Principal-Agent Analysis and International Delegation: Red Herrings, Theoretical Clarifications and Empirical Disputes
Bruges Political Research Paper No. 2
27 Pages Posted: 1 Sep 2007
Date Written: February 2007
The principal-agent (PA) approach has recently become the dominant approach to the study of delegation in both comparative and international politics. Despite these purported benefits, a growing number of critics have taken exception to both the theoretical assumptions and the empirical claims of PA analysis. Such critiques, it is argued, fall into three groups. The first are the red herrings, the critiques that arise from a misunderstanding or misrepresentation of what PA approaches and their practitioners actually argue. The second and more interesting set of critiques raise the distinction between agents and trustees, questioning applicability of PA analysis to the latter - although it is argued that this distinction needlessly dichotomizes a continuum of agent discretion and a range of motivations for delegation, and strictly defined is of little relevance to the universe of empirical cases that scholars might seek to explain. The third and final group of critiques argue that PA approaches systematically fail to predict correctly either (a) the reasons and the conditions under which political principals delegate powers to agents, or (b) the conditions under which agents enjoy autonomy and influence in domestic and international politics.
Keywords: delegation, principal, agent, trustee, authority, European Union
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation