2006 William H. Riker Prize in Political Science
Awarded on May 3, 2006, to Barry R. Weingast
Report of the 2006 Riker Prize Committee
Citation by Professor James Johnson
The Award to Barry R. Weingast
We are pleased to award the 2006 William H. Riker Prize in Political Science to Barry Weingast of Stanford University. Once again the selection committee was chaired by James Johnson (Rochester) and included a past recipient of the prize Robert Bates (Harvard) and an alumnus of the department John Huber (Columbia).
This is the fourth time the Riker Prize has been awarded. It is, to the best of my knowledge, the first time it has been awarded to someone who actually wrote something with Bill.
William Riker and Barry Weingast. Constitutional Regulation of Legislative Choice: The Political Consequences of Judicial Deference to Legislatures. 74 Virginia Law Review 373-401 (1988).
Barry Weingast earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Mathematics at the University of California, Santa Cruz, in 1973 and his PhD in Economics at California Institute of Technology in 1978. He taught in the Department of Economics and then the School of Business at Washington University in St. Louis from 1977 through 1988. He then moved to the Hoover Institution where he remains a Senior Fellow. In 1992 he joined the Department of Political Science at Stanford where he currently holds the Ward C. Krebs Family Professorship.
Barry has been a tremendously productive and influential scholar. Between 1979 and 2005 he published, by my count, 55 articles in refereed journals, including the very top journals in political science, economics and law. In addition, he has published nearly as many essays in edited volumes. What I want to call your attention to, however, is something I noticed about this output that is quite impressive. Of the 55 papers he has published in refereed journals, 22 have been excerpted, reprinted, anthologized, collected, translated and so forth, in many cases repeatedly. In a discipline where the half-life of what we consider contributions to knowledge is - to be polite - exceptionally short, this pattern attests to a remarkable intellectual impact.
Barry has made several quite diverse, but nonetheless fundamental contributions to political science over a sustained period of time. In the eyes of the award committee three of these stand out as especially important.
Structure-Induced Equilibrium. In the 1980s Barry published, with Rochester Ph.D, Ken Shepsle, a series papers in which they elaborated an approach to legislative decision-making that accords crucial importance to institutional factors.
Kenneth Shepsle and Barry Weingast. 1981. "Structure-Induced Equilibrium and Legislative Choice, Public Choice 37:503-19.
Kenneth Shepsle and Barry Weingast. 1982. "Institutionalizing Majority Rule, American Economic Review 72:367-71.
Kenneth Shepsle and Barry Weingast. 1984. "When Do Rules of Procedure Matter, Journal of Politics 46:206221.
Kenneth Shepsle and Barry Weingast. 1987. "The Institutional Foundations of Committee Powers" American Political Science Review 81:85-104.
These papers were nothing short of path-breaking. In the late 1970s several formal theorists - including Rochester Ph.D. Richard McKelvey and Norman Schofield - who won the Riker Prize in 2002 - had produced quite general disequilibrium results for majority decision-making. These results showed roughly that in multi-dimensional settings any aggregation process can produce "chaotic" outcomes in the sense that from any point in the "policy space" voting can generate cycles that potentially can fill the entire space. Bill Riker found these results troubling and in a 1980 APSR paper addressed what he took to be the Implications from the Disequilibrium of Majority Rule for the Study of Institutions. Shepsle and Weingast approached this intellectual problem by pointing out that the disequilibrium results were largely an artifact of the institutionally unbound policy space captured in the models. They showed that if one attended to the specifics of the rules governing the power to propose, amend and veto bills, the potential for chaos became a special and, indeed, extreme case. Instead of disequilibrium we would more likely expect institutional equilibria.
Extensions of Positive Political Theory to Bureaucratic Institutions. In the mid-1980's Barry published a series ofpapers on the problems posed by the need for legislative oversight of regulatory agencies. Of these, two bear special mention:
Barry Weingast and Mark Moran. 1983. Bureaucratic Discretion or Congressional Control Regulatory Policymaking by the Federal Trade Commission, Journal of Political Economy 91:765-800.
Barry Weingast. 1984. The Congressional Bureaucratic System: A Principal-Agent Perspective, Public Choice 44:147-88.
In order to appreciate the impact of these papers consider the assessment of someone who very much is a recognized expert in the field - Gary Miller of Washington University. Miller singles out these papers for the extraordinary impetus they provided to a crucially important field of research. He says:
Weingasts articles constitute an enormous contribution to the study of congressional oversight and public bureaucracy by exemplifying quantitative research directed at precise questions (e.g., what are the political and other determinants of bureaucratic outputs?) derived from rigorous theory. Almost single-handedly, these articles raised the bar for academic research in the area of bureaucracy.
Miller offered this testimony some two decades after these papers initially appeared. In his assessment too we can appreciate something mentioned earlier - Barrys work has had sustained impact well beyond the immediate intellectual milieu in which it appears.
An Analytical Narrative of American Political Crisis. In the late 1980s and early 1990s Barry turned his attention to broader problems of political order and economic development. Working with a group of economists and economic historians - Douglass North, Paul Milgrom and Avner Greif - he focused on matters of what we might think of as the foundations of constitutional politics. This joint work generated systematic insight into the problem confronting those wishing to establish a central government strong enough to insure the property rights and provide the contract enforcement that are pre-requisite to trade with partners who are distant geographically, temporally or both. The problem for any such government, of course, consists in establishing a credible commitment to not use its considerable powers to expropriate the property or wealth of those whom it purports to protect.
Once again, Barry brought this analytical program to bear on a set of themes that were directly central to Bill Riker's theoretical, historical, and methodological agenda. Theoretically he focused on the institutional bases of political order and especially the importance of federalism. Historically he focused on the political crises that culminated in the American Civil War. And methodologically he focused on the relationship between game theoretic techniques and empirical analysis. Although Barry has produced an as yet unpublished book-length manuscript on this topic (Institutions and Political Commitment: A New Political Economy of the American Civil War - Hoover Institution, 2000) perhaps the most readily available installments of this project are:
Barry Weingast. 1997. The Political Foundations of Democracy and the Rule of Law, American Political Science Review 91:245-63.
Barry Weingast. 1998. Political Stability and the Civil War: Institutions, Commitment, and American Democracy In Bates, Robert, Avner Greif, Margaret Levi, Jean-Laurent Rosenthal and Barry R. Weingast. Analytical Narratives. Princeton University Press.
In this work Barry supplements the same technical apparatus he developed in the papers on structure-induced equilibrium with game theoretic analyses to show how in the lead up to the American Civil War a particular convention, namely the Balance Rule in the U.S. Senate, provided an institutional commitment mechanism that allowed the federal system to function relatively smoothly. This rule insured that the North and South would have an equal number of states and that slave and free states would be admitted to the union in pairs. It thereby essentially afforded sectional interests on each side a veto on what they might deem overreaching legislation pushed by the other. This institutional analysis affords a corrective to more traditional historical accounts that focus primarily on either ideology or party politics.
It is crucial to note that here, as in his work on legislative decision-making, Barry demonstrates how formal modeling can be brought to bear on large questions of enduring political and normative significance. He does so not by fixating his empirical energies in the first instance on the narrow task of hypothesis testing but instead uses his formal apparatus for the properly theoretical task of illuminating the underlying causal mechanisms that sustained political order in the ante-bellum United States and whose breakdown precipitated massive political crisis and war. He does so, too, by attending to the details of the historical case rather than by abstracting from them. This, simply put, is an accomplishment of the first order. And it is one that Bill Riker surely would find intellectually provocative.