Internal-dynamics design parameters

In a previous post I enumerated some design parameters of decision making bodies that affect their power: binding authority, term of service, permanence, purview, and policy drawing power. Those parameters, except for term of service, describe the explicit amount of power the body can exert on other parts of the political system. Term of service, on the other hand, affects the power of the body by its influence on the behavior of the members of the body. A recent item about a policy jury brought forward three more design parameters that, like term of service, affect the body’s power through their influence on the dynamics within the body:

  • Size: The smaller the body the easier it is to place new items on the agenda. In a large body most members are unable to communicate effectively with all others, making the body either ineffective or un-democratic.
  • Procedure: Policy making procedures generally have a bias toward the status quo since it is generally more difficult to introduce new policy and have it compared to existing policy on their merits than to allow existing policy to continue by default. This bias can be amplified by procedures requiring support of supmajorities for adopting new policy and by other procedures that introduce various hurdles to agenda setting and decision making. In such situations the power of the body to enact policy that reflects the interests of the members is curtailed.
  • Communication channels: The chance that a body reaches an informed and considered decision is increased when it enjoys ample opportunity for communication. In such a setting opportunities for mutually beneficial arrangements and reasonable compromises can be fully exploited. In addition, the power to communicate one’s views motivates the members to invest time and effort in order to reach a thorough understanding of the issues. When, on the other hand, the setting is such that there are insufficient opportunities for communication – due to procedure or due to lack of time, for example – the power of the body is diminished due to reduced coordination and motivation.

Athenian allotted bodies ranged from the small – magistrate bodies of ten people – to the very large – juries with thousands of people. Communication channels ranged from completely open – in magistrate bodies and the Council – to the non-existent – juries that were not allowed to deliberate. All bodies made decisions by regular majorities, but some of the Council’s decisions required approval by the Assembly (and later by the Nomothetai as well).

Modern juries are small and are allowed to communicate freely in the deliberation period. The decision procedure, on the other hand, requires consensus, which occasionally results in hung juries. (The effects of this extreme decision procedure are minimized by the fact the jury’s mandate is restricted to the very narrow range of a guilty-or-not-guilty decision on a charge that has been pre-set by others.)

2 Responses

  1. Yoram,
    It is important to distinguish between the power of the current allotted body, and the power of the institution of the allotted body. Super-majorities, and agenda and other factors that bias for the status quo, may reduce the power of the CURRENT body to do what it wants, but increase the power of the bodies of the past and the future to protect their authority from a rogue unrepresentative (as may happen by chance from time to time) allotted body. For example an old rule that prohibits an allotted chamber from delegating its power to a Caesar, increases the power of the old and future versions of this body at the expense of the power of the current allotted chamber.


  2. Factors that bias for the status quo reduce the power of the representative body and increase the power of minorities that benefit from the status quo. There is no particular reason to think that those minorities represent past or future majorities.

    Even if the status quo was democratically arrived at and therefore represented the ideas or interests of the population at some point in the past, is there any reason to suppose it is desirable to maintain the same policy once it lost the support of most of the population?


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