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«Notes and Comments The Contradictory Effects of Consensus Democracy on the Size of Government: Evidence from the Swiss Cantons ADRIAN VATTER MARKUS ...»

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B.J.Pol.S. 37, 359–367 Copyright © 2007 Cambridge University Press

doi:10.1017/S0007123407000178 Printed in the United Kingdom

Notes and Comments

The Contradictory Effects of Consensus Democracy on the Size of

Government: Evidence from the Swiss Cantons



In this research note we have set ourselves the following three principal objectives. First,

we show that the well-known concept of consensus democracy,1 which covers various forms of the division of power, involves analytical problems. Confusion may arise when relating consensus democracy to government action, because the institutions subsumed under the broad concept of consensus democracy, such as executive power-sharing, the multiparty system and federalism, are likely to have different and contradictory effects on the size of government. In this vein, we provide considerable evidence that different aspects of consensus democracy have contradictory effects on government size. In doing so, we endorse the view that it is only variance in the type of democracy (majoritarian versus consensus democracy) that causes systematic differences in government action.2 Secondly, in scrutinizing the contradictory effects of various aspects of consensus democracy on government size, we distinguish and operationalize the three different analytical views of Crepaz, Lijphart and Tsebelis on how political institutions may be distinguished with regard to their veto nature.3 Thirdly, we try to close a gap in understanding comparative politics, by quantifying and comparing the veto potential of direct democracy. International comparative investigations of the effects of direct democracy on public policy are hardly possible. The Swiss cantons present themselves as a suitable alternative source of evidence, given that they vary considerably with respect to their plebiscitary elements.

To understand why consensus democracies have a contradictory effect on government size, it is crucial to bear in mind that there are two separate dimensions of the majoritarian–consensual contrast.4 The first is based on five variables, which include the party system, the electoral system and government coalitions, and it is called the joint-power (or executive-parties) dimension; the second is based on five variables and may be conveniently labelled the divided-power (or federal–unitary) dimension.

According to Taagepera, Lijphart’s two dimensions are very different in kind.5 They differ in the nature of the indices used, in the existence of logical models to connect the indices and in the number of entry points of the institutional structure. Our main hypothesis is that the two dimensions of * Department of Politics and Management, University of Konstanz.

Arend Lijphart, Democracies. Patterns of Majoritarian and Consensus Government in Twenty-One Countries (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1984); Arend Lijphart, Patterns of Democracy: Government Forms and Performance in Thirty-Six Countries (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1999).

Klaus Armingeon, ‘The Effects of Negotiation Democracy’, European Journal of Political Research, 41 (2004), 81–105; Margrit Tavits, ‘The Size of Government in Majoritarian and Consensus Democracies’, Comparative Political Studies, 37 (2004), 340–9.

Markus M. L. Crepaz, ‘Global, Constitutional, and Partisan Determinants of Redistribution in Fifteen OECD Countries’, Comparative Politics, 35 (2002), 169–88; Lijphart, Patterns of Democracy; George Tsebelis, Veto Players: How Political Institutions Work (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2002).

Lijphart, Patterns of Democracy, pp. 243ff.

Rein Taagepera, ‘Arend Lijphart’s Dimensions of Democracy: Logical Connections and Institutional Design’, Political Studies, 51 (2003), 1–19.

360 Notes and Comments consensus democracies differ not only in relation to their logical interconnections and their susceptibility to institutional design, but also in their effect on the size of government: on the one hand, the first dimension of consensus democracies has been claimed to show a tendency towards state expansion due to executive power-sharing, proportional representation and the multiparty system.6 On the other hand, government policy making in the second dimension of consensus democracies is supposed to be restricted, due to the fact that the numerous veto points provided by federalism and decentralization force the actors to restrict their influence on government expenditure.

The first part of our hypothesis would appear to be at odds with the veto player theory, which argues that the higher the number of (partisan and institutional) veto players is, the more difficult it is to change the status quo, which in turn limits the capacity of the state to expand.7 Following Crepaz, we argue, in contrast, that there are two different kinds of veto player with contradictory effects on policy outcomes:8 as far as institutional veto players – separate agencies with mutual veto powers, as in federalism and direct democracy – are concerned, one would indeed expect them to restrain government. Here, political power is diffused by means of institutional separation and mutual veto power, leading to deadlock and a restrictive effect. In connection with this kind of veto player, Crepaz uses the term ‘competitive veto points’.9 However, the opposite is true for partisan veto players, such as parties in a coalition government or parties in multi-party legislatures. Parties in oversized coalitions share collective authority and interact with each other on a face-to-face-basis without the protection of separate institutions with respective veto powers. Among partisan veto players, there is an inherent bias for all the coalition partners to pursue expansionary policies through logrolling. The parties have to deal with each other on an ongoing basis, but at the same time they have distinct constituencies with distinctive preferences. All in all, coalition governments and multiparty legislatures have less capacity to exercise restraint in government expenditure. Crepaz uses the term ‘collective veto points’10 in connection with this second type of veto player. Obviously, the distinction between the two dimensions of consensus democracy corresponds closely to Crepaz’s concepts of collective and competitive veto points,11 in the sense that the first dimension (executive–parties) is more or less identical with ‘collective veto points’, whereas in the second dimension (federal–unitary) there are ‘competitive veto points’. On the one hand, a high score on collective veto points results when different parties share power within a single body; on the other hand, constitutional features such as decentralization and direct democracy create competitive veto points by allowing agents controlling different bodies to prevent policies being enacted. Collective veto points lead to more shared responsibility, extended negotiation and logrolling, which should have an expansive effect on government expenditure; whereas competitive veto points, based on each agent’s respective veto powers, should have the capacity to restrain government.

Bringing together the different theoretical concepts of consensus democracy, the veto player and veto points enables us to state our main hypothesis more precisely:12 on the one hand, elements of Lijphart, Patterns of Democracy, pp. 245 ff.

George Tsebelis, ‘Decision Making in Political Systems: Veto Players in Presidentialism, Parliamentarism, Multicameralism and Multipartyism’, British Journal of Political Science, 25 (1995), 289–325; Tsebelis, Veto Players.

Crepaz, ‘Global, Constitutional, and Partisan Determinants of Redistribution’, p. 173.

Crepaz, ‘Global, Constitutional, and Partisan Determinants of Redistribution’, p. 173.

Crepaz, ‘Global, Constitutional, and Partisan Determinants of Redistribution’, p. 173.

Crepaz, ‘Global, Constitutional, and Partisan Determinants of Redistribution’.

Lijphart, Democracies; Lijphart, Patterns of Democracy; Tsebelis, ‘Decision Making in Political Systems:

Veto Players in Presidentialism, Parliamentarism, Multicameralism and Multipartyism’; Tsebelis, Veto Players;

Ellen Immergut, Health Politics: Interests and Institutions in Western Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992); Crepaz, ‘Global, Constitutional, and Partisan Determinants of Redistribution in Fifteen OECD Countries’.

Notes and Comments 361 the joint power dimension of consensus democracy, partisan veto players and collective veto points, such as multiparty government coalition and multiparty legislature, promote the size of the state.

On the other hand, features of the divided power dimension of consensus democracies, institutional veto players and competitive veto points, like federalism, decentralization and direct democracy, act as a brake on the size of government.

D A T A, V A R I A B L E S A N D M E T H O D

This research note investigates variance in the size of government among the twenty-six Swiss cantons during the decade from 1990 to 2000. Switzerland’s cantons are ideally suited for a systematic empirical comparison because they meet the requirements of ‘most-similar cases’ design:13 on the one hand, the cantons show a substantial degree of similarity with respect to consolidated structural elements, while on the other they differ considerably as regards executive power sharing, the fragmentation of the party system and the decentralization of fiscal powers. It is potentially less difficult to create ceteris paribus conditions for a systematic comparison of cantonal systems than for a cross-national comparison, since the cantons have many characteristics in common that can be treated as constants. Furthermore, international comparative research has shown that Switzerland is one of the world’s most decentralized federal states.14 Article 3 of the Swiss federal constitution guarantees the cantons’ sovereignty in all spheres which the constitution does not explicitly place within federal government competence. Moreover, tax sovereignty lies primarily with the cantons and secondarily with the federal government. This justifies the treatment of the cantons as sovereign units in this analysis. Finally, the Swiss cantons offer a unique opportunity to quantify and compare the veto potential of direct democracy.15 This would hardly be possible at national level as the large majority of modern industrial states are parliamentary democracies.16 We test our main hypothesis on the basis of pooled cross-sectional time series models.17 The explained variable is the size of government, which is measured by two indicators, namely total Adam Przeworski and Henry Teune, The Logic of Comparative Social Inquiry (New York: Wiley, 1970).

Some eminent scholars of comparative politics have long been demanding that the results of international comparative research should be verified at the sub-national level (see Arend Lijphart, ‘Comparative Politics and the Comparative Method’; American Political Science Review, 65 (1971), 682–93). In his preface to Vatter’s study (Adrian Vatter, Kantonale Demokratien im Vergleich: Entstehungsgrunde, Interaktionen und Wirkungen ¨ politischer Institutionen in den Schweizer Kantonen (Opladen: Leske and Budrich, 2002) p. 3), Lijphart makes the following statement about the author’s research design: ‘The justification of focusing on the Swiss cantons is especially strong because they are powerful political entities in an unusually decentralized federation. Another advantage is that there are 26 cantons – a sufficient number of cases for statistical analysis.’ See Appendix table for details of each canton.

Mikhail Filippov, Peter C. Ordeshook and Olga Shvetsova, Designing Federalism: A Theory of Self-sustainable Federal Institutions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003); David McKay, Designing Europe: Comparative Lessons from the Federal Experience (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001).

Manfred G. Schmidt, Demokratietheorien (Opladen: Leske & Budrich, 2000), p. 350.

David Butler and Austin Ranney, Referendums Around the World: The Growing Use of Direct Democracy (London: Basingstoke, 1994).

The difficulties of this design are heteroscedasticity and autocorrelation. To eliminate heteroscedasticity, we compute panel-corrected standard errors. The bias from serial correlation in the residuals is, however, actually more important (cf. Nathaniel Beck and Jonathan N. Katz, ‘What to Do (and Not to Do) With Time Series Cross Section Data’, American Political Science Review, 89 (1995), 634–47; Bernhard Kittel and Hannes Winner, ‘How Reliable Is Pooled Analysis in Political Economy: The Globalization–Welfare State nexus revisited’, European Journal of Political Research, 44 (2005), 269–93). One way of modelling autocorrelation is to include lagged dependent variables among the explanatory variables. However, in this way, the actual significance of the institutional variables of interest will be underestimated. In line with Kittel (Bernhard Kittel, ‘Sense and Sensitiveness in Pooled Analysis of Political Data’, European Journal of Political Research, 35 (1999), 225–53, pp. 230f), we therefore use the Prais–Winsten method to adjust the biased standard errors. Due to the small number 362 Notes and Comments public expenditure and total public revenue in per capita terms. Our figures correspond to the sum of annual cantonal and municipal state expenditure as reported by the Federal Finance Administration.18 Thus, we concentrate on the usual core variables of government size as used in cross-national public policy research by Armingeon, Lijphart and Schmidt.19 The independent variables are specified as follows: consensus democracy of the first dimension (collective veto points; partisan veto player) has been translated into two measurable and observable variables. Crepaz and Lijphart take the size of the governing coalition to reflect the extent to which different political and social groups are integrated in the executive (grand coalition).20 To measure the scope of the government coalition, we choose an index which consists of the share of seats of governmental parties in the cantonal parliament (divided by 100) plus the number of these parties.

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