Rational Choice Theory

Topics: Rational choice theory, Economics, Political science Pages: 7 (1992 words) Published: August 20, 2011
Rational Choice Theory in Comparative Politics

The field of comparative politics is one in which a variety of different approaches have been undertaken with varying results. Rational Choice in Comparative Politics attempt to devise a theoretical framework that explains the process of decision-making. The rational choice institutionalism was born out of the study of American congressional behavior. At the time scholars were trying to explain why congressional outcomes were considerably stable and they decided to look at institutions. They found that institutions of the Congress lowered transactions cost among legislators. Rational choice theory is influential and occupies large part of discussion in politics as well as in international relations. However it has been a controversial theory and challenged for a very long time. It professes to predict the political outcome in the future. Rational choice theory’s role in political is built on dual foundations presumptions that explains individual behavior which is the key to understanding the functioning of political institutions. The behavior of political parties can be aggregated to understand the behavior of the group.

Rational choice theory has been driven from Liberal belief and economic theory. It depends upon underlying notion of rationality. Rationality in this case can be described as “individual make decision that maximises the utility they expect to derive from making choices”. Therefore individuals or institutions are informed and are capable at making a correct decision. The hypothesis of such theory is that individual acts in their self-interest without considerations for others. Such individuals are considered rational and calculating who seek to maximise their own advantage. The individuals have plenty of good information to make correct choice; the information comes from areas other than social, cultural or historical backgrounds. Partiality is relative, reasonable and mathematical techniques are used to shape the behaviours of individual from a set of defined maxims. Similarly, in rational-choice theory, an organisation’s acts based on individuals can fall short to achieve the preferred goal, hence affecting the institution.

A rational choice theorist presupposes that individuals have a unchanging set of inclinations and as such an individual behave in manner that maximises the accomplishment of these preferences. One of the distinctive hypotheses of rational choice theory sees politics as a progression of collective action problems. Levi suggests that what formulates a characteristic upon rational choice theory from “the straightforward application of economics to polity” is that rational choice theory understands how different background institutional factors persuade individuals behaviors and choices.

Supporters of the theory argue that political behaviour is better understood as well as social actions; it allows political analysts to develop advisory models, similar to those used in economic theory. The strong point of rational choice approach is that it combines scientific methods with social sciences. The approach concentrates on scientific approach such as examining and asking questions, developing theory to answer questions, draw predictions from theory, conducting experiment, means of observation in order to confirm the predictions which originate from theory and rethinking the original question. The theory has been used to present insight into the activities of politicians, lobbyists, electorate and civil servants. It has had its most powerful influence on political analysis in what is referred to as institutional public choice theory.

Various weak points of the rational choice institutionalism include: (a) rational choice theory is not capable to provide an sufficient prognostic theory of action since it does not identify how predilections come about and why they differ from individual to individual; (b) sociological theory argue...
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