Guilty as Charged. Human Well-Being and the Irrelevance of Political Science

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BR porträttfotoRothsteinMax Weber Lecture by

Bo Rothstein, University of Gothenburg

16 April 2014, 17.00-18.30, Refettorio, Badia Fiesolana

Recently, a public debate has started questioning the relevance of political science.  In the United States, public funding for political science research is under attack in the Congress and major newspapers have carried articles about this issue. In this talk, this problem will be discussed from a standpoint arguing that most human misery in today’s world, by standard measures of human well-being, is caused by the fact that a majority of the world’s population lives under dysfunctional political institutions. It will be argued that this is an issue that is ignored in most political science research. This analysis concludes by listing seven reasons (or sins) for why political science does not realize the discipline’s potential for being relevant for human well-being. These are:

  1. When thinking about the relevance of what they do, most political scientists think about being advisors either to the political elites or to inform the general public. These are aspects of relevance with limited importance.
  2. Most political scientists are uninterested in explaining what the “political machine” (that is, the State) can do for improving human well-being broadly defined.
  3. Most political scientists, especially the American branch, have for ideological reasons concentrated their thinking about the state on how to tame and limit its power and therefore been less interested in issues about states’ administrative capacity.
  4. Most political scientists take for granted that democracy is the main source of political legitimacy, which seems not to be the case.
  5. Issues of “bad governance”, especially corruption in public administration, have largely been ignored by political scientists.
  6. The detrimental effects of “bad governance” upon political legitimacy, prosperity and human well-being, are mostly unknown to and ignored by political scientists.
  7. Normative efforts in political theory about how to increase social justice have ignored problems about implementation and governance that are empirically and theoretically well established.