The Oxford Handbook of Political Institutions
835 pág.

The Oxford Handbook of Political Institutions


DisciplinaCiências Políticas e Teoria do Estado622 materiais7.848 seguidores
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structures (institutions) in which they occur.
As to the development of the behavior shaping rule structures themselves, a now
conventional notion, borrowed from economics and popularized by Paul Pierson
(2000), is that institutional development over time is marked by path dependence
(PD). A crisis, or a serendipitous conXuence of events or social pressures, produces
a new way of doing things. For example, in the case of regulating railroads by
independent commission, \u2018\u2018increasing returns\u2019\u2019 accrued to the steady elaboration of
this path\u2014and not to Xuctuating experimentation with othermethods of reducing
social costs occasioned by uncontrolled railroad entrepreneurship\u2014and, for that
reason, the railroad commission lasted a long time and its functional connections
to society became ever more elaborate. Transportation businesses, trade unions,
investor decisions, and legislative and party politics gained a stake in the \u2018\u2018path\u2019\u2019 of
railroad regulation by independent commission and calculated and defended their
interests within its rules. To understand the actions of all these political players, one
must take cognizance of the historical development of the institution, and the
original, distinct culture and problems in which it arose. That is the central logic
of HI, and to its practitioners the advantage of studying politics this way is obvious
and noncontroversial.
Nevertheless, the popularity of historical analysis of institutions\u2014their origins,
development, and relationship to policy and behavior\u2014has by no means been
continuous. As historians of knowledge remind us, attention to the development of
institutions has Xuctuated widely across disciplines, and over time. Its popularity
has waxed and waned in response to events in the social/economic/political world
and to the normal intradisciplinary conXicts of ideas and career paths (Ross 1995).
This chapter will examine the context in which a new attention to institutional
analysis arose in the social sciences in the 1970s, the distinctions between historical
institutionalism and its closest competitors (rational choice and quantitative
cross-sectional analysis), and the search for agents of institutional maintenance
and change that is at the core of HI. It will conclude with comments on aspects of
institutional development that have received (I argue) too little attention:
the pathologies that become imbedded in public institutions and constitute
\u2018\u2018moral hazards\u2019\u2019 in the performance of public oYcials.
1 The Waning and Waxing of Historical
Institutionalism
.........................................................................................................................................................................................
It is true that some classic works that analyze institutions in historical perspective
have enjoyed a more or less continuous life on political science syllabi. Books by
Max Weber, Maurice Duverger, Alexis de Tocqueville, John Locke, Woodrow
Wilson, Robert McCloskey, and Samuel Beer are prominent examples. Such work
was increasingly sidelined, however, with the rise of behaviorism after the Second
World War, particularly with the emergence of survey research and computer
technology. With the availability of large data-sets on contemporaneous attitudes,
elections, and legislative roll call votes, and with statistical analysis of those data
made enormously easier by computers and statistical software, political scientists
largely abandoned the study of history and institutional structures in the 1960s.
However, after a hiatus of several decades, the study of institutions in historical
perspective reemerged in political science in the 1970s, took on new, more analyt-
ical, epistemological characteristics, and Xowered in the 1980s and 1990s. Why this
reemergence? The simplest explanation is that economic relationships were in
crisis, if that is not too strong a word (\u2018\u2018Xux\u2019\u2019 would be far too mild). Largely as
a result of their revealed malfunctions and vulnerabilities, post-Second World War
40 elizabeth sanders
democratic institutions based on stable economic growth were being criticized and
challenged in the 1970s as they had not been since the 1940s.
Increasingly loud criticism of institutions that had long been taken for granted
(particularly those concerned with regulation, money supply, and social welfare)
now provoked questions that intrigued a generation of scholars: why had those
institutions been created, how had they evolved to reach this point, and why were
they no longer adapting successfully to changing needs? How, in other words, had
the stable, adaptive path dependence of Western institutions come to experience
operational crisis and undermined conWdence in the ideas and processes on which
they were founded? And how did the diVerent sets of national institutions diVer in
the way they accommodated to the new economy of the late twentieth century?
That it raised such questions should not imply that Wnding the answers has been
easy for HI, as the approach lends itself much better to the study of incremental
growth around an original path than to sudden, drastic change.
2 The Epistemology of Historical
Institutionalism and its Competitors
.........................................................................................................................................................................................
The search for the causes and agents of institutional change has had many
epistemological consequences, not least of which was a new attention to ideas. In
steady state, the ideas and assumptions that institutions incorporate tend to be taken
for granted. But in times of crisis, new ideas are put forward and Wnd adherents. In
economics, the ideational turn of the 1970s and 1980s discredited Keynsianism and
promoted contending arguments mainly associated with the \u2018\u2018Chicago School.\u2019\u2019 The
new paradigm incorporated neoclassical theories about the greater eYciency of
minimally regulated markets, and new theories about money supply (Eisner 1991;
Hall 1989). In political science, a revived inXuence of economic ideas\u2014pioneered
after the Second World War by Kenneth Arrow, Mancur Olson, and Anthony
Downs\u2014augmented the popularity of a rational choice paradigm (RC) focused on
individual preferences and utility maximizing strategies. (See Shepsle, this volume.)
But, somewhat paradoxically, there was, at roughly the same time, a rebellion of
social scientists and historians against the individual centered behaviorism that had
dominated political science (most completely in the United States), and against its
dominant paradigm, pluralism (see esp. Lowi 1969). The \u2018\u2018normal\u2019\u2019 political science
of the 1950s and 1960s, focused on contemporary (but well established) interest
groups and individual attitudes (as measured by survey responses), was of little
historical institutionalism 41
help in understanding the apparent maladaptation of institutions after long
periods of stability, or the challenge to institutions posed by the new social
movements of the 1960s and 1970s.
A major outcome of the 1960s\u201370s challenge to pluralism was the rediscovery of
the importance of state institutions and their partial autonomy from civil society
(that is, the perception that public institutions were much more than \u2018\u2018black boxes\u2019\u2019
processing demands from society by turning them into policies). The attack
on pluralism thus contributed importantly to the new Xowering of historical
institutionalism (HI).
As it turned out, rational choice practitioners and historical institutionalists
were largely in agreement on one essential deWnition and premise: that institutions
constitute the \u2018\u2018humanly devised constraints that shape human interaction\u2019\u2019