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Rotation & Lottery. A Democratic Decision Making Mechanism for Workers’ Co-operatives Conall Boyle Economics Department Swansea University. R & L in 3 rd World. Fisheries eg Kerala, S India— padu Strip farming, Scotland— runrig. Ancient oddities, no relevance?.

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rotation lottery

Rotation & Lottery

A Democratic Decision Making Mechanism for Workers’ Co-operatives

Conall Boyle

Economics Department

Swansea University

r l in 3 rd world
R & L in 3rd World
  • Fisheries eg Kerala, S India—padu
  • Strip farming, Scotland—runrig

Ancient oddities, no relevance?

the cavil in the durham coalfield
The cavil in the Durham coalfield

On Cavilling day, hewers' names would be drawn out of the foreman's hat, the order of draw determining the place at which each pair of hewers would extract coal for the next three months.

the cavil as an institution
The cavil as an ‘institution’
  • Cavil = an evolved institution


–sustained (despite alternatives):


Adds to the credibility of R & L in use

Institutional Economics

the cavil uneconomic
The Cavil — ‘uneconomic’
  • Imposes costs (on workers) > benefits
  • Payoff:
    • Fairness,
    • Justice
    • (Rawls Veil of Ignorance)
  • (fewer strikes in Durham <> S. Wales)
an economist s view of workers co ops
Kremer (1997)

Why are workers co-operatives so rare?

NBER Working paper 6118


Standard economics:

“greed is good”

Co-op = democracy

Median voter choose to compress wages diffs

Best workers leave

Mistrust & disputatiousness

Answer: neutral arbiter.

An Economist’s view of workers Co-ops
economics recognises life
Experimental economics:

Ultimatum game:

Inter-personal values of fairness matter, have a value (£)

Explains why the Cavil worked

Rational self-interest always significant, but

Reciprocity, esp within groups recognised

Don’t wish to see fellow workers lose out

Lottery: all treated equally and impartially

Economics recognises life
more experimental results
More experimental results
  • Narrowing wage diffs
    • leads to more harmony (esp face to face)
  • Highly competitive conds
    • Crowds out co-op values eg S Wales
lottery the neutral arbiter
Lottery — the neutral arbiter?
  • One-off could be gruesome
    • Eg school places, medical treatment
  • But, add repeated chances
    • Rotation of jobs like the cavil
    • Different opportunities as they arise
      • Specialist training
      • Assignment to favoured locations
      • Office space, equipment
  • Hence the true democracy of fair chances
  • And it’s cheap! No endless discussions about who deserves what.
random choosing duds
Random choosing = duds?
  • Minimal pre-screening
  • Human judgement very unreliable
    • So a lottery hardly any worse
    • And may produce ‘grit in the oyster’
co operatives and democracy
Co-operatives and Democracy
  • Ancient Greek idea — ‘democracy’
  • Rarely based on voting.
  • Instead used the lottery and rotation, including most public appointments.