Do Institutions Matter? Government Capabilities in the United States and Abroad

Do Institutions Matter? Government Capabilities in the United States and Abroad

Do Institutions Matter? Government Capabilities in the United States and Abroad

Do Institutions Matter? Government Capabilities in the United States and Abroad

Synopsis

As a stunning tide of democratization sweeps across much of the world, countries must cope with increasing problems of economic development, political and social integration, and greater public demand of scarce resources. That ability to respond effectively to these issues depends largely on the institutional choices of each of these newly democratizing countries. With critics of national political institutions in the United States arguing that the American separation-of-powers system promotes ineffectiveness and policy deadlock, many question whether these countries should emulate American institutions or choose parliamentary institutions instead. The essays in this book fully examine whether parliamentary government is superior to the separation-of-powers system through a direct comparison of the two. In addressing specific policy areas -- such as innovation and implementation of energy policies after the oil shocks of 1970, management of societal cleavages, setting of government priorities in budgeting, representation of diffuse interest in environmental policy, and management of defense forces -- the authors define capabilities that allow governments to respond to policy problems. Do Institutions Matter? includes case studies that bear important evidence on when and how institutions influence government effectiveness. The authors discover a widespread variation among parliamentary systems both in institutional arrangements and in governmental capabilities, and find that many of the failings of policy performance commonly attributed to American political institutions are in fact widely shared among western industrial countries. Moreover, they show how American political institutionsinhibit some government capabilities while enhancing others. Changing American institutions to improve some aspects of governmental performance could hurt other widely valued capabilities. The authors draw important guidelin

Excerpt

The 1992 election brought at least a temporary end to divided party control of the U.S. government, a phenomenon that has been blamed for the inability of America to meet many domestic and foreign policy challenges. Even under a unified government, however, many questions are likely to persist about the effectiveness of American governing institutions to meet such challenges. Although reformers bemoan the weaknesses of the American system, surprisingly little attention has been devoted to systematic comparisons of the policymaking capacities of American political institutions with those of other advanced industrial democracies.

This volume, edited by R. Kent Weaver and Bert A. Rockman, moves significantly toward filling that gap. Systematically crafted case studies compare the governing capacity of America's separation-of-powers system with that of various types of parliamentary systems. These cases draw upon policymaking in the United States and other countries in areas including energy, trade, military security, pensions, and the budget to illustrate how institutional arrangements affect governing capacities, such as the abilities to innovate, to impose losses, and to target resources effectively. From these studies, the editors derive important conclusions about how institutions affect policymaking capacity. They then suggest reforms of American government designed to increase that capacity.

Weaver and Rockman find that differences among parliamentary regimes are at least as important as differences between parliamentary and presidential regimes. Political institutions create both opportunities and risks for policymaking capacities, and whether the risks or opportunities dominate frequently depends on the social and political conditions in specific countries. Moreover, strengthening some governmental capacities often requires sacrificing others. The editors therefore caution against . . .

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