The Merits Of Comparative Political Analysis

Comparative political analysis seeks to understand decisions by tracing the interplay of values, institutions, behaviors and processes within the historical, socio-cultural and economic contexts established by nations-states. By tradition, comparative politics confines itself to the national and subnational levels. Interactions among states are reserved for the sub-fields of international relations and international political economy. But these sub-disciplinary boundaries have never been perfectly clear. Trespassing is common and trespassers have produced important new insights. In international relations, the levels of analysis debate (see chapter 1) visits and revisits the national and sub-national roots of state behavior. Proponents of the modernization and dependency schools argue over the roles played by global and domestic actors in determining the types and levels of development found within nation-states (see chapter 2). Fernando Enrique Cardoso and Peter Evans, to name just two, combined studies of coalition formation among national political and economic elites with analyses of the international capitalist economy to explain development and its limits in dependent states.1 Scholars of comparative politics have never felt obligated to limit their studies to policies and behaviors without international effects or implications. Indeed, it is hard to imagine what those might be. Appropriately, textbooks for comparative politics courses at colleges and universities now almost invariably include discussions of globalization,2 and political scientists writting about globalization freely integrate societal and systemic levels of analysis.3

The tools of the comparativist—large number cross-national studies, most-similar and least-similar-case comparisons, and theoretically informed qualitative case studies—have yielded a rich body of observations and propositions on the fundamental questions of politics. Over time, the shifting and competing paradigms of comparative political analysis have improved our understanding of the formation, stability and functionality of institutions; the requisites and prerequisites of democracy and dictatorship; the causal chains that link culture, values, attitudes, and behavior; and the complex interactions among economic factors, social structure and political power.4

Environmental politics, because of the transboundary nature of most environmental problems and the global concerns raised by the fate of charismatic creatures and landscapes, provides rigorous tests for the saliency of comparative political analysis. We have selected sets of examples— countries and cases—that suggest how those tests may be conducted. What we have done is quite preliminary, because at the present stage of knowledge about global environmental problems, that is all that can be done. As mentioned in chapter 1, more systematic, cross-national comparisons will require more accurate indicators of environmental conditions—pollution levels, degree of endangerment to species and ecosystems—for most countries on the planet. But the studies cited in this volume indicate that comparative political analyses have already begun to identify and hypothesize about variations in the propensity of nation-states for addressing environmental problems within their own borders and globally.

Looking at climate change, we address an issue that is intrinsically global, and has spawned high-profile international regimes, agreements and epistemic communities. Yet we are struck by the amount of national variation in the search for solutions by states, and the importance of national-level decision-making in determining the success or failure of international environmental regimes. To explain Russian policy on the Kyoto Protocols, for example, we need to understand the relationship between executive and legislative branches and the current state of the Russian economy. To explain the different responses of the EU and United States we look to differences in electoral systems, patterns of interest group representation and the concentration of political power within and among national and sub-national governments.

The study of biodiversity loss makes an equally compelling case for comparative political analysis. International campaigns and networks have been critical for creating marine protected areas, nature reserves, and parks in LDCs and EDCs that are home to endangered species. But the actual level of protection achieved ultimately rests on the capacity of states to make and implement effective policy. Lack of capacity and competing domestic political interests make "paper parks" an all too common problem in LDCs.

Yet EDCs that cooperate actively in international regimes such as CITES still experience intense political battles over habitat preservation and predator control within their own borders, and fail to satisfy international standards on biodiversity protection. One cannot understand the spotted owl controversy in the U.S. state of Oregon, or the determination of Alaska's state government to continue aerial wolf hunting, without understanding the economic, cultural and ideological cleavages in those two states and the relationship between the states and the federal government.

Environmental politics tends to confirm a consistent finding of comparative political analysis: the persistence of systematic differences between developed and developing countries in policy-making capacity, development strategies, political openness, rule of law, and the efficacy of civil society organizations. But it also raises questions that require additional research. For example, comparing Chinese and U.S. ENGOs, environmental bureaucracies and legal practices reinforces some of what we already believe about the differences between authoritarian and democratic regimes, and developed and developing economies. Yet it is not entirely clear that authoritarian polities lack the ability to attain progressive environmental outcomes. China's afforestation and reforestation campaigns are the largest in human history, with the potential for making major contributions to carbon sequestration. And Cuba has begun to abandon large-scale sugar cultivation and is pursuing aggressive programs in organic agriculture and the cultivation of naturopathic medicines. And comparing the effects of corporatism on environmental groups in Western Europe and Mexico demonstrates the need to refine propositions about interest groups and social policy at the national level. Corporatist OECD countries tend to perform better than pluralist ones in environmental protection. But party corporatism in Mexico protects entrenched interests with authoritarian political "styles" making it difficult for environmental groups to enter "normal" politics even as Mexico democratizes.

An important question for any study of environmental politics is whether the environment constitutes a politically unique issue area that invalidates conventional disciplinary and subdisciplinary approaches to political science. We observe in chapter 1 that globalization poses significant challenges to the ability of states to protect and promote the interests of citizens, and that environmental issues, agreements and networks play an important role in political globalization. But we also present numerous examples of the "point source" nature of global environmental problems to show that the cause and cure lay within the sovereign territory of individual states. This can be true of air and water-borne pollution, global warming, and especially biodiversity loss.

Extinction of the lowly Grenada Dove or the spectacular Giant Panda would be losses to the global environmental heritage, and efforts to protect them have taken on international dimensions. But the governments of

Grenada and China made the policies that allowed these international efforts to proceed. In Grenada it was local activitists who provided the World Bank with information that compelled it to pressure the government to save the dove. In China panda lovers solicited international interest in its fate, helped stir up global protest, brought INGOs to China, and instructed them on how to deal with the government. In both cases international networks required domestic political actors to achieve desired outcomes.

Ecological modernization theorists argue that environmental issues have changed the basic fault lines of domestic political competition. In EDCs, they contend, environmentalism creates new divisions among social groups, forcing alliances across class lines, uniting owners and workers in older, polluting industries against the onslaught of postmaterialist values. Mol also argues that these new bases for political competition are spreading globally, overcoming differences in levels of economic development among nation-states and generating value change in LDCs as well as EDCs.5 Yet, where Green political parties are established features of the political landscape— principally in EDCs with parliamentary systems—they are almost invariably situated on the left, drawing support from middle-class youth, progressive intellectuals, and professionals in the service and postindustrial sectors. The picture in LDCs is less clear. In countries transitioning from authoritarianism, environmentalists may make common cause with worker and peasant organizations on the left. Plantations and factories exploit workers and damage the environment. But these alliances may be based more on a mutual desire for change than agreement on a new ideological paradigm. Mexico's green party started on the left and then experimented with an electoral alliance with a conservative party, winning congressional seats only because of a modified proportional representation rule. Brazil's workers' party became nationally competitive with the assistance of grassroots environmentalists. In office, the worker's party has defended peasants' property rights and made moves against illegal logging, but has yet to establish a convincing record on the environment. In short, these developments beg further analysis using the tools of comparative political research.

Our analysis of policy-making too underscores the value of comparative political analysis. Environmental issues have qualities that set them apart, particularly the scientific uncertainty and irreversibility of problems such as habitat destruction, resource depletion, and species extinction. Additionally, nation-states have created institutions specifically dedicated to environmental policy-making. But environmental issues may also be seen as complex public goods problems—along with national defense, public order and infrastructural development—which, it has long been been argued, are at the heart of the formation and function of states and governments.6 States weigh environmental protection against the other expectations of their citizens. Government officials may defy international and domestic pressures, even when it results in a loss of financial support—as in the case of the Narmada dam projects in India—to pursue projects they consider vital for economic development and the legitimacy of the state. In the name of environmental values, activists take risks to their personal wellbeing that seem to exceed any possible direct benefit to themselves. Some rational choice theorists have suggested that a desire for public goods (rather than personal fulfillment) may motivate rebellious collective action.7 Others argue that policy (including the provision of collective benefits) is best understood as a private good produced by state officials in exchange for a base of public support.8 It will be worthwhile to discover the part that environmental policy plays in these decisions (or exchanges), including how and why nation-states differ in this regard.

Global networks have been important features of environmental politics, especially in LDCs where they generate financial and technical support not available locally. A combination of domestic and international political forces—newly organized and occasionally effective civil society actors—has made environmental issues a new and compelling set of policy problems for states. But the long-term survival of green movements and parties depends on an array of domestic political factors that will either impede or allow their inclusion in "normal politics."

Environmentalists have been partners in political change, but nowhere have environmentalists alone (acting globally or locally) affected structural change in the power relationships between states and their societies. Janicke et al. show that while institutional capacity is positively associated with policy innovations, nothing about the changes in environmental policy-making capacity in LDCs has challenged or substantially altered approaches to problem-solving by states. In newly industrializing LDCs, increasingly effective approaches to "end of pipe" pollution exist alongside rising levels of pollution and resource degradation from rapid economic development. In general, democratic EDCs are more effective in addressing environmental problems.9 But the occasional exceptions to this rule—the Eastern Caribbean cases mentioned in chapters 3, 4, 5 and 6, for example—point to the need for a clearer understanding of variations in national capacity for environmental protection.

Finally, there is a reflexive benefit to a comparative politics of the environment. Comparative political analysis itself should benefit from a continuing examination of environmental issues. The newness of the issues and the institutional responses of nation-states help break down persistent barriers to fully comparative work. For example, in chapter 2 we have chosen to consider western attitudes and values toward the environment as traditional, rejecting the teleology and misleading dichotomies of modernization theory. As a practical matter, effective environmental policy will need to overcome the conventionally "modern" and look for its guideposts in some combination of new approaches and established traditions. Studies on postmaterialism use cross-national comparisons to correlate the desire for new approaches to economic growth and social development with postmodern values (at least in EDCs); but these studies do not tell us what these new approaches might be or how to find them. Work on the integration of scientific and local or indigenous knowledge—employing systematic analyses of the politics of national development, resource management, social policy and indigenous peoples— take us farther in the desired direction.

Finally, studies of environmental politics tend to be less parochial than traditional comparative political studies. Most of the multi-author volumes cited in this book are international efforts. And the strict division between the developed and developing worlds that still permeates comparative politics as a formal sub-field is less evident in comparative environmental politics. Although there appear to be more cross-national studies of developed countries than of developing countries and an insufficient number of large-N studies of either, there are a substantial number of volumes that treat both.

The three environmental crises described at the beginning of this volume were caused by human activity and negligence. Each case exposed insufficiencies of national and local governance, and each case generated political responses. The "hope" in that section's heading, however, does not come from the effectiveness of those responses. New institutions developed, laws changed, public awareness increased, victims were indemnified, and perpetrators were punished. But none of the situations has been fully resolved and victims continue to struggle with the consequences. Instead, hope comes from the fact that three very different nation-states did respond, that the responses were different—in degree, kind and effectiveness—and that by studying the reasons for those differences we may learn to do better.

1 F.H. Cardoso, "Associated-Dependent Development: Theoretical and Practical Implications." In Alfred Stepan, ed. Authoritarian Brazil. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1973; Peter Evans. Dependent Development: the Alliance of Multinational, State, and Local Capital in Brazil. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979.

2 See, for example, Jeffrey Kopstein and Mark Lichbach, eds. Comparative Politics: Interests, Identities, and Institutions in a Changing Global Order. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000; and Michael Curtis, ed, Introduction to Comparative Government, 5th edition, update. New York: Longman, 2006.

3 The examples are numerous. Perhaps the best known is Benjamin Barber. Jihad vs. McWorld. New York: Times Books, 1995.

4 David Collier; James E. Mahon, Jr. "Conceptual 'Stretching' Revisited: Adapting Categories in Comparative Analysis." The American Political Science Review, Vol. 87, No. 4. (December, 1993): 845-855. Peter Evans; John D. Stephens. "Studying Development since the Sixties: the Emergence of a New Political Economy." Theory and Society, Vol. 17, No. 5, Special Issue on Breaking Boundaries: Social Theory and the Sixties. (September, 1988), pp. 713-745.

5 Arthur P.J. Mol, Globalization and Environmental Reform: the Ecological Modernization of the Global Economy. Cambridge, MA: the MIT Press, 2001.

6 Albert O. Hirschman. Exit, Vocie and Loyalty. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1970; Charles P. Kindleberger. "International Public Goods without International Government. The American Economic Review, Vol. 76, No. 1 (March 1986): 1-13.

7 Edward N. Muller and Karl-Dieter Opp. "Rational Choice and Rebellious Collective Action." The American Political Science Review, Vol. 80, No. 2. (Jun., 1986): 471-488.

8 Anthony Downs. An Economic Theory of Democracy. New York: Harper, 1957. Albert Breton. "A Theory of the Demand for Public Goods." The Canadian Journal of Economics and Political Science, Vol. 32, No. 4 (November 1966): 455-67.

9 Martin Janicke, "The Political System's Capacity for Environmental Policy: The Framework for Comparison," in Helmut Weidner and Martin Janicke, eds, Capacity Building in National Environmental Policy. Berlin: Springer, 2002, 409-10.

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    What are the merit of comparative politics?
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