Aristotle reports an ancient example of rational choice theory in international affairs. Indeed, if rational choice theory had existed at the time, Aristotle’s report would have begged the complaint of caricature given the parties to the conflict not only viewed their goals instrumentally, but even reduced their goals to cash equivalents.
In addition to requiring instruction in US government and politics, Texas law requires undergraduates at state-sponsored colleges and universities to take a course “which includes consideration of the . . . constitutions of the states, with special emphasis on that of Texas.” I am pretty sure part of the department’s deliberation at Texas A&M University in favor of hiring me those many years ago touched on the fact that the statistical portion of my dissertation drew on a unique state-level data set that I developed. The main point of interest would not be the uniqueness of the data set, but rather that I dipped into state legislative records. That thin reed was sufficient to justify my habitual assignment to teach the state-mandated course in state government, a course most of the faculty in the department preferred to avoid.
The puzzle is why judges review the constitutionality of (some) laws deferentially. Last week I considered one of the most often provided reasons for deference, that the judges are “unelected,” and so, in a republican political system, should be careful when striking down the enactments of popularly elected legislators. Yet in the American constitutional system, national-level courts are fully republican institutions. They are immunized from direct electoral supervision to make them and the system more republican, not less republican. They are selected by the people’s representatives, and serve only during “good behavior.” This makes courts republican institutions according to the “rigid definition” that James Madison provides in Federalist No. 39. So, too, at the state level, many judges are elected directly, or at least undergo retention elections. It’s hard to maintain at either the state or national level that the judiciary is a non-republican branch of government.
Judges do not treat all constitutional rights the same.
New reports on Richard Thaler, who received the “Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences” this year usually mentioned, albeit in passing, Thaler’s doctoral dissertation on the topic of estimating the value of a human life. This topic is often taken to represent economics at its worst: economists trying to place a monetary value on something that is of infinite value.
As a practicing Lutheran, I was surprised to discover that a then-proleptic application of Thaler and Sustein’s “nudge” was advanced over 1,600 years ago by Augustine when he advocated nudging the Donatists back into unity with the Catholic Church. I’m obviously not interested in nudging anyone into Catholicism, but I do think the episode an instructive one. Only inertia and status-quo bias, Augustine suggests, induced most Donatists to maintain their schism. They did not need severe punishment or suppression, Augustine argued, but a nudge, no more than a gentle poke in the ribs (to Augustine), to make the choices they already knew they should.
The catchy phrase is as important in academic writing as it is in popular writing. In motivating their constitution-making stage in The Calculus of Consent, James Buchanan and Gordon Tullock assumed “that the individual is uncertain as to what his own precise role will be in any one of the whole chain of later collective choices that will actually have to be made.” A few years later John Rawls made the same assumption (albeit with different results), but phrased it more quotably as the “veil of ignorance.” Rawls’ terminology stuck. Buchanan and Tullock’s terminology remained just theirs.
Three U.S. states originally had unicameral legislatures, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Vermont. Unicameralism didn’t last long in those states. Georgia adopted a second chamber in 1789. Pennsylvania in 1790. Vermont held out a bit longer, adding a second chamber to its legislature in 1836. All states subsequently joining the Union, including Nebraska, came into it with bicameral legislatures.
Interest in unicameralism returned, however, with the advent of the Progressive movement but in new ways.