This essay argues that in order to understand how institutions shape political choices and history we should go further toward understanding the interactive relationships between institutions and the cognitive mind. The article explores the significant body of research and literature developing in social and evolutionary psychology, cognitive science and decision theory. This literature has gone beyond the observation humans are not the individual utility maximizers stylized in early institutionalist theorizing. A massive body of experimen- tal and empirical research clearly demonstrates, for example, that a) individuals only rarely have stable and hierarchical preferences, b) are generally quite unlikely to go through the cognitive effort implied in a ‘rational’ choice decision matrix, c) humans are efficient decision makers, but we have remark- able capacities to post-hoc justify choices and restructure our memories so that we can view our decisions as coherent. In the end the paper argues that public administration scholars need to adopt a non-reductionist approach to studying human motivation.
Some economists argue that institutions are the most important factor affecting varia- tion in economic growth. There is a need, however, to better understand how and why institutions emerge and change. Informed by evolutionary theory and complexity sci- ence, this chapter develops a conceptual framework that follows models of cultural evolution in viewing institutions as part of a nongenetic system of inheritance. This framework is used to examine how broad historical factors (not just economic factors) influence present-day institutional arrangements and economic outcomes, as well as how noninstitutional aspects of culture (e.g., values, beliefs) interact with institutions to shape behavior in particular contexts. Overall, this framework emphasizes the pro- cesses by which institutions evolve, and how they can coevolve with other institutions and culture. This approach is illustrated using four examples to demonstrate how evolu- tion theory and complexity science can be used to study institutional emergence and change. Explicit models of the processes of institutional evolution need to be developed and then tested and assessed with data. This framework holds promise to bring together and synthesize the findings and insights from a range of different disciplines.
The study of political institutions has moved back into center stage in political science. Whereas only a few years ago, institutions were mostly casually mentioned in most political science research, today they are a central focus of attention. This change is not simply a change of language or the catching on of a new popular phrase or academic fad. Instead these changes represent an important development in evolution of political science theory and intellectual focus.
The following essay surveys the history of institutionalist thought, explores several different types of institutionalist theory and suggest the central analytical agendas of modern institutionalist theory.
How can evolutionary ideas be applied to the study of social and political institutions? Charles Darwin identified the mechanisms of variation, selection and retention. He emphasized that evolutionary change depends on the uniqueness of every individual and its interactions within a population and with its environment. While introducing the contributions to this special issue, we examine some of the ontological positions underlying evolutionary theory, showing why they are appropriate for studying issues in economics, political science and sociology. We consider how these ideas might help us understand both institutional change and the formation of individual preferences.
The "rediscovery" of institutions has opened up an exciting research agenda in comparative politics and comparative political economy. Scholars working in different disciplines and writing on subjects as diverse as the political economy of advanced capitalism and policy-making during China's Great Leap Forward have all focused on the significance of institutional variables for explaining outcomes in their respective fields. Within comparative politics, "new" institutionalism has been especially associated with leading students of comparative political economy such as Suzanne Berger, Peter Hall, Peter Katzenstein, and Theda Skocpol, among others. Although it has now been around for several years, few have stepped back to analyze the distinctive features of the kind of historical institutionalism these theorists represent, nor to assess its strengths and overall contribution to comparative politics. These are themes we take up in this introductory chapter.
This chapter explores the relationship between trust and trustworthy institutions. I build on insights from social psychology, behavioural economics and institutional theory and argue that people are inclined to follow rules and behave in ways that are consistent with those rules if the rules themselves are implemented in consis‐ tent and transparent ways. We begin with an examination of why people follow rules in the first place. I argue rule-following behaviour is explained by three basic human motivations: (a) ‘self-interest’, (b) the desire to belong and (c) the need for logical consistency. The chapter then examines why political institutions that implement tax rules and laws fairly and consistently engender higher levels of compliance than institutions that seek to cater to special interests and/or particular constituencies.
Historical Institutionalism grew out of an interest in explaining variation. When we began asking ourselves why policies and politics differed so much across nations and over time, political institutions forced themselves into the center of the analysis. Institutions, we argued, structured politics. By now, this basic insight has become commonplace. Even if this was once an innovative contribution, today few would argue against the proposition that institutions are important because they structure strategic incentives and constraints.
Orion A. Lewis and Sven Steinmo | How Institutions Evolve: Evolutionary Theory and Institutional Change
This article argues that questions of gradual institutional change can be understood as an evolutionary process that can be explained through the careful application of “generalized Darwinism.” We argue that humans’ advanced cognitive capacities contribute to an evolutionary understanding of institutional change. In constantly generating new variation upon which mechanisms of selection and replication operate, cognition, cognitive schemas, and ideas become central for understanding the building of human institutions, as well as the scope and pace of their evolution. Evolutionary theories thus provide a broad theoretical framework that integrates the study of cognition, ideas, and decision-making with other literatures that focus on institutional change and human evolution.
Over the past several years there has been a substantial shift in ideas amongst policy elites about the proper role of government in the society and the economy. Though it is extremely difficult, if not impossible to find a corresponding dramatic change in public attitudes, policy elites now appear to believe that government both cannot, and should not, do many of the things that it once did. Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher are no longer in office, but the ideas that were proposed by the Right, appear to now be a growing consensus among elite policy makers – on all sides of the political spectrum – that the state should not do many of the things that it used to do. In other words, the argument is not simply that we cannot do what was once done, but now we ought not do what was once done.
Sven Steinmo and Jon Watts| It's the Institutions, Stupid! Why Comprehensive National Health Insurance Always Fails in America
We argue that the United States does not have comprehensive national health insurance (NHI) because American political institutions are biased against this type of reform. The original design of a fragmented and federated national political system serving an increasingly large and diverse polity has been further fragmented by a series of political reforms beginning with the Progressive era and culminating with the congressional reforms of the mid- 1970s. This institutional structure yields enormous power to intransigent interest groups and thus makes efforts by progressive reformers such as President Clinton (and previous reform-minded presidents before him) to mount a successful NHI campaign impossible. We show how this institutional structure has shaped political strategies and political outcomes related to NHI since
Franklin D. Roosevelt. Finally, we argue that this institutional structure contributes to the antigovernment attitudes so often observed among Americans.