Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Shout It From The Rooftops

. Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Phil Arena says that we need to take political economy seriously (bold added):

What does concern me, though, is the cult of democracy worship that pervades IR (and much of political science, though IR scholars seem to be the worst about this). And this has come to rest heavily, in recent years, on the claim that democratic leaders have an incentive to provide public goods while leaders of other regimes do not. Unfortunately, the evidence that this is the case comes almost entirely from statistical analysis of data that is non-randomly missing and pertains to goods that are not public goods (see this paper for more details). The difference is important if you want to make claims about democracy working for everyone, not just the winners of the political process. There's good evidence that it does not (see here, or of course, virtually all of the public choice literature, which I truly wish more IR people would read -- a great primer for which can be found here).

Amen. Even true public goods have to be paid for by somebody; politics is about who pays for them, and who enjoys them. But the bigger point is that what many think of as public goods (e.g. roads, schools, health care) are definitionally not. It seems like many people confuse public goods with egalitarianism, but they are not at all the same. Many in IPE make the same mistake.

My impression that comparative politics may have some of the same democracy-worship proclivities as IR, for the same (misguided) reasons. Selectorate theory is, after all, a comparative theory before it's an IR theory. This type of question doesn't seem to be high on the American politics research agenda either.

All politics is about distribution. Whatever it's other faults, at least Acemoglu and Robinson get that part right.


sbd said...

I actually think that IR scholars (or at least IPE scholars) are much more skeptical of the "democracy is always good" narrative that pervades most of the comparative politics literature. I think this might be because IPE is so influenced by Econ, and economists tend to view politics as the thorn in the side of technocratically "correct" policy. Alas, I'm bad at pulling examples off the top of my head, but there's a common argument that democracy impedes structural adjustment after crisis. And, while many mid-range theories in IPE make claims about "democracy," it seems that what most scholars really care about is constraints on the executive, which is not always equal to democracy.

Kindred Winecoff said...

Arena was mostly talking about selectorate theory, and formal models in IR. I agree that (some) empirical IPE does this better, but we still tend to often conflate public goods with egalitarian goods.

Shout It From The Rooftops
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