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The undeciders

More decision-makers bring less efficiency

12:36pm, May 9, 2008

It’s the other Parkinson’s: the progressive degeneration of a committee’s ability to make decisions as the committee adds more members.

English historian Cyril Northcote Parkinson observed in the 1950s that decision making is severely impaired in committees of more than 20 people. Now physicists have shown that the size of a country’s executive cabinet appears to be linked to that country’s overall efficiency, and they have found a possible mathematical explanation.

Stefan Thurner, a physicist at the Medical University of Vienna, and his collaborators looked at the overall efficiency of virtually every government on the globe, as measured by United Nations and World Bank indicators taking into account factors such as literacy, life expectancy and wealth.

The researchers then looked at each country’s executive cabinet. “Cabinets are a good representation of countries,” Thurner says.

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