How many is enough?

By George Weckman

January 3, 2014

Organizations have to put quorums in their constitutions that defines how many people have to be present to have a legal meeting. Old Jewish law said that 10 men made a minyan, the minimum for proper synagogue prayer. The size of social groups matters.

We all know that you can have too few people involved to get a job done. Organizations can have too few paying members so they are financially stunted. A group might include some goldbricks who contribute little. In that case, the active core is crucial and must be sufficient for survival.

We also know that some people like to be a committee of one so that they can do the job their way without interference. That’s undemocratic but efficient. Those single actors sometimes like big unorganized groups that defer to them, so they can get their own way.

How many people are needed to limit the power-hungry individual without becoming a clumsy crowd? Can we find a perfect number or, at least, a principle by which to institute effective numbers? The secret lies in having a group small enough to talk together, listen, and reflect on what the others say.

Representative government is a way of doing public work, a middle way between raw democracy and tyranny. Everyone cannot vote on everything but they can have a say indirectly. Elected legislatures can be effective decision-making groups if they are small enough to deliberate and large enough to reflect the public will.

Have we come to the point at which our national congress is too big?

George Weckman is a retired professor and director of music at Christ Lutheran Church.