Constructivist Theories of Ethnic Politics

By Kanchan Chandra | Go to book overview

9
Ethnicity and Pork
A Virtual Test of Causal Mechanisms

DAVID D. LAITIN AND A. MAURITS VAN DER VEEN


1. Introduction

There is a broadly recognized elective affinity between the activation of ethnic identities and the exclusionary distribution of political benefits, also known as “pork.”1 For many decades, Irish machines in U.S. cities provided special benefits or pork, such as easy entry into the city police force, for their Irish constituencies. Indian “Dalits” or former untouchables will form an ethnic party only if it can provide them jobs (Chandra 2004). The Shas party in Israel cultivates an orthodox political identity mostly to get subsidized schools for religious instruction of their children. This affinity has been broadly recognized (and classically portrayed in Shefter 1977) but not adequately explained. Fearon (1999) offers a theoretical reason to explain this empirical pattern of the activation of ethnic identities and pork tending to be found together, highlighting the incentives proffered to both publics and leaders to construct different types of coalition depending on the nature of the political goods to be distributed.

In this chapter, relying on the agent-based model introduced in Chapter 7, we present evidence supporting the basic causal logic in Fearon’s account. Our models show that when political entrepreneurs have incentives to seek small coalitions (due to the goal of distributing a limited amount of pork to supporters), those who win and stay in power are those who attract voters based on their ethnic membership. Moreover, our findings elucidate the mechanisms that drive political entrepreneurs to propose and voters to support ethnic coalitions

1 Geertz (1973) identified a type of uncivil politics (though more about status than pork) connected with ethnic or so-called primordial identities. Bates (1983) provided the first rational choice account linking ethnicity and distribution. Chandra (2004) limits her study of ethnic party formation to “distributive” democracies, thereby assuming that the study of ethnicity in democratic systems revolves around the politics of pork.

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