Home

Erik Moberg ã:
A Theory of Democratic Politics
 
 

3.2 - THE NATURE OF THE POLITICAL PARTY

For the theory developed here it is enough, at least for a beginning, to state that there always are political parties in a democracy; that they are important; and that their organizational structures, and thereby their ways of acting, are significantly affected by various constitutional elements. Still it may be worthwhile, at least, to ask for the reason for the omnipresence of political parties. Why do political parties always appear?

A first comment to be made to this question is that parties may appear, or originate, in different contexts or arenas. Referring to the discussion in part 3.1 about the party-in-the-legislature and the party-in-the-electorate parties may, in fact, originate in the legislature or in the electorate. The distinction between these two kinds of origins is important and has been made, in particular, by Maurice Duverger (1964, p xxiii ff).

Having made that distinction we may however return to the question about why parties always appear, whether in the legislature or the electorate. This question has, in fact, considerable similarities with Ronald Coase’s well-known question about firms. In his celebrated paper "The Nature of the Firm" he asked about the basic reasons for the existence of firms. He asked why markets, on which individuals freely operate, were not enough, and why it was advantageous also to have firms, whose inner operations are hierarchical and isolated from direct influences from the market. His answer was that the firm was advantageous since, and when, it entailed savings in transaction costs. Probably there is a similar rationale for the political party. But even so the exact and detailed answers, for parties originating in the electorate as well as for those originating in the legislature, are yet not formulated. The provision of those answers thus are important tasks still waiting for their fulfillment.

It may thus be a good idea to compare firms and parties but obviously there are not only similarities. One interesting difference has been highlighted by Harold Demsetz. According to him (1990) "a political party typically holds more stubbornly to its product mix than does a business firm". The reason is that the people active within a firm usually feel quite free to adjust the product as a means towards the end of profit maximizing. In a political party, on the contrary, the products of the party, that is its political ideas and its programme, and its candidates, are valuable in themselves for those working in the party, and therefore not likely to be basically changed in the efforts to get more votes. The products are, in Demsetz’ words, laden with "amenity potential".