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Representative versus Direct Democracy: The Role of Informational Asymmetries

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  • Kessler, Anke

Abstract

The Paper studies the relative merits of direct and representative legislation in a setting where voters are uncertain both with respect to the likely consequences of different policies and with respect to the political preferences of their fellow citizens. Under representative legislation, the latter translates into uncertainty on the elected official’s future policy intentions, which involves a loss of control. The resulting discretionary power, however, also leads officials to endogenously acquire competence on the issues they oversee and specialize in policy formation. Policies determined in representative democracies are therefore better tailored to relevant contingencies but less close to the preferences of a majority than those determined in popular ballots. It is shown that the extent of the resulting trade-off depends on the set of alternatives among which the policy is to be chosen. Two extensions, referenda and the possibility of re-election, are briefly considered.

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Paper provided by C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers in its series CEPR Discussion Papers with number 3911.

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Date of creation: May 2003
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Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:3911

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Keywords: constitutional choice; delegation; direct democracy; representative democracy;

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  1. Harrington, Joseph E, Jr, 1993. "Economic Policy, Economic Performance, and Elections," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 83(1), pages 27-42, March.
  2. Anthony M. Marino & John G. Matsusaka, 2005. "Decision Processes, Agency Problems, and Information: An Economic Analysis of Capital Budgeting Procedures," Review of Financial Studies, Society for Financial Studies, vol. 18(1), pages 301-325.
  3. Mariano Tommasi, 1995. "Why Does it Take a Nixon to go to China?," UCLA Economics Working Papers 728, UCLA Department of Economics.
  4. Tim Besley & Stephen Coate, . "An Economic Model of Representative Democracy," Penn CARESS Working Papers ecf70d639d700dba5327ab0c8, Penn Economics Department.
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  7. Steunenberg, Bernard, 1992. "Referendum, Initiative, and Veto Power: Budgetary Decision Making in Local Government," Kyklos, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 45(4), pages 501-29.
  8. Besley, Timothy & Coate, Stephen, 1998. "Sources of Inefficiency in a Representative Democracy: A Dynamic Analysis," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 88(1), pages 139-56, March.
  9. Osborne, Martin J & Slivinski, Al, 1996. "A Model of Political Competition with Citizen-Candidates," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 111(1), pages 65-96, February.
  10. Feld, Lars P. & Kirchgassner, Gebhard, 2000. "Direct democracy, political culture, and the outcome of economic policy: a report on the Swiss experience," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 16(2), pages 287-306, June.
  11. Feld, Lars P. & Matsusaka, John G., 2003. "Budget referendums and government spending: evidence from Swiss cantons," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 87(12), pages 2703-2724, December.
  12. Frey, Bruno S, 1994. "Direct Democracy: Politico-economic Lessons from Swiss Experience," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 84(2), pages 338-42, May.
  13. Matsusaka, John G, 1992. "Economics of Direct Legislation," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 107(2), pages 541-71, May.
  14. Rexford Santerre, 1989. "Representative versus direct democracy: Are there any expenditure differences?," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 60(2), pages 145-154, February.
  15. Lars P. Feld & John G. Matsusaka, 2000. "Budget Referendums and Government Spending: Evidence from Swiss," CESifo Working Paper Series 323, CESifo Group Munich.
  16. Friedrich Schneider, 1999. "Die Entwicklung der Sozialpolitik in repräsentativen und in direkten Demokratien: Königsweg oder Sackgasse? Einige Bemerkungen aus der "Public Choice"-Perspektive," Swiss Journal of Economics and Statistics (SJES), Swiss Society of Economics and Statistics (SSES), vol. 135(III), pages 387-406, September.
  17. Osband, Kent, 1989. "Optimal Forecasting Incentives," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 97(5), pages 1091-1112, October.
  18. Matsusaka, John G & McCarty, Nolan M, 2001. "Political Resource Allocation: Benefits and Costs of Voter Initiatives," Journal of Law, Economics and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 17(2), pages 413-48, October.
  19. Feld, Lars P & Savioz, Marcel R, 1997. "Direct Democracy Matters for Economic Performance: An Empirical Investigation," Kyklos, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 50(4), pages 507-38.
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Citations

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Cited by:
  1. John G. Matsusaka, 2005. "Direct Democracy Works," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 19(2), pages 185-206, Spring.
  2. Lars P. Feld, 2005. "The European Constitution Project from the Perspective of Constitutional Political Economy," CREMA Working Paper Series 2005-20, Center for Research in Economics, Management and the Arts (CREMA).
  3. Tridimas, George, 2007. "Ratification through referendum or parliamentary vote: When to call a non-required referendum?," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 23(3), pages 674-692, September.
  4. Justina AV Fischer & Antonio Rodriguez-Andrés, 2008. "Political institutions and suicide: A regional analysis of Switzerland," TWI Research Paper Series 33, Thurgauer Wirtschaftsinstitut, Universität Konstanz.
  5. Castanheira, Micael & Nicodème, Gaëtan & Profeta, Paola, 2011. "On the political economics of tax reforms," CEPR Discussion Papers 8507, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  6. Lars P. Feld & Gebhard Kirchgässner, 2004. "The Role of Direct Democracy in the European Union," Marburg Working Papers on Economics 200423, Philipps-Universität Marburg, Faculty of Business Administration and Economics, Department of Economics (Volkswirtschaftliche Abteilung).
  7. Christian Schultz, 2003. "Information, Polarization and Delegation in Democracy," CESifo Working Paper Series 1104, CESifo Group Munich.
  8. Xefteris, Dimitrios, 2008. "Referenda as a Catch-22," MPRA Paper 17084, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  9. Fischer, Justina AV, 2009. "Development of Direct Democracy in Swiss Cantons between 1997 and 2003," MPRA Paper 16140, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  10. George Tridimas, 2012. "Constitutional choice in ancient Athens: the rationality of selection to office by lot," Constitutional Political Economy, Springer, vol. 23(1), pages 1-21, March.
  11. Simon Hug, 2009. "Some thoughts about referendums, representative democracy, and separation of powers," Constitutional Political Economy, Springer, vol. 20(3), pages 251-266, September.
  12. Buehler, Benno & Kessler, Anke, 2010. "Ideologues: Explaining Partisanship and Persistence in Politics (and Elsewhere)," CEPR Discussion Papers 7724, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  13. Mario Jametti, 2014. "Weathering the Global Financial Crisis - Is Direct Democracy of any Help?," IdEP Economic Papers 1405, USI Università della Svizzera italiana.
  14. John Matsusaka, 2005. "The eclipse of legislatures: Direct democracy in the 21st century," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 124(1), pages 157-177, July.
  15. George Tridimas, 2010. "Referendum and the choice between monarchy and republic in Greece," Constitutional Political Economy, Springer, vol. 21(2), pages 119-144, June.
  16. Gebhard Kirchgässner, 2009. "60 Jahre Grundgesetz der Bundesrepublik Deutschland: Einige Bemerkungen zu Demokratie und Föderalismus in Deutschland aus schweizerischer Perspektive," University of St. Gallen Department of Economics working paper series 2009 2009-28, Department of Economics, University of St. Gallen.

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