Politics, Power, and Government

Politics, Power, and Government
An Economy of Influence
What is Politics?
• Politics: the process of who gets what,
when, and how (Harold Lasswell)
– the economics of interaction and conflict
resolution … distribution of resources (tangible
and human) through the currency of influence
– desire to obtain wealth, prestige, and security
• What is power? What makes one powerful?
In what ways can one be powerful?
– The ability to get someone to do something that
they otherwise would not do
– May be derived by position, prestige, coercion
– Authority: power recognized to be accepted as
binding (legally, morally, institutionally)
What is Government
• A political institution that:
1.) Makes rules determining who gets
society’s valuable resources
2.) Regulate the use of legal force
• Basic Functions
Maintain Order
Protect/Defend citizens
Provide services
Control economy
• Two Questions:
Who governs?
To what Ends?
Why is government political?
• Need to find acceptable solutions to political conflict:
disputes over society’s valued resources between both
individuals as well as interest groups
• Must set rules, create institutions, and execute policies
(through force if necessary)
• Inevitably certain groups benefit from government
actions while others suffer because of them
• Political power is vested in the people
“The best argument
against democracy is a
five-minute conversation
with the average voter”
Democracy in Action
» Direct democracy: direct participation by the
citizens in all government actions
» Democratic republic: based on popular
sovereignty, citizens elect representatives to
create and execute government policy
» Representative Democracy: similar to
republican government, but may share
sovereignty with a monarch or despot
Principles of Democracy
» Popular sovereignty: people entrusted with the
ultimate power over government
» Limited Government: powers of government bound
by institutional checks
» Universal Suffrage: Free elections, right of all adults
to vote
» Majority rule, Minority rights: rule of law based on
majority decisions, protection
» Competing political parties: acceptance of
oppositional and peripheral ideologies
Constitution vs. Constitutional Gov’t
• Identifies basic principles of government
• Establishes basic structure, powers, and duties
of government
• Supreme law
Constitutional government:
• constitution has the authority to place limits on
– “Limited Government”
– Rule of law
How Is Political Power Distributed?
• Majoritarian politics – elected officials are the
delegates of the people, acting as the people
• Political elite – 4 descriptions
– elites reflect a dominant social class
– a group of business, military, labor union, and
elected officials control all decisions
– appointed bureaucrats run everything
– representatives of a large number of interest groups
are in charge
How Is Political Power Distributed?
• Class view–the government is
dominated by capitalists
• Power elite view–the
government is dominated by
a few top leaders, most of
whom are outside of
• Bureaucratic view–the
government is dominated by
appointed officials
• Pluralist view–the belief that
competition among all
affected interests shapes
public policy
What Explains Political Change?
• Government and its
policies are shaped by
Economic interests
Powerful elites
Entrenched bureaucrats
Competing pressure
– Morally impassioned
• The dominant political
problem of the time
shapes the nature of
day-to-day political
conflict through
– Deep-seated beliefs
– Major economic
– Widely shared (or
competing) opinions
The Nature of Politics
• Judgments about institutions and interests can be made
only after one has seen how they behave on a variety of
important issues or potential issues, such as
economic policy
the regulation of business
social welfare
civil rights and liberties
foreign and military affairs