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  • Reply to Andrea Louise Campbell
  • Eric M. Patashnik (bio)

Andrea Louise Campbell's remarks about my book Reforms at Risk are satisfying to receive not only because of their generosity but because of their source. In the collective effort to bring attention to history and temporal forces within the orbit of mainstream political science, few scholars have made more important and creative empirical contributions over the past decade than Campbell. I especially appreciate her keen probing of the reach and limitations of my argument. Let me offer the following responses to the very stimulating questions that she raises.

Campbell's first question is whether my analysis specifies necessary or sufficient conditions for reform sustainability. It does not. My analysis suggests that several factors shape how a reform evolves, including its relative timing, the policy legacies that the reform seeks to alter or displace, and the strategy and design of the reform itself. The burden of my argument, however, is that the two most important factors in shaping outcomes are institutions and interest-group feedbacks. I deliberately steered away from the language of "necessary and sufficient" conditions because my analysis presumes probabilistic, not deterministic, causation. The configuration of institutions and interests influences the susceptibility of a reform to downstream erosion, entrenchment, or reversal. It loads the dice. But it does not determine outcomes because, as I show, the fate of reforms is never completely settled, even if some pathways are largely foreclosed.

What I think my work does reveal is that different factors shape reform trajectories in different ways. Here Campbell's reading of my work is particularly shrewd and insightful. Institutions matter in part because they affect the credibility of the political commitments underlying reforms. They establish the [End Page 262] structural frameworks in which political contestation over reform outcomes takes place, channeling conflicts in some directions rather than others. It may be theoretically possible for other mechanisms, such as a deep consensus on the legitimate role of government, to serve this anchoring function. In practice, however, institutions are essential to governance and conflict management in our pluralistic democratic polity. Hence institutional configurations require close attention. Interest-group feedbacks matter because they directly affect the level and nature of support for the extension of a reform's line of policy development. Rather than asking whether institutions or interests are primary, I find it more productive to examine their interaction effects. My analysis thus explores how institutions and interests may both cause one another and come into tension and conflict during the critical postenactment phase.

Campbell's second question is whether sustainable reform is even possible in policy arenas that are central to legislators' reelection needs. As I argue, the congressional penchant to "bring home the bacon," "serve the organized," and meddle with even relatively well-functioning markets can pose a major obstacle to the sustainability of general-interest reforms. Some arenas offer such rich opportunities for legislative credit claiming that any effort to improve public policy constitutes an explicit threat to the powers and privileges of Congress itself. Yet history suggests that some policy arenas that were once mired in reelection-driven, particularistic favor provision have been durably reformed. An example—which I did not give sufficient attention to in the book—is liberal trade policy. For much of the late nineteenth century, Congress served protectionist interests by maintaining high barriers to free trade. While Democratic Congresses sometimes voted to lower tariffs on particular goods, the interests of consumers and exporters were systematically underrepresented. But Congress was able to reconfigure trade policy through the enactment of the Reciprocal Trade Agreement Act of 1934. The RTAA employed several mechanisms to durably collapse logrolling coalitions supportive of high tariffs. These included the shifting of trade decisions from the tax arena (in which Congress considered each tariff separately) to treaty negotiation (in which the president negotiated comprehensive trade packages with other nations). The enactment of the RTAA was motivated by the desire of the Democratic Party leadership to "build support for free trade within the party and to insulate trade policy from a future Republican Congress."1 This suggests to me that the partisan incentive to lock in future electoral gains can sometimes...


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