Munich Personal RePEc Archive

Executive Absolutism: A Model

Howell, William and Shepsle, Kenneth and Wolton, Stephane (2020): Executive Absolutism: A Model.

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Abstract

Separated powers cannot permanently constrain individual ambitions. Concerns about a government's ability to respond to contemporary and future crises, we show, invariably compromise the principled commitments one branch of government has in limiting the authority of another. We study a dynamic model in which a politician (most commonly an executive) makes authority claims that are subject to a hard constraint (administered, typically, by a court). At any period, the court is free to rule against the executive and thereby permanently halt her efforts to acquire more power. Because it appropriately cares about the executive's ability to address real-world disruptions, however, the court is always willing to affirm more authority. Neither robust electoral competition nor alternative characterizations of judicial rule fundamentally alters this state of affairs. The result, we show, is a persistent accumulation of executive authority.

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