For example, Japan, Germany and some other countries have governments organized into a small number of bodies Whereas Canada, Indonesia, Pakistan, and other countries have many.

And considering the relative size of the population and economy between Japan, and Canada for example, the government of Japan is vastly more concentrated. So much so that it should be clearly noticeable, so it doesn't seem like it could arise by coincidence.

What are some of the theoretical and practical reasons for either?

Some numbers:

  • Japan 14 Ministries and ministry level agencies

  • Germany ~16 Ministries (not sure)

  • Canada 37 to 39 Ministries and ministry level agencies (depending on how it's counted)

  • Indonesia ~34 Ministries and ministry level agencies (not sure)

  • 1
    I think it's more practical think of them in terms of "layers" rather than "sizes". It's possible that Germany has just as many agencies as Canada, except Germany has abstracted these agencies into lower layers under ministries. In effect, these complexities still exist, the only difference is the manner of coordination between the top layer and lower layers. Aug 25, 2022 at 2:51

2 Answers 2


I would consider the simple comparison of the number of "top level" ministries utterly pointless.

  • Countries have different types of federal structures. A state within a country, or a municipality within a state, may or may not have significant decisionmaking powers.
    In Germany, one of the countries you mentioned, schools are mostly managed by the federal states. The same for the police. So do you count the federal-level department, or 16 state-level departments?
  • An organization may be styled as a ministry or as a department of a ministry, this says nothing about the complexity.
    The German department of Education and Science has about 1,000 staff and a budget of about €20 billion. The department of defense has about 2,600 staff and €47 billion. Yet the department of defense also runs a defense purchasing agency with 8,500 staff. The purchasing agency is more than eight times larger than the department of Education.
  • A cabinet-level official may simply have to follow orders of the head of government, or get significant decisionmaking power. Again in Germany, senior cabinet members tend to be powerful political figures in a governing coalition -- if the Chancellor were to dismiss them without the consent of their party, the government might face a vote of no confidence.
  • There may be cabinent-level positions not leading a separate cabinet-level department.

Governments can be more or less streamlined. But counting titles is not the way to find out.

  • So what do you believe is the best way to evaluate how large and complex a government is at the federal level?
    – M. Y. Zuo
    Nov 11, 2022 at 14:50
  • @M.Y.Zuo, that wasn't the original question. But the answer depends on structural decisions on the strength of the cabinet positions vs. the head of government. A stronger head of government makes the number and cut of the agencies less important. In Germany some cabinet-level positions effectively have the power to dissolve the government (if they lead a member party in a coalition government). In that case, the number of cabinet members needs to be small enough to make a negotiation process within the cabinet feasible, yet large enough to give each coalition member notable departments.
    – o.m.
    Nov 11, 2022 at 16:48
  • Tangential questions are widely accepted in SE comments, based on my observations, has the norm changed?
    – M. Y. Zuo
    Nov 11, 2022 at 19:58
  • @M.Y.Zuo, maybe, but the answer to your tanget depends on many more factors.
    – o.m.
    Nov 12, 2022 at 5:17

In parliamentary systems of government, Ministry refers to a Cabinet Level division of Government who's head will be an elected minister who will be responsible for that department before legislative body and the head of government. Normally, they are either a Member of the PM/Chancellor's party or a party within their coalition.

In presidential systems of government, the Head of Government is not part of the legislature and thus will appoint Cabinet Members to various departments (In the U.S., these are normally denoted by the title "Secretary" although not always. The Attorney General is the Cabinet level official for the Department of Justice, while the Secretary of the Army is not a Cabinet Level position, but falls under Secretary of Defense.

A nation being Federal or Unitary does not really have a bearing on departmartments other than in Federal systems, the member states might have their own cabinets, ministries, and departments that cover similar government areas as their Federal Counter Parts. For example in the United States, every state has a "Department of Education" as does the Federal Government. But the Federal Department is usually more concerned with managing federal grants and student loans (almost always for higher education) while the State level counter parts are the administrative body for all public primary education and state run secondary education in the state (and may have some regulatory control on private primary education, by way of determining what graduation requirements those schools need to meet for their diplomas to matter). This is because in Federal nations, typically the Federal Government has restrictions on what laws it can make, and the member states are able to make laws that are more locally tailored to suit that regions various concerns. Nevada (a state that is mostly open desert), Washington (A state that is very very wet), and Hawai'i (a state which isn't a single contiguous land mass), could all have different restrictions on water consumption and usage during summer tourism seasons (Nevada would like you to use as little as possible so the Casinos can toss it around in fountains on the Vegas strip, Hawai'i will have to decide if they want to use surf boards, jet skis, or boats in their latest tourism advert, and Washington will question if they can pay people to take some of the rain water back to their home state when they leave.).

  • Your third paragraph is very lengthy and incoherent so consider rewriting it if you intended to make a point in it.
    – M. Y. Zuo
    Aug 26, 2022 at 2:17

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