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In some polities the exercise of political power is highly concentrated, and in others it is widely dispersed. In Chapter 11, we examine the effects of scale on power concentration, arguing that the degree of horizontal and vertical concentration of power in a polity is affected by the number of people residing within that polity. The larger the polity, the more fragmented its institutional design is likely to be. This is a function of (1) increased heterogeneity, which entails that larger communities are difficult to govern in a concentrated fashion, and (2) lower levels of trust, which call for institutional constraints on the center that cannot be easily overcome. To tackle this vast subject we adopt a variety of country-level indicators of power concentration including subnational regions, federalism, bicameralism, revenue decentralization, capital city size, and checks and balances. We also probe a variety of subnational indicators focused on variation across states and localities within the United States. Most of these analyses support the contention that scale is associated with deconcentrated power.
In Chapter 2, we review prior work on scale, discuss obstacles to reaching inferences about the causal role of scale, and lay out our own approach to this difficult question. After surveying extent work on community size and related subjects, we discuss the concept of a political community, which may be of several sorts and of any size. In the third section, we lay out the measurement of community scale, explaining that we transform population from a linear measure into a logarithmic measure. In the fourth section, we consider the difficulty of treating scale as a causal factor. This is a complicated issue, given that the population of political communities is a slow-moving cause, not directly manipulable, and rarely subject to as-if random perturbations. As such, it falls far from the gold standard of experimental research designs. The fifth section lays out the modeling strategies employed in quantitative analyses to follow. The sixth section discusses various outcomes of theoretical interest, and the final section introduces the data sources that we rely on to measure right- and left-side variables.
In Chapter 15, we consider additional outcomes that have attracted scholarly attention and have immense practical importance. We sequentially consider the effects of scale on regimes, social inequality, economic development, and public services, and we find that the causal relationship of scale to these outcomes is unclear. To test these relationships, we conduct original analyses while relying heavily on extant work. This investigation reveals that there is no aggregate relationship between scale and regime type once geographic factors (or more specifically, island status) are accounted for. Our own analysis of the association between scale and social inequality shows no relationship. In similar fashion, there is no cause to believe that size affects economic growth over the long term. When it comes to the provision of public services, the studies that have undertaken to look at this macro-level relationship report inconsistent findings. While we therefore do not find any evidence of a relationship between scale and the outcomes considered in this chapter, this conclusion must be tempered with the caveat that further research on this subject may unearth important patterns.
In Chapter 12, we explain the course of public policy – specifically, the degree to which governments intervene in citizens’ social and economic affairs. We argue that scale is negatively related to the level of government intervention through decreased social cohesion, representativeness and trust, particularism, and concentration, and through increased economies of scale. We also discuss the role of trade dependence, which we argue likely has ambivalent (countervailing) effects on intervention. In the empirical section, we turn to a variety of empirical terrains including the growth of the American state, the experience of small states (everywhere), and four policy realms – moral, fiscal, personnel, and social. Our results point to a stark contrast between subnational and national-level analyses. While subnational analyses show either a negative relationship between scale and intervention, or no relationship at all, national-level analyses show a strong (negative) relationship between the size of communities and the size of government. This apparent paradox has many possible answers, and so we leave it for future research to tease apart which factor(s) might be responsible.
In Chapter 8, we examine how scale affects contestation, defined as the degree of electoral competition in a political community. We begin by offering a theoretical account of the impact of scale on contestation. This account operates differently at polity and district levels, prompting us to construct separate theoretical accounts. For polities, we surmise that size alters incentives for leaders and masses, both of whom have greater need for an institutionalized mechanism of resolving conflict. In districts, we argue that scale influences contestation through mechanical effects, the supply of challengers, and the degree of social diversity. Next, we introduce our data and a variety of empirical tests, including cross-national and cross-district analyses based on the largest-party index. In addition, we provide an analysis of suffrage reforms and turnover, understood as a change in party control for a particular office. Although the topic has not been extensively researched, most studies that examine the relation – including our own results presented in this chapter – find a positive association between community size and contestation. A short conclusion summarizes the results.
Chapter 7 discusses the relation between scale and various forms of political participation. Why do some political communities elicit higher levels of participation than others? In this chapter, we argue, following a long tradition, that community size has important, and markedly negative, effects on political participation. We begin with a discussion of relevant theory, in which we build on the assumption that political participation is motivated, to some degree, by instrumental rationality. This rationality is affected by a variety of factors, among which are individual power, citizens’ access to relevant policymakers, coordination problems, and social norms, which in turn are affected by the scale of a community. We explore the relationship between scale and participation by looking at work on citizen assemblies, political parties, voting, efficacy, and the results of a recent meta-analysis. Subsequently, we provide our own analyses of voter turnout based on the Multilevel Elections Archive (MLEA) dataset. Virtually all studies corroborate the consensus that participation – including subjective feelings of efficacy – is lower in larger communities, all other things being equal.
This concluding chapter pulls together the material of this book into a more synoptic account. We begin by clarifying the aims of our book, highlighting that our approach poses steep challenges but also offers important payoffs. We proceed by summarizing the findings presented in previous chapters, discussing the causality of scale effects and the dimensions along which scale matters. We then offer a tentative theoretical synthesis that ties together many of the themes introduced in previous chapters. Next, we evaluate the implications of scale for big topics like governance, democracy, and freedom, where we identify a series of recalcitrant trade-offs. These concern efficiency (preferences versus policies), political relationships (informal/personal versus formal/institutional), systems of rule (intensive versus extensive), models of popular rule (participatory versus competitive), power (individual versus collective), and freedom (where trade-offs are conditional on structural features of the landscape). In the final section, we discuss the relevance of scale for current policy debates, looking specifically at the effect of boundaries between polities, changes in electoral laws, levels of government in a polity, and suffrage rights.
In Chapter 13, we examine the notion that population is important for national power, an idea widely recognized among scholars but rarely explored empirically. We begin by laying out a theoretical rationale, highlighting the notion that enhanced numbers of people should bring greater returns. Specifically, we emphasize that people provide economic resources, human capital, and innovation. Together, the greater capital, human capital, and innovation that a large population affords allows a society to produce more, which should promote greater self-sufficiency. In the analytical sections, we explore these hypotheses systematically across economic, military, and cultural dimensions of power. We find that size is associated with higher GDP, greater iron and steel production, and lower import and aid dependence. In addition, more populous countries tend to have more military personnel, higher military expenditures, and greater naval tonnage. Finally, larger countries have a greater number of universities, more patent applications, and more tourists. Our empirical analyses, coupled with analyses conducted by other scholars, thus place the thesis that size brings power beyond much doubt.
In Chapter 14, we turn to civil conflict, where the main protagonists are located within a political community. Scale is usually a background condition of little theoretical significance, and scholars have made little effort to theorize its impact on conflict. We begin by presenting a theory of why scale might have a curvilinear effect on civil conflict. While scale decreases social cohesion within a community, and also negatively affects the likelihood of a decisive military victory, it enhances the power of a jurisdiction, decreasing the likelihood that opposition groups will take up arms. We argue that the relationship is likely to be curvilinear because positive scale effects on civil conflict should attenuate quickly while negative scale effects seem likely to continue to grow indefinitely. We proceed to test this theory using a new measure of battlefield casualties, which tracks the number of battle deaths in countries around the world from 1946 to 2009. Our results show that increases in scale enhance conflict, but only up to a certain point. After this inflection point, increases in population are associated with decreases in conflict, proxied by battlefield casualties.
In Chapter 10, we interrogate the relation between scale and professionalism, which we define as meaning that important tasks are delegated through a rational division of labor to individuals with extensive training and experience, who are recruited and promoted in a meritocratic fashion, who view their job as a full-time career, and whose positions are amply staffed and remunerated. We argue that scale fosters professionalism because it produces higher (human) capital, and because it amplifies the complexity of governance. Subsequently, we examine the relationship empirically by sequentially looking at legislatures, bureaucracies, the education of public officials, the salary of public officials, and the number of voluntary associations. We find that increases in scale are associated with a growth of legislative and bureaucratic professionalism and capacity, higher levels of education and higher salaries of public officials, and a greater number of voluntary associations. Extant studies as well as our own analyses therefore suggest that scale is positively correlated with professionalism. These results are summarized in a short conclusion.