Comparative Government

Matt Wardman, asking what a “bicycling Parliament” would look like, compares the salary and benefits packages for Norwegian MPs to those in the UK. I’m perennially dismayed by how infrequently this sort of comparison takes place, particularly in Britain. It’s as if there’s a feeling of “We invented modern democracy and everyone should be studying us. What could we possibly learn from anyone else?”

I’ve recently been comparing the UK’s Freedom of Information laws to those of other countries, and the answer there, as always, is “quite a lot, actually” (Particular kudos on that one to Estonia where virtually all government information is automatically electronically published and doesn’t need to be specially requested.)

Generally, however, making such comparisons is trickier than it ought to be. Unless you can find a report from some organisation that published the results of an comparison of a particular area of information, it requires lots of searching through primary sources and trying to work out whether you’re comparing like to like. And that’s not including all the cases where what the laws say bears only a vague resemblance to what actually happens.

Wikipedia is a good starting place for high level information, and provides a basic (and generally well-referenced) comparison on economics, tax rates, and some legal topics (e.g. Freedom of Information and Age of Consent).  There are also good pages gathering country-specific information from a variety of sources (e.g. visa-free travel with a British passport), but on other topics (e.g. comparing the remuneration of MPs or equivalent around the world) the information is either well hidden or not gathered.

Is there some other source for this sort of comparative study, generally? If not, should there be, and if so where? Is it just a matter of seeding pages on Wikipedia for the relevant topic, and hoping people flesh it out and keep it up to date? Or is there a better alternative?

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