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The Logic of American Politics

Chapter One

The Logic of American Politics

What good is politics in helping people solve their problems? Do institutions matter? In a democracy, when a majority agrees on a course of action, how do the institutional arrangements really affect the majoritys ability to do what it wants? Scenario: George W. Bush and embryonic stem cell research

The Logic of American Politics

Choices breed conflict
conflicting interests conflicting values conflicting ideas about how to allocate limited resources

The Logic of American Politics

Politics is how people attempt to manage conflict.
What happens when politics fails?
anarchy civil war

The Logic of American Politics

Formal definition:
politics is the process through which individuals and groups reach agreement on a course of common, or collective actioneven as they disagree on the intended goals of that action.

Bargaining and compromise Preferences equal givens

The Importance of Institutional Design

Effective political institutions
Set of rules and procedures for reaching and enforcing collective agreements Examples:
Clintons impeachment trial in Senate Harrington Treatise The Constitution

Institutional design is a product of politics

example: Department of Education

Constitutions & Governments

Set of rules and procedures institutions follow to reach collective agreements

Consists of these institutions and the legally prescribed process for making and enforcing collective agreements

Constitutions & Governments

Governments may assume various forms:
monarchy representative democracy theocracy dictatorship

Power versus Authority

Offices Authority Power

Institutional Durability
Institutions tend to be stable and resist change. Reasons:
Institutions persist beyond the tenure of office holders who occupy them. The people who are affected by them make plans on the expectation that current arrangements will remain (the status quo) Those who seek change typically cannot agree on alternatives.

The Political Systems Logic

Core values embedded in our institutions:
elections protection of individual liberties principles

Collective Action Problems

May involve
comparing preferences agreeing on a course of action (alternative) that is preferable to doing nothing implementing and enforcing the collective choice
Nuts and bolts of action PLUS sharing costs and living up to the agreement

Collective Action Problems

problem increases with size of group solutions

Prisoners Dilemma
free Riding tragedy of the commons solutions

The Costs of Collective Action

Collective action offers participants benefits they cannot achieve on their own.
cost the key: to minimize costs

Other costs:
transaction conformity costs the two costs often involve a trade-off with one another

Transaction and Conformity Costs

Transaction costs
the time, effort, and resources required to compare preferences and make collective decisions increase when the number of participants rise

Transaction and Conformity Costs

Conformity costs
the difference between what any one party prefers and what the collective body requires. losers in politics: parties whose preferences receive little accommodation but who must still contribute to the collective undertaking
paying ones taxes serving in Iraq

The two costs are inversely related

Figure 1.1

Designing Institutions for Collective Action: The Framers Toolkit

command veto agenda control voting rules
majority rule
simple majority plurality

principles and agents agency loss

Representative Government
representative government direct democracy
referendum initiative

majority rule versus the republic

allows some degree of popular control yet avoids tyranny

parliamentary government

separation of powers

professionals public servant or entrepreneur? specializes in pulling together coalitions sincere versus strategic behavior:
what does it mean to behave strategically?

The Work of Government

private goods
market provides/individually purchased, individually consumed

public bad or externality

auto pollution

fire protection
private to a public good

public goods
government provides/cost born collectively, everyone benefits mixed goods/collective goods more accurate name


Mitigating Popular Passions

reformers designed new government that minimized conformity costs and escalated transaction costs new government could:
solve problems could not usurp power

Mitigating Popular Passions

Majority rule is visibly present; it is also constrained by some powerful rules.
separation of powers staggered legislative terms an unelected judiciary limited national authority

Most complex constitutional system in the world