Is there “truth” in Political Science?
How do we know what we think we know? 03/12/2012
Theory in Pol Sci
Every empirical story, anecdote etc is guided by a theory.
Theories used to:
Describe and explain how the world works. E.g. IR Realism – believes the world is anarchic, claims
that the most important unit of analysis is the state, power structures the international system. E.g.
neoliberal institutionalism – anarchic world.
Predict how people will behave. E.g. power transition theory – one hegemon goes down, another comes
up. E.g. IR talks of states behaving in national interest, always in conflict. E.g. NI think that nationstates
can cooperate in enlightened sovereignty whether they are rising or falling.
Make arguments . Both theories exist, and both can’t be right. E.g. Collective action – says that the
rational actor will not indulge in collective action, but rather choose to free ride.
Theory 1: role of liberal economic markets. Theory says they create an efficient economy ▯ efficient
allocation of resources (Earn according to the work you do, etc) ▯ increased productivity ▯ equity!
Theory 2: theory of democracy (welfare state!). Democracy ▯ mobilization of the havenots (activist groups
etc) ▯ pressure on govt to push for equity.
These 2 theories made Fukuyama say that we have reached the end of history – there are no more
alternatives out there after the late 1980s (End of Cold War).
End of history hence = an empirical observation.
Fukuyama was, however, also invoking that capitalism and liberal democracy was an inevitability, and if it
hadn’t arrived (e.g. China) then it will.
Healthy Democracies (Wong, 2004)
2 ideas end of history and globalization – uppermost on any Political Science student’s mind.
Wong trying to establish that the dominant truths at the time were not right, trying to confront theoretical
One dom truth = globalization. G talked of growth of capitalism etc. Wong wanted to challenge the notion
that econ devpt is solely dependent on plugging in to the global mkt.
As economies became more globalized, companies, factories etc (i.e. capital) would become more
mobilized. And because they were always searching for cheaper labour, they’d indulge in a ‘race to the
bottom’. RttB ▯ growing inequality, but also…
Welfare state retrenchment: As capital became more mobile etc, govts were expected to scale back their
welfare programs. “Come to our country, we don’t have unemployment insurance!” “We have no minimum
wage!” “Suppressed labour unions!” This happened in the EU and Canada. Developing countries decided
not to follow this path. Death of the left: simultaneously, social democratic parties died down – no more left. The ‘third wave’ –
centrist parties came to be.
At the same time, social spending increased in Taiwan and SK in the 1990s. Opposite of the
theories/predictions/trends. Universalization of health care in these two countries.
Wong addressed this discrepancy – he believed democracy had something to do with it.
Politics of democratic deepening
Electoral incentives – more voting shows public opinion towards increased public spending.
Social movement mobilization
Crossclass consensus: it wasn’t the old consensus of the left, but rather a societywide change.
Took up the issue of universal health care, trying to find out what made people tick, what their grievances
He conducted interviews with policymakers, participant observation in labour protests and took surveys of
bureaucrats. Evidence of an argument.
At the time, he thought he had a truth.
Then he finds out he was wrong.
Wong Argument 1 – Democracy is key. As long as you’re democratic, increased social spending will work.
He was right in East Asia. But then he went to Chile, and saw that it was a poor country – where they
couldn’t implement those policies even though they wanted to.
Wong Argument 2 – You need to be a democracy + have the fiscal capacity to do it. He was wrong. Went
to China, where there was a great fiscal capacity but no democracy.
Wong Argument 3 – Growth with equity. You need 1 + 2 + relatively equitable econ growth. This reduces
the cost of redistribution. But he thinks he’s probably still wrong.
Poli sci is hence about an evolving argument, ongoing conversation. Elusive truth.
End of history Fukuyama and Huntington: tried to purport their sense of the truth.
Huntington talking about how conflict is around civlizations and no longer around countries.
Fukuyama’s truth is more triumphant, and centered around liberal democracy etc.
End of history intended to provoke, but also was a proclamation of the truth.
Presentist description: his end of history only takes us to the end of the Cold War. End is quick, truncated
notion of what history is.
Comes with a sense of satisfaction: presumption of truth. F explanation not perfect, but good enough
(because of no viable alternatives)
Presumption of this truth ▯ selfsatisfaction ▯ bane of progress. Endpoint of progress.
The arrogance of presumed truth leads to prescription. ‘If you havent reached the end of history, you
should. It’s the closest thing we have to perfection.’
Wong suggests that we can do better.
Look forward by looking back – consider Karl Marx.
Marx suggested that democracy is a state and is incidental to the long future ahead.
Future does not hinge on the future of democracy, but rather on the future of global capitalism. Implies
that global capitalism is the core.
Smith, Hamilton, List: talked about how global capitalism builds both winners and losers. We tolerate this.
But the question here is how much are we willing to tolerate in terms of winners and losers? What kind of
losers? Fukuyama doesn’t consider this thing at all.
New kinds of losers according to Wong. And they live in much more dire conditions than before.
Bearing witness: seeing the state of the world yourself.
Choice of either making live or letting die. As we contemplate the new losers, we can either help them or
Letting die is to make invisible. End of history has no prescription on how to do this – make live.
Planet of slums: 1 billion people or 1/3 of world’s entire urban population lives in a slum.
In LEDCs, 80% of urban population lives in a slum.
Ethiopia: 99.4% chance of living in a slum!
Most slum dwellers are under the age of 20.
Dispossession of land, surplus population. No land, no means to income, no job ▯ these are surplus in the
framework of the end of history thesis. ‘Extra’.
93% of workers in India are in the informal sector – no regular wages, no employment protection etc.
Greater informalization of labour.
Jobless growth. GDP (aggregate) growth, but no more jobs.
Grey income: means of income that are illegal or shady.
Planet of slums is essentially invisible – how would you know if one of them died? End of history prevents
us from even asking this question!
Is there truth?
Wong says we can do better, and it’s our job to think creatively and do better.
No truth in political science.
We can make arguments about how we perceive the world.
We can do better, but we also need to believe we can do better in order to actually do better. Global Governance:
Promise and Challenges 03/12/2012
GG and the international system
One way to think about global governance.
Glob governance based on IR Realism – idea of an anarchic international system. Sovereign states,
absence of a world government. Concerned with relative power between states. Zero sum – hence a
somewhat pessimistic view. States are prone to conflict.
PostWW1: LoN. State interests given priority, but a collective security doctrine was implemented (or
attempted). Collective system to keep certain nations in check. The idea was that the threat of punishment
would be a deterrent.
Theoretically that’s perfect as an antiRealist measure. But it failed miserably – Japan, Italy. Was
essentially a move towards WW2.
Learned from that. Neoliberal institutionalism = new theory of IR.
NI accepts the realist premise of anarchic int sys, no world govt. But they believe we can mitigate some of
the conflict inherent in the Realist system.
Interdependence : especially economic. Trade as a deterrent to war/conflict. But also other fronts –
security, climate change, health.
Therefore, it’s alspositive sum . If states cooperated, they’d all benefit. Varying degrees and ways but
still a net gain.
Functionalism : Idea that there are specific areas around which cooperation can be based. Collective
Rules and norms hence need to be established. Collectively divide rules that govern states’ behaviour.
Norms = expected behaviour.
This led to the formation of many international organizations and regimes – Bretton Woods (rules: no
exchange rate manipulation), tariff barrier lowering, EU rules (rules: deficit levels, debt, currency, CAP).
UN System of States
UN = Neoliberal institutionalist construction – accepts that states are sovereign, but creates rules to
govern their behaviour.
“effective collective measures…for removal of threats to the peace.” – intl peace and security.
“friendly relations among nations…equal rights…selfdetermination.” Fundamental rights + respecting
“international cooperation…economic, social, cultural, humanitarian…” – functionally specific problems. Global Governance:
Promise and Challenges 03/12/2012
“harmonizing actions of nations” to achieve all of the above. No global government, but global governance
is a possibility.
Attempts to align state behaviour in the interest of collective prosperity and peace through the imposition
of rules and norms.
GG important for the mitigation of (new) global risks.
We live in a collective i.e. in a global commons. Spillover effects between countries. (e.g. climate change)
Borderless world e.g. global health. SARS, swine flu – things that just travel across countries. Experienced
as new in recent years.
Uncertainty because of technology. Cyber security, cyber warfare becoming a bigger problem to national
defence. Emergence of new things like biotech is a source of uncertainty that is collectively experienced.
Biggest spender on biotech in the US is the DoD.
Human security – genocide. Transcends borders.
Basically, GG is so important because these new global risks require new forms of GG.
Obama: can’t meet the challenges of the 21 century with 20 century approaches.
GG a) Helps us curb the pessimism of realism b) Helps us mitigate global risk.
Transnational governance – what’s needed.
Assumption 1: it’s transnational!
Creation of rules of the game. Specific, agreed upon rules that govern behavior in func specific areas. E.g.
WTO – governs tariff implementation.
Goals and targets – Kyoto Accord (1997).
Deliberative forums like the G8 and G20. Transnational governance has to include discussion, deliberation
– a global dialogue. Move away from G8 to G20, where emerging economies become more important.
Features of GG
Absence of global govern ment . State sovereignty remains supreme.
Understanding collective fate and commons problems. E.g. financial crisis of 2008. Governments have
been working together to encourage stimulus spending etc.
Functional specialization e.g. WHO (founded in 1946, bringing together experts from all over the world.)
Participatory – UN GA. Presumption is that global governance only works with global participation. Global Governance:
Promise and Challenges 03/12/2012
Enlightened sovereignty – idea of embedded liberalism. “ES is the natural extension of enlightened self
interest.” – Stephen Harper on the G20. Mutual, global interest has to come first in a way.
The presumption of ES ▯ interstate coordination. Transparency, process of continual negotiation. GG is a
All this ▯ international compromise that helps all states benefit. Not equally. Pareto optimal outcome – not
the best outcome for your country, but benefits most countries.
Challenges to GG – in practice
Collective Action problem
Problem with issues that require longterm collective action e.g. climate change.
“Climate is nearing tipping points.” – James Hansen, NASA. Emphasises changing course for the sake of
Freeman Dyson from Princeton talks about the overestimation of mathematical models. Two contrasting
perspectives on the same issue.
The hardest problems are ‘Wicked problems’. Wicked problems involve:
Uncertainty: like Dyson suggested, there’s no way to completely establish the causes of global warming.
Intergenerational consequences: Hansen’s perspective. Alarmist?
All of that leads to the collective action problem – incentive to free ride. Non com