Economics of Committees

Economic Journal, Volume 98, Number 391, June 1988, pages 451-470.

36 Pages Posted: 27 Jun 2012

See all articles by Raaj Kumar Sah

Raaj Kumar Sah

University of Chicago

Joseph E. Stiglitz

Columbia University - Columbia Business School, Finance; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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Date Written: June 1, 1985


An objective of this paper is to analyze the economic performance of committees; in particular, the optimal degree of consensus to be required for committee’s decision making (concerning acceptance or rejection of projects), and the optimal size of committee. Our focus is on two basic trade-offs in organizational decision making: between the (Type-I) errors of rejecting good projects and (Type-II) errors of accepting bad projects; and between gains from a more extensive evaluation of projects and the resources spent on evaluation. We provide a general characterization of the optimum, and use this characterization to derive a number of qualitative results. For instance, if the two types of individuals’ errors of judgment are equal, then the marginal majority rule is optimal (that is, for an increment in the committee size by 2, the optimal consensus increases by 1). If, in addition, the losses from the two types of errors are equal, then the majority rule is optimal.

The paper also analyzes hierarchies, polyarchies, and more complex forms of organization; and derives, for instance, simple interpretations of the optimal number of levels within a hierarchy, and units within a polyarchy. Among other questions which we address are, whether perfection in organizational decision making is feasible, and whether it is economically desirable.

Suggested Citation

Sah, Raaj Kumar and Stiglitz, Joseph E., Economics of Committees (June 1, 1985). Economic Journal, Volume 98, Number 391, June 1988, pages 451-470., Available at SSRN:

Raaj Kumar Sah (Contact Author)

University of Chicago ( email )

Chicago, IL 60637
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+1 773 288 1117 (Phone)

Joseph E. Stiglitz

Columbia University - Columbia Business School, Finance ( email )

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National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

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