22 June, 2006

Current Library Loans

I've got a load of books on loan from the library of my university. I bet you are wondering what they are, so now I will tell you.

Robert D. Putnam (2000) Bowling Along: The Collapse and Revival of American Community

You know, that book about how people don't like joining things any more because they'd rather sit at home watching shite on TV (or posting to their stupid internet blogs). I borrowed it partly because the subject sounds kind of interesting, because it is kind of zeitgeisty, and as an example of good social research that has managed to say things which have resonated with people.

This book has lots of graphs showing things going down.

Robert Elgie (1999) Semi-Presidentialism in Europe

Robert Elgie is my thesis supervisor, though I've not met him yet as I don't actually have a thesis topic. I reckoned reading one of his books would be a good idea, partly just to be a lick and partly because I might end up doing some research on this semi-presidentialism business. What is semi-presidentialism? Well, in presidential regimes like that of the USA, executive power is completely focussed on this president guy elected (indirectly) by the people? On the other hand, parliamentary regimes like Germany have a purely ceremonial president appointed by parliament, with executive power being focussed on a premier whose power comes from their ability to command a parliamentary majority. In a semi-presidential regime, you have an elected president and also a premier requiring a parliamentary majority to govern; France is the classic semi-presidential regime.

As I said, I may do research on semi-presidentialism. I am thinking of looking at the politics of the Palestinian Authority through this kind of lens, though I might of course do something completely different.

Stephen R. Weart (1998)Never at War: Why Democracies Will Not Fight One Another

As you will recall, I am interested in that democratic peace hypothesis thing. I picked up this book more or less at random to see what kind of explanation people throw out for this observable phenomenon.

Duncan Green (1995) Silent Revolution: The Rise of Market Economics in Latin America

In some ways I am just playing catch-up on the Latin American course I did last semester, in others laying the ground work for Peadar Kirby's development course in the autumn. This is the first edition of this book, and the only one you can borrow on long loan. The more recent second edition is perhaps more interesting, as its subtitle is the more exciting The Rise and Crisis of Market Economics in Latin America.

Mancur Olson (1965) The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups

I gather this book is quite famous. I also reckon it might be the anti-Bowling Alone, as Olson comes across as seeing groups as a bit dodge and hostile to the natural desire of most people to be left alone. That, anyway, is something I picked up from reading Tom Garvin's Preventing The Future, a book I really ought to get round to reviewing.

James Der Derian(ed) (1995) International Theory: Critical Investigations

As you know, I love theory. I would like to do research guided by some of the more wacky International Relations theories. If you're into that kind of stuff, Der Der Derian is your only man.

John L. Esposito(ed) (1997) Political Islam: Revolution, Radicalism, or Reform?

Political Islam, very interesting.

Adam Przeworski et al (2000) Democracy and Development: Political Institutions and Well-Being in the World, 1950-1990

I have had this book recommended to me when I expressed an interest in doing research that sought to compare the economic performance of different regime types. This book has lots of complicated looking tables showing all sorts of important variables.

I always feel sorry for multiple authors who aren't the first named on a book... it must be really annoying to endlessly see yourself cited as "et al".

Adam Przeworski (1991) Democracy and the Market: Political |and Economic Reforms in Eastern Europe and Latin America

I have borrowed this for similar reasons to Przeworski's other book. In this one it seems like he is trying to show how political institutions affect economic outcomes.

I hope I actually read these books.

14 June, 2006

Why do we have elections?

My old friend and quaffing partner Nicholas Whyte has provided a handy guide to upcoming elections, together with some information on how to go about observing them. Election observing sounds like great fun, a way of turning spectator politics into a job while feeling like you are advancing the cause of democratisation.

He also mentions a course you can do in observing elections. Sadly, it has been scheduled on a day on which I must attend a wedding (not mine, ladies).

I was very interested to see that Turkmenistan is having municipal elections this year. I wonder will Mr Nizayov Turmenbahsi's lot be re-elected!

13 June, 2006

The asocial Swiss

I've been reading that zeitgeisty book Bowling Alone, by Robert D. Putnam. You probably know of it already, if not it's about how people these days are much less likely to get involved in things than people in the past were, and how this is bad.

Anyway, there is a bit near the beginning where he talks about how low the participation rates in US elections are. The Americans have the lowest rate of voting in the developed world, with the exception of... The Swiss. It surprised me that the Swiss have such a low rate of voting, as I think of them as being very civic minded and being into doing things in the socially approved way. So I have started thinking about why they vote so little, and come up with some possible theories which I will now share with you.

1. They don't vote because they participate so much in public life through other means that the act of voting seems like an irrelevance. I'm thinking of all those military manoeuvres the blokes go on, but also all the checking on their neighbours' alcohol consumption and so on. Maybe if you are very civically engaged, marking a ballot paper seems a bit trivial.

2. They don't vote because Switzerland's weird power sharing system means that the same guys are always in power. That is, if elections change nothing, not even the faces at the top, then why vote?

3. They don't vote in national elections because the central government is relatively weak, and real power lies at the local level where people can take part in direct democratic activities. In other countries, local elections see lower turn-outs, but given Switzerland's strongly cantonal identity, maybe this is reversed there.

I don't know, can anyone come up with a better solution for this mystery?