Ten Thousand Democracies: Politics and Public Opinion in America's School Districts

By Michael B. Berkman; Eric Plutzer | Go to book overview

chapter four
Direct Democracy,
Indirect Democracy, and
Policy Responsiveness

To what extent does policy responsiveness depend on ordinary citizens being closely involved in the formulation of tax and spending policies? Political institutions at all levels of the federal system have been designed with very different answers to this question. In his Federalist Paper 10, James Madison made a strong case against direct popular control, particularly in small polities. Larger republican governments are best, he argued, because representative bodies filter public views while a large and diverse public sphere hinders the development of majority factions.

But, as Morone (1998, 6) forcefully argues, a “democratic wish” also runs through American political history. This “wish” values direct participation premised on the un-Madisonian idea that “people agree with one another.” The institutional legacy of the colonists and Progressives is built upon this premise: Direct democratic control, and in the Progressive case scientific administration as well, can fulfill these common interests. In this chapter, we consider how effectively this legacy—realized in the colonial town meeting, the Progressive independent school district, and the varieties of referendum arrangements—links the public with policy outputs.


Fiscal Independence and Policy Responsiveness

The most visible legacy of the Progressives'“one best system” is the organization of American public schools into independent government entities, responsible for both the financing and administration of

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