Saturday, December 3, 2016

12/3 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 that you can separate "diffuse interests," the will of the majority, from "concentrated interests," minority interests. For example, trade policy is made by certain sectors of the economy, whether industry, agriculture, or services, lobbying the government for tariffs on certain products from foreign countries. This would result in higher prices being placed on these items. A majority of people might be opposed to this but since the interests of the minority are much more concentrated, meaning their income, and even their jobs might be on the line, they will work harder to lobby the government. The majority interests are diffuse, meaning increases in price will not hit them as hard as say someone who risks being laid off. This notion of different interests contradicts Madison's notion of politics, constitutional government, and the notion of checks and balances that reduces 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. What made Olson's account of collective action so influential was that he argued that it was 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. This leads to a paradox however, where 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. Olson offers this as an explanation for the often hierarchical structure of many interest groups, which are hardly run in democratic fashion, whether they are business associations or unions. However some critics argues 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." Understanding this larger process takes us out of looking at interest groups and seeing the larger dynamic between interest groups and social movements, however a few more things about interest groups before moving on.

I already mentioned briefly the different types of interest groups, 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 economy like Germany these six areas will all 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 Due: Choose a passage from the reading. Write it out, explain what it means and why you chose this passage.


Saturday, November 19, 2016

11/19 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.

Many 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 ethnic/racial 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?

As we have already discussed, since there are no term limits for federal judges, most serve until they die or retire. The recent death of Antonin Scalia, long considered the most conservative member of the SCOTUS, has recently caused yet another constitutional controversy between the Obama administration and the Republican Congress. Although it clearly specifies in the Constitution that the President is the sole authority to nominate candidates for the federal government (approved by the Senate), Republicans have already declared they will not listen to any nominees put forward by the President. This is blatantly illegal, and does not follow any precedent set in this country. The president serves a four-year term and during the entire length of that term is empowered to make replacements in the federal government when they come up, there is no rule at all that the president cannot do this in their last term of office. Yet, another example of the unpatriotic and frankly illegal obstructionism shown by Republicans. It should be said though that the President has also once again disappointed his liberal supporters, by nominating a conservative judge, Merrick Garland, to take Scalia's place. Although, it certainly make Republicans look bad, since some have actually named Garland in the past as a good candidate for a judge, only to disapprove once Obama nominated him, it does not say much for the current President's willingness to stand up to the conservative establishment.



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.