Oslo Summer School in Comparative Social Science Studies 2006


Comparative Democratic Institutions and Constitutional Engineering

Lecturer: Professor John Huber,
Department of Political Science, Columbia University, USA

Main discipline: Political Science

Dates: 24 - 28 July 2006
Course Credits: 10 pts (ECTS)
Limitation: 30 participants
 

Objectives
A vast number of important political debates around the world today concern the nature of formal institutional arrangements that governments should use to make policy decisions. The most visible recent examples are efforts to draft new constitutions for Iraq and the European Union, but debates about institutional reform are ongoing at all levels of government, from the municipal to the supranational, and in all types of countries, from fledging democracies to the most mature ones. It is no mystery why debates over the details of democratic institutional arrangements are pervasive, on going, and intense. Even small changes in policymaking rules can have a large impact on who wins and who loses substantive policy battles, as well as on the effectiveness of democratic governance.

This course focuses on the comparative study of democratic political processes, and in particular to the role that formal institutional arrangements play in shaping strategic political behavior. The course examines the major themes in the comparative institutions literature, such as the impact of electoral laws on party systems, presidential versus parliamentary government, majoritarian and representational approaches in parliamentary systems, federalism, the design of judicial systems, etc. It also examines how the nature of democratic institutions influences various types of outcomes, including political stability, political accountability, and economic policy.

The goal is not to advocate for particular types of institutional arrangements base. Instead, a core theme of the course is that the choice among any set of institutional arrangements involve normative tradeoffs. Understanding how to conceptualize these tradeoffs systematically, and how to assess them empirically, will be a core objective of the course.


Books needed for the course:
- Participants is strongly encouraged to obtain and read these books in advance of the lectures.


LECTURE OUTLINE:

Lecture 1: : Conceptual foundations of democratic systems.

What is democracy and how do you know whether a country is one? What are central problems with representative democracy and majority rule?

Core readings:

Supplemental readings:

 

Lecture 2: Constellations of political institutions and democratic systems

What are the relevant distinctions between different types of political regimes? The lecture and readings will explore central arguments in the literature about how to think about how institutional arrangements “fit together.” Do particular types of electoral laws imply particular forms of legislative organization? Do electoral laws that lead to fractionalized party systems have the same effect on policymaking as separation of powers? What configurations of institutions create more or less “moral hazard” on the part of politicians?

Core readings:

 

Lecture 3: Parties and Party systems

What are the relevant differences in party systems and what creates them? Electoral laws are the core of any democratic political systems. What are the relevant institutional elements of electoral laws, how do they work, and what are the consequences of choosing one type of electoral law over another.

Core readings:

Supplemental readings:

 

Lecture 4: Executive-legislative relations

What are the relevant differences in the separation (or not) of legislative and executive powers, and how do these differences influence policy bargaining? We will examine differences in how executive power is organized in parliamentary, presidential, and semi-presidential systems, and differences in organization affect policymaking processes.

Core readings:

Supplemental readings:

 

Lecture 5: Federalism and decentralization

What are the different ways to institutionalize decentralization and how do they matter? n particular, how do choices regarding political and economic decentralization affect fiscal policy, on one hand, and political stability, on the other.

Core readings:

Supplemental readings

 

Lecture 6: Delegation to bureaucracies and judges

How do institutional arrangements influence the degree to which politicians delegate policymaking authority to bureaucrats and judges, and how does this matter? The lectures will focus on developing a comparative theory of delegation, in which delegation incentives are a function of the broader institutional context in which politicians find themselves. This will allow us to consider the circumstances under which the practical need to delegate diminishes democratic accountability.

Core readings:

Supplemental readings:

 


Lecture 7: Democratic institutions and political representation

What is political representation and what influences its quality? How do features of the democratic policy affect the extent to which different groups in society are represented, both substantively and procedurally?

Core readings:

Supplemental readings:



Lecture 8: Democratic institutions and political stability

How does regime type influence democratic stability? In addressing this question, we will consider regime stability itself, as well cabinet instability in as other forms of instability, such as mass protests and political violence.

Core readings:

Supplemental readings:

 

 

Lecture 9: Democratic institutions, redistribution and the welfare state

How do institutions influence incentives for redistribution? To address this question, we will consider standard models from the political economy literature, as well as recent empirical studies of the size of the welfare state, and other forms of redistribution.

Core readings:

Supplemental readings:

 

 

Lecture 10: Democratic institutions and economic development

How do institutional factors influence economic growth? We will address this question by looking at core reading the focus primarily on institutions that influence the stability of property rights, and on institutions that influence bureaucratic capacity.

Core readings :


The Lecturer
John Huber is author of Rationalizing Parliament: Legislative Institutions and Party Politics in France, and (with Charles Shipan) Deliberate Discretion: Institutional Foundations of Bureaucratic Autonomy (which in 2003 was awarded the William Riker Prize, the Richard Fenno Prize, and the Gregory Luebbert Prize). He has also published numerous articles on comparative democratic processes in journals such as American Political Science Review, American Journal of Political Science, World Politics, Journal of Politics, and European Journal of Political Research. His current research projects focus on turnover by ministers in parliamentary cabinets, on one hand, and on how religion influences democratic representation, on the other.


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