Political Survival

Kick-ASS podcast discussed (and linked) over at Samizdata that should be basic political theory.  If you’re a curious noob, I strongly recommend you put this on in the background and listen.

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  1. Outstanding theory — the book’s now on my Wish List.

    This goes a lot to explaining what seems obvious, but has never quite added up….

  2. I agree. Seems to seriously buttress the Elite Theory people.

  3. Elite Theory ?

  4. yep. It’s a branch of political science. I don’t care for it myself, insofar as it tends to be overapplied. Once Jonathon sees this, he’ll completely nix my shorthand, but basically, there’s a political class, and everybody else. The PC can effect political change in their interest, or at minimum defend their interests from other members of it doing the same. “Everybody else” has to lump it and take what they can get.

    The problem with elite theory is that it’s frequently tied to various ego-inflating definitions of a “social elite,” which in some cases is true and very often is not. One man’s elite is another man’s useless wanker…

    But this is a very off-the-cuff shorthand. I’m sure a quick wiki one would pull something up.

  5. I’ll probably be able to score a copy of this text at the conference in Philadelphia. The theme for this year’s APSA conference is “Power Reconsidered”. Among the principal proponents of ET in political science were folks like Harold Lasswell, Thomas Dye and L. Harmon Ziegler.

    Bueno de Mesquita’s riff sounds like an application of rational choice models to elite theory. I wouldn’t be surprised if his model regarding winning coalitions, “selectorates” and corruption coefficients resembles a Nash Equilibrium.

    Major theories concerning contemporary politics include elite theory, pluralism, hyperpluralism, and interest group theory.

    With Elite Theory, elites may be broadly or narrowly defined, but they are in the end the ones who give a body politic its shape. All others are called “mass”. While it may sound like a reductio ad absurdum, for the elite theorist (especially Dye and Ziegler), there is ultimately no important difference between democracies and totalitarian states, for ultimately the number of interests reduces to one–maintain stability and power.

    With Pluralism, a few major coalitions develop in a body politic and compete for power, usually along demographic or geographic lines. However, the methods of establishing a large enough coalition to secure some degree of power require that they limit the number of opposed coalitions by appealing to the broadest possible base, and balancing their interest with those of the other major coalitions so that stability and power are more diffuse, distributed across parties in one sense, institutions in another. Political parties are often construed thus, and each party defined itself in terms of opposition to another. Traditional pluralism assumes that parties will tend to coalesce into a two-party system if there are two principal elected sources of power in a state. This is the typical textbook understanding of American politics. Hyperpluralism is a slight variant on pluralism, and is based on pluralist interpretations of the observed political dynamics of federal republics. Pluralism may be argued as a variant of Interest Group theory, but its focus on the need for broad bases suggests it is quite different.

    Interest Group Theory holds that power in any political system is ultimately dependent upon the ability of a number of poltiical actors to organize effectively for the sake of influencing public policy. This may be accomplished directly through lobbying (gaining access to policymakers), campaign assistance (making policymakers indebted to the IG for their success), or capture (becoming policymakers themselves either through election or appointment), or indirectly by generating public pressure (either positive or negative), mobilizing constituents (especially elite constituents through Issue Networks) to lobby for them, or by forging alliances with other (sometimes opposed) interest groups. Through the dynamics of the Issue Network, which includes government institutions themselves as a class of interest group, a system of ground rules develops, either formally (like the Shays-Meehan Act) or informally (like the dynamics of Ratings Lists).
    I understand that a good snapshot of IG theory can be found in Robert Dahl’s piece _Who Governs?_

  6. JimDesu has probably never heard of the Nash Equilibrium, though you and I have discussed it. Can you pre-emptively sell him a vowel?

  7. Actually I would be surprised if he hasn’t heard of it.

    It was named for mathematician John F. Nash, who gained notoriety in the mainstream after Russell Crowe played him in _A Beautiful Mind_. His 27-page dissertation, “Equilibrium points in N-Person Games”, originally published in 1950 in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences, ultimately earned him a Nobel Prize in Economics in 1994.

    A Nash Equilibrium is a feature of strategic non-competitive games, and is the organizing principle for virtually all Rational Choice-based Game Theory today.

    A Nash Equilibrium is reached whenever a set of strategies exists such that no player can benefit by changing his or her strategy when the other players keep their strategies unchanged, As long as the expected payoff is no higher by changing strategies than not, then the rational choice game is in equilibrium. The result is a system of mutual gain, the “win-win” situation lauded so much in the late 1980s and 1990s.

    Each player has a unique set of strategies that maintain the equilibrium, so that no player has incentive to change his action on his own. In a non-cooperative game, if a change in strategies by any one player would lead that same player to gain less than if he remained with his current strategy, then it is irrational to change strategies.

    In addition, for those games where players employ mixed strategies, the expected or average payoff must be at least as large as that obtainable by any other strategy to be considered a Nash Equilibrium.


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