The Neglected Value of Effective Government

31 Pages Posted: 2 Jun 2023 Last revised: 19 Sep 2023

Date Written: July 15, 2023


Democratic systems inevitably seek to reflect and realize a range of values. But democratic and legal theory in recent decades have given too little attention and weight to the value and importance of delivering effective government. Much of democratic theory and legal scholarship on democracy focuses on values such as political equality, fair representation, democratic deliberation, political participation, and individual rights, among other values. But less weight is given to the capacity of government to deliver effectively on the issues citizens care about most urgently.

Yet a defining feature of -- and threat to -- democracy in recent years is the perceived failure of democratic governments, in the United States and throughout the West, to deliver effectively on the issues their members care most about. This article aims to bring greater attention to the importance of effective government by illuminating tensions that arise between effective government and other important democratic values.

The article focuses on tensions (1) between political accountability and effective government; (2) . between political equality and effective government; (3) between open government and effective government; (4) between “fair” representation and effective government (including a critique of current proposals for proportional representation); and (5) between process and participation and effective government.

Taken as a whole, the point of these examples is to bring attention to the value and importance of state capacity to deliver effectively. Viewing current arrangements and proposed reforms through the lens of effective government opens up new directions for scholarship on democracy. But the first step is to recognize that the failure to deliver effective government is roiling most democracies today, and that if democracies cannot overcome that challenge, popular frustration, anger, distrust, or worse, will continue to grow.

Keywords: democracy, government, participation, political equality, transparency, process, administrative law

Suggested Citation

Pildes, Richard H., The Neglected Value of Effective Government (July 15, 2023). University of Chicago Legal Forum, Forthcoming, NYU School of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 23-51, Available at SSRN:

Richard H. Pildes (Contact Author)

New York University School of Law ( email )

40 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012-1099
United States
(212) 998-6377 (Phone)
(212) 995-4341 (Fax)

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