Rational Choice and A Critical Voice

Left: Professor                           Center: Student                              Right: Gadfly

  1. Bates (1981) turns our attention to the African continent.
  2. He studied markets and governments in some tropical lands,
  3.    The political basis there of agricultural policies,
  4.        And what exactly affected the small farmer—rationally:
  5. How public policy did create gross inefficiency. [i]
  6. I’m not sure why,
  7. But this professor seems to encourage,
  8. Articulated sighs,
  9. From the students,
  10. From time to time:
  11. Why did farm output decline over the previous decade?
  12. Under rational choice, government leaders engaged,
  13.      Actions to bolster nascent industries, while,
  14.            Others preferred to line their pockets [get paid],
  15.                Thus interfering with the agriculture’s market wage.
  16. The income produced by the peasants was diminished.
  17.       The rational choice was for farmers to quit.
  18. Again an articulated sigh:
  19. Why?
  20. Leaders in Ghana, Nigeria, Zaire and Senegal,
  21.       Working through state marketing boards,
  22.       Originally set-up by colonial governments,
  23.           To stabilize food prices, for sure;
  24.       Lowered food prices for city dwellers,
  25.            So that food may be purchased by the city’s poor.
  26.       And even though big farmers received subsidies,
  27.            Small farmers were not so lucky, indeed,
  28.                  They did not receive seed, feed, or machinery.
  29.                  And hence what the government thought was a cure,
  30.                      Was a detrimental outcome to the small farmer’s armature.
  31.            This negatively impacted the nation’s demeanor.
  32.       As domestic industries were protected from competition, be assured,
  33.             Small farmers couldn’t pay for manufactured goods; left to endure,
  34.                   The withering away of the internal food-supply market.
  35.       Thus potentially self-sufficient African nations must import,
  36.             The food that their distraught small farmers could have secured.
  37.       Furthermore, dilapidated farmers increasingly find relief, a secure lure,
  38. On the black market—because of the [politicians’] pockets’ allure.
  39.            Thus without reform due to the systematic and inefficient policy,
  40.             These nations are more likely to witness a steeper economic detour,
  41.                  To agricultural and financial stability—it’s not premature,
  42.                  To sense steeper economic decline and political upheaval.
  43. One was aghast at the complex implications:
  44. This distorts the markets.
  45. This distorts the political process.
  46. Once one group is unfairly disregarded?
  47. Yes! The government’s policy distorted the markets,
  48.       And contributed to shortages!
  49. Focus on the rational choices of the political and economic elites.
  50.   Pay special attention to the urban elites, and you should see,
  51.       Interests appease powerful political forces to enhance the capacity,
  52.            Of power—determining who has power—in these regimes.
  53. Pro-urban elite policy depressed food prices and,
  54.    Created incentives to work against improving,
  55.        Small farmers’ food production.
  56. Bates (1981) shows that African governments pursue,
  57.     Urban-elite agriculture policy as the agenda in use.
  58. Do you see rationality, constraints, strategic action,
  59.     Scarcity, institutions, organizations and equilibrium?
  60. For the most powerful interest group ‘tis the urban industrialists,
  61.    And the bureaucrats whom enforce publicly controlled markets.
  62. Food prices remain low to protect against urban consumers,
  63.    Rather than force wage increases upon the industrialists.
  64. Governments thus protect inefficient urban industries,
  65.    Because they serve as the protectors of the dominant coalition,
  66.         Hence the protection of the majority voting!
  67. What can the forgotten farmers do?
  68. Farmers may go against the state through a black market.
  69.    But ‘tis hard to fight the powers that be [the racket]:
  70.       The industrial owners and workers, economic and political elites,
  71.       The privileged farmers and the managers of public bureaucracies.
  72. The state may co-opt the small farmers, repress and start fragmenting,
  73.     The political opposition from the farming communities.
  74. One cannot understand,
  75. How one little abused group,
  76. Could cause such a disruption:
  77. This is too simple and straightforward.
  78. The states’ constraints only offer so many alternatives!
  79. What about specific historical circumstances?
  80. Were small farmers always failing miserably?
  81. What about the mindset and ideology,
  82. Of the policy-makers under democracy?
  83. You sound just like Kohli.
  84. Well done. Now let’s move on.
  85. Green and Shapiro (1996) wrote one called:
  86. Pathologies of Rational Choice Theory, [all],
  87. A Critique of Applications in Political Science; now,
  88. Rational Choice has not leaped the empirical bar.[ii]
  89. The professor slows his motion,
  90. Listening to echoes amidst walls,
  91. Perplexed faces enduring,
  92. Why one would learn a method…
  93. With such a cavernous flaw.
  94. Ah, a rejoinder to this thought:
  95. Positivism, in political thought,
  96. Was abundant by the 1800s, but,
  97. Falsification wasn’t well known,
  98. ‘till the 1960s. I mean to show,
  99. Even Darwin is a poor empirical narrative; today,
  100. Doesn’t rational choice produce rational evidence,
  101. Abundantly?
  102. Rational choice theories, in American politics, may denote:
  103.      Why do people vote? How about the youth?
  104.      Why people participate in political groups?
  105.      Does Party transformation attract the voters’ choice?
  106.      How do Legislators operate on legislative hemorrhoids?
  107. Hilarious laughter.
  108. The former domains are not tested empirically!
  109.    Not tested against other plausible hypotheses,
  110.        Oh, and those which are tested often suffer from,
  111.             Post-hoc modifications to fit,
  112.                   The data analysis.
  113.    Rational theorists employ regressive theory,
  114.          Oh, please keep the data and assumptions,
  115.              From post-hoc acts of known facts, see,
  116.                     Given phenomena then mold to RC theory!? No.
  117.    Hypothesis fails to leap over the bar of testing,
  118.        Successfully leaping against other phenomena,
  119. Rather; confessing, no empirical significance tests,
  120.      For checking.
  121.    Yes. Rational choice theories are purposefully constructed,
  122.         To obstruct additional encounters with empirical evidence.
  123.    Too often, they claim, unanticipated facts can be deducted:
  124.         Employing unobservable thought processes; now bundled,
  125.              Direct or indirect measures hence scurry, scamper and scuttle.
  126.     For example, rational choice theorists readily admit,
  127.          Voters have no incentive to travel to the polling booth,
  128.               So we are to understand that there is 0% voter turnout:
  129.                    In equilibrium!
  130.      Hence post-hoc voter gratification creates an exit,
  131.                For rational choice theorists to split.
  132. A budding rational choice scholar was dismayed,
  133. And argued against this critical harangue:
  134. Downs’ rational choice theory does predict,
  135. Why so many voters, when not forced, will reject,
  136. Voting in elections once determined;
  137. “My vote will not make an impact.”
  138. ‘Tis why voter turnout increases in close elections!
  139. Kroar spoke up:
  140. Isn’t the gist of Green and Shapiro’s argument,
  141. That rational choice theory is insufficient,
  142. Because it is not empirical,
  143. According to falsification conditions?
  144. The rational choice student,
  145. Re-ordered her argument:
  146. All scientific inquiry does not simply depend,
  147. On falsification!
  148. Think of post-positivism!
  149. The professor was encouraged,
  150. By the energy these students nourished.
  151. Seeing the development of research blueprints,
  152. Believing that their research will flourish,
  153. The professor continued,
  154. Overt with respect:
  155. Let this critique meet Olson!
  156.    Where selective benefits are key to determining,
  157.       Who will join your interest group,
  158.            Regardless of the motto’s yearning.
  159.    For wouldn’t, under rational choice theory,
  160.        The Christian fundamentalist walking past two protests,
  161.        On the one side, Pro-Choice; on the other, Pro-Life,
  162.             Join the side with better refreshments?
  163. That is bizarre.
  164. For defenders of the rational choice theory contraption,
  165.    Fail to propose or test plausible counter-hypothesis.
  166. Can’t non-participation be the result of something other than,
  167.    The collective action problem—of consequence?
  168. Green and Shapiro thus argue:
  169.    Might non-participants be disinterested in political groups?
  170.        Or worse than that; perhaps they abhor politics!
  171.    Doesn’t this Rational Choice problem arise from,
  172.        The assumption in a universal theory of human conduct?
  173.             If so, tremble until you are demolished!
  174.    Yes! Accept partial universalism, and defend,
  175.        ‘Tis only one type of explanation.
  176. The rational choice student gently affirmed:
  177. Of course Levi speaks of Green and Shapiro’s summarizing:
  178. As if they might not know more recent empirical findings,
  179. And perchance they focused on specific research enterprises.
  180. To make it appear that rational choice is childish.

[i] Bates, Robert. 1981. Markets and States in Tropical Africa. The Political Basis of Agricultural Policies. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

[ii] Green and Shapiro. 1994. Pathologies of Rational Choice Theory: A Critique of Applications in Political Science. New Haven: Yale University Press.

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3 thoughts on “Rational Choice and A Critical Voice

  1. Pingback: Learn Comparative Politics–Week 2 Reading « Political Pipeline

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