Assessing Interest Groups: A Playing Field Approach
48 Pages Posted: 27 Jan 2008
Despite general public antipathy toward the political influence exerted by corporations, industries, and other special interests, prescriptive applications of interest group theory have not gained much traction. This is primarily a function of previous commentators' inability to solve two difficult and related problems: (1) development of a consensus normative framework in which to apply interest group theory; and (2) development of a meaningful, objective, and workable approach to measuring interest group dynamics in the real world. The article offers solutions to both.
The article first proposes workably competitive pluralism as a norm to which the regulatory process should aspire in contexts where pecuniary rent-seeking is likely. This process norm seeks to promote meaningful competition between the various interests affected by regulatory decisions. Unlike other applications of interest group theory, workably competitive pluralism does not speak directly to results; regulators remain free to provide rents if they are the product of a relatively fair fight.
To advance this norm, the article proposes measuring interest group dynamics with a playing field index comparing the relative concentration and distribution of benefits and costs at a regulatory nexus to assess the disparity of organizational incentives. The index is adapted from the familiar Herfindahl-Hirschman concentration index used extensively in antitrust law and industrial organization economics.
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