The author challenges theories of political science that define politics as "a struggle for competitive advantage." Political Elasticity (PE) theory is introduced as a way of seeing political power more in terms of a relationship between leaders and the public - as a form of social energy instead of a resource to be pursued for personal gain. Case studies are presented in this light to show why More Developed Countries (MDCs) tend to be more dynamic than Less Developed Countries (LDCs).
Keywords: Politics defined; Social Energy; Political power manifestations; More Developed Countries; Less Developed Countries; Political Elasticity theory; Solid Waste Management; Tokyo and Lagos; Agricultural Productivity; The Netherlands and Ghana.
On the American Political Science Association Web site, it is recognized that there is more than one definition of politics. Yet the only definition provided, presumably derived from Harold Lasswell's 1936 book, is "who get what, when, and how." This is explained as follows: "Almost always the political process involves competition for scarce resources." However, I regard this unidimensional definition of politics, emphasizing partisanship rather than statesmanship or governance, to be inadequate and counterproductive. Above all, it distorts our understanding of such concepts as democracy, corruption and decentralization of power, and prevents us from linking political science to public administration.
Ask a political scientist what he or she means by "politics." The reaction is likely to be a mixture of irritation and confusion. Introductory political science textbooks frequently use such definitions of politics as "the authoritative allocation of values" and "the pursuit of power" without indicating the relationship between these concepts (Norquist 1998). Yet values cannot simply be imposed (behavior, yes; values, no) and power cannot be pursued within an empty framework. The process of inculcating values requires a strong relationship between leaders and followers. Such a relationship cannot develop unless the struggle for power is carried out within an acceptable framework.
Imagine watching the Olympics and seeing it only as the competitive struggle for victory. How many gold, silver, and bronze medals an individual or nation wins then becomes most important. However, if there is no consensus on every aspect of the competitive process (rules, officiating, equipment, facilities, etc.), the competition is meaningless. How to build consensus to maximize the competitive process is, of course, the responsibility of leadership. This is where we need my suggested overall definition of politics: the relationship of leadership to followership for the purpose of governance, presented in the next section, introducing political elasticity (PE) theory (see Werlin 1998; Werlin 2000).
I believe that behaviorally-oriented political scientists tend to see politics as simply "a struggle for competitive advantage" because political power then is seen as similar to money and, as such, is easier to measure that way. Consequently, they often end up distorting or trivializing political situations and phenomena. Above all, they fail to solve the so-called "mysteries of development" that have been presented in Werlin (1998): (1) why is it that autocratic governments are sometimes more effective (though usually not) in promoting development than their more democratic counterparts?; (2) why is it that More Developed Countries (MDCs) tend to be both more centralized and more decentralized than Less Developed Countries (LDCs)?; (3) why is corruption more devastating for poor countries than rich countries; (4) what explains the capacity of certain countries (such as Singapore) to do "cultural engineering?" and (5) why is it that economic globalization has had a more positive impact on some countries than on others? For this reason, we have to introduce an "elastic" concept of political power, recognizing that we cannot altogether escape the "tautological trap" (seeing what we want to see) in doing so. …