Who Has Voice in a Deliberative Democracy? Evidence from Transcripts of Village Parliaments in South India

Journal of Development Economics, November 2012

Stanford Graduate School of Business Research Paper No. 2103

36 Pages Posted: 14 Jun 2012 Last revised: 1 Oct 2013

Radu Ban

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Saumitra Jha

Stanford Graduate School of Business

Vijayendra Rao

World Bank - Development Research Group (DECRG)

Date Written: May 12, 2012

Abstract

The role of deliberation among citizens to determine and forge agreement on policy is often seen as a crucial feature of democratic government. This paper provides the first large-N empirical evidence on the credibility of voice in a deliberative democracy in an non-laboratory setting, using a unique dataset collected from transcripts of deliberation that occurred between January and September 2003 in127 functioning village parliaments (gram sabhas) in Southern India. We exploit a natural experiment in the arrangement of India's state borders across ethno-linguistic lines that led exogenously to increased caste fragmentation and a reduced degree of consensus on public goods priorities. We then examine the patterns of deliberation. We reject the presence of pure cheap talk in both heterogeneous and homogeneous villages. Instead, we show that in caste- fragmented South Indian villages, where there is less village-wide agreement on the relative importance of different public goods, the probability of an individual's highest priority being discussed increases as the household become more credible: its preferences approach the pivotal agent in a pure representative democracy, the median household. These effects are lower in ethnically homogeneous villages where there is greater consensus on the prioritization of public goods. Taken together, our results suggest that India's village parliaments, rather than being mere talking shops or being entirely captured by elites, seem instead to be both democratically representative and to be assigning roles to credible agents in their deliberative processes.

Keywords: India, deliberative democracy, village parliaments, cheap talk

Suggested Citation

Ban, Radu and Jha, Saumitra and Rao, Vijayendra, Who Has Voice in a Deliberative Democracy? Evidence from Transcripts of Village Parliaments in South India (May 12, 2012). Journal of Development Economics, November 2012; Stanford Graduate School of Business Research Paper No. 2103. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2084387

Radu Ban

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation ( email )

P.O. Box 23350
Seattle, WA 98102
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.gatesfoundation.org

Saumitra Jha (Contact Author)

Stanford Graduate School of Business ( email )

655 Knight Way
Stanford, CA 94305-5015
United States

Vijayendra Rao

World Bank - Development Research Group (DECRG) ( email )

1818 H. Street, N.W.
MSN3-311
Washington, DC 20433
United States
202-458-8034 (Phone)
202-522-1153 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://vijayendrarao.org

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