Delegation and Accountability in Parliamentary Democracies

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OUP Oxford, Jan 19, 2006 - Political Science - 764 pages
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Comparative Politics is a series for students and teachers of political science that deals with contemporary issues in comparative government and politics. The General Editors are Max Kaase, Professor of Political Science, Vice President and Dean, School of Humanities and Social Science, International University Bremen, Germany; and Kenneth Newton, Professor of Comparative Politics, University of Southampton. The series is published in association with the European Consortium for Political Research. Today, parliamentarism is the most common form of democratic government. Yet knowledge of this regime type has been incomplete and often unsystematic. Delegation and Accountability in Parliamentary Democracies offers new conceptual clarity on the topic. This book argues that representative democracies can be understood as chains of delegation and accountability between citizens and politicians. Under parliamentary democracy, this chain of delegation is simple but also long and indirect. Principal-agent theory helps us to understand the perils of democratic delegation, which include the problems of adverse selection and moral hazard. Citizens in democratic states, therefore, need institutional mechanisms by which they can control their representatives. The most important such control mechanisms are on the one hand political parties and on the other external constraints such as courts, central banks, referendums, and supranational institutions such as those of the European Union. Traditionally, parliamentary democracies have relied heavily on political parties and presidential systems more on external constraints. This new empirical investigation includes all seventeen West European parliamentary democracies. These countries are compared in a series of cross-national tables and figures, and seventeen country chapters provide a wealth of information on four discrete stages in the delegation process: delegation from voters to parliamentary representatives, delegation from parliament to the prime minister and cabinet, delegation within the cabinet, and delegation from cabinet ministers to civil servants. Each chapter illustrates how political parties serve as bonding instruments which align incentives and permit citizen control of the policy process. This is complemented by a consideration of external constraints. The concluding chapters go on to consider how well the problems of delegation and accountability are solved in these countries. They show that political systems with cohesive and competitive parties and strong mechanisms of external constraint solve their democratic agency problems better than countries with weaker control mechanisms. But in many countries political parties are now weakening, and parliamentary systems face new democratic challenges. Delegation and Accountability in Parliamentary Democracies provides an unprecedented guide to contemporary European parliamentary democracies. As democratic governance is transformed at the dawn of the twenty-first century, it illustrates the important challenges faced by the parliamentary democracies of Western Europe.

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About the author (2006)

Kaare Strom is at Professor of Political Science, University of California, San Diego. Wolfgang C. Muller is at Professor in Department of Government, University of Vienna.