Games Real Actors Play: Actor-Centered Institutionalism in Policy Research

By Fritz W. Scharpf | Go to book overview
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Carter administration did switch to a monetarist anti-inflation strategy in 1979, which predictably increased U.S. unemployment before the 1980 elections.
It is perhaps necessary to emphasize that we are trying to explain not election outcomes but policy choices, and that we are dealing with the perceptions of policymakers. Elections are in fact won or lost over a multitude of issues, of which the course of the economy is not always the most salient one. Nevertheless, it is reasonable to assume that risk-averse economic policy makers will anticipate the response of self-interested voters.
The model could accommodate coalition governments with cross-cutting class orientations, but not the "new politics" of nonclass issues, movements, and parties (peace, ecology, gender, life styles, ethnic, regional, etc.).
It is here that the "power resource" theory is most persuasive: A powerful labor movement of the Scandinavian or Austrian type, with a strong presence in all societal institutions, including the mass media, may indeed exercise a degree of "ideological hegemony" that may at least postpone the shift to a neoconservative "lifeboat ethics" and the egoistic redefinition of middle-stratum interests.
Here, the length of the electoral cycle and the closeness of the next general election are obviously important. Quite apart from other differences, the British five-year electoral cycle enhanced, and the Swedish three-year cycle reduced, the political feasibility of a switch to monetarism.
A change of government thus changes the "framing" ( Kahneman/ Tversky 1984) of the baseline from which political success and failure are being measured.
As the seriousness of the economic crisis did not become obvious until the winter of 1974-1975, the British elections in the fall of 1974 would not count as a deviation from the model.
It is perhaps fair to add that Swedish Social Democrats attribute the change of government more to the dispute over nuclear energy than to a deep dissatisfaction with their management of the economy.
There might actually be a reverse relationship: Under conditions of high unemployment, it would require a highly solidaristic labor movement to design and implement an aggressive wage campaign that, by further increasing unemployment in the short run, might help to defeat a monetarist government at the next election. On that hypothesis, the union-busting thrust of recent industrial-relations legislation in Britain, while entirely counterproductive within a Keynesian frame of reference, may actually make partisanpolitical sense.
It is still true, however, that fragmented industrial-relations systems tend to generate more endogenous wage pressure than neocorporatist ones. Even under conditions of high general unemployment, there will be firms that are doing well and skill groups that are in high demand -- and these pockets of labor power will be exploited in fragmented systems. Thus, even though unemployment was much higher, the real wages of those who still had jobs rose more in Britain after 1980 than they did in Austria, Sweden, and West Germany.


Barnes, Denis/ Eileen Reid, 1980: Governments and Trade Unions: The British Experience, 1964-1979. London: Heinemann.

Bornstein, Stephen/ Peter Gourevitch, 1984: "Unions in a Declining Economy: The Case of the British TUC". In Peter Gourevitch/ Andrew Martin/ George Ross/Christopher


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Games Real Actors Play: Actor-Centered Institutionalism in Policy Research


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