Austrians Suggest Small Is Better

If a report published recently by a team of Austrian physicists is to be believed, the government formed by incoming Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Monday will be less efficient than its predecessor.

According to research by the three scientists at the Medical University of Vienna, the greater the number of members in a Cabinet, the less likely that government is to work effectively.

Putin's new government will include two more ministries than that under former Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov, as well as a record seven deputy prime ministers, including Zubkov himself. Political analysts joined the Austrian scientists in predicting that Putin's new Cabinet will be anything but well organized.

"If you want to get an inefficient government, you should appoint as many people as possible, so it would be impossible for them to reach a consensus," Stefan Thurner, one of the authors of the report, published last month, said by telephone Monday from Vienna.

"If you want to be the only one to make a decision, create a big government," he added after being told of Putin's seven new deputies.

Frustrated with the bureaucracy at their institution, Thurner and his two colleagues in Vienna decided to act by looking for a mathematical demonstration of how bloated bureaucracies generate nothing but trouble for the average person.

"At the beginning it all started as a joke," Thurner said. "But then we found very interesting results."

The team's study looked at 197 countries, from those with governments with just five members, like Monaco and Liechtenstein, to the 54-member Cabinet in Sri Lanka. Their results indicated that governments with more than 20 ministers tend to be less efficient than others with less.

"The ideal number is from 17 to a maximum of 20," he said.

Governmental effectiveness was quantified using measurements like the United Nations Human Development Indicator, which takes into account the level of health, wealth and education in a country, and the World Bank's Worldwide Governance Indicator, which considers factors like political stability, the quality of regulation and the levels of violence and corruption.

At least one Russian analyst, however, said numbers had little to do with the issue.

"Austrian scientists look at things from the point of view of people living in a civilized country like Austria," said Yury Korgunyuk, a political analyst with the Indem think tank. "Here, things are different. Putin looks at the government like a nice, tasty cake to divide among friends.

"In such a situation, it doesn't matter whether the Cabinet has five or 100 ministers," he added.

Mark Urnov, a political scientist at Moscow's Higher School of Economics, said Putin's aim was the opposite of what the Austrian scientists suggested. The new prime minister is simply trying to ensure that he is not blamed for unpopular decisions or lack of success, he said.

"Putin is trying to get a maximum number of ministries to separate himself from the decisions that will be made," Urnov said. "This is why we have so many deputy prime ministers. The question of effectiveness comes last," he said.

Thurner said the Austrian study was just a mathematical test of the work of British historian Northcote Parkinson, who died in 1993. Parkinson's study of British naval administration suggested that committees with more than 20 members were less competent than smaller ones.

The Austrian study determined that the average size of a government Cabinet worldwide was fewer than 20 members. The countries that scored highest on the efficiency ratings were Switzerland and Liechtenstein, with seven-member Cabinets, and Monaco, with five ministers.

Pakistan, with a 38-member Cabinet, and Congo, at 40, were among the countries with the lowest scores in the efficiency ratings.

Austria's Cabinet has 14 members. Germany's, by comparison, has 16.