Institutional Change, Discretion, and the Making of Modern Congress
An Economic Interpretation
Glenn R. Parker
Controversial new interpretation of legislators' behavior
Institutional Change, Discretion, and the Making of Modern Congress challenges the widely accepted assumption that legislators, if not all politicians, are driven by the desire to be reelected. Through a series of creative arguments drawing on rational choice theory and microeconomics, political scientist Glenn R. Parker offers a controversial alternative to the reelection assumption: he posits that legislators seek to maximize their ow discretion – the freedom to do what they want to do. Parker uses this premise to account for the behavior of legislatures the organization of Congress, the emergence of policy outcomes that reveal legislator altruism as well as parochialism, and the evolution of Congress as a political institution.
Legislators behave like monopolists, argues Parker, creating barriers to entry that prevent competitive challenges to their reelection and ultimately decreasing their discretion. Parker uses this premise to explain basic historical patterns in the evolution of Congress, from the lengthening of congressional terms of service to the unusual expansion in the number of committee assignments held by members of Congress.
Institutional Change, Discretion, and the Making of Modern Congress provides an excellent nontechnical introduction for political scientists to the value and use of economic theory in the study of political institutions and informs economists about some of the previously unknown ways in which political processes follow economic principles. This provocative book is essential reading for legislative scholars, political scientists, and students of public choice.
Introduction - 1
1. Barriers to Entry and the Expansion of Discretion - 15
2. Discretion-Maximizing Behavior in Congress - 33
3. Partisanship and Productivity - 49
4. Economic Incentives to Congressional Service - 67
5. Constraints on Discretion - 81
6. Some Concluding Observations on Discretion-Maximizing Behavior in Legislatures - 95
References - 109
Name Index - 115
Subject Index - 117
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