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Does rationality determine political behavior?

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Paul B.
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  1. Introduction
  2. A look at American Politics
  3. Rationality on an individual level
  4. What is rational to the individual seems dysfunctional to the whole
  5. Conclusion

The merits of rational choice theory have been debated in their relation to politics for generations. While rational choice theory has been applied with success to other fields, it has long been debated in political circles, often because of the dubious nature of politics and of the ambiguous results that political processes created. When referring to rational choice theory in reference to politics, the premise remains the same. Rational choice theory assumes that all individual players within the game are rational and self-interested.

All individuals are utility maximisers, using the means available in order to better themselves. And that all behavior on an individual level can be explained in a rational manner, given the context. My argument is that rational choice theory is very much the reality on the individual level, even in politics. Individual voters, as well as individual politicians, make their own decisions which they deem to be rational and self-beneficial.

However, these individual decisions are often at odds with the greater needs of the entire group. This leads to group dysfunction?certain decisions being made which end up harming most of the group they are supposed to help.

Because rational choice theory can only be observed on an individual level, it is nearly impossible to create the statistical models that mathematicians or economists tend to favor. Those models try to predict mass behavior in their own respects?whereas it is still a very difficult proposition to do this in politics.

[...] Mueller, D. C. (2003). Public Choice III. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Sawyer, P. A. (2004). Re-examining monetary and fiscal policy for the 21st century. Northampton: Edward Elgar Publishing. [...]


[...] In the early 20th century John Maynard Kaynes developed a body of theory that would allow the government to achieve these ends. Economics plays a major role in the creation of social policies. Consequently, this is also to note that social policies are intertwined with, if not greatly dominated by economic policies. Logically speaking, a government will always assess, evaluate and set an amount that it is able and willing to spend for the delivery of welfare services. Macroeconomics concerns such as public spending affects the framework from which social policies will be established. [...]


[...] This justifies the state intervention into controlling unemployment. The primary role of the state is govern social interactions in a way that either increases social welfare or is in accordance with a fundamental social contract (Mueller, 2003). The solution offered by Keynesian economics is one that advocates government intervention as a necessary element in order to achieve economic stability. Specifically, government spending, by increasing economic activity, can help stabilize prices and reduce economic fluctuations (Henderson, 2010). For Keynes, one successful way to regulate the economy especially during times of recession is for the government to spend on public welfare. [...]

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