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Solving the Brexit Deadlock by Lottery (because Blind Luck Trumps Biased Decisions)

By Chengwei Liu

Imagine today is the 10th of April, two days before the final day of Brexit extension. The Brexit Deadlock continues and the UK Parliament decide to run another indicative vote. Like the previous seven votes, none of the motions gained a majority but the gaps became smaller for six of them—which were defeated by fewer than 50 votes. The debates before the votes clearly suggest that all solutions are strongly supported by some but strongly opposed by others. None of the them show signs of receding despite the deadline.

The Prime Minister announced that she has had it enough. She got herself a die, named the six alternatives on each face of the die, and said Brexit will be decided based on a roll of the die with the one facing up being the consensus of the UK. The die is then casted and the outcome is livestreamed everywhere. After long silence, a quiet murmur of relief occurs everywhere and everyone get down to the business. The UK Government, the Parliament, and the citizens as well as the EU all respect the consensus. The country unite again and move on.

The above unlikely scenario illustrates one of the many situations where deciding by lottery (e.g., rolling a die) is not necessarily an absurd solution because it can produce outcomes that are better than those produced by decisions based on poor reasons or compromises with irreconcilable tensions. Random selection is to make a decision on the basis of no reason so poor reasons, such as those polluted by self-interest or illusion of control, are sanitized.

However, potentially good decisions are also excluded by random selection. Decision by lottery is thus more applicable during the final stages of decision-making where entirely flawed or infeasible options have been selected out.

This is exactly the phase the UK is in now: the parliament has agreed to vote on shortlisted solutions but none of them can gain a majority due to conflicting self-interests and unreliable economic and political calculations and predictions. In this case of final stage evaluations, decision by lottery provides a viable option because luck favors no one or no solution. This is exactly when blind luck is likely to trump a compromised or forced decision that will create tensions and conflicts for years to come in this country.

Making important decisions based on blind luck is rarely observed in modern organizations and politics. Since the Enlightenment, many are convinced that human reasoning can overcome all challenges. Decision by lottery was degraded to irrational beliefs in luck or to giving up control to divinity like our ancestors did.

But we live in a world characterized by uncertainty, limited foresight and controllability. Insisting on deciding by reasons leads to illusion of control when many factors are actually beyond our calculation and foresight. Random selection can have a less-is-more effect—deciding by lottery is to exercise less control over outcomes but to achieve more by detecting and sanitizing biased reasons and endless infighting.

In fact, these fairness and conflict-resolution considerations played an important role in motivating the ancient Greeks and Venetians when randomly choosing their leaders and strategic priorities. The UK citizens and politicians should consider blind luck not an absurd but an obvious solution if the shared goal of the conflicted parties is to extend the country’s prosperity and  longevity.

Chengwei Liu, Warwick Business School

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