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The Strategic Constitution [Hardcover]

Robert D. Cooter

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10 April 2000 0691058644 978-0691058641

Making, amending, and interpreting constitutions is a political game that can yield widespread suffering or secure a nation's liberty and prosperity. Given these high stakes, Robert Cooter argues that constitutional theory should trouble itself less with literary analysis and arguments over founders' intentions and focus much more on the real-world consequences of various constitutional provisions and choices. Pooling the best available theories from economics and political science, particularly those developed from game theory, Cooter's economic analysis of constitutions fundamentally recasts a field of growing interest and dramatic international importance.

By uncovering the constitutional incentives that influence citizens, politicians, administrators, and judges, Cooter exposes fault lines in alternative forms of democracy: unitary versus federal states, deep administration versus many elections, parliamentary versus presidential systems, unicameral versus bicameral legislatures, common versus civil law, and liberty versus equality rights. Cooter applies an efficiency test to these alternatives, asking how far they satisfy the preferences of citizens for laws and public goods.

To answer Cooter contrasts two types of democracy, which he defines as competitive government. The center of the political spectrum defeats the extremes in "median democracy," whereas representatives of all the citizens bargain over laws and public goods in "bargain democracy." Bargaining can realize all the gains from political trades, or bargaining can collapse into an unstable contest of redistribution. States plagued by instability and contests over redistribution should move towards median democracy by increasing transaction costs and reducing the power of the extremes. Specifically, promoting median versus bargain democracy involves promoting winner-take-all elections versus proportional representation, two parties versus multiple parties, referenda versus representative democracy, and special governments versus comprehensive governments.

This innovative theory will have ramifications felt across national and disciplinary borders, and will be debated by a large audience, including the growing pool of economists interested in how law and politics shape economic policy, political scientists using game theory or specializing in constitutional law, and academic lawyers. The approach will also garner attention from students of political science, law, and economics, as well as policy makers working in and with new democracies where constitutions are being written and refined.

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"For anyone looking for a textbook that provides a systematic introduction to the economic analysis of constitutional law in an accessible manner while covering a wide range of topics, it would . . . be hard to find a more suitable book. . . . [It] will encourage students to think about constitutional analysis from a new perspective in an engaging way."--Georg Vanberg, Law and Politics Book Review

"Cooter has written a very useful book. . . . It is important to identify the general principles--the engineering principles if you like--that underlie the structure of effective constitutions. And that is just what the author has done."--Michael C. Munger, Regulation

"A clear and comprehensive introduction to modern work in political economy and rational choice as it applies to the strategic analysis of government structure. The book blends normative and positive concerns in an enlightening way. . . . The book has an admirable emphasis on constitutional structure and on the strategic opportunities created by alternative ways of organizing government."--Susan Rose-Ackerman, Political Science Quarterly

"The Strategic Constitution comprehensively analyzes constitutional issues. The result is impressive. Scholars seeking a stronger grasp of constitutional issues, and teachers seeking an economically sound theoretical foundation for teaching constitutional law, will find this book quite useful."--Donald J. Boudreaux, American Law and Economics

"A tour de force through a large number of fields of economic theory, ranging from social choice to fiscal federalism, written by one of the most distinguished fellows of the law-and-economics branch of professionalism. . . ."--Journal of Economics

"Robert D. Cooter has written a marvelous book. The Strategic
is truly a tour de force, applying economic analysis to virtually the full range of constitutional issues that arise in a democracy and doing so in a way that is both engaging and sprinkled with humor. . . . The book deserves to be standard reading for those with a serious interest in the fit between constitutions and democratic values."--Stephen Brooks, Democratization

From the Inside Flap

"This is a superb synthesis, application, and extension of four decades of research in economics and political science on the effects of formal political institutions on economics, law, and politics. Cooter is extraordinarily adept at crossing the disciplinary boundaries among economics, law, and politics. The book will be a wonderful textbook for advanced undergraduates and graduate students in the three disciplines. Moreover, many of Cooter's original arguments will generate considerable interest among leading social scientists as well. The scope of the book is simply breathtaking."--Geoffrey Garrett, Yale University

"I found this book to be incredibly stimulating. The field of law and economics is always a provocative source of ideas, forcing even the most reluctant consumer to rethink her own views and be more precise about articulating them as she works out a reply to the economic analysis on offer. Cooters analyses of constitutional law problems are no exception to this, and any good student or sophisticated reader will develop ideas or arguments that are much better grounded for having thought his analyses through."--Bruce Chapman, University of Toronto

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IN A DEMOCRACY, candidates compete for office and the votes of citizens determine the winners. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.2 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good undergraduate text, Mueller (1996) may be a better buy 25 Jun 2001
By A Customer - Published on
This is an excellent introduction to the study of constitutions and the organization of government. The author did a wonderful job at selecting topics that related to each other and provided a rather complete bird's eye view of how economics can be used to study government. When I first browsed at its table of contents, I thought this was THE book I needed for my research on public administration and political economy(at least in this respect, the topics here are more cohesive than the smosgarbord of Persson and Tabellini's Political Economics or Drazen's Political Economy and Macroeconomics). Despite its breadth, however, Cooter's book lacks in depth of analysis, and this makes it more suitable as an undergraduate text or an introduction to nonspecialists. I agree with the first reviewer that the book is not very good at justifying assumptions and that the analysis provided can be simplistic at times. For instance, one major weakness stems from the author's obsessive adherence to the original methods of the field of Law and Economics; namely, the emphasis on basic price theory and microeconomic theory, which makes the book read more like an undergraduate text in (applied) economics. What is lacking, and this is what makes Persson and Tabellini's and Drazen's books superior, is a more systematic and rigorous use of contemporary tools such as game theory. Because it lacks rigor, this book is not suitable for research or reference purposes. It is also dated in the sense that it clings to a Law and Economics paradigm that is decades behind the latest work in positive or formal political theory.
If you are serious about studying economic models of politics for research purposes, I would suggest buying the following books:
1) Persson and Tabellini, Political Economics, MIT Press, 2000.
Written by economists, this book focuses TOO MUCH on economic policy, but the first part on foundations and analytical tools is one of the best I have seen. In their favor, the authors also do a good job at describing the frontier of research and the limitations of their book.
2) Drazen, Political Economy in Macroeconomics, Princeton 2000.
This book is also written by an economist, and, unsurprisingly, it is biased towards economic policy. Like the previous book, it has chapters that teach you the underlying models. In addition, the author does have a unifying theme throughout the whole book, so despite the various topics, you can make sense of the analytical power you gain by explicitly adding political elements to mainstream (macro)economic models.
3) For an overview of applications, you could either buy Cooter's book, or, in my view, a better book (in terms of depth, although less cohesive in substance) on public choice:
Dennis Mueller (ed.), Perspectives on Public Choice: A Handbook, Cambridge 1996.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Constitutional Law and Economics 10 Aug 2002
By Francesco Lovecchio - Published on
Well written, simple and complete. If I wasn't aware of the existing public choice literature I would have thought that this branch of economics (or law?) is mature and well developed, and that this book is a University textbook for a would-be course in Constitutional law and economics (if ever tought). However, this field is still fresh and unchartered, and this book gives a good idea of what to expect next.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very useful synopsis of key themes 26 April 2004
By Antonio - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
If economic analysis of law had developed in continental Europe it would probably have begun with Constitutional law, rather than torts (Cf. Calabresi, the Cost of Accidents). As it was, the body of economic analysis of constitutional law is just starting to come together from a variety of sources, including public choice theory. Cooter came up with the idea for this book by way of discussions with European constitutional law experts. The book has all the merits of Cooter & Ulen's "Law and Economics". It is very easy to follow because it has been clearly written. It is not as deep, but neither is it as verbose as Posner, nor as insightful, or as superficial, as Sunstein. As a law and economics professor I have found it a Godsend. Its many examples and exercises make it a perfect undegraduate textbook, and it is high time it were translated into other languages (particularly Spanish, where there is no equivalent contemporary text). One would hope that Cooter would follow it up with a casebook with American and European cases. This is still a white space, and there's no one better qualified than Cooter to fill it up.
One caveat is that The Stratetic Constitution still shows the joints between some of the chapters and the greater whole, and there seem to be other subjects which could have been dealt with in greater detail, such as the impact of positive constitutional rights, which is significant in many countries whose systems are based on statutory law.
5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Simplicity Constitution 26 Jan 2001
By A Customer - Published on
Cooter's work the Strategic Constitution is inciteful in many regards. People not well versed in Law and Economics will find it a refreshing and easy to understand conception of the constitutional scheme. He presents his ideas clearly and doesn't assume too much about the lay reader's understanding of law or economics. It is a valuable first step into seeing Constitutional schemes through a less traditional lens. On the other hand, where the book is solid for novices, it is quite deficient for serious students of either law or economics. In his attempt to explain constituitonal issues using economics, he is guilty of oversimplying models to absurdity -- which, to some extent, is deceptive for non-students of law and economics. He rarely states assumptions or faults with his model or where new research is required to make the models more dynamic. The strategies implied are usually monotonic failing to realize that actors will modify their strategies for a more dynamic and complicated outcome if the results he presents are accurate. These faults are best shown in his seperation of powers analysis which not only improperly erroneously only considers "single-issue problems" but, along this vain, fails to factor in politics (or more complex strategic interactions) and non-policy focused preferences which occur and effect outcomes. For example, let's say A doesn't like a policy but is of the President's party, Cooter assumes (or by default assumes) that this person will vote to override a Presidential veto. Another failure of the book is its lack of empirical support. He cites few studies which are explained rather poorly. Overall, it is hard to believe that forty years of law and economics has not more flesh than the skeleton Cooter presents.
0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars SLOW SHIPPING 27 Aug 2010
By A. Sang - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Needed this book ASAP. Ordered Expedited on Aug 23, it's Aug 27 and still no confirmation that they even sent it.
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