Kaare Strom, Delegation and Accountability in Parliamentary Democracies (2006).

_Article Length Version:_ Strom. 2000. Delegation and accountability in parliamentary democracies. European Journal of Political Research 37 (May): 261-289.


_Main Argument:_

Strom identifies the institutional features that define parliamentary democracy and suggest how they can be understood as delegation relationships. He proposes two definitions: one minimal and one maximal (or ideal-typical). In the latter sense, parliamentary democracy is a particular regime of delegation and accountability that can be understood with the help of agency theory, which allows us to identify the conditions under which democratic agency problems may occur.


_Key Definitions:_

_Parliamentarism [Maximal Definition] (or ideal-type):_ Parliamentarism is a particular delegation regime, a way to structure the democratic process of representation and decision making, which can be understood with the help of the conceptual apparatus of agency theory.


_Parliamentary Government [Minimal Definition]:_ The institutional arrangement by which the executive is accountable, through a confidence relationship, to any parliamentary majority. Thus, in our minimal definition, parliamentary government is a system of government in which the prime minister and his or her cabinet are accountable to any majority of the members of parliament and can be voted out of office by the latter [265].


== Notes ==



_Parliamentary Systems:_

–  Parliamentary systems have two salient advantages: they have lower decision costs, and they are more to likely to promote a desirable level of effort on the part of agents

–  Parliamentary systems are better at selection, so they avoid adverse selection (b/c leaders have long experience and must be tested in the party’s ranks as they progress from backbencher to minister to prime minister)

–  Compared to presidentialism, parliamentarism has certain advantages, such as decisional efficiency and the inducements it creates toward effort

–  Parliamentarism is simple, indirect, and relies on lessons gradually acquired in the past



–  On the other hand, parliamentarism also implies disadvantages such as ineffective accountability and a lack of transparency, which may cause informational inefficiencies

*Whereas parliamentarism may be particularly suitable for problems of adverse selection, it is a less certain cure for moral hazard, b/c the executive and legislature are led by the same party/coalition, so they have little incentive to look over one another’s shoulders

*Thus, ineffective accountability and poor transparency

*Parliamentarism’s challenge: decaying screening devices and diverted accountabilities



_Presidential Systems:_

–  Presidential systems risk greater adverse selection, but they have better sanctioning mechanisms to prevent moral hazard (e.g. checks and balances, term limits, opposition in the legislature, judicial review)

–  Thus, greater transparency and accountability

–  But they risk adverse selection, b/c outsiders can get office, and those who run often have had little experience in their parties or in the national spotlight



Delegation & Agency:

–  Agency theory, which describes situations in which one party (an agent) acts on behalf of another (the principal) (Lupia & McCubbins 2000; Aghion & Tirole 1997; Kiewiet & McCubbins 1991), tells us that delegation takes place because the agent has certain kinds of information or skills (e.g., in the form of professional training), or simply time, that the principal lacks

–  Chain of delegation: Voters –> representatives –> legislature –> executive –> heads of departments –> civil service

–  Looked at in the opposite direction, it is the chain of accountability


Agency Problems: [270]

–  Agency problems arise when the agent acts in ways that are not in the interest of the principal

–  Agency losses take the form of omission, commonly known as “shirking”

–  Commission (sabotage): when the agent takes some positive action contrary to the will or interest of the principal

–  Agency problems are likely to be exacerbated under hidden information (principals do not fully know the competencies or preferences of their agents or the exact demands of the task at hand) or hidden action (principals cannot fully observe the actions of their agents)

–  The former of these conditions can give rise to problems of adverse selection, the latter to moral hazard


Four measures by which principals can contain agency losses:  (Kiewiet & McCubbins 1991)

(1) contract design (ex ante)

(2) screening and selection mechanisms (ex ante)

(3) monitoring and reporting requirements (ex post)

(4) institutional checks (ex post)


*Neither parliamentary nor presidential constitutions can effectively safeguard against all agency problems. As long as principals and agents differ in their preferences and information, some agency losses have to be expected

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