My Paper is on SSRN, and Other Project Updates

I received a great deal of feedback after my last post on the state of my paper. The most important of these came from Ryan Muldoon, who very generously laid out what he thought options were in seeking publication in an academic journal. He suggested some papers and books to engage with in the paper, which I fully intend to read (along with a couple of other papers in the same literature).

After giving it some thought, I decided to publish the current version of the paper on SSRN. You can read it here.

Based on Ryan’s suggestions, the next version of the paper will likely be a substantial rewrite.

  • The additional research and of course the writing itself will take time, and I intend to hold off on this until I’ve gotten to a few other things in the larger project this is a part of, which I’ll discuss below.
  • The biggest change will be to create section which reviews the literature on norms and the law, and place my paper in relation to it, and defend the strength of my particular approach over others.
  • The overall effect however will be to make the paper more thoroughgoingly theoretical, as I will likely need to chop down the bits of the history I go through in order to make space for putting the parts I do keep through a more granular analysis according to the framework.
  • In many ways, this simply continues the types of changes I made between the second draft and this one. But I quite like the current version. Even if it is not likely to fare well in the academic marketplace, I’d like to put it out there. Hence publishing it on SSRN.
  • Publishing it also leaves open the possibility of someone finding it and reaching out to (highly unlikely) talk about publishing it, or (more likely) offer valuable feedback.

So that’s where things stand.

The paper, of course, is just one piece in my ongoing research project, though by far the most rigorous output thusfar produced. But I have other things I’m going to be working on, largely book reviews, that are going to take priority over working on the paper for the time being.

The first of these will pair the volume Congress Overwhelmed with Joseph Heath’s The Machinery of Government.

Heath’s book continues to capture my imagination with its unflinching bullet-biting. In Heath’s view, the 20th century saw the decline of the active role of legislatures in political systems around the world, displaced by a ballooning executive branch. Rather than attempting to address this like most political scientists or theorists writing on the subject inevitably want to do, Heath articulates the implicit norms of the status quo, and defends them as continuous with the liberal project.

The contributors to Congress Overwhelmed, on the other hand, are looking at the decline of the American Congress specifically, and attempting to diagnose the specific causes and devise reforms to increase the centrality of that institution again.

Something I did not appreciate until I began this research project is the fact that “parliamentary supremacy” does not, in fact, imply that members of parliament have a larger role in those systems than members of Congress have in ours. Quite the opposite. Mass democracy and the rise of the administrative state have turned parliamentary government into ministerial government, as ministers (rather than a particular members of parliament) introduce all of the legislation, and since the Prime Minister is the head of the majority party (or governing coalition as the case may be), they are virtually guaranteed to have the votes they need. Members of Parliament therefore become a bit vestigial for legislative purposes, and Parliament itself becomes predominantly an indirect mechanism for the popular selection of ministers, as well as a provider of constituency services.

In Congress on the other hand, power is much more decentralized—though the extent to which this is true varies tremendously, especially in the House, but that there is a decentralization leg of the cycle at all is noteworthy, and even relatively centralized moments (such as the current one) are far more decentralized than parliamentary systems.

I see the pairing of these two books as asking whether the path taken by liberal democracies in the 20th century largely correct, or is substantial correction needed to strengthen the role of legislatures? Can they be strengthened, or is some version of the current status quo overdetermined by structural factors that cannot be meaningfully compensated for?

After that I plan to review A Pattern of Violence, which looks at the effects of how a crime gets classified, something highly relevant to my project.

And of course, my main role at Liberal Currents is not, in fact, as a writer, but as Editor-in-Chief! Never mind my responsibilities to my family and my actual employer; in short, it’s certainly going to be a matter of months before a substantially revised version of my paper, likely with another title to distinguish it from what I put on SSRN, can be completed.

That is the long and short (but mostly long) of it.

For the curious, the paper-specific reading that I’m going to be doing is:

  • The Grammer of Society by Cristina Bicchieri
  • Norms in the Wild by Cristina Bicchieri
  • “Social Meaning and Social Norms” by Larry Lessig
  • “The Regulation of Social Meaning” by Larry Lessig
  • “Social Norms and the Law: An Economic Approach” by Richard Posner
  • “The Bases of Cooperation: Social Norms and the Rule of Law” by Jack Knight
  • “A Grammar of Institutions” by Sue Crawford and Elinor Ostrom

That’s the current list, anyway. I’m sure it will grow. It always does.

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Adam Gurri

Adam Gurri works in digital advertising and writes for pleasure on his spare time.