More on coalition dynamics

Catherine Farry writes,

I’m late to the party on this one, but as I was catching up on my blog reading I came across your 18 April post (“Coalition Dynamics”) and was a bit surprised to see that nobody spoke up in the comments about the actual political issue (as opposed to the model) addressed in the paper you criticize.

I have no connection whatsoever to the authors of the paper but I have to say that I thought you were a bit too quick to criticize both their focus on “the number of countries in the European Union” and their “attempts to imply that their work is relevant to actual politics”. I think you have missed the point of the paper, which to me at least does not appear at all to be about “Coalition Dynamics” (let alone whether “all voters are equal”), but rather about the impact of size on efficiency in group decisionmaking. Size, in the European Commission, is directly determined by the number of countries in the European Union. Moreover, the abstract makes clear that the authors are interested in this question because it has relevance for the debate (quite relevant, political, and current) about the size of the European Commission in the wake of the expansion of the European Union from 15 to 25 members (with possibly more to come).

To make my case, I have resorted to copying and pasting from the Wikipedia entry on the European Commision since it’s succinct and easy to find:
“There is one Commissioner per member state, however Commissioners are bound to represent the interests of the EU as a whole rather than their home state…. The proposed Lisbon Treaty, the details of which were agreed in June 2007… proposed a number of changes, notably the number of Commissioners would be reduced; from 2014 only two out of three member-states would have the right to representation. The representation would be rotated equally between all states and no state would have more than two in any single Commission.”

My reply: There’s nothing in the Klimek et al. paper (to which I link in my earlier blog entry) giving any evidence that there’s anything special about a cabinet size of 20. Their graphs show various bad things being positively correlated with cabinet size, but they could’ve just as well drawn a cutoff at cabinets of size 10 or 30. Their model is mathematically pretty but as far as I can tell has no relevance to the political issues that you discuss.

Finally, I do think that equal representation for countries is a bad idea. I don’t see why a country of 5 million should have any more representation than a province of 5 million within a larger country. But this last bit is really a separate issue from my statistical criticisms, which stand even if you would like countries to be equally represented.