Comparative Politics Today Notes Chapter 6:
Policymaking: a pivotal stage in the political process; the point at which bills become laws or
edicts are issued by rulers.
- Before understanding public policy, we must know how decisions are made
Constitution and Decision Rules:
• A constitution establishes the basic rules of decision-making, rights and the distribution
of authority in a political system. Sometimes it’s a specific document, sometimes not.
• Rule of Law: people can only get punished for violating the laws and the government
can’t take actions that aren’t authorized by the law. The constitution is the supreme body
of laws in this type of political system
• Decision Rules: the basic rules governing how decisions are made. Constitutions have
these. They affect political activity because they determine what political resources are
valuable in influencing decisions and how to acquire and use these resources. Inclusive
rules can protect against hasty decisions and decisions against minorities. The less
inclusive the rules, the easier it is to reach a policy, but certain interests may be ignored.
Decision rules in hierarchies neglect those below the ruler, as their vote is the only one
that counts, which makes policymaking easy and fast, but may ignore other interests. The
inclusiveness of the decision rules shapes the outcome, no matter what.
• It’s important that decision rules in a democracy are transparent and stable. If not, then
the people will not know what to expect from their government, which can lead to
conflict and ultimately a breakdown of the government.
• Policymaking gets the public’s interests and sets them into laws, and the constitution
establishes rules on how to go about doing that. Making Constitutions:
• It’s a fundamental political act; it creates or transforms decision rules. The creation of or
amendments to a constitution are usually brought on by some violent break (war).
• Britain does not have a constitution, reflecting their gradual and peaceful political change
• Many new political experiments and political systems have been introduced in the past
decades since WWII, especially with developing countries. Democratization has been an
increasing trend since then.
Democracy and authoritarianism:
• Democracy: rule/govern by the people. People can participate in politics, elect leaders,
have political parties and influence political choices.
• Authoritarian regime: military councils, hereditary families, dominant political parties,
and the like choose policymakers. Citizens are either ignored or pressed into symbolic
assent to the government’s choices.
• The basic decision rules vary on three dimensions:
o The separation of powers among different branches of government
o The geographic distribution of authority between the central (national)
government and lower levels, such as states, provinces, or municipalities
o Limitations on government authority
Separation of government powers:
• Separation of powers: prevents an unchecked executive or legislature
• There are two different kinds of regimes: Presidential and Parliamentary
o Democratic presidential regime: provides two separate agencies of government – the executive and the legislative – separately elected and authorized by the
o Parliamentary regimes: they make the executive and legislative branches much
more interdependent. Only the legislative branch is directly elected. The Prime
Minister and the Cabinet emerge from the legislature.
• Confidence relationship: the relationship between the Prime Minister and the majority
parliamentary that allows the Prime Minister to call new elections when there is a vote of
lack of confidence, which would force him and the cabinet to resign. This makes them
interdependent on each other.
• Prime ministers can be voted out of office at any time, either by a no-confidence motion
or by defeating a confidence motion. Confidence motions are normally brought on by the
Prime Minister attached to a bill, making the parliament choose between the bill or the
gov’t. Therefore, they do not experience as much division in politics.
• Semipresidential: Mixed between a presidential state and a parliamentary state, where
the president and the parliament are separately elected, but the president also has the
power to dissolve the legislature. Many new democracies are of this type of regime.
• Most theorists favor the British form of parliament because it can result fairly stable
governments responsible to public will. The US democratic system is often criticized for
being a divided government.
• People are arguing more for a parliamentary proportional representation system, because
democracies are more susceptible to breaking down with social conflict
• Presidential systems provide practical advantages of presidential systems with significant
executive power, and also give the president a significant amount of power. It puts more effective checks on the power of the majority in the legislature.
Geographic Distribution of Government power:
• Federal systems: it’s caught in the middle between confederal systems and unitary
systems. It’s where central and local units each have autonomy in certain public policy
spheres. Most states in the world are unitary, with only 18 being federal, but those that
are federal tend to be the biggest and most powerful politically. There are many aspects
of a federal system:
o It may help protect minorities in a divided society
o They can experiment with different policies
o People can choose the policy environment that best fits their preferences
o While promoting choice and diversity, it does it at the expense of equality,
treating certain citizens better than others
o Centralized party control may overcome apparent regional autonomy
• Under the Articles of Confederation, the US was confederal, where all power lies with
• The central government rarely change in a unitary government
Limitations on government power:
• Constitutional Regimes: a type of system where the powers of government units are
defined and limited by a written constitution, statutes, and custom
• The courts are CRUCIAL to limiting government power
• Judicial Review: where high courts rule on challenges that other units of government
have exceeded the powers allocated by the constitution. But this can often be ineffective
due to lack of overcoming executive power. • Some other constitutional regimes have independent courts that protect persons against
the improper implementation of laws and regulations, but cannot legally overrule the
assembly or the political executive.
• Most democracies either have medium-strength or strong judicial reviews
• All written constitutions provide for amending procedures. An amendment cannot be too
easy to make for it may jeopardize important constitutional protections, therefore, some
arrangements in the constitution may not be amended. Some vary on complexity for
amending the constitution, with the UK being the easiest and the US being the most
• Constitutions may concentrate or disperse government power along several dimensions,
creating a checks and balances system and in some cases eradicating tyranny.
Checking the top policymakers:
• One challenge of government is to control the excesses of top political leaders, giving a
way to get rid of a certain leader if need be. The way to do that in a Democracy is by
impeachment, which can be used on any incumbent, and involves three components:
o Impeachable offenses are usually identified as presenting unusual danger to the
public good or safety
o The penalty is removal from office (sometimes with separate criminal penalties)
o Impeachment cases are decided by the legislative but require more than ordinary