Friday, May 02, 2014

What is liberalism and how do we study it?


In the End of Liberalism, Lowi (1979) makes a sweeping argument that in the 20st century the United States political system has been “captured” by interest group politics and has ended traditional liberalism—defined as the opposition to fight against capitalist economic domination. He argues that this new political culture to fight for “left leaning” or “conservative leaning” favors has drawn an end to socialism/Marxism. Instead the US draws on partisan politics of democrats and republicans appease public interest groups for political favors. He argues that neither left nor right leaning groups have the complete interest of the public. Rather the sense of commons is lost within the American political system.
            Furthermore, Lowi argues that the “automatic economy” of the post industrial revolution has also converted into the “automatic society.” He stresses that the capitalist ideology has transformed a sense of pluralism. People are more passive and are “content” with more consumerism. The competition with their neighbors over the latest consumer goods overrides their need to help their brothers in need. Ultimately, the end of statism has lead to the embrace of positivism government. Lowi suggests that administration is the central key to positivism. He argues it’s the most rational unit to manage interests. These interests are what make up society and “interest-group liberalism.” Furthermore, democracy is designed to manage conflict.
What’s more Lowi continues and adds that the US government has taken over society by monopolizing direct financial domination, licensing and underwriting risk. Lowi suggests that the government has omniscient power to control the controllers. The state of permanent receivership suggests that policies can be modified without an “immediate transfer or funds, therefore no treasure or congressional or budgetary clearances” (pg. 290). He suggests that the receivership of regulation and discretionary fiscal policy is now in the hands of the government and there are few strings to pull to manage the complete system. Notwithstanding, this awesome power was recently tests and denied with the most recent bailout of the banking sector.
If we take Lowi’s main thesis of interest-group liberalism to describe the role of today’s democracy, we can accept that liberalism is optimistic about government and will develop an expansive role to build what is good for society. In addition we will agree that public interests amalgamate the desires of groups through the struggle of democracy. Therefore the way to have your interest met is to be involved with the system. Participation is the proxy for managing the awesome power of government. In that vein, we can agree with Lowi that there is an intrinsic bias towards business because they are more organized and have more influence on government. Conservatism or business interest are heard more often than the public good because they are richer, more organize and therefore more powerful.
Empirical evidence furthermore agrees with Lowi’s thesis of interest-group liberalism. Golden (April 1998) evaluates the rulemaking process and the notices and comments section within three US government agencies,  EPA, NHTSA and HUD,  to evaluate who participates in the policy process. She finds that the business interests were dominated within the rule-making process at EPA and NHTSA, but had mixed results at HUD with some participation by other government agencies, public interest groups and citizen advocacy groups. Yackee and Yackee repeated Golden’s study in Feb. 2006 and found similar conclusions. They looked at OSHA, ESE, FRA and FHWA from 1994-2001 and also found that the business interest enjoyed disproportional influence over rule making output despite the supposedly equalizing effect of the notice and comments procedures. Therefore one could argue that the public does not get equally represented in the administrative policy process, but business has an upper hand at influencing the government.

Symposium on Behavioral Approaches to Bureaucratic Red Tape and Administrative Burden

CALL FOR PAPERS Public Administration Review Symposium Editors: Christopher Carrigan, The George Washington Universit...