Saturday, 11 October 2014

Notes from "Institutional Veto Players"

Chapter 15 of Principles of Comparative Politics (William Roberts Clark, Matt Golder and Sona Nadenichek Golder)

- Criteria of federalism:
+ Geopolitical division: the country must be divided into mutually exclusive regional governments that are constitutionally recognised and that cannot be unilaterally abolished by the national or central government.
+ Independence: the regional and national governments must have independent bases of authority.
+ Direct governance: authority must be shared between the regional governments and the national government; each governs its citizens directly, so that each citizen is governed by at least 2 authorities. Each level of government must have the authority to act independently of the other in at least 1 policy realm; this policy sovereignty must be constitutionally declared.
Notes: devolution occurs when a unitary state grants powers to subnational governments but retains the right to unilaterally recall or reshape those powers. 
e.g the UK doesn't meet the 1st condition and cannot be called a federal state. 

- States that are not federal are unitary states.

- Congruent federalism: the territorial units of a federal state share a similar demographic makeup with one another and the country as a whole= each of the territorial units would be a precise miniature reflection of the country as a whole. E.g: the US.
Incongruent federalism: the demographic makeup of territorial units differs among the units and the country as a whole. E.g: Switzerland has 4 official languages but 22 of the 26 cantons have only 1 language, 3 are bilingual and only 1 is trilingual.

- Symmetric federalism: the territorial units of a federate state possess equal powers relative to the central government. E.g: the US.
Asymmetric federalism: some territorial units enjoy more extensive powers than others relative to the central government. E.g: in Canada, Quebec has more autonomy.

- Decentralisation: the extent to which actual policymaking power lies with the central or regional governments in a country.
=> federalism in practice (as opposed to federalism in structure).

- Coming-together federalism: results from a bottom-up bargaining process in which previously sovereign polities come together and voluntarily give up part of their sovereignty in order to pool together their resources so as to improve their collective security and achieve other, economic goals.
E.g: the US, Switzerland.
Holding-together federalism: results from a top-down process in which the central government of a polity chooses to decentralise its power to subnational governments. Typically occurs in multi-ethnic states=> to appease these groups.
E.g: Belgium.

- Advantages:
  • citizens can move to the region that best matches their policy preferences=> fewer citizens are dissatisfied in a federal state than in a unitary one
  • brings the government closer to the people
  • better information
  • poor performance=> citizens leave and take away taxes and assets=> incentive for regional governments to perform well
  • subnational governments have opportunity to experiment with and evaluate different policies
  • check each other=> reduces the risk of tyranny
  • unnecessary duplication of government, inefficient overlapping of potentially contradictory policies
  • regional governments may spend beyond their means because the central government can come to their rescue and bail them out
  • regional governments have less incentive to make decisions in the interests of the federal system as a whole
  • competition=> downward harmonisation/ race to the bottom
  • regions with welfare=> the poor move=> must lower welfare
  • inequality between regions
  • blame shifting and credit claiming

- Unicameral legislature: legislative deliberation occurs in a single assembly.
Bicameral: 2 distinct assemblies.
The existence of an upper chamber, even one widely considered to be weak, can significantly influence the legislative process.

- Types of bicameralism:
+ Congruent bicameralism: 2 legislative chambers have a similar political composition.
vs incongruent bicameralism.
=> depends on how the membership of the 2 chambers is elected and whom that membership is supposed to represent.
+ Symmetric bicameralism: 2 legislative chambers have equal or near equal constitutional power.
vs asymmetric bicameralism.

In a strong bicameral system: the upper house's likely to be an important political actor because it enjoys similar constitutional powers to the lower house and because the different political composition of the upper chamber tends to mean that it has different policy preferences from the lower chamber.

=> Why bicameralism?
In federal countries, bicameralism is defended as an institutional means for protecting the federal system and promoting the distinct preferences of different territorial units. All examples of strong- symmetric and incongruent- bicameral systems are in federal countries.
E.g: the US- the lower house (House of Representatives), elected on the basis of the state's population, represents the popular dimension of the people's will and the upper house (the Senate), granting equal representation to each state to protect the interests of small states, represents its territorial dimension.
In unitary countries, bicameralism is defended as an institutional means for improving the quality of legislation=> rests from the belief, going back to ancient Greece, that members of the upper chamber have things like wisdom, age, knowledge and training that members of the popularly elected lower chamber don't have (only if it's incongruent bicameralism).


- Constitutionalism: the commitment of governments to accept the legitimacy of, and be governed by, a set of authoritative rules and principles that are laid out in a constitution.

- A codified constitution: written in a single document.
An uncodified constitution: has several sources, which may be written or unwritten. E.g: the UK.

- An entrenched constitution: can be modified only through a special procedure of constitutional amendment (differs from country to country: popular referendum, majority of regional legislatures, legislative supermajorities, etc.)=> implicitly/ explicitly recognise that constitutional law has a higher legal status than ordinary statutes.
An unentrenched constitution: has no special amendment procedure and can be modified at any point in time with the support of a legislative majority.

- Legislative supremacy constitution:
+ no constitutional review
+ no bill of rights
+ not entrenched
(+ explicit recognition that legislatures can do no legal wrong
+ no institution to review the constitutional legality of statutes
+ no statute can be challenged once promulgated, and a law can be replaced or modified only by a new statute)
E.g: the UK.
Higher law constitution:
+ constitutional review
+ bill of rights
+ entrenched
=> new constitutionalism
=> shift began in Europe after 1945=> response to the experience with fascism

- Constitutional review: the authority of an institution to invalidate legislation, administration decisions, judicial rulings and other acts of government that violate constitutional rules, such as rights.
=> exercised by judges sitting on special tribunals- constitutional courts- that aren't part of the regular judicial system=> most European countries.
vs the US: ordinary judges in the regular judicial system=> judicial review.
=> to Europeans: the American-style judicial review doesn't correspond to the separation of powers but enables the judiciary to participate in the legislative function=> confusion of powers.

- Abstract constitutional review: constitutional review of legislation in the absence of a concrete legal case.
Concrete constitutional review: constitutional review of legislation with respect to a specific legal case.

A priori constitutional review occurs before a law is formally enacted.
A posteriori constitutional review occurs only after a law is formally enacted.

Centralised constitutional review: only 1 court can conduct constitutional review (constitutional court, outside the regular judicial system).
Decentralised constitutional review: more than 1 court.


- Veto player theory: offers a way to think about political institutions in a consistent way across countries.
A veto player: an individual or collective actor whose agreement is necessary for a change in the political status quo. 2 types:
  • institutional veto player: generated by a country's constitution
  • partisan veto player: generated by the way the political game's played

- Countries in which there are many veto players with conflicting policy preferences are likely to be characterised by:
  • greater policy stability
  • smaller shifts in policy
  • less variation in the size of policy shifts
  • weaker agenda-setting powers

- A central concept is the winset- set of policy alternatives that would defeat the status quo in a pair-wise contest under whatever voting rules are being employed (unanimity is required to change the status quo).
=> its size has a significant impact on policy outcomes.
  • large winset=> many policy alternatives=> policy less stable
  • large winset=> more radical shifts
  • influences how much variation we're likely to see in the size of policy shifts=> small when winset's small, small or large when winset's large
  • large winset=> the agenda setter (who gets to make take-it-or-leave-it proposals to others) can move policy from where the other veto players would choose if they were the agenda setters
=> the size is determined by the number of veto players and the ideological distance between these veto players
(increasing the number of veto players decreases the size of the winset or leaves it the same, never increases it)

winset: shaded area

- Federalism, bicameralism and constitutionalism=> create political actors capable of blocking a change in the political status quo.
federalism=> potential to create powerful regional actors capable of blocking the implementation of national law
bicameralism=> creates a 2nd legislative body capable of blocking legislation
constitutionalism=> creates the possibility that judges might overturn laws that the legislature approves of

- We should expect to see higher levels of judicial and bureaucratic activism in federal and bicameral countries than in unitary and unicameral ones.

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