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LOTTERIES IN HISTORY:
Lotteries are used for gambling, but there are much more interesting ways that lotteries have been used. Remember the way 'drawing lots' was used in Biblical times, to decide a surprising range of things? That's how Jonah finished up in the belly of the Big Fish. That's how they divided the land of Israel in the time of Joshua. When Judas out of remorse killed himself, a replacement Apostle was chosen by 'casting lots'.
—The ancient Greeks, most notably the Athenians, felt that deciding who should rule was best settled by a lottery; indeed that randomly selecting via a lottery is the essence of Democracy - and they should know: they invented the idea! The Romans were less taken by ruling by lot, but had the curious punishment known as decimation - executing one in 10 of an army unit which under-performed, with the victims chosen at random.
—During the Renaissance, cities such as Florence, Venice and Genoa selected rulers, magistrates and other officials by drawing their name from an urn. To this day the tiny Republic of San Marino picks its two rulers-for-a-year, by drawing names from a short-list of 12. The renaissance men consciously modelled themselves on the ancient wisdom, so their use of lotteries in this way is not surprising.
Coram chooses babies for his foundling hospital In 1730 Thomas Coram, a wealthy retired London businessman set up a ‘Foundling Hospital’ – an institution to look after abandoned babies. The babies had to be abandoned by the mother in person, and full records were kept. Coram was soon overwhelmed by the demand for places, and had to institute a lottery: Mothers were invited to draw a ball from a bag. If it was white, the baby was in, red – go on the reserve list. The black ball was for ‘reject’ almost certainly leading to exposure and death. (In Simon Schama’s History of Britain BBC2 3 Nov 2002)
Perhaps you're thinking that using a lottery to decide who should be rewarded or punished is just a historical curiosity, a relic of pre-rational times. Since the Enlightenment, we somewhat arrogantly believe that there is a logical solution to every problem however knotty. There remains one very important bulwark of protection of the individual against the overweening power of the state -the right to
—Trial by jury. Twelve individuals are selected from the population at large to test the truth of the accused's plea of 'not guilty', although deciding any punishment is left to the appointed judge. In civil cases the jury decides the penalties also. How the jury is selected differs slightly in different jurisdictions: In England the doctrine is that the jury is a random selection from the electoral register; in the US the aim is to produce a 'representative' jury.
Apart from juries, 'casting lots' is still used on occasion to decide your fate. Sometimes the bureaucrats run into difficulties and perhaps instinctively reach for a lottery as a way out.
—Selecting young men for military service is one example. In the US during WW II, and again during the Vietnam War, the 'goldfish bowl' was used - a birthday (day, month) was drawn from the bowl, and all the 19-year-olds born on that day were called up. To achieve the required number of enlisted men the draw continued picking as many birthdates as needed. Using a lottery for military service had been used in earlier times too, during Napoleonic and other wars.
(click on link below for more detail about the US militray draft)
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