The Elgar Companion to Public Choice
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The Elgar Companion to Public Choice

Edited by William F. Shughart II and Laura Razzolini

This authoritative and encyclopaedic reference work provides a thorough account of the public choice approach to economics and politics. The Companion breaks new ground by joining together the most important issues in the field in a single comprehensive volume. It contains state-of-the-art discussions of both old and contemporary problems, including new work by the founding fathers as well as contributions by a new generation of younger scholars.  
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Chapter 7: The anatomy of political representation: direct democracy, parliamentary democracy, and representative democracy

Tim R. Sass


Tim R. Sass* 1 Introduction One of the most fundamental issues in constitutional design is the degree to which individuals will participate directly in collective decision-making processes. There are two questions to be addressed in this regard. First, will individuals select representatives to act as their agents in group decision making or will all decision-making authority be retained by the individual members of the group? Second, if representatives are to be granted some decision-making authority, how will they be selected and what specific decision-making authority will be delegated to them? The first choice, between direct democracy and representative democracy, may at first blush seem to be irrelevant. While many townships in the United States and some municipalities in Switzerland are run as direct democracies, most sizeable political jurisdictions employ some sort of system of representation whereby citizens elect representatives to make decisions on their behalf. Despite the relative rarity of pure direct democracies in the political arena, the choice between direct and representative democracy is important nonetheless. While most political entities function as representative governments, the degree of representation can vary considerably. Whether it be approval of school bond issues or constitutional amendments, many representative governments incorporate some elements of direct democracy. Moreover, voting is not limited to the political sphere. Publicly held corporations, homeowners’ associations, and private cooperatives all employ direct voting to make collective decisions and may cede little or no decision-making authority to boards of directors or other representatives. Thus, analysis of the polar cases of...

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