Big Normative Questions and Rational Choice Analysis


  1. Hello class. As you know,
  2. You must scale comprehensive exam plateaus.
  3. Today I will address a way to accomplish this feat,
  4. And once an understanding of this lecture is complete,
  5. You should be able to succeed in answering:
  6. “The Big Normative Question(s);” indeed.
  7. For each exam question relates a topic,
  8. Worthy of many research hypothesis;
  9. Either via qualitative or quantitative analysis.
  10. Normatively, how is the public will distorted in a democracy?
  11. How does government, or legislators, distort the will,
  12.    Of the median voter?
  13. How do you explain the causes of distance,
  14.    Between last year’s laws and the will of median citizen?
  15. The professor paused,
  16. And waited out the silence.
  17. For example, a rational choice approach may help answer,
  18.   The following narrow normative questions:
  19.    How can institutions advance coherent policy choices,
  20.        Which better democratic governance?
  21.    How can institutions promote stable sets of public policies,
  22.        While further solving collective action problems?
  23.    How can multiple equilibrium after an
  24.        Institutional-rational choice analysis
  25.           Reveal truly democratic governance?
  26. Really, these are the normative questions that should open your essay;
  27.    As necessary to answer as a scientist of the political community.
  28. In a comprehensive exam. Begin by addressing this BNQ substance,
  29.    Therefore the reader will imagine that you understand—superbly.
  30. Never before had students tickled their keyboards,
  31. So vigorously and with such undivided attention,
  32. In this class.
  33. Rational choice analysis of institutions was a long time coming.
  34. In the 1950s and 1960s, political science acquired much
  35.    Congressional research via the marriage of structural-functionalism
  36.       And behavioralism; e.g. instrumental rationality.[1]
  37. Rational choice shortly thereafter became,
  38.    A dominant preference for many, because,
  39.        After much research, anomalies were noticed,
  40.            And needed additional research to be explained.
  41. The first anomaly observed that majority rule cycles,
  42.    Did not affect congressional politics.
  43. Congress seemed to be a model of stability,
  44.    And “in no sense was there evidence that majority cycling
  45.        Was a constant companion of legislative life,” yet;
  46. Political mischief and intransitivity, i.e. the Powell Amendment,
  47.     Was expected to be much more prevalent.
  48. That’s from Shepsle and Weingast, 1994, 151.
  49. Second, today’s models seek an institutional analysis (i.e., norms),
  50.    While the first generation rational choice models did not,
  51.        And so the normative component was built,
  52.           Not so much knowingly, yet, for sure, there was growth,
  53.             As new results came into the fold.
  54. Third, today’s models account for majorities, party structure and agency,
  55.     While the first generational models did not explore,
  56.          Those issues as questions worthy of rapport.
  57. Rational choice means that individuals attempt
  58.    To achieve a preferred end, whether it be reelection (Mayhew),
  59.       Pork for constituents (Fenno), or district policy goals.
  60. According to rational choice, under positive political theory,
  61.     Congressmen must cooperate (e.g., logrolling),
  62.        In order to achieve their preferred ends, i.e., legislation.
  63. However, this focus left deliberative democracy unattended
  64.    And “dismissed as mood music.”
  65. Again Shepsle and Weingast, 1994, just 152.
  66. This was the fourth anomaly, meaning,
  67.    Why weren’t answering BNQs the trophy?
  68. The professor was surprised,
  69. That the students were absolutely on the line.
  70. The second generation models proliferated in the 1980s,
  71.    And came closer to addressing our big normative questions,
  72.        “Which I shall soon attempt to accomplish,”
  73. The professor genuinely smiled:
  74. Which concludes your introduction.
  75. Giggles and sighs released,
  76. For how wonderful ‘twas to see,
  77. A professor—educating.
  78. Some 2nd gen. focused on politics-of-distribution and spatial representation,
  79.    Which illuminated the expressions of legislative self-interest,
  80.        Via institutional structural analysis.
  81.  Again Shepsle and Weingast, 1994.
  82. Yet these existed in the field with imperfect information.
  83.     And institutional arrangements were still exogenous.
  84. Parties were thought to exist in order to solve collective action problems,
  85.    But the evidence was thin.
  86. Party leaders were agents to direct change,
  87.    But mechanisms coaxing that change were skim.
  88. Thus these studies focused on adjusting institutional arrangements—
  89.    Not creating them.
  90. Normative things,
  91. Which sounds like post-positivism investigation, to me;
  92. Yet perhaps it could be empirical,
  93. Yes! This professor preferred that that, they seek.
  94. Second generation models did analyze congressional and
  95.    Institutional arrangements—
  96. According to the demand side, or, exchange for,
  97.    Increasing the legislator’s welfare.
  98. Thus committees produce the collective product,
  99.    Of legislative cooperation.
  100. Accordingly, second generation models discovered that
  101.    “institutional arrangements are driven not by the
  102.       Demand-side desire for deals but rather
  103.         By the supply-side requirements of production.”[2]
  104. Hear, these models led to the realization that transaction costs matter,
  105.    Because under second generation models ‘twas endorsed,
  106.       That “rights allocated within the legislature are costlessly enforced.”[3]
  107. Thus, the infamous pasture metaphor regarding the privatize solution
  108.    To collective action problems—was a thorny puzzle.
  109. Since it is in each legislator’s interest to bring home the bacon; more pork!
  110.    While the national debt then becomes like shaking champagne,
  111.        And then nudging the cork. There the debt blows…
  112. The class laughed knowing full-well,
  113. Nothing was funny about the national debt’s swell.
  114. Now in your essay, you must drive that point home.
  115. And be sure to mention that second generation models,
  116.    Determined that the “committee system is the lynchpin
  117.        Of this arrangement.”[4]
  118. Committees attract legislators who care about jurisdiction.
  119. Committees hold enormous power over the policy output;
  120.     e.g, gate keeping, proposal power, amendment rules,
  121.           control conference committee proceedings and,
  122.           oversight authority.
  123. Committees are adjustable to account for future issue incorporation.
  124.      e.g., new committees, multiple referrals of bills,
  125.              the subcommittee bill of rights and/or
  126.              legislative reorganization.
  127. Thus second generation models predicted an oiled committee system.
  128. Third generation models clarified some of the former puzzle.
  129. Under third generation studies, gains from exchange requires
  130.     “swapping influence across jurisdictions, a prospect requiring
  131.         multiple jurisdictions they care most about”;
  132.            E.g., committee assignment.[5]
  133. In this way, mechanisms to enable logrolling arise
  134.    And permeate transactions that become the data to find!
  135.         Committee strength must be measured; e.g.,
  136.             As opposed to the Speaker;
  137.         Balance of power among committees, i.e.,
  138.             New committees should be formed when
  139.                The power distribution is adverse!
  140. Logrolling is paramount to our big normative questions!
  141. So third generation models were endogenous and explained,
  142.     Alternative mechanisms to the status quo games.
  143. The professor paused to catch some air.
  144. Under third generation studies, a majoritarian postulate signifies,
  145.    That institutions are endogenous.
  146. By incorporation of observable practices, scholars were able to
  147.    Determine equilibrium.
  148. This analysis consigned a path of individual preferences, and,
  149.     Institutions—see Krehbiel.
  150. Institutions thus change into something new when they impede,
  151.    The will of the majority.
  152. See Riker.[6]
  153. The uncertainty postulate reveals policy instruments
  154.    And policy effects as distinct—legislators act,
  155.         Under imperfect information.
  156. These models account for how legislators create information,
  157.     Designed to capture policy asymmetry.
  158. Research suggests that committees are centrist and interested,
  159.    In the median voter’s demands.
  160. Those who manipulate the agenda may have a preferred interest,
  161.    In exploiting disequilibrium.
  162. This is part of the path to solving our big normative questions.
  163. Tastes are in dispute during quiet times, and institutions are in dispute,
  164.    During turbulent times (Riker).
  165. According to the paradox of irrepressibility (Black),
  166.    Disequilibrium was inherent within distributions of taste,
  167.       Not institutions.
  168. Even though models show paths for winning,
  169.    There may be an absence of a significant winner; meaning,
  170.        Losing preferences may be consequential for those representing,
  171.            The denizens.
  172. Further, the research determines that disequilibrium can occur,
  173.    Under majority voting; whereas, tastes account for
  174.        The disequilibrium—see Arrow.
  175. Furthermore, when equilibrium shatters, it cannot be quickly
  176.    Put back together (McKelvey).
  177. For example, the Jeffersonian-Jacksonian agrarian coalition fell apart
  178.    Because of the free soil issue—which had been solved before; all said,
  179.        By the constitution’s 3/5ths clause!
  180. In this way it may seem obvious, that non-median voter laws,
  181.    Will return again and again ‘till they’re solved.
  182. This has implications for today’s big normative questions,
  183.    For we surely see policy implications for immigration,
  184.        Education, military-corporatism, and healthcare reform.
  185. Equilibrium is achieved by suppressing resistance—by force.
  186. Consequently, equilibria may be similar institutionally under
  187.    Majority rule or dictatorships (Riker).
  188. Of particular salience, “Disequilibrium, or the potential
  189.    That the status quo be upset, is the characteristic feature of politics.”
  190. Riker, 1980, 443.
  191. Therefore tastes and institutions must be studied!
  192.    For big normative answers have already journeyed!
  193. About 10 students said: How?!
  194. Rules and structures may delineate how legislation
  195.     Will progress in a process to be accomplished.
  196. Decentralized processes divide the whole into parts for examination
  197.     E.g., committees, parties, bureaucracies;
  198. Jurisdictional processes shed light on the dimensions for decision making.
  199. According to Shepsle, “structural equilibria exist in a committee system,
  200.    Provided the members’ preferences can be represented
  201.    By quasi-concave, continuous utility functions and the committee system
  202.    Operates in an m-dimensional space in such a way that each dimension
  203.    Is under the particular jurisdiction of a particular committee.”
  204. Riker, 1980, 444.
  205. The evidence reveals that short-term cultural and structural constraints,
  206.     May advance stability; however, the constant is instability,
  207.        In this progress and process of legislative restraint.
  208. Accordingly, arrows theorem suggests that social choices will be
  209.    Incoherent unless we (1) restrict peoples’ preferences, or,
  210.    (2) restrict the available alternatives.
  211. After all, party decision making is complex and we may analyze,
  212.    The votes that have been recorded—or,
  213.        Which bills submitted were quickly aborted.
  214. According to Aldrich, “A system of parties is thus defined as
  215.    Those parties engaged in strategic interaction from election to election,
  216.        Competing for popular support.”[7]
  217. Parties influence congressional behavior.
  218.    A homogenous majority party will be able to capture
  219.       Public policy direction.
  220. This can have serious implications for our big normative questions.
  221. See Cox and McCubbins, Setting the Agenda, 2005.
  222. A homogenous majority party is able to devise mechanisms
  223.    To determine the party’s public good;
  224.       To advance coordination.
  225. Not only is this party able to direct the former,
  226.    But is also able to create the institutions to achieve
  227.         Their preferred n; their preferred interests.
  228. This is a supply-side approach.
  229. Thus the party label matters to the legislator, and,
  230.    The legislator has an interest in efficient mechanisms,
  231.       To solve party goals; hence,
  232.           How a party would solve BNQs,
  233.             Determines a party’s reputation.
  234. Parties resolve internal disputes in order to achieve
  235.    The collective goods they seek,
  236.       And to prevent shirking.
  237. This approach is endogenous, whereas the party is a cartel.
  238. Does the evidence suggests that there is no statistically significant,
  239.    Divergence between the party members in a committee,
  240.       And the party median? Of the median voter, really?!
  241. Now there sometimes exists divergence within narrow constituencies,
  242.     E.g., Agriculture, Education, Labor (Cox and McCubbins).
  243. On the other hand, evidence suggests that parties will design institutions,
  244.    To get what they want right from the beginning.
  245. Conversely, studies need to account for the President as leader of the party,
  246.     And the president’s influence over policy—
  247.       Even if congressmen benefit tremendously from
  248.          Authorizing the bureaucracy.
  249. In short, legislators need the party’s name,
  250.    And the party leaders dictate how the game is played.
  251. Thus elections, in a democracy, solve much—but do not overestimate,
  252.     Why Congress’s approval rating is a shame.
  253. Therefore, some models focus on committees within
  254.     Jurisdictional rights over legislation, and,
  255.         Parties seeking internal harmony in order
  256.            To accomplish party preferences for the median voter.
  257. Also, committee leaders enact legislation
  258.     Which was designed by the party, because the party coordinated
  259.        The committee assignments and future assignments,
  260.            For loyal followers to be awarded.
  261. Political scientists have advanced models for positive theories
  262.     Of congressional institutions.
  263. Demand side analysis discovers gains from exchange (i.e. cooperation).
  264. Supply side discovers mechanisms at work for the legislator’s benefit
  265.    E.g., parties and committees.
  266. The literature suggests that significant political change
  267.     Is an inescapable past, present and future phenomenon.
  268. Decade after decade, the people have been able to accelerate
  269.     Transformation: That equity and opportunity dominate,
  270.          In democracies.
  271. Importantly, third generation models attempt to account for
  272.    Decision making which does cause change. Let me make plain:
  273.         From modeling gains from exchange (first generation);
  274.         To informational decision making and partisan legislative politics;
  275.              Salient branching points occur in light of supply-side
  276.                And demand-side legislative decision making.
  277.          Those who manipulate the agenda may have a preferred interest
  278.                In exploiting disequilibrium.
  279.          Short-term cultural and structural constraints may advance stability;
  280.                However, the constant is instability. ‘Tis always,
  281.                    Upgrade after upgrade—even if some are dismayed.
  282. Voting theory offers how preferences may cause choices.
  283. Voting theory discovers behavior and may illuminate,
  284.    Which legislators teamed up with specific voter voices.
  285. In this manner, legislators’ preferences may be accounted for,
  286.    Against available alternatives (advanced in third generation models).
  287. There are two “streams” of behavioral equilibrium.[8]
  288. On the one hand, positive behavioral equilibrium
  289.    Showing positive results about what “society” would choose.
  290.       For example, the median voter theorem displays single peaked
  291.          Voter preferences along a single continuum (Black, 1958).
  292.    The legislators’ preferred policy goal will be the median voter
  293.        And will showcase behavioral equilibrium, thus,
  294.           Parties on the right and left will converge upon the center (Downs),
  295.              Which is good for our big normative question enforcement.
  296.    We will see many different behavioral equilibrium change through time,
  297.        Against many other alternatives which were denied.
  298. The professor eyes looked for reactions:
  299. As Will Durant said, “The political machine triumphs because
  300.    It is a united minority acting against a divided majority.”
  301. No one knew what the professor was talking about.
  302. And so the lecture continued uninterrupted:
  303. Plott (1967) suggested that there is a pareto efficient robust equilibrium;
  304.    Meaning, there are many equilibrium that are reasonable
  305.       Under democratic theory (e.g. core).
  306. Additionally, slightly more recent scholars prevailed in explaining,
  307.     A Downsian spatial model comprised of multiple dimensions,
  308.        With behavioral equilibrium dependant upon
  309.           Symmetry conditions (e.g. cleavages).
  310. About here, the professor started to speak,
  311. As if concluding the comprehensive exam essay.
  312. Conversely, Plott discovered that disequilibrium was the norm.
  313. No one is suggesting that a country is in the core of democratic theory;
  314.    I.e. Has actually solved the institutional normative questions,
  315.         In our BNQ opening.
  316. Truly, in a democracy, are the people a part of the institutions?
  317.    Are there solutions in the pareto set being ignored?
  318. Now institutions can lead us to the discovery of what Aldrich (2011) called
  319.    Structure-induced equilibrium (e.g., institutions, majority rule)
  320.      And preference-induced equilibrium.
  321. When voters’ decision(s) reflect preferences (i.e. sincere),
  322.     And/or may be myopic.
  323. On the other hand, sophisticated voting means that the player accounts
  324.     For the other player’s future—as well as their own.
  325. Thus, the researcher must attribute the vote counts according to
  326.    Their actual paths; e.g., Condorcet winner, cycling:
  327.        Realizing for whom the legislator was representing.
  328. Discovering equilibrium is not unimportant.
  329. The preference equilibrium contains virtue,
  330.    Since elites’ votes against majority rule is half the battle.
  331.       As Aldrich (2011) said: When there is a well-defined sense
  332.         Of what the majority prefers, the majority will work its will.
  333. For example, in a multiple person legislature,
  334.    The median voter’s preference, once given,
  335.        Will be preferred by a majority.
  336. On the other hand, the parties have an incentive to act as a Surety
  337.    For their constituents; meaning, the Party expresses
  338.       The legislators commitment to or independence from,
  339.           National party programs.
  340. See Grynaviski, 2010.
  341. Rational choice suggests dividing the winning coalition (on legislation)
  342.    By those whom voted with the median voter and
  343.       Those whom voted against it (Aldrich, 2011).
  344. Of consequence, transaction costs may me measured between
  345.    The median voter and all other players,
  346.       Including an analysis of the parties.
  347.           This reveals equilibrium!
  348. Compiling the year’s results leads to defining robust equilibria.
  349. To solve collective action problems and promote
  350.    A stable set of public policies, the officials’ campaign
  351.       With a party’s incentive program (e.g., party platform)
  352.          And their own platform (e.g., home-style). In doing so, they solve
  353.             The problem of low voter knowledge and
  354.                 Low voter turnout (Aldrich).
  355. On the other hand, prima facie, evidence of disequilibrium proliferates,
  356.    Because the players have such variant preferences and behavioral traits.
  357. Therefore, we need to research all institutions,
  358.    In light of behavior and preferences, and,
  359.       The democratic core.
  360. Of course, all of this is a great comp. exam answer,
  361.    So long as you were asked to provide,
  362.        A rational choice analysis.
  363. All smiles.
  364. Thanks for your undivided attention.
  365. Take a break and I’ll start talking again in ten.


[1] This begins an analysis of Shepsle and Weingast. 1994. Positive Theories of Congressional Institutions. Legislative Studies Quarterly. V. 19, N. 2, pp. 149-179.

[2] Shepsle and Weingast, 1994, 157.

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid, page 156.

[5] italics mine, Shepsle and Weingast, 1994, 156.

[6] I transition here to: Riker, “Implications from the Disequilibrium of Majority Rule for the Study of lnstitutions.” American Political Science Review. 1980.

[7] I transition here to: Aldrich. 2011. Why Parties?: A Second Look. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011. page 57.

[8] see Aldrich. 2011. Why Parties?: A Second Look.Chicago:University of Chicago Press, 2011.


3 thoughts on “Big Normative Questions and Rational Choice Analysis

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

  2. Pingback: Positivism for Millennium 3 « Political Pipeline

  3. Pingback: Asunder: see “Field of Political Science.” | Political Pipeline

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s