Too many representatives in France and Italy, too few in US

Emmanuelle Auriol, Robert J. Gary-Bobo, Mon, 08/06/2007



Arriving at the optimal number of representatives in a democracy involves a trade-off between the need to keep decision costs down (i.e. limiting the number of representatives involved in the decision-making process) and ensuring that the decisions made truly reflect the preferences of the citizens. The authors of CEPR DP6417 discover an optimal ratio of representatives to citizens, and find that the United States has too few representatives while France and Italy have too many.

The authors propose a model of a representative democracy based on a two-stage model of constitutional design, with a constitutional and legislative stage, and assume the existence of “Founding Fathers” in charge of writing the constitution. They derive a “square-root formula” for the optimal number of representatives, test it against a sample of over 100 countries and find that the optimal number is proportional to the total population to the power of 0.4. Against this measure, France and Italy have too many representatives, while the US has too few – the US Lower and Upper Houses should have 807 members instead of the current 535.

Finally the authors correlate the number of representatives with various measures and find that an excess number of representatives leads to more “red tape”, state interference and corruption.

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Topics:  Politics and economics

Tags:  democracy, representatives


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