Chapter 1: UnderstandingAmerican Politics (pg 3-25)
II. Why Do We Have a Government?
A. To Provide Order
a. Government: The system for implementing decisions made
through the political process
b. Factions: Groups of like-minded people who try to
influence the government.American government is set up
to avoid domination by any one of these groups.
c. Separation of Powers: The division of government power
across the judicial, executive, and legislative branches.
d. Checks and balances:A system in which each branch of
government has some power over the others.
B. To Promote General Welfare
a. Public Goods: Services or actions (such as protecting the
environment) that, once provided to one person becomes
available to everyone. Government is typically needed to
provide public goods because they will be under-produced
by the free market.
b. CollectiveAction Problem:Asituation in which the
members of a group would benefit by working together to
produce some outcome, but each individual is better off
refusing cooperate and reaping benefits from those who do
c. Positive Externalities: Benefits created by a public good
that are shared by the primary consumer of the goof and by
society more generally.
d. Free Rider Problem: The incentive to benefit from others’
work without making a contribution, which leads
individuals in a collective action situation to refuse to work
III. What is Politics?
-Politics is the process that determines what government does.
A. Key Idea 1: Politics is Conflictual
B. Key Idea 2: Political Process Matters
C. Key Idea 3: Politics is Everywhere
IV. Sources of Conflict inAmerican Politics
A. Economic Interests
a. Free Market:An economic system based on competition
among businesses without government interference b. Economic Individualism: The autonomy of individuals to
manage their own financial decisions without government
c. Redistributive Tax Policies: Policies, generally favored by
Democratic politicians, that use taxation to attempt to
create greater social equality(i.e higher taxation of the rich
to provide programs for the poor)
B. Cultural Values
a. Culture Wars: Political conflict in the United States
between “red-state”Americans, who tend to have strong
religious beliefs, and “blue-state”Americans, who tend to
be more secular.
b. Melting Pot: The idea that as different racial and ethnic
groups come toAmerica, they should assimilate into
American culture, leaving their native languages, customs
and traditions behind.
C. Identity Politics
a. Ideology: Acohesive set of ideas and beliefs used to
organize and evaluate the political world.
b. Conservative: One side of the ideological spectrum defined
by support for lower taxes, a free market, and a more
limited government; generally associated with Democrats.
c. Libertarians: Those who prefer very limited government
and therefore tend to be conservative on issues such as
welfare policy, environmental policy, and public support
for education, but liberal on issues of personal liberty such
as free speech, abortion, and legalization of drugs.
I. Lecture 2-Why Government? (Wednesday, January 16, 2013)
A. What is Government? (Definitions)
1. Bianco and Canon’s Definition
a. The system for implementing decisions made through the
b. Both the institutions and the process itself
2. Some Other Definitions
a. “The legitimate use of force to control human
behavior… [and] the organization or agency
authorized to exercise that force.”
b. “The body of people and institutions that make and enforce
laws for a society.” 1. All Societies have government and it appears to be
natural with fundamental tensions
2. Government’s exisisitance means infringement
upon individual rights and freedoms.
B. The Nature of Government
1. Government and the individual
a. being governedALWAYS means giving up some individual
choice and freedom
2. Why do people submit to government?
a. Thomas Hobbes’state of nature
1. Life would be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and
b. We submit to government because we are getting
something in return(protections)
C. Principal Purposes of Government
1. Maintaining order
a. To protect life (Hobbes) and property (Locke)
b. Reflected in Declaration of Independence
1. “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”
i. Pursuit of Happiness reflects property
c. Narrower view: Protection of life and property
d. Broader view: Includes social order
1. Established patterns of authority in society and
traditional modes of behavior
e. When does controversy occur?
1. Traditional ways versus Modern ways. When views
come up against other things.
i. Preservation of Social Order vs. Equality
2. Providing public goods
a. Promoting the general welfare
b. Goods that benefit all individuals but are not likely to be
produced by the voluntary acts of individuals
1. Examples: Street Lights, Parks(National or City),
Military, Public Works(Police, Fire), U of I
c. Public vs. Private Goods
1. In contrast to private goods…Public goods are
indivisible and cannot be satisfactorily provided by
the market or private initiatives
i. Cannot be allocated to circumstances or
certain groups of people
2. Provision of public goods requires cooperation or
coercion by collective action or effective
government(Funded by taxes paid by the people)
d. The “Free Rider Problem”
1. Individuals can receive the benefit from a collective
activity/public good whether or not they helped to pay for it, leaving them with no incentive to
2. Assumption that people want a clean kitchen. You
get to enjoy the benefit of a clean kitchen, whether
or not you clean it. So what’s the point of cleaning it
if you know your roommate will? Then everyone
gets frustrated over no help. No one clean the
kitchen and everybody suffers.
If we aggregate this up…
e. The Case of CleanAir
1. Why is this a public good?
i. Everybody benefits from it, for breathing.
2. Why might it be difficult to provide?
i. We cannot gage our individual contribution
3. What sorts of policies might government use to:
i. Provide sanctions: Fines by
ii. Provide incentives: Tax Deductions
iii. Cap and Trade: companies over a certain
size, have a certain amount that they can
pollute the environment. They have credits
and can either purchase more form the
government, in which they can use that
money to prevent the pollution. Or
companies can trade with other companies
and therefore keep the same amount of
predicted pollution with the environment.
3. Promoting equality
a. Arelative latecomer to idea about the purposes of
i. One person, one vote, equal access to office
ii. Aformal/procedural definition
2. Social(More Controversial)
i. Equality in wealth, education, status, etc.
ii. Asubstantive definition
iii. How far do you go?
3. The Big Question: If we agree that equality is
something government should promote, what course
of action should it take?
i. Insure equality of opportunity?
ii. Insure equality of outcome?
D. Points of Contention?
1. (Almost) everyone agrees about these goals/values in the
abstract a. No we don’t want government to provide order,
structure(that would be absurd)
2. Disagree about how far government should go in providing
a. Individual freedom vs. well-being of all
3. What do we do when they conflict?
a. Prioritizing what ideologies
4. Ideologies reflect a set of coherent views on these matters
a. Aconsistent set of values and beliefs about the proper
purpose and scope of government
b. Aset of ideas about what makes a good society and how to
go about constructing it
2. Components of an Ideology
a. Values: What is most important? What should gov’t
b. Vision of the Ideal Polity (Political System): What would
gov’t look like if organized the “best” way?
c. AConception of Human Nature: Basically good or bad?
Rational or irrational?
d. Strategies and Tactics forAction: How should goals be
accomplished? What are the acceptable bounds of action?
3. Comparing Ideologies(The “spectrum” approach)
a. Two major dimensions
1. Role of government in terms of individual’s private