7

In Nashville, there's a movement to reduce the size of the city council from 35 members to 15, in order to streamline "getting things done". This would obviously increase the size of each member's district, and reduce the representation of each individual voter in the city. However, the difficulty of getting things done with larger legislative bodies is obvious. Some balance must be struck between functionality of the body and useful representation of voters.

Clearly there are legislative bodies in the world with more than 15 or 35 members. What methods are used by effective legislative bodies of this size to streamline operations in order to get more done? Lack of term limits? Tighter term limits? Different voting procedures? Ability to pass bills with less than a majority vote? Others?

5
  • 1
    Madison wrote about ideal legislative size in the federalist papers- "the iron law of tyranny". Would be a good reference. Jul 14, 2013 at 14:43
  • 3
    Of course, one needs to keep in mind that "difficulty of getting things done" implies that merely "getting things done" - meaning passing more laws - is the beneficial goal. The whole idea of checks and balances is that this is NOT a goal that is necessarily beneficial - only good and largely agreed upon laws should pass, with sufficient deliberation of them (see Senate).
    – user4012
    Jul 15, 2013 at 1:11
  • 2
    Also, with electorate nearly equally split over a majority of important issues, the size of the body matters slightly less, but a larger body is more likely to allow passing more laws since you can always trade votes between blocks on random laws that a given block cares less about (e.g. I'll vote for your farm bill if you vote for my factory bill).
    – user4012
    Jul 15, 2013 at 1:12
  • 1
    @AffableGeek: Indeed, the original copy of the Constitution had the district size of "forty thousand" partial erased and replaced with "thirty thousand", so district size was very much a topic of debate. Today, each member of the US HoR "represents" more than 700 000 people.
    – dan04
    Jul 15, 2013 at 20:19
  • Note that in Europe, despite some very large legislative bodies (about 600 members in France, Germany, or Italy), it's not unusual to hear complaints about the number of laws (too many of them, not enough quality and too much complexity) rather than on any inability to pass new ones.
    – Relaxed
    Nov 27, 2014 at 11:13

2 Answers 2

3

“The difficulty of getting things done with larger legislative bodies” is not obvious to me at all. Mostly, the structure and traditions of the legislative body in question seem much more important.

In European parliaments for example, party discipline is often very strong, the legislative work is prepared by the parties, the committees and the government. Coalitions in parliamentary democracies iron out a legislative agenda when forming a government at the beginning of the session, sometimes in writing, and mostly stick with it. One exception would be France and its peculiar semi-presidential regime but in this case the president mostly gets what he wants and he is more constrained by business interests, EU rules or potential strikes than he is by his parliament.

Individual members of parliament can push amendments and in some limited cases a small party (or a small group within one party) can threaten to vote against their block on an issue that's very important to them but there is none of the “getting the votes” one-by-one that seems to be going on in the US. Proposals introduced by an MP (as opposed to the government) rarely succeed. Most MPs live and die with their party.

For better or for worse, there are many things that seem to hinder changes or reforms but the parliament usually isn't the most important. And a lot of laws do get passed, albeit not always of great quality (I mean this in the technical sense of “laws that are difficult to implement or have poorly thought-out side effects”, and not merely in the sense of “policy with which I happen to disagree”).

To take but one example, if you look at immigration, you will find lots of pandering, hypocrisy and outrage, not much effectiveness in reaching non-trivial goals, but also an inordinate amount of new legislation. There are countries where governments are engaged in a tit-for-tat game of reversing the previous government's changes or pass a new law every other year to further tighten the rules they put in place themselves. But the size of the parliaments never prevented new laws and I don't know any European country with a US-style stand-off, fueled by individual MP's concern about their personal voting record and ostensibly waiting for some sort of mythical grand bargain.

If anything, it's the fragmentation of the party system or razor-thin majorities that might play a similar role in most parliamentary democracies. A government that is trying to hold together a fragile coalition often needs to be careful not to anger any important group. But individual members and their numbers do not count so much. You see a lot more drama, back-room deals and blockades in the 150-strong Belgian chamber than among the 600 members of the French Assemblée nationale or the German Bundestag.

Incidentally, there are two Swiss cantons that still have a form of direct democracy called a “Landsgemeinde”. All laws must be voted by the whole electorate (well, at least by those that feel concerned enough to show up but that's still several thousand people), assembled once a year on a public square. That's a very large legislative body indeed. It seems to work OK but, as far as I know, instead of degenerating into some sort of free-for-all chaos where nobody ever agrees on anything, it just increases the role of the government even more as even if anybody can ask questions or make proposals, it's mostly those that have been prepared by officials that end up being adopted.

0

A large legislative body is a crowd which cannot take right decisions easily. That is why standing committees or subject committees are created in many countries like India/UK to go deep into the nuances of every legislative proposal and take appropriate decisions. Smaller legislature is not so bad if the member keeps his connect with the people through neighbourhood organisations or civil society or media in general. The member can even use information technology tools like Facebook or an interactive website to gather and learn the ‘will’ of his voters easily. He/she can even use opinion poll on every issue on which he/she has to take a decision.

2
  • "A ... legislative body is a crowd... which cannot take right decisions.". Fixed that for you. :)
    – user4012
    Oct 28, 2014 at 15:05
  • Also, if you gather the will of US voters based on Facebook... we'd be a lot closer to "Idiocity" world than Athenian democracy or ideal Republic :)
    – user4012
    Oct 28, 2014 at 15:07

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .