Friday, January 23, 2015

Gridlock Is Still Good. Kind of. Most of the time.

Gridlock and Delegation in a Changing World
Illustration from Callander & Krehbiel - Gridlock and Delegation
The Dividist Papers regularly features academic scholarship from political scientists, economists, and historians explaining the benefits of divided government and gridlock.  The first entry in the "Gridlock is Good" series featured economist William Niskanen of the Cato Institute and Ohio University Economics professor Richard Vedder outlining the fiscal and economic benefits of gridlocked government. More recently, we featured University of Wisconsin Political Science Professor Marcus E. Ethridge, who made the case that our inefficient checked, balanced, and divided government is less susceptible to special interest influence and corruption than the more efficient executive branch agency rule-making process.

In this post we offer the latest edition in this series by Stanford professors Steven Callander and Keith Krehbiel.  In a Stanford Business School article Edmond Andrews introduces their paper:
"Americans are angry about partisan gridlock, but they also harbor mistrust about nonpartisan bureaucrats. Steven Callander and Keith Krehbiel, professors of political economy at Stanford Graduate School of Business, see it differently. In a recent paper, they apply game theory to understanding U.S.-style gridlock. Their conclusion: Two of the system’s most unpopular features — supermajority voting (as in the Senate filibuster) and delegation of authority to “unelected bureaucrats” — can together produce good outcomes."

The paper analyzes the dynamic interaction between the supermajority required by our often divided government to advance policy change, and the semi-autonomous bureaucracy that can, in effect, implement policy change via undemocratic regulation.
"We develop a model of dynamic policymaking by separation-of-powers institutions in a changing world. For concreteness, we call its two institutions of policymaking a legislature and an agency... Its essential features are simply that the first-acting institution is supermajoritarian in nature, and that the second-acting institution may be delegated discretion in its implementation of the statute selected by the firststage policy maker....Among its implications for democratic efficacy is a unique insight about the interactive effects of seemingly unrelated institutional arrangements. We illustrate that, in a changing world with political drift, delegation breaks the supermajoritarian-induced gridlock that is predicted, for instance, by simpler pivotal politics models."
Or - as Nancy Pelosi would put it - "We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what’s in it."

Using game theory Callander and Krehbiel model the interaction of a supermajority constrained legislative process implementing policy and delegating broad policy rule-making authority to an independent agency. The illustrations in this post summarize their findings:

Illustration from Gridlock and Delegation in a changing world

I won't spend any time on these graphics, as the conclusions are intuitively obvious to even a casual reader. However I did find this section of the paper to be particularly amusing:

Callander and Krehbiel - Gridlock and Delegation in a Changing World

Please. Completely obvious. I mean, why even mention such a trivial certainty equivalence?  In any case, you can read the paper for yourself. Or let Professor Callander explain it:

There is an interesting parallel between this Callander / Krehbiel paper and the Ethridge paper "The Case for Gridlock" featured in a prior post. Both papers find positive policy outcomes as a consequence of gridlock and divided government. Both papers focus on the dynamic interaction of the legislative process and the policy ramifications of congressional authority delegated to administrative agencies. Callander / Krehbiel embrace the delegation process as a means for policy and legislative intent to adapt to changing conditions and "political drift" without being stymied by legislative political gridlock.  Ethridge, on the other hand, sees administrative agencies wielding broad rule-making authority as delegated by Congress to be easy targets for narrow special interests that subvert legislative intent and even promote political drift (unintended consequences) in policy outcomes.

These conclusions are not mutually exclusive. Legislative delegation of rule-making authority to bureaucracies will certainly permit policies to adapt and morph at the discretion of the agency.  And just as certainly, the agency with rule-making authority will be a target of rent-seeking lobbyists and special interests interested in seeing policies adapted to serve their needs.

No problem, except in the case where mere men and not angels are running the powerful undemocratic rule-making agencies who have been delegated broad authority by Congress. Cue constitutional architect James Madison in Federalist #51:
"But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself."

Divided and Balanced.
Now that is fair.

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