In fieldwork involving 49 Indonesian villages, Olken arranged to have major decisions on public-works projects in some settlements decided by plebiscite — in which all citizens get a vote — rather than by the traditional small councils of village leaders. Unexpectedly, the types of projects selected by majority vote were nearly identical to those picked by village elites; the voting public did not try to redistribute wealth to themselves. And yet when people were allowed to vote, they expressed greater contentment with the results than when decisions were simply handed down by the elites. The conclusion was that even if democracy doesn’t make a material difference in people’s lives, it creates greater civic cohesion.
Of course, this experiment only compared direct voting to village councils, in which the leaders are close to the citizens. Whether the results of this study can be extrapolated to a comparison with larger governments is unclear. Link -via Digg
(image credit: Benjamin A. Olken)