Left: Professor Center: Student Right: Gadfly
- In two editions of Comparative Politics,
- Levi explains rational choice theory.
- Let us begin with the 1997 edition.[i]
In class sat a few novices.
- The rational actor’s preferences are defined to a tee,
- To be non-contradictory at any given instance, perceive:
- Preferences are transitive. If Actor J prefers A
- Over B; B over C, then J prefers A over C.
- There is a Condorcet winner archival.
- There is not a voting cycle?
- I.e., if Actor J prefers C to A;
- J loses all games!
- It’s not all relative.
- There are preferred points in political space,
- Preferred by the citizenry, median voter, lobbyists,
- Corporations and representatives; for bets to place.
- Rational choice theory concentrates its pillars,
- On strategic and rational decisions by individuals!
- Consider the constraints surrounding the achievement,
- Of any particular preferred outcome configuration.
- Decisions account for the probable actions of others,
- In light of constraints, whereas their decisions also depend,
- On others involved in the game.
- Rational choice theorists do compile an aggregation,
- Of individual choices.
- This may create a counterfactual and illuminate other,
- Paths not taken by the actors; perchance, avoidance.
- One may witness gross inefficiency and may also discover,
- Pareto-optimal paths not yet taken; you see, appointments.
- There are four pillars to the rational choice model.
- (1) There is the assumption of rationality. Meaning,
- Individuals are consistently in relation,
- To their preferred scene.
- (2) There are forms of constraint. Meaning;
- (A) Scarcity matters since individuals,
- Maximize available resources and see,
- Known constraints; indefinitely.
- E.g., state governments in theU.S.,
- Cannot go over budget; otherwise, unauthorized.
- (B) Institutions and organizations matter in play,
- They enforce the rules of the game.
- I.e., political institutions as the state,
- Creates and enforces rules upon society,
- And individuals in countless aspects of life.
- Also, social institutions enforce rules through,
- Approbation or shunning participants; deduce.
- Further, economic institutions enforce rules through,
- Profit and loss tools.
- Finally, organizations are players in the game,
- And affect information and payoffs [replayed].
- (3) There is strategic action. Meaning,
- Individuals must consistently paint,
- A picture of other players and their constraints.
- Under normal circumstances, strategic action assumes,
- That all other players are rational too.
- (4) There is equilibrium. Equilibrium outcomes consist of paths,
- Which no one has an incentive to alter or smash.
- They are not necessarily the paths observed, unfortunately,
- In this way, political scientists may be hired, essentially,
- To research productivity.
- Let’s take a break.
The students return.
- Let’s now turn to Levi in the 2009 edition.[ii]
- Rational choice (RC) theory dates back through Hobbes,
- And Mandeville’s Fable of the Bees (1714).
- Adam Smith, in The Wealth of Nations, props,
- People are almost always better off when following,
- Self-interest instead of communal schemes.
- Adam Smith, in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, drops;
- The reasons why values may trump interests in reality.
- Today, rational choice requires an empirical investigation:
- Discovering variations in aggregate behavior; don’t negate,
- Collective outcomes derived from RC model frames,
- Delineating strategically interacting individuals,
- Reasoning all possible outcomes given constraints.
- Acknowledge in your essay:
- Differences in institutional arrangements,
- Homogenous or heterogeneous motivations,
- The various paths the different actors have taken,
- Write about limited cognition and imperfect information,
- And feel free to mention culture and structure now and again,
- Along with institutions, organizations and power—in the analysis.
- Rational choice may operate in the following way:
- Create time inspired investigations in institutional change,
- Integrate sequencing and history into your essay.
- An analytic narrative using time and space is okay.
- But avoid building paradigms or sand castles today.[iii]
- Greif (2006) accounts for solutions of long-distance trade:[iv]
- How different beliefs and institutions emerge,
- Like a bear, after a cold winter, from her cave;
- Stable in the absence of major exogenous shocks,
- From day to day—productivity remains.
- Bates et al. in Analytic Narratives verifies:[v]
- How subgame perfect game theory provides,
- The counterfactual, even if not chosen, to testify,
- The evidence necessary to explain the choices tried.
A student needed to speak:
As Levi says, “If the Green and Shapiro critique (1994)
Of rational choice’s failure to provide substantiation
Ever held, it certainly does not hold for contemporary
Rational choice work in comparative politics.”[vi]
- Rational choice is neither neoclassical economics,
- Nor public choice.
- It’s different because it investigates institutions and norms,
- Conflict and power, and, the nonegoistic motivation core.
- It’s different precisely because it is empirical and explanatory,
- Rather than normative and exhortatory.
- The models don’t attack the role of the state in the economy,
- But explore the role of the state, politics, and groups,
- Capturing the signatures in the political and economic diary.
- Levi finds four sources for new scholars to use RC:
- (1) The spatial analysis: use this on political institutions;
- Such as federalism and cabinet coalitions.
- (2) The social choice framework: for some reason in politics,
- Nonrational, non-pareto collective choices take place,
- As cycling is observed by the political scientist.
- (3) Collective action theory: check all strategic interactions;
- Was each individual’s decision based on the others’
- Probable action?
- (4) New Economic Institutionalism: North, 1990;[vii]
- Combine transaction cost theory,
- With the role of bargaining theory.
- Explain structure and change,
- Via institutions and norms,
- that either facilitate or constrain,
- Against the increase or decrease,
- of transaction costs ascertained.
- Like officials can secure property rights,
- And so alter the investor’s game.
- Now take a minute and think of an essay,
- Dealing with bargains, strategic interactions,
- Transactions, institutions, cognitive limitations,
- Information and network simulations…
- ‘Tis likely a rational choice interplay.
After a long silence,
- Think of research providing the microfoundations,
- For macroprocesses and events.
- The RC approach is methodologically individualist,
- Collecting aggregate individual choices.
- Individuals act according to their preferences,
- Thus the difficult part is defining those preferences,
- Ex ante. Before post hoc criticism is generated!
- For example, if you are researching an entrepreneur,
- The preference is to be a magnum wealth booster!
A student finally interjected:
My favorite line is:
“Rational choice does not even require the assumption,
That individuals are self interested.”[viii]
- So that’s rational choice—it’s complex,
- But not complicated.
- Good luck with your projects.
- Post your rational choice abstract online.[ix]
- Hopefully some conquest,
- Will crystallize.
- Good Bye.
[i] Levi. 1997. “A Model, a Method, and a Map: Rational Choice in Comparative and Historical Analysis” in Comparative Politics, Rationality, Culture, and Structure. Lichbach and Zuckerman. Cambridge University Press.
[ii] Levi. 2009. “A Model, a Method, and a Map: Rational Choice in Comparative and Historical Analysis” in Comparative Politics, Rationality, Culture, and Structure. Lichbach and Zuckerman.Cambridge University Press.
[iii] Geddes. 2003. Paradigms and Sand Castles: Theory Building and Research Design in Comparative Politics.Ann Arbor:University of Michigan Press.
[iv] Greif. 2006. Institutions and the Path to the Modern Economy: Lessons from Medieval Trade (Political Economy of Institutions and Decisions). Cambridge New York: CambridgeUniversity Press.
[v] Bates, Greif, Levi, Rosenthal, Weingast. 1998. Analytic Narratives. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press.
[vi] Page 122 (Lichbach and Zucherman, 2009).
[vii] North. 1990. Institutions, Institutional Change, and Economic Performance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
[viii] Page 128 (Lichbach and Zuckerman, 2009).
[ix] Teaching Method: It’s common today for professors to require students present one week’s assigned reading, perhaps as an oral presentation or through a wiki, etc. I encourage professors to provide another option. Allow students to create an abstract for a new article yet to be written using the week’s reading (and post online). This should promote meaningful collaboration in and out of the classroom.