Political Science: The State of the Discipline II

By Ada W. Finifter | Go to book overview
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economics and the comparative histories of U.S., Italian, and nineteenth-century German unification.

Third, we are likely to see much more important work on state structures, from both historical and deductive perspectives. Here the goal will be to explain not the consequences but the causes of state organization and evolution: why power is concentrated or delegated differently; what common forces lead to the broad convergence of regimes that we see among the industrialized states; why, historically, regime-types often ebb or flow in tandem across states (e.g., absolutism in the seventeenth century, democratization in the nineteenth and twentieth).

While I am eager to be proved wrong, I suspect that corporatism's vein of good work is almost played out and that studies of nationalism will continue to disappoint. In the former case, some powerful theory seems to have reached a dead end and to have little new to say; in the latter, it is hard to discern the basic, powerful strands of theory on which alone a better explanatory edifice might arise.

These speculations about the future, however, should be treated with the skepticism that any practitioner of comparative politics deserves. We are, after all, a field whose most signal accomplishment in the past decade has been its utter failure to predict the two most important domestic changes of the last half of the twentieth century, namely, the abandonment of communism as an ideology and the collapse of the centrally planned economies as institutions. In the coming decade, we can only do better.


This chapter has benefitted greatly from critical readings and bibliographic suggestions by Ads Finifter, my colleague Michael Lofchie, and two anonymous readers. For bibliographic and research assistance, I am most grateful to David D'Lugo. As the customary formula has it, the viewpoints and the errors remain wholly my responsibility.

Every individual perspective on a field is necessarily idiosyncratic, even parochial, to some degree. To state the main predelictions that inform this essay: I focus above all on works that seem to me to have advanced the field theoretically, thus relegating or omitting many contributions that are chiefly descriptive, or whose theoretical ambitions remain unfulfilled; and I am by training and orientation a student of the First World, who runs some risk of overlooking valuable work on regions outside Europe, North America, and Oceania. I have nevertheless endeavored (doubtless without total success) to include research on Africa, Asia, and Latin America that has had a major impact on theoretical discourse.
The naming of authors is intended, in each case, to be illustrative rather than exhaustive.
As some of the citations make clear, this trend entailed further substantial erosion of the traditional boundary between the subdisciplines of international relations ("IR") and comparative politics. That trend had already been noted by Joel Migdal ( 1983) (following Peter Gourevitch) in the previous edition of this book.
Only a small part of these disparities can be accounted for by "convergence effects," i.e., the tendency of initially poorer countries to grow more rapidly (see, for a useful summary, Barro and Sala-i- Martin , 1992). Every effort to regress post-1960 economic growth among the OECD states on their 1960 per-capita GDP leaves a large positive residual for Japan and large negative ones for the U.S. and the United Kingdom.
Abram Bergson ( 1991, 33) suggests that Soviet GDP per capita in 1980 was 44% that of the U.S.; in 1985, 42%. Letting 1980 U.S. output = 100 and extrapolating from the 1973-80 U.S. annual growth rate (1.3%), 1985 U.S. output would be (1.013)5 × 100 = 106.7; 42% of that would amount to 44.8. Dividing that by 44 (the 1980 Soviet base output) yields 1.018; and that to the 1/5 power gives us an annualized growth rate for Soviet per capita GDP of about 0.4%.
For sub-Saharan Africa as a whole, per capita GDP grew by 1.3% annually in the 1960s; by 0.7% annually in the 1970s; and then fell in each of the ensuing three years (beginning 1981) by more than 3%. For twelve of thirty-six countries on which data were available, real per capita GDP was lower in 1981 than it had been in 1970 ( World Bank 1984, 10 and 23).
In every major Latin American country, real per capita GDP was lower in 1985 than it had been in 1980; in Argentina, Peru, and Venezuela, it was lower in 1985 than it had been in 1973. ( Balassa et al. 1986, Table 1.2).
Taiwan's per capita GDP, for example, grew at an annual rate of 8.1% between 1963 and 1972 and 6.6% between 1973 and 1980, as against OECD (population-weighted) averages of 3.9% and 1.7%, respectively, for those same periods ( Amsden 1985, 80, Table 3.1; OECD 1982, Table 3.2).
In "at least nine countries..., lower inflation, lower unemployment, and higher rates of growth of disposable income [have been shown to] increase popular support for incumbent elected politicians" ( Air and Chrystal 1983, 150).
The first point was no news to Africanists, it having been argued forcefully for some time by Michael Lipton ( 1976). Bates however made the case conclusively and tied it to larger theoretical concerns; and he reached a much larger audience.
That policy matters is now almost universally accepted. For influential treatments, (see World Bank 1984, esp. chaps. 2 and 4; and Balassa et al. 1986).
Interestingly, many Soviet scholars were arriving at precisely the same conclusion in this period: see Hough ( 1986).
In economic parlance, we should be clear, a "rent" is any above-market return to a factor of production. Familiar examples of governmentally awarded rents are agricultural subsidies, minimum wages, and restrictions on entry (e.g., in taxis and cable television). Bhagwati ( 1982) and others prefer the term "directly unproductive profit-seeking."
Thus the more discretionary American government that Theodore Lowi ( 1979) contended had arisen since the New Deal would have particularly damaged U.S. economic growth.
Japan, of course, was much studied at both a popular and a scholarly level: examples, respectively, are Ezra Vogel ( 1979) and Chalmers Johnson ( 1982). Both the "lessons" and the possibility of their export remained unclear, however. See for example the dissenting view of David Friedman ( 1988).
In the two "horrible years" of 1974 and 1975, U.S. real GDP per capita declined on average by 1.7% annually; British, by 0.9%; Japanese, German, and Italian, by 0.6%. French GDP per capita rose on average by 1.2% annually. Calculated from OECD ( 1982, Table 3.2).
Property rights in land, for example, came to be worth enforcing only after population achieved a certain threshold density ( North 1981, 80-82).


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