September 18th, 2021

Lead the Horse


This week, millions in California voted in support of Governor Gavin Newsom in a recall election. California is one of 19 states that grants power to voters to recall a sitting governor, a law which was passed in 1911 as part of a wider swath of Progressive-era reforms meant to bolster direct participation in government.

A 2013 article by Glen Gendzel examines the political context of California's early 20th century reforms, finding that the laws led to unexpected results for progressive politicians.

From the article:

"In October 1911, California voters approved the initiative, referendum, and recall amendments by a three-to-one margin. They also approved women’s suffrage, railroad regulation, workmen’s compensation, and a raft of other progressive reforms in the same election. No less than twenty-two amendments to the state constitution passed all at once. Conservatives predicted that disaster would ensue from the passage of “freak legislation” in California. Business was expected to flee the state, investors to pull out their funds, and home-seekers to look elsewhere. In fact, however, the progressive revolution of 1911 ushered in two decades of rapid growth and prosperity such as the state had not seen since the Gold Rush.

Nonetheless, there were some early indications that direct democracy might not serve the ends that Governor Johnson and the progressives originally had in mind. For example, the first successful state recall elections in 1913 and 1914, using this tool of progressive politics, removed two progressive legislators from office. In 1915, the first statewide referendum, using another progressive electoral tool, repealed a key progressive law, backed by Governor Johnson, which would have made all state elections non-partisan. The progressive legislature then passed an open primary law, which would at least encourage non-partisanship, but state party leaders forced another referendum on this law in 1916, and the voters rejected it, too. These early uses of the recall and the referendum – to expel progressive legislators and to repeal progressive electoral reforms – did not bode well for progressive hopes for direct democracy."

 Full Article

October 24th, 2020

Counter Music


India's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has dominated Indian politics in the past decade, upending the country's long-standing Congress Party rule at the national level and competing with regional and ethnic parties in state elections. While the BJP's Hindu nationalist ideology and economic agenda appeal to elite Hindu voters, the party has also secured votes from marginalized communities, using tactics that fall outside of well-documented clientelist models.

In a 2011 paper, political scientist TARIQ THACHIL examines the role of nonstate service provision in building lower-caste support for the BJP, which has been central to the party's electoral success.

From the text:

"The Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) efforts to woo lower castes were seen as particularly daunting, given that the Brahminical ideology it espouses has largely been understood as one appealing to Hindu elites and not to those subjected to the daily humiliations of caste practice or to those whose spiritual traditions have been denigrated as improper or even uncivilized. Further, the party supported policies that largely appealed to upper castes, whose economic interests and preferences were the diametrical opposite of those of most poor voters. However, recent electoral evidence suggests several instances of counterintuitive support for the BJP from two of India’s most marginalized communities: Dalits (former “untouchable” castes) and Adivasis (India’s indigenous tribal populations).

I analyze how the upper-caste BJP has relied on the services provided by its grassroots affiliates in the Hindu nationalist Sangh Parivar (family of organizations) to make unexpected inroads among lower-caste voters in India. I argue that even when used to win votes, service provision should not be narrowly classified as simply a variant of clientelist strategy. There can be no doubt that a major part of the appeal of services for poor communities is material, particularly in areas where basic health and educational services remain woefully inadequate, as they do still in many parts of India. Yet to be successful, service activists had to provide services over multiple electoral cycles without linking provision to the quid pro quo protocol that underpins clientelist exchange. Further, to provide services reliably, activists must literally embed themselves within communities. This embedded quality generated several nonmaterial mechanisms through which activists could affect political choices, including even those of many voters not directly benefiting from their services. Providers exploit their formally nonpartisan status and the high regard accruing from their dedicated provision to garner credibility and influence within their local communities."

Link to the paper.

  • "Vidya Bharati ran approximately 6,000 schools in the late 1980s, and by 2003 this number had reached a total of 19,741." In an earlier paper, Thachil argues that India's defunding of education facilitated the growth of private schools (called Vidya Bharati) run by Hindu nationalist group RSS, which played a key role in service provision to rural communities. Link.
  • Susan Stokes' definitive account of clientelism emphasizes the centrality of excludable benefits and qui pro quo exchange. Link. James C. Scott's earlier work defines patron-client relationships through their socioeconomic asymmetries. Link.
  • For more on the BJP's rise, see Pradeep Chhibber's 1999 book on the transformation of India's party system and Christophe Jaffrelot's 1996 book on the Hindu nationalist movement. Link, and link.
 Full Article

October 3rd, 2020

Adoration of the Calf


Recent weeks have seen proliferating analyses of the constitutional infrastructure of the US, and speculation over its ability to hinder the behaviors of a disruptive incumbent. New concerns reflect longstanding apprehension over the stability of presidential regimes.

A 1990 article by sociologist JUAN JOSE LINZ offers insight into the structural limitations of presidential systems, and their political consequences.

"Presidential constitutions incorporate contradictory principles and assumptions. On the one hand, such systems set out to create a strong, stable executive with enough plebiscitarian legitimation to stand fast against the array of particular interests represented in the legislature. Interest group conflict then bids fair to manifest itself in areas other than the strictly political. On the other hand, presidential constitutions also reflect profound suspicion of the personalization of power. The fundamental contradiction between the desire for a strong and stable executive and the latent suspicion of that same presidential power affects political decision making, the style of leadership, the political practices, and the rhetoric of both presidents and their opponents in presidential systems. It introduces a dimension of conflict that cannot be explained wholly by socioeconomic, political, or ideological circumstances.

Among the oft-cited advantages of presidentialism is its provision for the stability of the executive. This feature is said to furnish a welcome contrast to the tenuousness of many parliamentary governments, with their frequent cabinet crises and changes of prime minister. But the superficial volatility of parliamentary systems obscures the continuity of parties in power, the enduring character of coalitions, and the way that party leaders and key ministers have of weathering cabinet crises without relinquishing their posts. Precisely by virtue of their surface instability, they often avoid deeper crises. An embattled president can use his powers in such a way that his opponents might not be willing to wait until the end of his term to oust him, but there are no constitutional ways-save impeachment or resignation under pressure-to replace him. There are, moreover, risks attached even to these entirely legal methods; the incumbent's supporters may feel cheated by them and rally behind him, thus exacerbating the crisis. The intense antagonisms underlying such crises cannot remain even partially concealed in the corridors and cloakrooms of the legislature. What in a parliamentary system would be a government crisis can become a full-blown regime crisis in a presidential system."

Link to the piece.

  • "Parliamentary constitutions in Europe emerged after a gradual period of negotiation between the monarch and the nobles, in which the parliament ultimately displaced the monarchy as the center of effective governance. In Latin America, by contrast, initial governments, whether revolutionary or not, emerged from a system of monarchy in which a single individual sat at the center of the political system." Jose Antonio Cheibub, Zachary Elkins and Tom Ginsburg with a comparative history of presidentialism in Latin America. Link. In another paper, the authors find that "the classic presidential-parliamentary distinction is not a systemic one." Link.
  • Thomas Sidelius examines the historical-institutional factors behind the adoption of semi-presidential systems in post-communist countries across Central and Eastern Europe. Link.
  • A 2012 article by Paul Chaisty, Nic Cheeseman and Timothy Power analyzes "how presidents build legislative coalitions in different regional contexts," focusing on the role of agenda power, budgetary authority, cabinet management, partisan powers, and informal institutions in shaping political relations in Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa and the former Soviet Union. Link.
 Full Article

March 2nd, 2019

Weak Local Lineament


Charting the significance of credit and debt throughout society

Household debt has proliferated in the past decade. In the final quarter of 2018, it reached $13.54 trillion—an $869 billion increase since the previous peak in 2008 and a 21.4% increase since the post-crisis trough. While it is now widely recognized that the financialization of household consumption set the groundwork for the Recession (see for example this chapter by Manuel Aalbers), credit markets seem immune to structural reform.

On the one hand, access to credit enables purchases and investments crucial to long term financial mobility; on the other, it incorporates those who lack resources into a cycle of obligations to lenders. In her most recent publication in the Annual Review of Sociology, RACHEL E. DWYER questions how debt has shaped the American social landscape. She develops a two dimensional model of formal debt relationships which categorizes contracts according to the source of credit (state vs. market) and the nature of the obligation (prospective vs. retrospective). The model integrates the logic of debt and credit relationships with an analysis of distributional politics:

"The top row of prospective credit offers are more likely made to affluent or middle-class and disproportionately white populations, and the bottom row of retrospective financial obligations are more likely to fall on lower-income or poor and disproportionately racial/ethnic minority populations. The experience of debt and financial fragility is thus different across these social groups defined by class, race/ethnicity, and other social status, though also tied together by similar logics of financialization and individualized accountability for life conditions."

Dwyer's research shows how credit and debt relations vary geographically and temporally, encouraging a comparative analysis of debt relationships in countries with different political economies. Link to the article.

  • On the unique role that credit markets play in the American economy, see Monica Prasad on the credit-welfare state tradeoff, and Colin Crouch on privatized-mortgage Keynesianism. Link to the first; link to the second.
  • For a pre-crisis examination of credit and inequality, see Patrick Bolton and Howard Rosenthal's Credit Markets for the Poor. Link.
  • Vicki Been, Ingrid Ellen, and Josiah Madar explore the relationship between urban segregation and subprime mortgage lending. Link.

    New Researchers: VISIBILITY PREMIUM

Political effects of celebrity exposure

In a novel paper, HEYU XIONG—a Phd candidate at NORTHWESTERN and newly appointed professor at CASE WESTERN RESERVE UNIVERSITY—studied the political consequences of television celebrity. He used the career of Ronald Reagan as a case study and exploited quasi-experimental variation in television reception to estimate the effects of celebrity media exposure on political outcomes, finding that
support for Reagan based on non-political factors extended nearly two decades after his television career—an effect more pronounced in areas in which Reagan was not a known political entity. The findings suggest that elections hinge considerably more on non-political media exposure and personal characteristics than previously assumed.

From the abstract:

"My results contribute to our knowledge of the vote decision process. Understanding what candidate information is pertinent and how that information is processed is key to understanding the selection of elected officials and, subsequently, the policies those elected officials enact. The economic theory of electoral competition is traditionally situated in the framework of the policy oriented voter. Even without the assertion of rationality, voters are, at the very least, presumed to be voting in order to advance a policy position or to express a political preference. While this preoccupation is not misplaced, the results suggest that candidates' personal characteristics constitute a significant, if substandard, criterion for vote choice."

Link to the paper.

 Full Article