Many people are averse to taking responsibility. That's the message of some new research led by Georg Weizsacker. He and his colleagues show that many prefer to randomize their choices rather that make them themselves even if doing so reduces expected utility. This is true not just in laboratory experiments but in important real-life choices such as university applications. This, he suggests, is because people are regret-averse; they fear they'll kick themselves if they make a wrong choice, and so choose randomness to minimize such regret.
This finding is consistent with two big political absences - that there's little demand for greater worker democracy, despite evidence that this might be more efficient than more hierarchical firms; and that there's little demand for direct democracy despite evidence (pdf) that it can improve well-being.
Perhaps an (irrational) aversion to responsibility explains these absences; as I said yesterday, the problem with democracies isn't politicians so much as voters.
Herein, though, lies a paradox. Whilst people seem happy to shun responsibility in at least some spheres, there is no demand for the explicit introduction of deliberate randomness into public affairs. For example, there are no calls for sortition, even though it has some advantages; see Jon Elster's Solomonic Judgements for a longer discussion.
There is, I fear, a simple solution to this paradox. Whilst people don't want responsibility for themselves, they are keen to hand it to others rather than accept dumb luck. It could be that our desire for bosses - in politics and at work - arises from the same motive as the desire for a planned economy rather than the chaos of the market, or the belief in God. They are all examples of an urge that someone take responsibility rather than that we rely upon impersonal forces. Humankind cannot bear very much randomness.