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Discussion of ‘Self-Enforcing Democracy’ by James Fearon Colin Jennings University of Strathclyde

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Political Economics – Two broad strands 1.Analysis of equilibria under ‘the rules of the game’ (positive political economy – electoral and post-electoral institutions) 2.Analysis of alternative equilibria if ‘the rules of the game’ are changed (normative or constitutional political economy) Fearon addresses a fundamental question – why obey the rules?

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Could appeal to virtue Maybe….but better if you didn’t have to rely on that! The public must be able to threaten incumbents with rebellion To do this they must be able to coordinate If this achieved then democracy can be self-enforcing

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The paper contrasts with two alternatives based on class conflict 1.Przeworski (1991) -if electoral odds are good & rebellion costs relatively low – opposing groups prefer elections -but elections are like a coin-flip -if pie divisible – elections remain puzzling 2.Acemoglu & Robinson (2000, 2001) -rich & powerful group cannot commit to future transfers to poor -election set tax rates now (favourable to the majority poor) -but is this an election or dictatorship by the proletariat

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Fearon’s Theory - Elections emerge as a coordination device Model 1 – Public Information about Government Actions all citizens know all citizens payoffs social consensus equilibrium so long as all players are patient enough requires collective reputation elections make no difference!

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Model 2 – Private Observation of Government Performance citizens know only their own payoffs need to make private signals public Proposition 5 – if can’t make protest visible – peaceful N.E. – but dictatorial Elections to the rescue! Two chances to rebel (1) if elections not held (2) if lose but doesn’t stand down Shifts information provision from individual citizens to government

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Model 3 – Noisy Government Performance Now an inefficiency – mistaken rebellions will occur Payoffs to citizens reduced due to increased payments to incumbents (to compensate for lower future payments) Elections to the rescue again Avoids unnecessary rebellions, although governments will sometimes be mistakenly voted out

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General Comments Is free-riding a more serious problem – prior resolution of this seems very important The value of elections increases with each model. But arguably model 1 is the most accurate description of mature democracies (due to media, education..). Does this imply that elections are overrated? At the risk of stretching things too far, is this a possibility? Elections are established under conditions closer to models 2 & 3 and approach model 1. In time a strong sense of adhering to rules perhaps does begin to apply (important if coordination may fail). Would link to recent increased emphasis on the role of public motivation in political economy

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