Adoration of the Calf


Recent weeks have seen proliferating analyses of the constitutional infrastructure of the US, and speculation over its ability to hinder the behaviors of a disruptive incumbent. New concerns reflect longstanding apprehension over the stability of presidential regimes.

A 1990 article by sociologist JUAN JOSE LINZ offers insight into the structural limitations of presidential systems, and their political consequences.

“Presidential constitutions incorporate contradictory principles and assumptions. On the one hand, such systems set out to create a strong, stable executive with enough plebiscitarian legitimation to stand fast against the array of particular interests represented in the legislature. Interest group conflict then bids fair to manifest itself in areas other than the strictly political. On the other hand, presidential constitutions also reflect profound suspicion of the personalization of power. The fundamental contradiction between the desire for a strong and stable executive and the latent suspicion of that same presidential power affects political decision making, the style of leadership, the political practices, and the rhetoric of both presidents and their opponents in presidential systems. It introduces a dimension of conflict that cannot be explained wholly by socioeconomic, political, or ideological circumstances.

Among the oft-cited advantages of presidentialism is its provision for the stability of the executive. This feature is said to furnish a welcome contrast to the tenuousness of many parliamentary governments, with their frequent cabinet crises and changes of prime minister. But the superficial volatility of parliamentary systems obscures the continuity of parties in power, the enduring character of coalitions, and the way that party leaders and key ministers have of weathering cabinet crises without relinquishing their posts. Precisely by virtue of their surface instability, they often avoid deeper crises. An embattled president can use his powers in such a way that his opponents might not be willing to wait until the end of his term to oust him, but there are no constitutional ways-save impeachment or resignation under pressure-to replace him. There are, moreover, risks attached even to these entirely legal methods; the incumbent’s supporters may feel cheated by them and rally behind him, thus exacerbating the crisis. The intense antagonisms underlying such crises cannot remain even partially concealed in the corridors and cloakrooms of the legislature. What in a parliamentary system would be a government crisis can become a full-blown regime crisis in a presidential system.”

Link to the piece.

  • “Parliamentary constitutions in Europe emerged after a gradual period of negotiation between the monarch and the nobles, in which the parliament ultimately displaced the monarchy as the center of effective governance. In Latin America, by contrast, initial governments, whether revolutionary or not, emerged from a system of monarchy in which a single individual sat at the center of the political system.” Jose Antonio Cheibub, Zachary Elkins and Tom Ginsburg with a comparative history of presidentialism in Latin America. Link. In another paper, the authors find that “the classic presidential-parliamentary distinction is not a systemic one.” Link.
  • Thomas Sidelius examines the historical-institutional factors behind the adoption of semi-presidential systems in post-communist countries across Central and Eastern Europe. Link.
  • A 2012 article by Paul Chaisty, Nic Cheeseman and Timothy Power analyzes “how presidents build legislative coalitions in different regional contexts,” focusing on the role of agenda power, budgetary authority, cabinet management, partisan powers, and informal institutions in shaping political relations in Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa and the former Soviet Union. Link.


Voter responsiveness to New Deal policy and outcomes

PhD Candidate in Political Science at UCLA BRIAN T. HAMEL examines the relationships between the distribution of state provisioning programs and political outcomes. His job market paper accounts for a distinction between policy and outcomes, in the context of New Deal economic relief programs.

From the abstract:

“The theory of retrospective voting predicts that voters are responsive to policy outcomes, but not the policies, programs, and provisions that may have produced those outcomes. I reevaluate this claim. Using a difference-indifferences design, I show that counties that received more New Deal economic relief money became more Democratic than counties that received less money regardless of changes in local macroeconomic conditions. Additionally, I find that voters were particularly responsive to direct financial assistance programs relative to economic stimulus spending, as well as suggestive evidence that the media facilitated these policy-based voting responses. Finally, while the effects of economic change are transient, the effects of New Deal spending on Democratic support in presidential elections have persisted through to today. My results suggest that voters reward and punish incumbents not just for policy ends, but for policy, too.”

Link to the piece, link to Hamel’s website.

Each week we highlight great work from a graduate student, postdoc, or early-career professor. Have you read any excellent research recently that you’d like to see shared here? Send it our way:

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  • “America’s agrarian radicals formulated bold visions of central banking wielded by the people, as an instrument of capital allocation, developmental state policies, and ultimately a transformed political economy.” On the blog, Anton Jäger and Noam Maggor outline a Populist vision of the Fed. Link.
  • We are hiring for two fellowship positions: one to work with Marshall Steinbaum on research in our higher education project, the other to work on communications for a new guaranteed income initiative. Link to the opportunities page.
  • “Will resetting the poverty line mean that more Americans will be counted as having resources below it? Yes, but that’s only because a reasonable reset will provide a more accurate picture of who is economically deprived by today’s standards, not those of 1963.” Shawn Fremsted’s extensive look at the OPM, the SPM, and how poverty metrics shape policy. Link.
  • At VoxEU, Gordon Liao and Tony Zhang on dollar swap line usage during the Covid-19 pandemic.Link.
  • Yige Dong on how urban Chinese women choose between formal and informal employment. Link.
  • “In August, the real unemployment rate, including all aspects, was 16.8 per cent, or 28.2m unemployed workers, much higher than the official BLS rate of 8.4 per cent. This gulf is consistent with years of data showing that the real unemployment rate is often at least 50 per cent higher than the BLS count.” In the FT, Leo Hindery of the CFR on the limits of BLS unemployment statistics and the “real unemployment rate.” Link. (See also: Bloomberg’s summary of the new employment report, Heidi Shierholz of EPI’s summary, and a follow-up piece to Hindery’s by Claire Jones, on unemployment in the US and the EU.)
  • “Democratizing the Supreme Court.” Ryan Doerfler and Samuel Moyn argue against both personnel reforms and appeals to restoring legitimacy to the court, and in favor of “disempowering reforms like jurisdiction stripping and a supermajority requirement for judicial review, which take power away from the Court.” Link.
  • Taly Reininger and Borja Castro-Serrano examine notions of individualism, merit, and poverty in Chile’s Ethical Family Income, a conditional cash transfer program. Link.
  • A new United Nations Conference on Trade and Development report on the prospects for economic recovery: “The status quo ante, is a goal not worth the name. And the task is urgent, for right now, history is repeating itself, this time with a disturbing mix of both tragedy and farce.” Link.
  • “By mapping tens of millions of global connections in empirical portraits of interrelations between regions, economies, and carbon emissions in 2004, I demonstrate that our understandings of carbon and its geographies are extremely sensitive to which standpoint we adopt.” Luke Bergman on methods and metrics for measuring carbon emissions. Link.
  • Govind Gopakumar on technopolitics, transit and road infrastructure projects, and “the regime of congestion” in Bengaluru, India. Link.
  • “We exploit the payroll, storehouse, purchasing, and admissions records of a large Toledan hospital to identify the gender wage gap between contemporary male and female nurses from 1553 to 1650. Nursing was a non-gendered occupation, as hospitals required that patients be assisted exclusively by nurses of their same gender. We present detailed information on both cash and in-kind compensation and recover the necessary data to accurately estimate the value of the latter. We also use data on the ratio of nurses to patients to show that productivity levels differed little by gender. We find that female compensation fluctuated between 70 percent and 100 percent of male levels and that the hospital responded swiftly to acute episodes of labor scarcity or abundance when setting wages.” By Mauricio Drelichman and David González Agudo. Link.

Each week we highlight research from a graduate student, postdoc, or early-career professor. Send us recommendations:

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