Journal of Theoretical Politics

Sage Publications, Inc.
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Latest documents

  • Solving the guardianship dilemma by war

    This article develops a new theory of how dictators can solve the guardianship dilemma. I study a dynamic game to show that the dictator may build a large army and deal with the guardianship dilemma by resorting to international conflicts. Specifically, when a military revolt is imminent, the dictator can obtain enough resources to buy off the military by attacking and ultimately defeating his international opponent. The framework thus shows that a weakly institutionalized polity may either have a small military or have a large military and be more aggressive on the international stage.

  • Axioms for defeat in democratic elections

    We propose six axioms concerning when one candidate should defeat another in a democratic election involving two or more candidates. Five of the axioms are widely satisfied by known voting procedures. The sixth axiom is a weakening of Kenneth Arrow’s famous condition of the Independence of Irrelevant Alternatives (IIA). We call this weakening Coherent IIA. We prove that the five axioms plus Coherent IIA single out a method of determining defeats studied in our recent work: Split Cycle. In particular, Split Cycle provides the most resolute definition of defeat among any satisfying the six axioms for democratic defeat. In addition, we analyze how Split Cycle escapes Arrow’s impossibility theorem and related impossibility results.

  • The limits of information revelation in multilateral negotiations: A theory of treatymaking

    States negotiate over the specific terms of multilateral treaties because those terms determine states’ willingness to ratify the treaty. In some cases, a state might decline to ratify a treaty it otherwise supports because specific terms are too far from those it prefers. States and inter-governmental organizations negotiating treaties would like to uncover the minimal terms needed to secure the ratification of key states, but under what circumstances will those states candidly reveal those terms? Using a spatial representation of the issues in a treaty negotiation, we use mechanism design to determine what information states will reveal in a treaty negotiation. We find that states are willing to reveal how they would like tradeoffs between different issues to be resolved but not the minimal terms they require for ratification. Further, negotiations cannot always separate types that need concessions to ratify from other types that would like concessions but would ratify the treaty even if they do not receive them. These findings provide insight into how treaty negotiations can succeed or fail, and they lay the theoretical groundwork for a new line of empirical research on how multilateral treaties are negotiated.

  • On the separation of executive and legislative powers: Executive independence, liberty, and social welfare

    We explore the effects of a particular facet of separation of powers—namely, the executive’s independence from the legislature—on maintaining a norm of legislative restraint in which antagonistic factions refrain from passing laws that infringe on their rival’s liberties. Our main result establishes that executive independence may sometimes undermine and at other times facilitate legislative restraint, depending on the probabilities with which the factions hold legislative and executive power. Our results contribute to the larger game-theoretic literature exploring the effects of political institutions; our results also contribute to the literature exploring how institutions designed to protect liberty affect tacit cooperation among rival factions.

  • Biased politicians and independent agencies

    Some agencies derive legitimacy from their political independence: for example, political meddling in monetary policy is problematic, as politicians favor short-term electoral goals over long-term economic stability. Nevertheless, the process of agency reform, even for agencies that are thought to be independent, is seldom onerous and often follows standard legislative procedures. Furthermore, citizens frequently lack expertise to hold policymakers accountable for new bureaucratic policies. Why then do politicians abstain from exercising influence through agency reform? This article delineates an informational cost to agency reform. In issue areas where politicians are frequently biased and citizens cannot perfectly observe the quality of agency reforms, citizens assume that reforms serve the politicians’ self-interest and punish politicians for any reform at all. Agency independence then comes more from informational challenges than from institutional design. This article develops a formal model to explain when agencies are reformed and when they retain their independence.

  • Separation of powers with ideological parties

    Separation of powers with checks and balances (SP) is usually regarded as a key institution complementing elections in the control of elected officials. However, some analysts and many politicians also warn that excessive checks on the executive in the presence of polarization may lead to political inaction. We analyze the interaction between elections and SP, and study under what circumstances they complement each other. We first introduce a political agency model with ideological parties where citizens and politicians care about rents (a valence issue) and policy (a positional issue). Then, we analyze the impact of SP on the effectiveness of elections to discipline and select politicians. We demonstrate that SP unambiguously raises a majority of voters’ welfare in highly polarized non-competitive political environments, because it strengthens both discipline and selection without causing political gridlock. SP also raises voters’ welfare if elections are very effective at disciplining first period incumbents. Nevertheless, SP may reduce voters’ welfare if most rents go undetected and reform is not a first-order issue.

  • Indirect accountability of political appointees

    This paper explores the indirect accountability of political appointees. The appointee’s quality is uncertain, and voters hold the politician accountable for the appointee’s performance. The politician has better information about the appointee than voters do, but electoral concerns induce the politician to make inefficient retention decisions. Specifically, there is over-retention of appointees relative to the social optimum. If the quality of candidates for appointment is low, then improving the pool of candidates can help reduce distortions and, in fact, it is in the interest of the politician to do so. I also show that more public information about the appointee reduces over-retention.

  • Poor people’s beliefs and the dynamics of clientelism

    Why do some poor people engage in clientelism whereas others do not? Why does clientelism sometimes take traditional forms and sometimes more instrumental forms? We propose a formal model of clientelism that addresses these questions focusing primarily on the citizen’s perspective. Citizens choose between supporting broad-based redistribution or engaging in clientelism. Introducing insights from social psychology, we study the interactions between citizen beliefs and values, and their political choices. Clientelism, political inefficacy, and inequality legitimation beliefs reinforce each other leading to multiple equilibria. One of these resembles traditional clientelism, with disempowered clients that legitimize social inequalities. Community connectivity breaks this reinforcement mechanism and leads to another equilibrium where clientelism takes a modern, instrumental, form. The model delivers insights on the role of citizen beliefs for their bargaining power as well as for the persistence and transformation of clientelism. We illustrate the key mechanisms with ethnographic literature on the topic.

  • Erratum to ‘Don’t hatch the messenger? On the desirability of restricting the political activity of bureaucrats’
  • Violence, coercion, and settler colonialism

    Previous game-theoretic analyses of the settlement of the United States assume that Indigenous peoples and settler colonizers either engaged in free exchange or total war for land. We reframe the model to consider that violence, including coercion, was present in most of their interactions; that is, we allow for the settler colonizer to engage in coercion to strategically lower their appropriation costs for Indigenous peoples’ lands. We find that the settler strategically uses violence to pay less in exchanges for Indigenous peoples’ lands. In addition, we examine how uncertainty, about whether an agreement can ensure the avoidance of all-out conflict, affects initial violence and resistance. We find that the likelihood of all-out conflict affects settler violence and it critically depends on whether the Indigenous people can seek compensation.

Featured documents

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    This paper continues the examination of the validity of game-theoretic explanations in empirical social science and policy research. Assuming that real actors with bounded rationality would be unable to cope with the explosive complexity of n-person games, discussion focuses on the conditions under ...

  • The Traditional Distinction between Public and Private Goods Needs to Be Expanded, Not Abandoned

    Observations that goods and services cannot legitimately be divided into just two categories - private and public - have led to a proposal, published in this journal, that the traditional concept of public goods be abandoned. In this paper it is suggested that the problems of the private versus...

  • War and diplomacy on the world stage: Crisis bargaining before third parties

    I analyze a three-actor model of crisis bargaining with two key features. First, diplomatic opposition raises the costs of war, but an informed state can avoid it by conveying restraint to a supporter. Second, the means of conveying restraint may fail to convince an enemy tempted to risk war of the ...

  • Biased politicians and independent agencies

    Some agencies derive legitimacy from their political independence: for example, political meddling in monetary policy is problematic, as politicians favor short-term electoral goals over long-term economic stability. Nevertheless, the process of agency reform, even for agencies that are thought to...

  • Common property in the trust game: Experimental evidence from Bulgaria

    The extent of human cooperation depends on the institutional arenas wherein people interact. Scholars from the Ostrom school have been particularly interested in how behavior in common property institutions differs from private property. Using a model of reciprocal motivations, I hypothesize that...

  • Deterrence Theory and the Spiral Model Revisited

    The theoretical literature of interstate conflict is dominated by two conceptual models, classical deterrence theory and the spiral model. The fundamental tenet of classical deterrence theory is that credible and capable threats can prevent the initiation, and contain the escalation, of conflict....

  • Higher bars for incumbents and experience

    This paper focuses on the introduction of higher re-election bars for office-holders. In particular, we assess which re-election bars are optimal when incumbents gain socially valuable experience in office. We develop a two-period model in which the output of a public good depends on an office-holde...

  • Petit and Térouanne's Comparisons of Distributions in Electoral Studies

    The Petit/Térouanne technique addresses an important question, with interesting applications. Unfortunately, as developed here it is only trivially useful because it rules out by definition all of the difficult, ambiguous cases that make the question important. Further implications are explored....

  • The Development of the European Polity
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    Ignoring the impact of changes in physical capital on a form of social capital - the rules used in farmer-organized irrigation systems - can lead to the unintended consequence that the physical capital is not as productive as intended. Analysis focuses on the choice of rules made by farmers in...

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