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The current unsustainable growth of the world economy is largely a consequence of the crisis of social capital experienced by much of the world’s population. Declining social capital leads economies towards excessive growth, because people seek, in economic affluence, compensation for emotional distress and loss of resources caused by scarce social and affective relationships. To slow down economic growth requires an increase in social capital that is a fundamental contributor to happiness. From a wide range of possible approaches to increasing present happiness, this article suggests policies that would shift the economy to a more sustainable path. It focuses on a more politically sustainable set of proposals for a green ‘new deal’ than some of those currently under discussion.
Chapter 7 concludes this work by focussing on the specificity of political institutions as opposed to any other type of institutions. I discuss particular aspects of political institutions such as their primordiality and scope, their generative character, weak normativity and sanctionability, their particular enforcement mechanisms, their contestedness and their intentional inefficiency. I conclude that it is improper to assimilate, and even worse to derive, the properties of political institutions from other kinds of economic, administrative or social institutions. For political institutions the political element outweighs the institutional one, giving them their unique character.
There is no paucity of definitions of the concept of ‘institution’, and often they are somewhat over-encompassing. The chapter discusses several approaches and elaborates on the implications of each of them. The conclusion is that what constitutes an institution is not generalisable and depends largely on the researcher, the object of research and the research question. Different conceptions of institution serve egregiously different research programmes and different types of situations. However, too often different approaches extend their specific understandings of ‘institutions’ to the whole world of institutions, presenting themselves as general theories of institution. This generates inconsistencies when the approach and its theoretical results are applied outside the original scope and extended to the entire universe of institutions. Discussion of the different approaches helps to identify the core properties each highlights and to reconstruct the semantic field of the concept of institution. I focus on the main characterising elements of different understandings.
Political institutions are currently seen in very different lights. In one version they are assimilated to institutions that dispense criteria for appropriate conduct and attributions of meanings. In a different perspective they are analysed as bulwarks of individual rights and protection from government in a theoretical framework that refers to modern liberal democracies and their defence of liberties. An additional image sees political institutions as regulators of individuals’ and groups’ egotistic drives in view of achieving self-enforcing equilibria that foster cooperation and help to overcome social dilemmas. In yet another framework they are identified with the organisational forms of political society. In this light, they are often viewed as forms of organisational symbolism, as ritual and ceremonial components that outweigh other dimensions to the point of swallowing any other type of institutional return. Finally, they are regarded as forms of government, as instruments of sharing or concentrating the coercive power of the political. It is likely these different views ask too much of political institutions. It is also likely that such widely diverging frameworks result from the application to political institutions of the properties of other kinds of institutions.
Chapter 3 first discusses separately and in an analytical way the main properties of the institutions identified by the different approaches reviewed in Chapter 2. The property space of the term ‘institution’ is unpacked in the following set of analytical properties: stability, normativity, sanctionability, enforcement, layering, intentionality, endogeneity and efficiency. In the second part of the chapter, I propose a typology of different institutions based on the values these properties have. This exercise allows inherent and constitutive difficulties in institutional analysis to emerge. It is necessary to take a clear stand on these problems and to try to disentangle the definitional maze. The chapter concludes by discussing the fundamental difference between ‘norms’ and ‘rules’ and suggests a line along which this can be established.
Chapter 6 explores the possibility of composing higher-order macro-institutions, starting with micro-norms/rules and institutes and their mutual compatibility and balancing. A necessary precondition for power-sharing is monopolisation of destructive resources and ‘legitimate’ violence over a territorial space: the ‘territorial institution’. In territories in which destructive means have been successfully monopolised and there are no challenges to the ruling function, ‘fundamental norms’ or ‘constitutions’ may develop that delineate the institutional regime. The territory, the constitution and the institutional regime are macro-institutions located at the highest level in the vertical layering of institutions and are complex combinations of single norms/rules and institutes. But, as macro-phenomena, they are characterised by emerging properties that cannot exclusively be reduced to lower-level properties. Different regimes rest on the prominence of some institutes over others. In some cases, the predominant institutes damage the others excessively. In other cases, the institutes balance each other. The chapter suggests that institutional analysis generalisations should concern political institutes, their balancing and combination, and the likely effects. Actors’ preferences and constellations of actors should be kept separate from institutional analysis. Adding them results in generalisations concerning the interaction between political institutions and political structures; that is, in the analysis of ‘political regimes’.
In Chapter 5 the definition of political institutions drives us to a discussion of the main ‘institutes’ that constitute them. Individual and atomistic political norms and rules are so many over space and time that a detailed discussion is impossible. While norms/rules identify micro political institutions, with the term ‘political institute’ I identify those clusters of norms-rules that preside over the solution to a functional political problem, namely: norms and rules of selection, responsibility, inclusion, representation, decision, competence, accountability, devolution and redress. In my view, these nine institutes cover and exhaust the field of political normativity. Each of them is discussed analytically and historically in the chapter.
In Chapter 4 I discuss the theoretical definition of ‘political institutions’ sketched in Chapter 3, which sets them aside from the other institutions discussed in Chapter 3. Political institutions are norms and rules that transform a set of contradictory instigations to action into a single command; that discipline the struggle to achieve positions that can transform contradictory instigations into a command; that constrain the ruler’s search for generalised and stabilised behavioural compliance in any confined group; and that concern the procedure through which public powers produce private powers (as guaranteed rights), not the concrete outcomes of these procedures. I then distinguish different kinds of norms/rules: norms/rules of conduct versus norms/rules of recognition and norms/rules of conferral. It is argued that political institutions are norms/rules of conferral and are not rules of conduct or of recognition, and that confusion is generated when the types are mixed.
In Chapter 1 I discuss the available evidence in evolutionary biology, psychology, palaeontology, anthropology and neuroscience on the origins of Homo sapiens’ normative orientations. I review plausible interpretations of the evolutionary emergence of these normative orientations in the histories of humankind and its predecessors. This normative endowment was probably our best-fitting quality, explaining our capacity to emerge as the most effective predator on earth. It is likely that without a long-evolved disposition towards cooperation, humans would never have achieved a stage of civilisation in which it is possible to ask the question ‘how is cooperation possible?’. The chapter also reviews the evidence on whether early political institutions derived from preceding different types of institutions or co-evolved with them.