The Principal Agent Model Of Representation Essay

1547 words - 6 pages

While the Principal-Agent model of representation has endured rigorous testing over hundreds of years it and has taken on various incarnations it still shows signs that it is an ineffective system. The detrimental problem with the limitations of this model is not that it is flawed in itself but that it has adverse effects on the public some of which are explored in the writings of Geoffrey Brennan, Alan Hamlin, and Melissa Williams. In this study several other models will be examined but only to use as reference for a more favorable model that addresses many of the problems of the principal-agent model. While several authors try to dispute the potentiality of direct democracy but the contrary will be argued here as it has the possibility to reshape the idea of representation as well as how policy is determined.

The problems within the Principal-Agent model are numerous and detrimental to the functionality of the system when a cost/benefit analysis is applied to the Principal actor (i.e. the public). While Geoffrey Brennan and Alan Hamlin see the principal-agent model as a sort of least worst system that, while flawed, is still mendable while still maintaining it's central characteristics. One of the main criticisms against the Principal-Agent model is concerning a question that has been asked for almost as long as representative government: Does the representative make decisions that his/her constituency wants or do they do what is in their “interest”? Edmund Burke, in his famous speech to the Electors of Bristol, remarked that a representative's “mature judgment” and “enlightened conscience” allows him/her to choose what is in the best interest of their constituency. This form of thinking is necessarily implied in the principal-agent model by indicating that the “agent” is an expert on the subject (be it representation or managing a basketball star) while the “principal” actor is unlearned or at least unable to make decisions for themselves. The point of concern is not that of the representative but one of the concept of interest. It would be nearly impossible to discern what would or wouldn't be in a constituency's “best interest” for a number of reasons. To act in the interest of a collection of people would mean to act in such a way that benefits a segment or majority of that community/district/state/nation but how can a net benefit be measured? Is it measured by monetary gains, in higher standards of living, higher literacy rates, or lower unemployment rates? Would this interest-trumps-all approach apply aptly to matters that concern the whole world such as laws that curb carbon emissions? How far does the interest justification extend? Is the “agent” allowed to take actions that they believe is in the interest of their “principal” if the benefits will become apparent in years or decades? Brennan and Hamlin state that “the political expertise required of the representative lies first in the capacity to discern the...

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