This paper suggests that the basic distinction between federal and unitary government has limited as well as served our understanding of government. The notion that variation in the structure of government is a difference of kind rather than degree has straight-jacketed attempts to estimate the authority of intermediate government. One result has been the claim that a country’s footprint, not its population, is decisive for government. Analyzing data for 39 countries since 1950, and comparing our own findings with those of alternative measurements, we find evidence for the causal effect of population. This can be theorized in terms of a trade-off between responsiveness to soft information and per capita economies in public good provision.