Oslo Summer School in Comparative Social Science Studies 2012

The Political Economy of Institutions

Lecturer: Professor Jonathan A. Rodden,
Department of Political Science,
Stanford University, USA

Main discipline: Political Science
Dates: 30 July - 3 August 2012
Course Credits: 10 pts (ECTS)
Limitation: 25 participants


This course analyzes the paths through which preferences of individuals and groups are transformed into policies in democracies. We begin with a brisk review of theoretical approaches to questions of voting, majority rule, delegation and agency, cooperation, public goods, and the commons. We then analyze some of the key institutions through which preferences are aggregated in modern democracies: electoral systems, parties, parliaments, presidents, and federalism. We then examine the ways in which these institutions can shape incentives and ultimately outcomes. We focus on two broad classes of outcomes. First, why do some democracies redistribute more than others? Second, what accounts for cross-country and time-series variation in the nature of fiscal policy? We will pay special attention to the current crisis in the European Monetary Union.

We will consider a range of arguments asserting a causal role for institutions in shaping outcomes, but also carefully consider the possibility that institutions themselves are endogenous. We will give equal attention to theory and empirical analysis.

Students have the option of writing a 6,000- to 10,000-word essay within eight weeks after the course to receive a course certificate and earn credit for a PhD program. Fulfilling this requirement gives you 10 ECTS points. Please note that consultation with the instructor prior to deciding about your essay topic is highly recommended.

Readings for Course Preparation

  • Arend Lijpart. 1999. Patterns of Democracy: Government Forms and Performance in 36 Countries. New Haven, CT:  Yale University Press.
  • Torsten Persson and Guido Tabellini. 2003. The Economics Effects of Constitutions. Cambridge, MA:  MIT Press. 
  • Jonathan Rodden.  2006. Hamilton’s Paradox: The Promise and Peril of Fiscal Federalism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Alberto Alesina and Edward Glaeser. 2004. Fighting Poverty in the US and Europe: A World of Difference. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 


Lecture Outline (Draft)

Lecture 1: Introduction and intellectual history: Democracy and majority rule, the median voter theorem, and dimensions for assessing institutions

Required readings:

  • Madison, James, The Federalist No. 10.
  • Aristotle, The Politics, in Stephen Everson, ed., Aristotle: The Politics and Constitution of Athens. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (1996). Read Book III, Chapters 6 – 12 (pages 69-80), Chapter 18 (page 91), Book IV, Chapters 1-2 (pages 91-94).
  • William Roberts Clark, Matt Golder, and Sona Nadenichek Golder. 2009. Principles of Comparative Politics. Washington, D.C.:  CQ Press. Chapter 10, pages 356-386.

Lecture 2: Presidential and parliamentary government

Required readings:

  • Bagehot, Walter. “The English Constitution: The Cabinet.” In Arend Lijphart, ed, Parliamentary versus Presidential Government. Oxford, pages 66‐71.
  • Wilson, Woodrow. “Committee or Cabinet Government?” In Arend Lijphart, ed, Parliamentary versus Presidential Government. Oxford, pages 72‐74.
  • William Roberts Clark, Matt Golder, and Sona Nadenichek Golder. 2009. Principles of Comparative Politics. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press. Chapter 11 (pages 395-456) and pages 742-760.
  • José Antonio Cheibub. 2007. Presidentialism, Parliamentarism, and Democracy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Chapters 6-7 (pages 136-174).

Lectures 3 and 4: Electoral systems, Social Cleavages, and Party Systems

Required readings:

  • Gary Cox, Making Votes Count: Strategic Coordination in the World’s Electoral Systems. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, Chapters 1-4, 7, 10-12.
  • William Roberts Clark, Matt Golder, and Sona Nadenichek Golder. 2009. Principles of Comparative Politics. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press. Chapters 12 and 13 (pages 463-597).
  • Arend Lijpart. 1999. Patterns of Democracy: Government Forms and Performance in 36 Countries. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. Chapters 1-5 (Page 1-89).

Lecture 5 and 6: Electoral regimes, government spending, and redistribution

Required readings:

  • Lind, Jo Thori. 2005. “Why is there so little redistribution?” Nordic Journal of Political Economy 31: 111-125.
  • Alesina, Alberto and Edward Glaeser. 2004. Fighting Poverty in the U.S. and Europe: A World of Difference. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Iversen, Torben and David Soskice. 2006. “Electoral Institutions and the Politics of Coalitions: Why Some Democracies Redistribute More than Others.” American Political Science Review 100, 2 (May): 165-181.
  • Torsten Persson and Guido Tabellini. 2000. Political Economics: Explaining Economic Policy. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Chapter 8 (205-221).
  • Torsten Perssons and Guido Tabellini. 2003. The Economic Effects of Constitutions. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Chapters 1, 2, 6, and 9.

Lecture 7: Electoral geography, parties, and policy

Required reading:

  • Jonathan Rodden. 2012. The Long Shadow of the Industrial Revolution: Political Geography and the Representation of the Left. Book manuscript in progress.

Lecture 8: Who gets what? Institutions and distributive politics

Read these theory papers carefully:

  • Cox, Gary and Matthew McCubbins. 1986. “Electoral Politics as a Redistributive Game.” Journal of Politics 48, p. 370-89.
  • Dixit, Avinash and John Londregan. 1996. “The Determinants of Success of Special Interests in Redistributive Politics.” Journal of Politics 58, 4: p. 1132-55.
  • McGillivray, Fiona. 1997. “Party Discipline as a Determinant of the Endogenous Formation of Tariffs.” American Journal of Political Science 41, 2 (April), p. 584-607.

Choose two of these empirical papers to read carefully based on your research interests. Skim the others:

  • Dahlberg, Matz and Eva Johansson. 2002. “On the Vote-Purchasing Behavior of Incumbent Governments,” American Political Science Review 96, 1.
  • Levitt, Steven and James Snyder. 1995. “Political Parties and the Distribution of Federal Outlays.” American Journal of Political Science 39, 4: 958-80.
  • Ames, Barry, “Electoral Rules, Constituency Pressures, and Pork Barrel: Bases of Voting in the Brazilian Congress,” The Journal of Politics 57 (1995) p. 324-43.
  • Alston, Lee and Bernardo Mueller. “Pork for Policy: Executive and Legislative Exchange in Brazil.” Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization 22, 1: p. 87-114.
  • Ramseyer, Mark and Frances Rosenbluth, Japan’s Political Marketplace. Cambridge, MA: Harvard (1993), chapter 2 (pages 16-37).
  • Solé-Ollé, Albert and Pilar Sorribas.  2008. “The Effects of Partisan Alignment on the Allocation of Intergovernmental Transfers: Differences-in-differences Estimates for Spain.“  Journal of Public Economics 92, 12: 2302-2319. 
  • Dragu, Tiberiu and Jonathan Rodden. 2011. Representation and Redistribution in Federations. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 108, 21:  8601-8604.

Lecture 9: The vertical organization of government

Required readings:

  • Weingast, Barry. 1995. “The Economic Role of Political Institutions: Market-Preserving Federalism and Economic Development,” Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization 11: 1.
  • Rodden, Jonathan. 2004. “Comparative Federalism and Decentralization: On Meaning and Measurement." Comparative Politics 36, 4.
  • Rodden, Jonathan. 2006. “The Political Economy of Federalism,” in Barry Weingast and Donald Wittman, eds., Oxford Handbook of Political Economy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Lecture 10: Fiscal discipline, especially in federations, and the future of the European Union

Required reading:

  • Rodden, Jonathan. 2006. Hamilton’s Paradox: The Promise and Peril of Fiscal Federalism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.  


The Lecturer
Jonathan Rodden is an associate professor in the political science department at Stanford who works on the comparative political economy of institutions. He has written several articles and a pair of books on federalism and fiscal decentralization. His most recent book, Hamilton’s Paradox: The Promise and Peril of Fiscal Federalism, was the recipient of the Gregory Luebbert Prize for the best book in comparative politics in 2007. He frequently works with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund on issues related to fiscal decentralization.

He has also written papers on the geographic distribution of political preferences within countries, legislative bargaining, the distribution of budgetary transfers across regions, and the historical origins of political institutions. He is currently writing a series of articles and a book on political geography and the drawing of electoral districts around the world.

Rodden received his PhD from Yale University and his BA from the University of Michigan, and was a Fulbright student at the University of Leipzig, Germany. Before joining the Stanford faculty in 2007, he was the Ford Associate Professor of Political Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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Tags: PhD, Summer School, Political Science, Political Economy, Federalism, Political Institutions
Published Oct. 10, 2012 1:19 PM - Last modified Oct. 10, 2012 1:55 PM