of lotteries and whether they are just or not under certain circumstances. Yet they have really only focused on lotteries on a case-by-case basis, and no one has ever developed asubstantial and comprehensive political theory of lotteries. In The Luck of the Draw, Peter Stone does just that. Examining the wide range of arguments for and against lotteries, Stone comes to the startling conclusion that lotteries have only one crucial effect relevant to decision-making: theyhave the "sanitizing effect" of preventing decisions from being made on the basis of reasons. Stone readily admits that this rationale might sound absurd to us, but contends that in many instances it is vital for people to make decisions without any reasoned rationale to compel them. Sometimes,justice can only be carried out through random selection - a fundamental principle of the practice of lottery that Stone comes to call "The Just Lottery Rule." By developing innovative ways for interpreting this pervasive form of political practice, Stone provides us with a foundation forunderstanding how to best make use of lottery when making political decisions both large and small.… (more)
Title:The Luck of the Draw: The Role of Lotteries in Decision Making
Authors:Peter Stone
Info:Oxford University Press (2011), Hardcover, 208 pages
Collections:Your library, For sale
Tags:decision theory, sortition, philosophy - moral

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The Luck of the Draw: The Role of Lotteries in Decision Making by Peter Stone



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The author provides a thoughtful general analysis of decision by lottery. According to his lottery principle, a lottery is a defensible way of making a decision when it is important that bad reasons be kept out of the decision. This principle seems to be intuitively true and the first part of the book, where the author discusses what lotteries can do, is quite informative.

However, it doesn't take an entire book to enounce such a simple principle, so the author moves on to potential applications for lotteries: allocative justice in part II and political selection by lot (sortition) in part III. Part II in fact constitutes about half of the entire book. It focuses quite narrowly on moral political philosophy, going back and forth on how the lottery principle relates to theories of justice, John Rawls in particular. The author discusses questions which I imagine to be of interest only to professional philosophers.

Part III, which deals with sortition, is also a bit disappointing. The author basically just concedes that sortition is a more complex question than allocative justice. He then makes a few side-remarks but fails to discover any particularly meaningful problems. The concluding chapter of the book where he returns to the lottery principles itself was more interesting. I can recommend this book to readers interested in lottery and moral philosophy, but not to readers interested in sortition.
  thcson | Oct 1, 2014 |
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