Delegation and Accountability in Parliamentary Democracies

Delegation and Accountability in Parliamentary Democracies

Delegation and Accountability in Parliamentary Democracies

Delegation and Accountability in Parliamentary Democracies


Parliamentary democracy is the most common way of organizing delegation and accountability in contemporary democracies. Yet knowledge of this type of regime has been incomplete and often unsystematic. Delegation and Accountability in Parliamentary Democracies offers new conceptual clarity onthe topic. Taking principal-agent theory as its framework, the work illustrates how a variety of apparently unrelated representation issues can now be understood. This procedure allows scholarship to move well beyond what have previously been cloudy and confusing debates aimed at defining the virtues andperils of parliamentarism. 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 thedelegation 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 bondinginstruments which align incentives and permit citizen control of the policy process. This is complemented by a consideration of external constraints, such as courts, central banks, corporatism, and the European Union, which can impinge on national-level democratic delegation. The concludingchapters go on to consider how well the problems of delegation and accountability are solved in these countries. 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 parliamentarydemocracies of Western Europe.


2 Delegation and its Perils

arthur lupia

Delegation is a central concept in the conduct and the study of politics. Governments great and small use delegation to increase the range of services that they can provide. National governments, for example, delegate to defence ministries the task of maintaining national security and delegate to finance ministries the task of managing the economy. Indeed, the modern nation-state could not exist without delegation—for without delegation, lawmakers would be forced personally to implement and enforce every single law that they make. With delegation, national governments can address a wide range of social issues simultaneously.

In most polities, the most prominent form of delegation is from lawmakers (e.g. parliaments) to government agencies (e.g. economic, security, and public welfare agencies). Such agencies house the persons responsible for enforcing laws and tend to employ the nation's leading experts in the agency's policy area (e.g. economic agencies employ leading economists). In many places, these agencies are known collectively as the bureaucracy. In some places, people who work within these agencies are called bureaucrats or civil servants.

We define delegation as an act where one person or group, called a principal, relies on another person or group, called an agent, to act on the principal's behalf. This volume's purpose is to examine delegation problems that exist in parliamentary democracies. Table 2.1 displays prominent forms of delegation in these democracies.

Delegation allows political principals to accomplish desired ends with reduced personal cost and effort. Implementing a single ministerial directive, for example, can require more time and effort than any minister can muster. Only by delegating—getting subordinates to do most of the work—can any high-level government official achieve multiple objectives. Similarly, most citizens are not sufficiently qualified to provide the social services that improve their lives (e.g. education, health care). Only by delegating—getting specialists to do most of the work—can any citizen enjoy such services.

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