Power and Politics in Today’s World

Course site, by Ian Shapiro. Slides.

Lecture 2: From Soviet Communism to Russian Gangster Capitalism

Gorbichev’s tenure

Gorbichev was president for ’85 to ’91.

Gorbichev’s reforms

Coup of ’91

Final days of Soviet Union

Berlin wall came down, several members suceeded, a failed coup attempt, and gain of power by the Russion Parliment.

Reasons for the fall of the SU

  1. Unsustainable system: Command economy didn’t work.
  2. Containment: West focussed on making sure the SU didn’t expand, so just had to wait for it to fall.
  3. Investment in Afghanistan: SU didn’t want Islamic Fundamentalism to rise in its Asiatic constituents.

Why was collapse peaceful?

Exit, Voice, and Loyalty

Exit, voice (advocate for change), and loyalty (change it yourself): The three things you can do when a state/organisation starts to fail. Which one you select depends on the cost.


Signs of a weak state

Reliance on oil

Lecture 3: Advent of a Unipolar World: NATO and EU Expansion

Three lenses on politics

Interests, institutions, and ideals.

Operation Desert Storm

US helping Kuwait against Iraq’s invasion. Went pretty well: was proportional & last resort.


United Nations. Formed in 1945 with 51 members, now at 198. Largely peaceful.


North Atlantic Treaty Organisaton. Formed in 1949 with 12 members, now at 31. Most famous article is Article 5: If any NATO country is attacked, they act as if they have all been attacked.

Relationship between UN and NATO wrt. Article 5

Resolution of an Article 5 depends on the UN being able to assure stability.

Lecture 4: Fusing Capitalist Economics with Communist Politics: China and Vietnam

Tiannamen Square narrative

Potential reasons for China & Vietnam’s success

How sustainable is China & Vietnam’s success?

Logics of modernization theory

Washington Consensus

Wiki. Economic policy prescriptions for the “standard” of economic reform in developing countries. Tightly coupled with free market.

Lecture 5: The Resurgent Right in the West

Post-war welfare

Post-war, a lot of welfare was set up across Europe + US. Even in conservative govs, welfare state increased. Eventually attacked by Regan and other RW politicians in the late 70s/early 80s.

Median voter theorem & refutation

Median voter theorem: The median income is always less than the mean income. So politicians have an incentive to redistribute downwards.

But this view is too simplistic:

  1. There are more dimensions to trade off against than just income. For example, you might capture the median voter if you offer less income redistribution but a stricter stance on immigration.
  2. The population isn’t necessarily divided into two: You can capture the “median voter” (if that has a meaning anymore) if you target both the lower & upper classes, but not the middle class.

Lecture 7: Shifting Goalposts: The Anti-Tax Movement

Proposition 13

Vote for cutting property taxes in California in ’78. Won by a landslide.

Narrative: Referendum politics wrt. Brexit

Directly before and after Brexit the UK voted leave, they elected a remain government. This is because a referendum poses only a single question, limiting the scope of their decisions, leading to less consideration for downstream costs.

Estate tax

US voted to repeal the estate tax in ’01. This only helped the very rich, and the narrative provided is that this happened as result of:

Lecture 9: Money in Politics

Warren court

Judicial review

We can create laws by passing legislation; or have some kind of judicial review where we take individual cases to some court (e.g. SC in US), and the law gets changed that way.


Allegedly not effective (compared to not having judicial review at all).

First amendment & political spending

Why is there so much money in US politics?

Issue with crowd funding

A potential solution to corp money, which funds extreme positions, is to use crowd funding. But people who give crowd funding typically hold extreme opinions.