Structure maintains equilibrium until it doesn’t

Tom Pepinsky has a very stimulating blog post on whether institutions matter. It should be read closely.

Here is a quote from Riker, which appears in the post:

One fundamental and unsolved problem of social science is to penetrate the illusion and to learn to take both values and institutions into account.

Pepinsky concludes, I think, quoting Riker, that we are in “in turbulent times [when] the institutions are in flux and only human greed seems constant.” I agree.

My view is that institutions do matter, prima facie, because people fight over them so much. For example, take the debunked assertion that the U.S. always has had two parties, or another debunked assertion that “the current electoral system” is part of the Constitution. Each assertion is bullshit in the sense that its truth value doesn’t matter to its author.

My fuller view is expressed in the title of this post. A longer statement is in the theory chapter of something else I wrote.

I am not entirely thrilled with that chapter and have gone on to teach its gist as follows.

Two things can upset an equilibrium. One is the arrival of new players. Another is the arrival of new issues. Also, new players can bring new issues.

The challenge of our time is to select new institutions, which may mean finding new justification for the ones we already have.

I was tempted to invoke Dahl, but I don’t study fairness enough to do that with confidence.

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