|Posted: January 18, 2007, 12:55 pm - IP Logged|
Lotteries have been accepted as a fair, democratic way of making difficult choices. The US secretary of the war department, speaking at the beginning of the 1917 military draft lottery, captured the essence of this idea: "This is an occasion of great dignity and some solemnity. It represents the first application of a principle believed by many of us to be thoroughly democratic, equal and fair in selecting soldiers to defend the national honor abroad and at home."
Legal judgments have sometimes emphasised the fairness of drawing lots to decide matters of life and death. In considering a charge of manslaughter brought against a sailor in the 19th century, an American judge concluded, "When the ship is in no danger of sinking, but all sustenance is exhausted, and a sacrifice of one person is necessary to appease the hunger of others, the selection is by lot. This mode is resorted to as the fairest mode... we can conceive of no mode so consonant both to humanity and to justice."
From solemn to less solemn uses, there are many uses of lots to ensure fairness these days. These range from deciding who should be allocated limited quotas of immigration visas and university places to who should be allocated which dormitory rooms at university (S Fienberg, personal communication) and who shall receive the sum of the separate investments of the millions of people who buy Lottery Tickets.
A mind once stretched by a new idea never returns to its original dimensions!