Constitutional Design and the Scope of Authority

May 16–17, 2013

(All day)

Charles M. Harper Center
Organizers
Scott Ashworth, University of Chicago Harris School
Christopher Berry, University of Chicago
Ethan Bueno de Mesquita, University of Chicago Harris School
Tom Ginsburg, University of Chicago, Law School
Roger Myerson, University of Chicago
Richard Van Weelden, University of Chicago

Around the world in any given year, 10 to 15 constitutions will be written. Each presents complex questions of how to divide and delegate powers and duties. Similar choices allocate authority in different and evolving ways among states, counties, localities and voters. At each level, the choices made have significant impact, politically and economically.

Power Structures and Policy

Participants focused their discussions on the processes and incentives that voters, office holders, and other political actors engage with as they make decisions.

This conference presented new research exploring how different state and federal constitutional and governmental structures impact policy outcomes. Participants focused their discussions on the processes and incentives that voters, office holders, and other political actors engage with as they make decisions. The aim, according to conference co-organizer Tom Ginsburg, was "to get some traction on very real problems where there are very real consequences."

The conference analyzed the problems of multi-dimensional policy making with simple theoretical models and some empirical research. Several participating authors outlined seemingly straightforward constitutional mechanisms that are standards of constitutional design and then, using game theory, showed the complexity of their actual functions. Game theory models presented were notable for both corroborating existing empirical works and tampering with the foundations of accepted bodies of literature.

Direct democracy—wherein voters have the power to set policy through referenda—and transparency were among the elements of political systems that were shown to have negative, positive, or unintended and contradictory effects on the efficiency and representativeness of the constitutional system.

Locating Authority

The design question of the optimal scope of authority for elected or delegated offices was discussed from a wide range of perspectives. Participants discussed the trade-off between unified and divided authority. Related work examined the pros and cons of giving office-holders multiple responsibilities or mandates, also known as multi-task questions.

Participants discussed the trade-off between unified and divided authority.

Applying an economist's typical analysis of incentives revealed insights about political behavior. For instance, Andrea Mattozzi showed that voters' desire to maximize access to resources for their community will lead them to vote for a wealthy candidate who is less likely to serve their policy interests; the legislator's need to win those resources for voters will in turn shape policy outcomes. Likewise, Richard VanWeelden's model explained how re-election pressure will lead officeholders to champion divisive policies that don't serve the interests of the majority, and determine how much effort they will exert to enact those policies under different circumstances.

Participants commented on the conference's effective mechanism for feedback. "It is unusual to have two discussants," said Van Weelden, one of the conference organizers. Discussants were given significant time to present their remarks, and the audience chimed in with questions and comments that will help refine the work presented.

"It resulted in a competitiveness of a kind between the two discussants to provide truly useful and thorough analysis," said Wioletta Dziuda of Northwestern University. She also credited the unusual format with raising the bar for participant feedback and inspiring insightful debate at the conference.

May 16, 2013 (All day) May 17, 2013 (All day)