La Profesora Abstraída

Weblog of Michelle Dion, Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science, at McMaster University. My blog has moved to Visit my other website.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

So, the Jackets let the NCAA championship slip through their fingers. I'd like to be able to say that it was an exciting game, but that only applies to the last 3 minutes unfortunately.

On other fronts, I am still working on my paper for the Midwest Political Science Association meeting in Chicago. Essentially, I'm trying to explain how domestic political institutions constrain the abilities of middle-income states to respond to globalization pressures and adjust their commitments to social spending (health, education, and social security). Essentially, I could also answer a lot of other questions with the same data, but that would be a book rather than a paper. So, I'm having trouble keeping the paper focused because I know that readers will respond by suggesting a lot of other "factors" that I should control for. Then, there is no agreement on how to model this type of data, so the methodologists will have lots of suggestions on that account. Troubling.

Overall, though, it appears that domestic institutions matter. Authoritarian regimes are much more likely than democracies to increase their investment in health and education in order to keep up and maintain their competitiveness in the world market. Democracies must get bogged down in debates about the appropriate "level" of health and education spending, and in the end, fail to invest enough in human capital. This is interesting because usually we (political scientists) think that the median voter in a democracy will demand higher human capital investment than the median voter in an authoritarian regime (i.e., the bourgeoisie that back the dictatorship).

My efforts to determine how different political institutions in democracies affect social spending commitments are more complicated. In essence, one body of political science literature on political institutions suggests that as the number of veto players (or decision-makers) increases, the likelihood of change decreases. This intuitive and simple argument explains why divided governments in the U.S. are unable to pass budgets or enact significant legislation: the parties just don't agree and there is a division of power between the executive and legislative branches. Of course, some political scientists have formalized this simple idea so as to make it nearly incomprehensible. See, for instance, the recent (in academic time) book by George Tsebelis. My goodness, that book takes a nice simple argument, and makes it overly complicated.

But anyway....Back to my story. So this body of literature suggests that as the number of actors involved in decision-making increases, policy change becomes less likely. The number of actors, in itself, does not predict the direction of change, just the amount of change. To test this straightforward proposition becomes more complicated, because usually we're interested not only in the size of change but also whether the change is resulting in more or less spending. So, to really "test" the hypothesis of the veto player literature, I need to look at the effect of political institutions on the amount of change, regardless of the direction of change. When I model the effect of institutions on the size of change, the effect is consistently negative; more veto players lead to less change. This effect, however, is difficult to demonstrate in a picture, so I'm not sure if I'll convince the skeptics out there.

And, of course, to make matters worse. There are two guys out there that have both published studies on OECD countries that say that there are different types of political institutions. That more parties can lead to more social spending, but divided power (say, between a legislative and executive branch or due to federalism) reduces social spending. These are the results in Duane Swank's recent book and in a super-recent (even by academic standards) article by Crepaz and Moser in Comparative Political Studies. Note, however, that we are now talking about the effects of institutions on more or less spending, rather than just the amount of change in spending. Of course, when I run similar models to theirs using my data for middle-income countries, I don't get the same results. Something fishy is going on....

posted by Michelle @ 10:03 AM,


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