Problems of Comparative Politics and Post Communism

Julia Downs

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There are many interrelated problems in the study of comparative politics. In a world full of regimes, rulers and governments, everything is intermingled and distinguishing individual issues from one another is very convoluted and difficult. However, the scientific method of hypothesizing, testing, then theorizing, is the way that political scientists pull facts and events from the complicated mess of the world’s varying governmental systems. Looking at three different areas of discussion, state building, democracies, and economies, one can see that, through the ‘science’ aspect of studying politics, clear facts can be gleaned and then built on.

The first issue that requires hypothesizing, testing, and finally the creation of a theory is the concept of state building. The Bellecist Model of origins of the Modern State shows this process very clearly. First, the question, how do states form, is asked. The hypothesis is that it all begins with certain actors deciding to unify a state, the first step of which is subduing all rivals. To do this, the actors must have resources such as money, humans as citizens or soldiers, and natural resources. This expands into the eventual need for a monopoly on violence, finances and administration in order to control these accrued resources. The hypothesis is made and then the tests begin. This must be done historically, since a state is not an organism that can be observed through a petri dish, and it is seen that the early tribes of Europe followed this path to the modern state that exists today. Based on this, a theory forms: war made the state and the state makes war. This statement is a building block for many other theories, including democracy and economics.

The second topic that very clearly uses the scientific method is the question of democracy. Though there are many different definitions for democracy, the underlying agreement between all political scientists is that there is a certain level of political inclusion needed, there must be some form of elections, and the system should be at least semi institutionalized. The question remains, why is it that some countries are strong democracies while others, even those who have tried democracies in the past, remain burdened by dictatorial rule. One attempt to answer this question in the Modernization Theory, which says that every state goes through essentially the same process of government and the only difference is the timeline. This theory has been scrutinized and studied using recent history and the support for the claim is strong. The reason why this is a scientific debate, aside from the obvious hypothesis and theory, is that many political scientists dispute this topic using other hypotheses and tests on history and current events alike. Though it is difficult to tell which events come first, it is the process of proof and disproof which classifies this discipline as a science.

The third and final subject is the question of economics. Why are some states in good economic condition while other suffer in horrible trenches of economic recession? In Latin America, for example, the empirical evidence shows that the top five percent hold one fourth of the entire national incomes. Though these countries were settled similarly to the way the United States was settled, and governed similarly to the way the United States was governed, the economies are the complete opposites of each other. Many theories are presented on this matter, one being the fact that the colonizers were completely different in South America than in North America. For instance, education in North America was more inclusive and better from the start, which nurtured a society better suited for inclusive governments and more able to combat authoritarian or coup d’etat attempts. Similarly, the land was divided up evenly from the start in North America, while in South America, the few and lucky wealthy owned most of the land and others only worked for these rich minorities. Also, the United States in particular had much more land to absorb any conflict than did South American countries. While these ideas are disputed among scholars, the fact remains that these are valid historical facts which do apply to modern issues and questions.

Looking back at these three topics, it does not seem like any science has been proved, only many detailed theories and many more subsequent detailed theories which attempt to disprove them. However, this is no different than in hard science. For instance, look at Charles Darwin and his revolutionary findings in the Galapagos Islands of the pacific. These were much disputed and caused much conflict in society. The claim that there were no causal links and that his ideas were too intermingled, could have been made about Darwin’s arguments too. The same goes for scientific findings even further back in history when early scientists claimed the earth was round and revolved around the sun, not flat and the center of the universe. The entire world disagreed with this. The main point is that science is all about different ideas that all try and answer the same question. The state or the conflict? Does democracy cause wealth or does wealth cause democracy? Does the global north oppress the global south into having poor economies, or does the global south have poor economies because of authoritarian rule? The name of the game is differing ideas about answers and this is why comparative politics is very much a science.

Essay 2

Post-communist states have become very familiar to the world in the post-cold war era. The fall of the USSR produced many fledgling democracies left scrambling to catch up with the rest of the world. While there are many changes that must take place within a country fresh, or not so fresh, out of communism, there is one main policy change that should be the top priority of any leader. Economic changes, chiefly in trade, privatization and investment, are the main areas that need improvement in post-communist economies, and can actually be helped along by globalization.

The first facet of the economy that post-communist countries need to improve is trade. Liberalization, that is, the opening of markets and lifting of tariffs, is an imperative policy change for these countries. Empirical proof that this is a necessary step toward catching up with the rest of the developed world comes from China’s gradual, but sure, liberalizations in their economies and the subsequent strength of its system. Internal structures mean nothing and will not prosper if there is not an external market of trade that is not controlled completely by the government. Other examples of trade liberalization are seen in the western states in Europe and North America. Different trade agreements litter this part of the hemisphere and it is not coincidental that these are also the world’s healthiest economies.

The second aspect of economics that must be instituted is the privatization of formerly publicly held industries. Since communism is all about collectively held means of production, one of the first steps toward a successful communist state is the elimination of anything privately owned. This diminishes the ability to specialize and the will to be excellent in a trade, and thus, decreases the value of goods and workers. To initiate jobs, success, and global competition, governments in post-communist countries need to sell the manufacturing power of big trades, such as auto industry, power (electricity, gas etc.), and banking, back into the private market so they again become competitive.

The third policy change post-communist counties need to make is the increase of foreign direct investment. This is more an incremental process than one big change, in that the attractiveness of a country to investors relies on many sides of the economy. First, businesses must be allowed to prosper freely, so that investors can buy stocks and invest in other ways. Second, education must be good enough so that investors see a future in the country’s next generation of business people. Whether this takes the form of primary and secondary education, higher education, or trade school, there must be an increase in reliable education within these changing counties. Third, the state must increase its legitimacy to the external eye. Legitimacy changes go all the way down to diplomatic ties and governing structure. Investors will not participate in an unstable regime. All of this goes to support the fact that a good international perception is very necessary in order to have a good economy. It also goes along with the policy change. The traumatized people of these post-communist regimes must be empowered and rebuilt well enough that the world notices.

This is where globalization comes into play. More than just off shoring and outsourcing, globalization is the spread of norms and prosperity. Globalization makes this process of altering the economy easier for fledgling countries in three ways. The first, and arguably the most obvious, is jobs. Apple Incorporated’s factories in China provide ways for the impoverished and traumatized worker to find himself again through earning wages and rediscovering the ability and motivation to move up in the company. There are many other international companies that provide the same outlet for development that would not be in place without globalization. Along with international corporations, trade schools reach out to gain new, cheap labor from these burgeoning economies. This makes empowering citizens that will privatize formerly government held industries much easier. The second way globalization helps economic development is through providing the international market for goods produced in the counties. Having the world as a trade partner certainly helps out any post-communist country trying to adjust their economy to keep up with the rest of the world. Third, globalization provides support for these hard economic changes taking place within possibly weak regimes through offering examples and norms to follow. The European Union, for example, is always eager to help a blossoming free market economy.

Though there are countless policy changes post-communist regimes must go through to pick themselves back up, the economic policies are the most important and the most challenging. Arranging a complete overhaul of all government held positions and industries is a daunting task for even the most competent economic planner. Similarly, trade liberalization is not something that can be done overnight and making the country attractive for investors is a process that will take years. Though these are all formidable tasks, globalization is present in the world to lend a helping hand.