Thomas A. Koelble, "Economic Theories of Organization and
the Politics of Institutional Design in Political Parties,"
Party Politics , 2 (April, 1996), 251-263.
Studies of Congress, according to Shepsle and Weingast
(1994), have much to offer comparative analysis.
Congressional studies link sophisticated theoretical
analysis and close empirical observation to explain patterns
of conflict, delegation of authority, policy outcomes and
decision-making processes. Building on the work of authors
such as Douglass North (1990), congressional scholars bridge
the gap between rational choice and institutional analysis,
and provide a methodological starting point from which all
institutions and organizations can be usefully studied. The
'principal-agent' thesis, put to good use by Kiewiet and
McCubbins (1991) in their path-breaking study of the
delegation of authority in Congress, provides, so this
school of thought claims, a particularly useful general
theory of organization.
Figures and Tables:
This article has examined whether the principal-agent thesis
can be usefully applied to the comparative analysis of
political parties. As the case studies show, the approach
offers avenues for intra-organizational studies of
decision-making as well as interesting new ways of thinking
about inter-party competition. The disadvantage of the model
is that it is extraordinarily focused and assumption driven.
For instance, one could argue that it is not always clear
who is the principal and who is the agent in a voluntary
organization since party representatives often have to
delegate authority to their members as well, particularly
during election campaigns. It is also not clear whether the
model can or ought to be applied in situations involving
more than two individuals engaged in a transaction.
Similarly, broader influences on the political parties such
as cultural movements, ideological debates, shifts in the
social structure, or economic conditions which may affect
voting patterns are all outside the model. Nevertheless, the
principal-agent thesis provides for interesting ways of
thinking about intra-organizational relationships and the
distribution of power between activists and