Monday, February 5, 2018


Today's class there are four articles we are going over, "Inverted Totalitarianism" by Sheldon Wolin; "Despite Negativity, Americans Mixed on Ideal Role of Gov't" by Frank Newport and "Americans Names Government as Number One Problem," by Justin McCarthy, both published by Gallup Inc. There was also the essay "Two Faces of Power" by Peter Bachrach and Morton Baratz. 

Wolin's essay deals with what he considers to be the corruption of all American political institutions: legislatures, the courts, political parties, the media, universities, labor unions and more. He states:
Thus the elements are in place: a weak legislative body, a legal system that is both compliant and repressive, a party system in which one party, whether in opposition or in the majority, is bent upon reconstituting the existing system so as to permanently favor a ruling class of the wealthy, the well-connected and the corporate, while leaving the poorer citizens with a sense of helplessness and political despair, and, at the same time, keeping the middle classes dangling between fear of unemployment and expectations of fantastic rewards once the new economy recovers. That scheme is abetted by a sycophantic and increasingly concentrated media; by the integration of universities with their corporate benefactors; by a propaganda machine institutionalized in well-funded think tanks and conservative foundations; by the increasingly closer cooperation between local police and national law enforcement agencies aimed at identifying terrorists, suspicious aliens and domestic dissidents.

Wolin argues, this is due to the American pursuit of Empire since the end of World War II, but during the Bush administration (and after) has become increasingly overt in its imperialistic designs: 
The change has been intimated by the sudden popularity of two political terms rarely applied earlier to the American political system. “Empire” and “superpower” both suggest that a new system of power, concentrated and expansive, has come into existence and supplanted the old terms. “Empire” and “superpower” accurately symbolize the projection of American power abroad, but for that reason they obscure the internal consequences. Consider how odd it would sound if we were to refer to “the Constitution of the American Empire” or “superpower democracy.” The reason they ring false is that “constitution” signifies limitations on power, while “democracy” commonly refers to the active involvement of citizens with their government and the responsiveness of government to its citizens. For their part, “empire” and “superpower” stand for the surpassing of limits and the dwarfing of the citizenry.

This has created a new form of political power in the U.S. in what he calls inverted totalitarian. Where historical examples of totalitarian governments like Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union featured a leader surrounded by cheering masses. The inverted state prefers the anonymity of the corporate-state the fusion of economic and political power, and passive citizens who do not participate in politics at all: 
By inverted I mean that while the current system and its operatives share with Nazism the aspiration toward unlimited power and aggressive expansionism, their methods and actions seem upside down. For example, in Weimar Germany, before the Nazis took power, the “streets” were dominated by totalitarian-oriented gangs of toughs, and whatever there was of democracy was confined to the government. In the United States, however, it is the streets where democracy is most alive–while the real danger lies with an increasingly unbridled government.
Or another example of the inversion: Under Nazi rule there was never any doubt about “big business” being subordinated to the political regime. In the United States, however, it has been apparent for decades that corporate power has become so predominant in the political establishment, particularly in the Republican Party, and so dominant in its influence over policy, as to suggest a role inversion the exact opposite of the Nazis’. At the same time, it is corporate power, as the representative of the dynamic of capitalism and of the ever-expanding power made available by the integration of science and technology with the structure of capitalism, that produces the totalizing drive that, under the Nazis, was supplied by ideological notions such as Lebensraum.

Wolin still retained some faith in the Democratic Party, but had he lived to see the 2016 election (he died in 2015 at 93) would he still retain faith? Does the critique need to go even further back to the origins of the country? Although some may consider Wolin alarmist, it is hard to deny these conclusions if the institutions of American society are examined in detail, as we will do throughout the class. 

Another issue addressed by Wolin in his earlier work is the extent in which people are taught an anti-political language that he associated with liberalism, that elevates the private realm of economics over the public realm of politics. This earlier view relates to some issues of inverted totalitarianism, particularly the passivity of modern citizens. For Wolin, the political refers to moments where people act together cooperatively for their own well-being, seen for example when people respond to a crisis, however moments of the political are rare, politics then refers to the everyday business of government and the endless competition of interests. Power is the ability of the people collectively to do things they would not be able to do on their own, but the meaning of power is perhaps the most debated concept in all of the social sciences.

"Two Faces of Power" comes from the American Political Science Review [abbreviated as APSR in the syllabus] the most influential academic journal in the field of political science. Journals like this publish essays of contemporary scholars in the field (reviewed by other scholars), this particular essay is the most cited article of this journal.

In this essay, Bachrach and Baratz are concerned with analyzing political power. The concept of power is a central concept in political science, but its meaning is not always clear. Power is usually understood as a relationship between people, not an individual quality that someone possesses. Since power is defined as a relationship between people, power is by definition a social relation. Part of the reason this article is so influential is because they begin from a previous discussion regarding the nature of power between sociologist C. Wright Mills and Robert Dahl, a leading "pluralist theorist" in political science.

Mills most famous work in this area was The Power Elite first published in 1956 at the height of the Cold War. Mills argued that political power in the U.S. was concentrated among what he called the "power elite" or the close-knit group made up of government bureaucracy, the military, and corporate elites. This view was affirmed by of all people Dwight Eisenhower, Allied Commander during World War II and President of the U.S. during the 1950s, who in his farewell address warned of the "military-industrial complex, or the "deep state."

Bachrach and Baratz side with Dahl, arguing that Mills sees power in a one-dimensional sense, unlike the theory of pluralism which sees power divided up between different groups. The theory of pluralism, is found in the Constitution and the Federalist Papers, but developed in modern times by theorists like Dahl that sees power as divided between different groups and institutions which provide a check and balance on each other. Pluralists argue that Mills ignored empirical evidence that shows multiple groups are able to exercise some power over each other, power is defined as influence in the law-making process or decisions made by the government. Dahl's work shows the division of power between local communities in his book Who Governs? published a few years after Mills in 1961. However, Dahl limits his research to the local community, but Mills analyzes the highest levels of political power, and does provide a great deal of empirical data, in contrast to what critics say.

The pluralist approach to analyzing power can be broken down as follows:
a) key issues: identify important public issues that are open to disagreement.
b) actors: who are the key groups or individuals involved in this issue?
c) behavior: analysis must give a thorough and detailed account of the behavior of actors in this decision.
d) outcome: what are the actual policies or laws adopted regarding key issues?

By following this approach, pluralists believe you can give an accurate analysis of who wields political power.

In the article "Two Faces of Power," Bachrach and Baratz, argue that Dahl is also one-dimensional because he limits his definition of power to decisions in a formal political setting. They call this the first face of power, but the second face of power has to take into consideration what they call the second face of power, or "mobilization of bias," but now generally referred to as "framing." To frame an issue is to define what is considered an important issue and what are the appropriate choices for dealing with this issue. In other words, Dahl takes for granted the choices that people make in a political setting but does not consider that political debates might censor or exclude other important issues or alternatives. The ability to limit discussion, according to Bachrach and Baratz, is an exercise of power, but one that is completely missed by Dahl.

To influence what is considered an important issue is one example of this, whether it is the environment, drugs, abortion, or gay rights, before the 1970s these issues were not significantly debated in national politics.

Another example could be the limited choices given by the Democratic and Republican parties both of whom are rated very low in terms of public opinion. In a modern setting, the media plays an important role in determining "key issues." Simply by reporting on certain issues or focusing on certain aspects of issues the media gives the impression that these are the important issues. To properly analyze power requires you to investigate how issues are framed, what is excluded, and most importantly who benefits from this. Once this step has been taken can you begin to analyze power in the way described by pluralists.

Power is also exercised when issues are "re-framed" or in other words when the boundaries of discussion are changed. Two examples can be the "Occupy Wall Street" movement that reframed the economic discussion in the country to focus on income inequality using terms like "we are the 99%." Also, the  civil rights and black powers movements in the 1960s and 70s that changed the discussion on race in the country as well as, focusing more attention on institutionalized racism in the North. By changing the debate, or reframing the issues, these groups were able to exercise power.

The concept of power was further expanded on by sociologist Steven Lukes who argued there are actually "three dimensions of power": the first being political decisions (Dahl), the second is framing, or controlling what issues and policies are discussed (Bachrach and Baratz), but the third is the power to influence values or social norms, that is to control the basic ideas of right and wrong and what is considered good or bad. Lukes argues it is ultimately what people consider to be right or wrong, or normal, that will influence what choices are available and what decisions are made. In our society today, there is significant debate over whether "capitalism" is truly a beneficial economic system for the majority of people, or whether or not "socialism" is a better alternative. During the Cold War era in the U.S., capitalism was generally valued as something "good," and socialism was considered "evil" and associated with the Soviet Union. However, since the occupy movements (and associated movements like CrimethInc.) and the rise of socialist candidates like Bernie Sanders, there exists now a renewed debate over the how we value these economic systems.
The diagram above, can be thought of as an exercise of power because it tries to influence your basic values towards capitalism.

Power over values should not be mistaken as a more peaceful or benevolent form of power. Although it is easy to think of the use of force as the "bad" form of power, and influencing values as "good," history shows many examples of political movements that try to influence people's values in a manipulative way. Adolf Hitler for example is known for developing what is known as the "big lie" theory (the bigger the lie, the more people will believe it), and once in power the Nazis were known for their extensive use of propaganda as a way of consolidating their power over the masses (in addition, of course, to the blatant use of force).

In political science one way of trying to interpret and measure political values is to conduct public opinion polls. A small sampling of a few thousand people are given a questionnaire to fill out, the results of which are combined and calculated in a way that is believed to reflect the general attitude of the entire population. Modern public opinion polls were created by George Gallup in the 1930s who also founded the organization that bears his name, still generally considered the most influential company that conducts these polls. Polls also help shape discussions by identifying what important issues are, and thus also exercise power.

The results of this poll and commentary reflect the consistently negative opinions that Americans have towards the government. Negative attitudes towards the government would mean that choices for government action will be limited since people are skeptical over the benefits of government action. Overall, the poll shows that people are distrustful of the government but are also skeptical of taking away too much government power. In terms of political parties, when a party is in power their supporters clearly support more government intervention, than when they are out of power, this suggests that voters are less concerned about the power of government itself, but the power of opposing parties. Furthermore, there are often contradictions in the results surveyed. For example, although people still commonly identify the term socialism in a negative way, there is more support for specific policies associated with socialism like a single-payer healthcare system or free tuition for public colleges. Another well known example, is that people also respond negatively to the word "welfare" but show much more support when the term is re-phrased as "support for the poor," or something similar like that. This suggests that public opinion polls themselves might be limited in their usefulness, as it does not take into consideration how well informed people are on political issues before they express an opinion.

Assignment: Choose a quote from one of the readings, write out the quote. Then, explain the meaning of the quote, and why you chose the quote. In other words, three paragraphs: quote, meaning, why you chose it. This should be posted on your blog. All of the weekly assignments follow the same format.

Monday, January 29, 2018


Welcome to POL166, the American Political System. My name is Barry Murdaco. This course is designed as a broad survey of American national government and politics. Starting from the historical foundations of the American government, we trace its development from colonial times to the present. Focusing on conflicts between values enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and Constitution, with the realities of political life.

This course will examine the structure, as well as, the functions and purposes of the American political system. We will emphasize historical struggles to gain the right to participate in American "democracy". The challenges are to explain the mechanics of the American political system, and understand the changing nature of the purposes it has served throughout history. The nature of the American political system cannot be understood without accounting for the inclusion of groups, like African Americans or immigrant groups, that were, or are, excluded from participation. As these groups gain the ability to participate, does the purpose of government change as well? We will also focus on aspects of the system remaining constant over the years.

 Students are responsible for completing the readings, lectures, and assignments every week. There are also features on the blog that allow the students to access news sources as well as links to various educational resources. You can add features like this when you are designing your blog.

Please read the syllabus completely for a breakdown of the readings and the assignments as well as the objectives of the class and all other relevant information.

The first thing you will need to do for this class is to create your own website where you will post your own work as well as respond to the other students.

To create a Blog
1) Go to
2) Create a Title and an Address for your blog and choose a template which you can change later
3) Once you have created it you can post blogs
4) Click on "Layout" to design you blog
5) Click on "Template" to change the background if you want to
6) Click on "Settings"
7) Go to Posts and Comments and turn "word verification" to NO
8) Go back to the "Dashboard"
9) Email me the link to your website, copy and paste the web address.

After this you will be able to post work on your blog. I will create a list with all student blogs, once they are completed, giving access to the rest of the class. You can talk about any topic. Please read the syllabus in its entirety. The first readings have been posted on Blackboard. Please use your Lehman e-mail account since the link for the lectures will be sent through Blackboard.

Since it is likely many are new to a political science course it is helpful to define a few key terms to understand the political system. 

First of all, what is politics? Politics can be defined as the struggle for control over the distribution of power in a given society or organization. "Politics," "political," or "polity" derive from the Greek word polis, which means "city-state" but its original meaning meant something more like "stronghold."

City comes from the Latin word civitas, as do the related words, "civil" and "civic" and the concept of citizen or citizenship which originally referred to a member of a city-state. The root word civis originally meant to "lie down or sleep", so in a literal sense citizenship means belonging to a place where you can rest peacefully. Many argue the political life of the city, is the only "organic" political life.

The ancient Greek city-states like Athens and Sparta developed over time a unique identity. The word "ethnic" or "ethnicity" comes from the Greek word ethnos and refers to "people" but originally meant "self" or ego, as in self-identity.

Today the concept of "city-states" are archaic (with few exceptions), a product of ancient times, like the ancient Greek city-states, or later the Romans, who were never referred to as "Italians" but always for the city-state or polis where they originated from–Rome. 

The modern concept, replaces "city" with "nation" so you have the nation-state. "Nation" is similar to ethnic and refers to a people with a unique cultural identity. Nation is similar to "native" and comes from the Latin word nativus or natus and means "birth" as in place of birth, and is actually similar to the word "natal" as in "pre-natal care." It is important to remember that a nation is a more abstract, less concrete, idea than a city, but the cultural force of "nationalism" can have a very strong influence over people. Nationalism can also be a force for equality, as it confers equal status upon people.

Concepts like ethnicity, nationality, and citizenship are all similar but there are crucial differences. Ethnic and nation refer to properties and traits that you are born with and cannot change, similar to the Latin word patria, meaning "fatherland" and similar to words like pater, padre, or patriarch, it is also the root of the word "patriotism" or "patriot."

Citizenship however does not directly refer to place of birth or relationship ( i.e. father-child) to the land, but refers to a place where you can rest peacefully or feel at "home". In some cases the place where you are born may be the place where you rest or feel at home, but not necessarily. The idea of security and protection also relates to the concept of the polis as a "stronghold," in other words a place that provides protection.

"City" or "nation" then refer to cultural entities. The other half of  "nation-state" needs to be explained, what is the state?  The organization which has power, or "a monopoly on the legitimate use of force in a given territory" is referred to as the state. "State" comes from the Latin word status or stare meaning "to stand" or could mean "presence," when the state exerts power it makes its presence felt. The state reserves the authority to use violence, or the right to delegate the use of violence to others, but states come to regulate more than just war and play a role in social life. Politics is a struggle for control over the state. The state is then defined primarily in a legal sense: the legal right to use force over individuals and groups. 

In a modern context, when you hear commentators speak of extending "governance" in Afghanistan or Iraq for example, they are referring to extending the monopoly of the use of violence over a territory (Governance comes from the Greek word kubernáo and means "to steer"). In a very literal sense, the problem of governments like Afghanistan is precisely the inability to steer or control the territory, or to monopolize the use of force. This monopoly is disputed by the Taliban, who besides providing armed fighters maintain a legal system and court structure in competition with the Afghan government and even basic services like sanitation–all aspects of governance.

Power can be defined simply as the ability to influence others to act in accordance with your will, and ability to overcome resistance to goals. Analytically speaking, power is measured by results and outcomes not by the use of coercion or persuasion, either of which can be considered power. Power is closely related to "reason" as it is defined in Western culture, since reason can help calculate the most strategic way of using power.

Most of the most powerful nation-states have a democratic political structure and rule by law. In other words, the struggle for power in the state, proceeds along a set of rules based upon electoral contests. Democracy comes from the Greek words demos meaning people, and kratos meaning strength or rule, so literally rule by people. The authority to use violence is conditioned by acceptance to rules specifying permissible and impermissible conduct. Law means "what has been laid down" and refers to binding rules of conduct that everyone must follow. In a democratic nation-state, laws are designed to maximize liberty or equality, or to impose order upon people without violating these principles as much as possible.

In reality, law often infringes liberty and equality, and often results from ethnic conflict. To speak of American nationality sounds less awkward then referring to American ethnicity, although in many cases nation and ethnicity are identical like France and the French, Germany and Germans, Italy and Italians. 

The American nation is not identical with a single ethnic group although many would argue that the Anglo-Saxon ethnic group has identified itself with the American nation. The evolution of the American political system can only be explained sufficiently by understanding the cultural conflict between different ethnic, racial, and gender groups to gain access to the polis and to citizenship, as well as the economic conflicts of different classes. Cultural conflicts, of course, are inseparable from economic conflict between different classes which historically speaking in the U.S. have tended to fall across the same ethnic, racial, and gender lines. Gaining access to citizenship has then always been associated with economic and social advancement as well.

The concept of "nation-building" although it can be applied to the U.S. as well is usually used to describe nations that have one or more ethnic groups in conflict with each other. The European nation Belgium is surrounded on all sides by nations with extremely strong national identities: France, Germany, and the Netherlands or Holland (Dutch). Although the state tries to create a sense of Belgian national identity, in reality Belgium is composed of distinct ethnic groups that have a history of fighting with each other: mainly Dutch with a large French minority, and a smaller German minority. Given Europe's horrible record of ethnic conflict and its strong desire to escape this past, it is no surprise then that the headquarters of the European Union is located in Belgium's capital, Brussels (the EU itself is an innovation that tries to create a sense of European identity and citizenship, over national identity).

The nation of Afghanistan is almost 100 years older than the nation of Belgium, and leading U.S. officials refer to the war in Afghanistan not as nation-building, but nation-(re)building. Afghanistan is also composed of multiple ethnic groups: Pashtun and Tajik, and several others. While a strong Afghan national identity may have once existed, that sense of identity has eroded

Finally, to understand the relationship between the American citizen and the state, the concept of "civil religion" is useful. Since the late 1960s, the idea that American citizenship is similar to a sense of religious devotion has become popular. The early origins of words like polis and civis show at its core the concern of politics is with safety and self-preservation and is egoistic to that extent, however, many throughout American history have argued that this cannot properly explain the American's reverence for the Declaration of Independence,  the Constitution, and the Founding Fathers. In this regard words like patria, which express a kinship relationship perhaps comes close to sense of devotion one feels towards their homeland.  One could also argue that it shows that religious devotion is itself rooted in egoistic feelings of preservation, put simply, people tend to make sacred over time what contributes to their preservation.

The sociologist Robert Bellah is credited with coining the term civil religion in the late 1960s, but as we will see many other thinkers clearly anticipated this idea. The idea of civil religion is explains the sense of devotion citizens feel towards the state, but also shows the structure of religious belief and the political system. Certain common traits shared by both are: a concept of a divine or divinely inspired leader, prophets, martyrs, devils, sacred rituals, holidays, and Scriptures. The President as the leader of the civil religion has played many different roles, from the "Moses-like" George Washington, to the "prophetic" and "martyred" Abraham Lincoln, and even "devils" like Richard Nixon or George W. Bush. Cornel West has written extensively on the "black prophetic tradition" in the country. We will examine all these categories more as we go through the class, especially the relationship of the idea of civil religion with the even more celebrated idea of "the separation of church and state." Religious and linguistic differences are itself related to different ethnic groups and form a great part of what makes up the differences between ethnicities.

Please complete your blogs and send me the link. Starting from next class you can start posting your own reflections on the readings.

Friday, December 1, 2017

12/1 Interest Groups

Interest Groups and Social Movements

Interest Groups
Interest groups are organizations like the AFL-CIO that represent labor unions; the U.S. Chamber of Commerce represents business interests; and others ranging from different political ideologies and agenda: the National Rifle Association (NRA); the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and many more. These groups are formal organizations seeking to influence policy through political channels using methods I will discuss shortly. The U.S. has so many interest groups, the true number of interest groups are unknown. The most well-known groups like the ones mentioned above are highly organized.

Minority interests often win out over the majority in democratic politics. The reason for this is the ability to organize. The early 20th century sociologist Robert Michels developed the "iron law of oligarchy" (oligarchy being a Greek word meaning "rule by the few"). The "law" states as organizations grow and become more complex, control of the organization is placed in the hands of those who have superior technical and organizational skills.

In the 1960s, economist Mancur Olson Jr. developed what he called the "logic of collective action." Collective action refers to combined efforts pursuing goals, obviously, political action is collective actions. Olson argues you can separate "diffuse interests," the majority, from "concentrated interests," minority interests. For example, trade policy is made interest groups, lobbying the government for tariffs on imports from foreign countries. This would result in higher prices on these items. A majority of people might be opposed to this, but since the minority interests are more concentrated, they will work harder to lobby the government. The majority interests are diffuse and not organized. This sharply contrasts with Madison's notion of politics, constitutional government, and checks and balances to reduce the influence of the majority. Is it possible that the U.S. Constitution is overly guarded against the will of the majority? If it is true that minority interests often are better organized than the majority and are able to translate that into political policy, then it is very likely to be true.

Related to the idea of diffuse v. concentrated interests is what Olson calls the "free-rider problem." A free rider is someone who benefits from a public service, but contributes nothing to maintaining this benefit. Olson argues it is rational to be a free-rider. If rationality is the ability to figure out what is in your best interest, then Olson argues it is rational to free-ride since you get the benefit without doing any work. This leads to a paradox, if everyone free rides than no one will do the work needed to maintain the benefit, for example a clean public park, or well run schools. How, then, can you solve the free-rider problem? Olson argues four solutions:1) keep the size of the group small enough so people get a feeling of friendship or solidarity, that you do not get in a large organization, this however, will limit the effectiveness of the group; 2) create "selective benefits" that are only given if you participate in the group; 3) use coercion to force people to participate; 4) someone takes it upon themselves to provide the cost of the benefit. This explains the often hierarchical structure of many interest groups, hardly run in democratic fashion, whether they are business associations or unions, or other groups. However some critics argue that Olson and Michels are pessimistic and narrowly focused on individual groups. While it might be true that all organizations degenerate over time even as they grow larger, if you take a step back and look at the larger society there are always more groups forming to replace older organizations. Of course this is not an easy process and often there is intense struggle and conflict for newer groups to replace older ones. Still it offers one possible solution for the "iron law of oligarchy," even though it has to be a perpetual process. 

 You also have to consider the different tactics used by groups to influence policy.

  1. Most common is lobbying which refers to meeting directly with legislators and trying to influence their decisions on voting for laws. Lobbyists are not missionaries trying to convert people, but looking for people who think the same way on most issues. Political parties provide a political identity that interest groups can use to determine who to approach, helping establish connections between interest groups and candidates. Lobbyists have direct access to key policy-makers in government and is usually reserved for the most influential groups. 
  2.  Campaign contributions to finance election campaigns, something every politician is looking for.
  3. Economically well-connected groups can use the threat of moving as a way to influence policy, by effectively leaving or exiting the political arena. Sports teams have used this tactic to influence local governments to vote for tax breaks or other concessions.
  4. Outside lobbying refers to large groups who write or phone legislators in order to influence their vote. This is seen as more of a "grass-roots" approach to lobbying. 
  5. Voting against a candidate. Many groups opposing tax increases on the rich have used this tactic against Republicans in the House of Representatives, making sure they do not vote for tax increases. Those who do not comply are voted out of office, even in the primary, during the next election.
  6. Demonstrations and boycotts. This tactic is probably most famous for being used during the early civil movements like the Montgomery Bus Boycott organized by Martin Luther King Jr.
  7. Litigation is another tactic used by the civil rights movement as in Brown v. Board of Ed. To litigate means to bring your issue to court in the form of a lawsuit.
  8. Forming coalitions or alliances with other groups.
  9. Control over information. Many areas for law makers are highly technical (e.g. science and medicine) and depend on interest groups for relevant information.
  10. Public information campaigns are directed towards voters to motivate them to lobby legislators. The flow of information is from interest groups to the broader public.
  11. Sometimes violence is used even by formally organized groups, (e.g. employers have been known to use violent means to disperse striking workers) but usually this tactic is associated with social movements. 

Before moving on to social movements, there are two main ways to classify interest group politics: pluralist or corporatist

The U.S. system is pluralist. Pluralism refers to large groups acting independently of each other, trying to pursue their own interests. Germany is an example of a corporatist system, with a smaller number of groups: government, business, and labor. In a pluralist system groups like business and labor act as separate, and often antagonistic interests, while in a corporatist system business and labor are brought together in an institutional environment to create cooperation between these groups, characterized by large trade associations with close ties to the government. Economists Peter Hall and David Soskice argue there are six crucial areas that distinguishes a competitive pluralist system (or in their terms a liberal-market economy, LME) from cooperative corporatist system (coordinated market economy, CME).
  1. Finance: Businesses in pluralist systems finance their activities through capital markets (banks) and are publicly traded on stock exchanges relative to their "market value." In a corporatist systems, business firms are self-financed in cooperation with other firms in the same industry, or rely on financing from the state.
  2. Industrial relations: pluralist systems make business and labor adversaries. Wage contracts are negotiated between business and labor representatives. In a corporatist system wages are decided by institutions representing business and labor, union officials even serve on corporations' board of directors
  3. Skill formation: In a pluralist system workers invest in their own skills through education. Employers have little incentive to invest in worker training since workers leave often and find new jobs. Corporatist systems usually have better job training programs, funded by unions and employers, employment at firms is longer.
  4. Product markets: In a pluralist system businesses have to compete against each other for a share or a piece of a certain market. Marketing and advertising campaigns are common ways of increasing market share. A corporatist system divides markets between firms, that negotiate for a share of the market
  5. Inter-firm relations: In a pluralist system, technology is shared by firms through paid licensing. A corporatist system allows for technology sharing in a more cooperative setting.
  6. Firm-employee relations: In a pluralist system corporate managers have much more freedom and power than they do in a corporatist system.

Hall and Soskice argue that in a "liberal-market economy" like the U.S. or a "coordinated market economy" like Germany these six areas will complement and reinforce each other.

Social Movements
Social movement differ from interest groups mainly by level of organization, although most social movements have some organization, it is usually not as institutionalized. This has various advantages and disadvantages. Lack of formal organization gives social movements greater flexibility than interest groups, however they often lack the resources of organized interests. At the same time interest groups might have closer ties to government, but often lack the popular support social movements have. Social movements are not necessarily good while interest groups are bad. Social movements can range from anything from the civil rights movement to the rise of fascism in Europe in the 1930s (and now again). Many social movements use the tactics of interest groups, like bus boycotts for example, but often social movements can use violence as well.

Theorists of social movements like Doug McAdam argue there is a structure for how social movements operate, and must take into account three factors:
  1. The political opportunity structure: meaning what are the options for political action given by the political system. An authoritarian government will have a more restricted opportunity structure than a democratic government.  Political opportunities are also created outside of national boundaries by global social movements and international organizations
  2. Mobilization structure: refers to how the movement is able to generate collective action by mobilizing its supporters. The growth of communication technology and social media has greatly increased the ability to mobilize people.
  3. Framing: refers to how the goals of the movement are articulated. Ideology is important as well because a belief system which ties supporters together and gives them a way of framing or interpreting the goals of the movement.

There is a logic to social movements, bringing up the same problems of collective action, namely the free-rider problem. People have an incentive to free-ride as well, if civil rights legislation is passed it will benefit all minority groups affected, but there is still a tendency not to contribute assistance and to allow someone else to do the work of providing this benefit.

Another approach to the logic of collective actions is given by Albert Hirschman, who argues there are three primary responses from a group or individual to a declining institution: exit, voice, or loyalty. Hirschman developed his analysis originally by looking at the responses of consumers to businesses but then argues this model can be used for politics as well. The most common response of a consumer to a product they do not like anymore, is to exit, meaning to take their business elsewhere, but in a political sense this can be done as well, for example sports teams which threaten to leave a city, or even people threatening to leave a country (e.g. various celebrities vowing to move out of the country—of course no one ever leaves). However, the idea of threatening to leave, or exit leads to the second response, voice, to express your discontent with the institution and desire to change or reform it. So when confronted by a situation one does not like, one can either exit the situation, or voice their discontent and try to change the situation. What then determines the influence of voice? There are many factors involved like resources and connections, but also the threat of exit has to be considered as well. Simply put, if I am threatening to leave you but you do not take this threat seriously then you are less likely to give in to my threat, however if you do believe I might actually leave you might be more willing to make concessions. For example, if an employer feels that a union's threat to strike (exit) is credible, it is more likely to give in to demands. Counter-culture groups that refuse to participate in mainstream society is also a kind of "exit" tactic. Finally, there is loyalty, which means you do nothing and wait for things to change. The level of loyalty influences the threat of exit. If I am loyal, I am less likely to leave. Hirschman's goal was then to specify in real situations the values of exit, voice, and loyalty and to predict the likelihood groups would use these responses in situations. Hirschman's logic like Olson's can be used for both interest groups and social movements.

To sum up, the goals of interest groups and social movements can be very similar, as are the problems that limit their effectiveness.The tactics chosen by interest groups and social movements are related to their level of organization and ability to mobilize people, and these tactics can be thought of in terms of exit, voice, and loyalty as possible responses. Many social movements as they become more formalized over time become more like interest groups (or in some case change into political parties). In many ways, the more successful a social movement, the more it risks losing what makes it effective.

Assignment: Choose a passage from the reading by Olson. Write it out, explain what it means and why you chose this passage.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

11/21 The Judiciary

The American legal system is based on the idea of "common law," taken from the older English legal system. In a common law system the authority of the judges to decide cases are emphasized. Many other countries have a "civil law" system where laws are laid out in written codes of law, and the task of judges are to interpret when the laws apply in specific cases. In common law, obviously the judges still have to follow the written laws, but are given more freedom to come to their own decisions. 

However, past decisions of judges are carried over into present cases, so before a case is decided, lawyers and judges consult past court decisions, this is known as "legal precedent," or stare decisis, since judges cannot contradict previous decisions (except in rare circumstances) the authority of past decisions has a strong hold on legal outcomes in the present. Furthermore, another feature of the American legal system are the high frequency of "plea bargains." Again, since common law allows for more interpretation, court cases can be very time consuming. To compensate for this, many cases are "plead out," meaning that the defendant will plead guilty to a lesser offense without a trial, in order to speed up the process of coming to a legal decision. Almost 80% of legal decisions in the U.S. are the result of plea bargains.

Common law countries also distinguish between criminal law and tort law (also called civil law, but different from civil law of other countries). Criminal acts violate the laws of the state, and are prosecuted by the state. Torts cover lawsuits initiated by people for damages resulting from the actions of others and are between individuals (the plaintiff and defendant). So, for example, driving while is intoxicated is a crime that can be prosecuted by the state, regardless if any injuries were done, at the same time, any injuries that are caused by the person can be held liable as a tort (sometimes called a "civil wrong"). There are different procedures in how criminal and civil cases are conducted. For example, OJ Simpson was acquitted in criminal court for murder, where jurors have to be certain "beyond a reasonable doubt", but was found liable in a civil lawsuit where jurors have to consider what is most likely, in other words the standard of proof is lower in civil court. "Tort reform" is an effort by corporations to limit the damages possible in a civil lawsuit, since corporations are liable under tort law for damages or injuries done to people, covering things like medical malpractice, environmental pollution, unsafe products, and more.

Conservatives, oppose what they call "judicial activism" or what they consider to be the judicial branch of government taking too much of a pro-active role in deciding legislation, rather than interpreting the law, as it says in the Constitution. However, this criticism seems to overlook the features of how a common law system works. That being said, the judicial branch has almost always tended to be the most conservative branch of government, the branch least influenced by popular majorities. It should not be surprising, that Alexander Hamilton, the most conservative of the founders, spent the most time emphasizing the importance of the judiciary in the Federalist Papers.

The federal judiciary (of which Hamilton was a prime architect) set up under the Constitution went into effect, along with the Judiciary Act of 1789 which further specified the structure and duties of federal courts. One of the busiest was the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. The Judicial branch of the government, makes up so much more than the Supreme Court. The 94 federal district courts are the lowest level of the federal judiciary. Above them, presently, there are 13 U.S. Courts of Appeal, in most cases these are the highest federal judicial authority most people will deal with if they have to. Higher than this is the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) but it limits the amount of cases it hears every year to about 100. The Supreme Court has a maximum of nine justices of the court including the Chief Justice, and Associate Justices. They are nominated by the President, approved by the Senate and serve life-terms. The power of the court is specified in Article III of the Constitution. 

The primary concern of the Southern District today includes Manhattan and the Bronx and handling cases under "admiralty law" or cases involving trade or shipping disputes with foreign countries or interstate trade from other states. This is a highly sought after position and has been used a springboard for even higher offices, for example before he became Mayor of New York City in 1993, Rudolph Giuliani was the State's Attorney (or federal prosecutor) for the Southern District of New York. This is distinct from the Government of New York State and the City of New York, and you can see now how the different layers of government: federal, state, and municipal all overlap with each other depending on authority and function.
Southern District of New York

Legal matters involving trade with a foreign country come under the jurisdiction of federal law. Since the port of New York was the busiest port in the country, most cases involving disputes over shipping and international trade would occupy most of the court's activity.

The Supreme Court (as the federalists intended) has tended to play a more conservative role in government, often siding with business interests against attempts to regulate commerce through legislation. However, in the public imagination the court is seen as a crucial part of the civil rights movement, as the institution which finally ended legal segregation in the nation in the landmark case Brown v. Board of Ed. By looking at some of the most important cases to come through the Supreme Court we begin to understand better the dual role the court has played in American history.

In judicial history the first really important case heard by the court was Marbury v. Madison in 1803. This case is important because it established the importance of judicial review in the U.S. The power of judicial review is the most important power of the court, and it is a power which is fairly unique to the U.S. supreme court, although all nations have a judicial branch of government, not all nations have this power. Basically, the power of judicial review gives the court the power to cancel out laws passed by Congress or actions undertaken by the executive branch, by determining the constitutionality of laws and actions, the court can deem them to be unconstitutional and thus invalidate them. This power was not clearly specified in the Article III of the Constitution, and it was not until Marbury v. Madison that the power of the court was established.

Since then, the court has weighed on many important matters from the regulation of businesses (Swift & Co. v. U.S.), to freedom of speech (Schenck v. U.S.), civil rights (Brown v. Board of Ed; Loving v. Virginia), abortion (Roe v. Wade), legalization of drugs (Gonzales v. Raich) and the notion of "corporate persons" and the role of money in government (Buckley v. Valeo). As mentioned already it has tended to side more with business interests in cases regarding it, but has also supported the civil rights of minorities. In other words, the court has tended consistently to support minority interests (whatever they may be) against the majority. That being said, at times, the court has been more susceptible to the dominant values of the day, e.g. the court's decision in Brown v. Board of Ed, contradict earlier decisions which affirmed segregation like Plessy v. Feguson or Dred Scott v. Sanford which denied the citizenship and even the humanity of African-Americans. 

Many of the court's decisions have relied on the 14th amendment, specifically, the due process and equal protection clauses. The equal protection clause states that the same standards of law must be applied to everyone, and obviously laws that harm one group of people would fail the test created by the equal protection clause. The concept of due process is something inherited from British political institutions, dating back to the Magna Carta of 1215. The idea of due process states that government must have sufficient reason, and must follow established rules, before it can deprive an individual of their rights. In a modern context, the idea of due process can be broken down into procedural and substantive aspects. Procedural due process establishes formal rules followed by government, and includes things like a warrant to arrest or search someone's property must be obtained; before being charged with a major crime a person must be indicted by a grand jury; that individuals have a right to a trial by jury, that in turn must render a unanimous decision, all of these are procedural aspects of due process, as are prohibitions against torture and cruel and unusual punishment, especially as a means of gaining a confession. If authorities are to gain intelligence they must do through legal means. 

Most of the major cases were not about issues of procedural due process, but substantive due process, which asks whether or not the government has a good reason to deprive someone of their rights. In many cases, the Supreme Court has said no, and have defined many more rights than originally specified in the Constitution, since the 9th amendment mentions "unenumerated" rights that are not specifically named. In some cases, maybe, you want the court to say yes, like the issue of unlimited financing of political campaigns. Many of the rights we enjoy today are a result of rights implied by the Constitution, but defined by judicial review looking at concrete cases. The notion of substantive due process then guides the process of judicial review, which itself has a defined procedure it follows, applying "strict scrutiny" in only the most important cases:

Procedural Due Process: Rules are followed
·      Warrants—4th Amendment
·      Grand Jury—5th Amendment
·      Trial by Jury—6th Amendment
·      Torture—8th Amendment

Substantive Due Process: Does the government have a good reason to deprive someone of liberty?
      Freedom of contract (Lochner v. New York)
·      Right to custody (Troxel v. Granville)
·      Right to privacy (Griswold v. Connecticut)
·      Right to marriage (Loving v. Virginia)

Judicial Review:
·      Rational basis review: “rationally related to a legitimate government interest”
·      Intermediate scrutiny: equal protections
·      Strict scrutiny: fundamental rights or suspect classification
1.     compelling government interest
2.     narrowly tailored

3.     least restrictive means

The judicial branch continues to play an important role in protecting the rights of minorities (whether it be business interests or other minorities), however it does raise the question of whether the courts are too independent of the majority will. With life terms for federal judges and the lack of any accountability to the populace through elections it is relatively easy for the courts to ignore or defy popular will. The recurring question that will always be associated with the courts are what is the proper balance between the independence of the judges and the demands made by popular majorities?

Assignment: Choose one of the Supreme Court case summaries and select a passage, write out the passage, explain how the decision was made, and then explain why you chose it and why you believe this case is important.