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Ch. 1 Notes

by: Haven Notetaker

Ch. 1 Notes GOVT 103

Haven Notetaker
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About this Document

Here are notes from Chapter One of the American Government text
Introduction to American Government
Jennifer Victor
Class Notes
Politics, American Government




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This 8 page Class Notes was uploaded by Haven Notetaker on Wednesday September 7, 2016. The Class Notes belongs to GOVT 103 at George Mason University taught by Jennifer Victor in Summer 2015. Since its upload, it has received 125 views. For similar materials see Introduction to American Government in Government at George Mason University.


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Date Created: 09/07/16
Chapter One – Five Principles of Politics  US Levels of Government  Federal  State  County  City  Town  Each operates under its own rules and statutory authority and is related to the others in complex ways  Complexity gets in the way of effective governance, as in the case of political responses to emergencies  America’s federal, state, and local public safety agencies seldom share information and frequently use incompatible communications equipment  Complexity of US government  Good  Complexity was one element of the Founders’ grand constitutional design  Hoped that an elaborate division of power among institutions and between the states and the federal government would allow a variety of competing groups, forces, interests, and ideas to have access to arenas of decision making and a voice in public affairs – while preventing any single group or coalition from monopolizing power  America’s political tradition associates complexity with liberty and political opportunity  Bad  In America, political opportunities are plentiful, but how they should be used is far from obvious  Places a considerable burden on citizens who might wish to achieve something through political participation, for they may not be able to easily discern where particular policies are actually made  CORE OF THE ANALYSIS  Five principles of politics can help us think analytically about American government and make sense of the apparent chaos and complexity of the political world. These five principles are:  All political behavior has a purpose (rationality principle)  Institutions structure politics (institution principle)  All politics is collective actions (collective action principle)  Political outcomes are the products of individual preferences and institutional procedures (policy principle)  How we got here matters (history principle)  Making Sense of Government and Politics  The discipline of political science, and especially the study of American politics, is devoted to identifying patterns and regularities in all the noise and maneuvering of everyday political life  Political science is an empirical enterprise  It aims to identify facts and patterns that are true in the world around us  What is Government?  Government- the institutions and procedures through which a land and its people are ruled  Generally used to describe the formal political arrangements by which land and people are ruled  Composed of institutions and processes that rulers establish to strengthen and perpetuate their power or control over a land and its inhabitants  Forms of Government  Autocracy- a form of government in which a single individual rules 2  Oligarchy- a form of government in which a small group of landowners, military officers, or wealthy merchants controls most of the governing decisions  Democracy- a system of rule that permits citizens to play a significant part in the governmental process, usually through the selection of key public officials  Constitutional Government- a system of rule in which formal and effective limits are placed on the powers of the government  Authoritarian Government- a system of rule in which the government recognizes no formal limits but may nevertheless be restrained by the power of other social institutions  Totalitarian Government- a system of rule in which the government recognizes no formal limits on its power and seeks to absorb or eliminate other social institutions that might challenge it  Politics- conflict, struggle, cooperation, and collaboration over the leadership, structure, and policies of government  Refers to conflicts over the character, membership, and policies of any organization to which people belong  Goals of politics  Have a share or a say in the composition of the government’s leadership, how the government is organized, or what its policies are going to be  Five Principles of Politics  Rationality Principle: All political behavior has a purpose  All people have goals and their political behavior is guided by these goals  Individuals think through the benefits and the costs of a decision, speculate about future effects, and weigh the risks of their decision 3  making decisions is all about weighing probabilities of various events in determining the personal value of various outcomes  Institution Principle: Institutions Structure Politics  Institutions- the rules and procedures that provide incentives for political behavior, thereby shaping politics  May discourage conflicts, encourage coordination, enable bargaining, and this facilitate decision making, cooperation, and collective action  Jurisdiction- the domain over which an institution or member of an institution has authority  A critical feature of an institution is the domain over which institutional members have the authority to make decisions  The politics of the legislative institution in the US is affected by the way its jurisdiction-specific committees are structured  Agenda Power and Veto Power  Agenda Power: the control over what a group will consider for discussion  Power to make proposals and the power to block proposals from being made  Veto Power: the ability to defeat something even if it has made it on to the agenda of an institution  Possessed both by the legislature and the president  Decisiveness  The requirement of participation must be balanced with the need to bring discussion and activity to a close at some point so that a decision can be made  Decisiveness Rules: a specification of when a vote may be taken, the sequence in which 4 votes on amendments occur and how many supporters determine whether a motion passes or fails  Delegation- the transmission of authority to some other official or body for the latter’s use (though often with the right of review and revision)  Citizens, through voting, delegate the authority to make decisions on their behalf to representatives rather than exercising political authority directly  Principle – Agent Relationship: the relationship between a principal and his or her agent. This relationship may be affected by the fact that each is motivated by self-interest, yet their interests may not be well aligned  Transaction Costs: the cost of clarifying each aspect of a principal agent relationship and monitoring it to make sure arrangements are complied with  Delegation is a double-edged sword  Collective Action Principle: All politics is collective action  Involves building, combining, mixing and amalgamating people’s individual goals  Can be difficult to orchestrate because the individuals involved in the decision making process often have different goals and preferences  Informal vs Formal Bargaining  Informal  This arrangement (or bargain) is merely an understanding, not a legally binding agreement  No organized effort is required  Much of politics is informal, unstructured bargaining 5  Many disputes are of low impact so a bunch of effort isn’t really necessary  Repetition can contribute to successful cooperation  Formal  Governed by rules that describe things such as who makes the first offer, how long the other parties have to consider it, whether other parties must take it or leave it, or can make counteroffers, the method by which they convey their assent or rejection, what happens when all of the others accept or reject it, what happens next if a proposal is rejected, and so on  Associated with events that take place in official institutions  The formal bargaining that takes place through institutions is governed by rules that regularize proceedings both to maximize the prospects of reaching agreement and to guarantee that procedural wheels do not have to be reinvented each time a similar bargaining problem arises  Collective Dilemmas and Bargaining Failures  Two individuals share a common goal but each person’s individual rationality causes both of them to do worse than they needed to  had they suspended their rationality and contributed to the common objective then each would have been better served than when both are behaving in a fully rational matter  Bargaining, even with common values and objectives, is no guarantee that a positive outcome will occur 6  Collective Action, Free Riders, Public Goods, and the Commons  A collective action problem arises when there is something to be gained if the group can cooperate and assure one another that no one will get away with bearing less than their fair share of the effort  Collective Action: the pooling of resources and the coordination of effort and activity by a group of people (often a large one) to achieve common goals  Most groups will require a leadership structure  Free Riding: enjoying the benefits of some good or action while letting others bear the costs  free riding risks undermining collective action  Public Good: a good that, first, may be enjoyed by anyone if it is provided and, second, may not be denied to anyone once it has been provided  Further enables free riding  Tragedy of the Commons  The idea that a common access facility, owned by no one because it is available to everyone, will be over utilized  A pool of resources is not much depleted if someone takes a little of it but it does become depleted if lots of people take from it  Policy Principle: Political outcomes are the products of individual preferences and institutional procedures  The procedures are a series of chutes and ladders that shape, channel, filter, and prune the alternatives from which policy choices are ultimately made  Politicians are driven both by private objectives and by public purposes, pursuing their own private 7 interests while working on behalf of their conception of the public interest  History Principle: How we got here matters  Path Dependency: the idea that certain possibilities are made more or less likely because of the historical path taken  Factors that help explain why history matters  Rules and procedures  Loyalties and alliances  Historically conditioned points of view 8


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