12 May 2010

Paper Discusses Problems With Too Few Representatives

VOX: The More the Merrier? Choosing the optimal number of representatives in modern democracies

In a nutshell, a parliament with too few representatives is not “democratic” enough, possibly leading to an unstable political system, in which various undesirable forms of political expression, including of course violent ones, will develop.

In contrast, too many representatives entail substantial direct and indirect social costs, they tend to vote too many acts, interfere too much with the operation of markets, increase red tape and create many opportunities for influence, rent-seeking activities and corruption.

The nations with abnormally sub-optimal representations: Israel, New Zealand, the Netherlands and above all, the USA. Nations in the last group are all close to a ratio of 65% of their optimal representation level.

The US has 535 national representatives (if we add the House of Representatives and the Senate), but our model predicts that the Congress should have 807 seats instead.

In America, a high degree of institutional rigidity seems to be the cause of the insufficient representation: the number of US representatives has been fixed by statute in 1929, and the number of voters per representative has constantly increased, through the entire US history, to reach record highs in the recent years.

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