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Representative Democracy

Representative democracy delegates decision making about laws to specialists, chosen by the public. Without this delegation, democratic government at a national scale would probably collapse under the weight of the hundreds of thousands of policy decisions all governments must take. Yet representation and democracy exist in a fundamental state of tension. Whereas democracy is a means to resolve citizens’ competing objectives, this very heterogeneity of interests complicates the principal–agent relationship created by representation, allowing skilled politicians to exploit citizens’ competing interests to pursue their own goals. Moreover, representative democracy endows citizens with essentially one instrument, the vote, whereas even when they can agree on what constitutes good public policy, the public have at least two key objectives in electing their representatives—selecting talented representatives and incentivizing ...

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