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Erik Moberg ã:
A Theory of Democratic Politics
 
 

1 - THE SUBJECT MATTER OF THE THEORY

Whenever a group of people collectively decide about an issue the result does not only depend on the individual group members' opinions, but also, on the decision rule used. Different decision rules can thus give different results even if the group members' opinions about the issue do not vary. One aspect of of this relationship, namely the purely formal one, is quite obvious. Let us, for instance, assume that 60 % of a group's members are in favor of a certain proposal. If so, and if the group members just vote their minds, the proposal will pass if only a simple majority is required, but it will be refuted if a qualified majority of say 75 % is required. Apart from this formal aspect there is however another aspect which may be important, namely that decision rules affect more of the group members' behavior than just their voting. The rules may for instance affect the extent to which the individuals organize in various ways, their tendency to behave strategically, and so forth. The distinction made here is, by the way, the same one as made by Maurice Duverger (1964, p 224) when he discusses in particular electoral laws, namely the one between a "mechanical factor and a psychological factor". Duverger's distinction thus has a far wider application than he originally intended.

Now, a democratic constitution can be considered as a decision rule, or rather as a system of such rules, and the population of a country as a decision making group. Within such a perspective the question about the constitution's impact on the resulting decisions obviously becomes pertinent. Do different kinds of constitutions, one may ask, give significantly different results, with different welfare effects and, if so, which are the differences? Is, for example, just to mention one important question, a society's public sector more likely to expand with one type of constitution than with another one? It is this kind of questions which the theory presented here deals with. When developing that theory it will obviously be important to consider not only "mechanical factors" but to a large extent also "psychological factors" in Duverger's sense.

The questions mentioned can also be phrased in a somewhat different manner. In all societies the citizens have individual opinions about various issues and some of these issues are, in fact, decided politically. The political decisions can thus be considered as aggregations of the individual opinions, but such aggregations can be related to the pattern of individual opinions in many different ways. It is therefore natural to ask about the relation between the original set of individual opinions and the emerging final political decisions, and about the constitution's impact on this relation. Questions like this have indeed been raised now and then.

Quite some time ago William Niskanen (1971, p 27) thus wrote that "The relation between the population's demands and the collective organization's expressed demands in a particular institutional setting is one of the more important problems of political science - and one, incidentally, that is not well understood." Some ten years later Bingham Powell (1982, p 186) wrote in a similar vein that "From the point of view of democratic process, it is important that the government be doing what citizens desire and that it be responsive to their changes in preference. ... The analysis and comparison of such policy responsiveness is an extremely difficult problem, worth several books in its own right." Melvin Hinich and Michael Munger (1994, p 102), somewhat later still, stress the same issue again when writing that "The fundamental challenge to the development of a scientifically valid theory of electoral competition in a democratic society is to link the perceptions and preferences of voters on political factors that they care about with the actions of candidates before, during, and after an election."

These problems, I think, are still about as unsolved as when Niskanen, Powell and Hinich & Munger expressed their concerns. The theory presented here aims at bringing them closer to a solution.

Finally I should add that I will only treat constitutions that exist or have existed. Theoretically possible constitutions are not treated if they do not exist, however interesting some such constitutions may seem.