Monday, January 9, 2012

Mitt Romney and Path Dependent Processes

Mitt Romney often justifies his moderate record as governor of Massachusetts (and subsequent leap to the right) as a deviation since he was the governor of a democratic state with a legislature that was, at the time, 85% democratic.  In the primaries, he has been criticized extensively for “flipflopping, or changing positions on issues such as abortion and health care and not being “a true conservative.”  But I wonder the extent to which the other candidates for the Republican nomination and the press are discounting the effect of path dependence on Romney’s alleged “shift” to the right in reviewing his record as governor. 

The fact that Romney became governor of a state that is historically democratic in almost every respect except the governorship limits his ability to govern to the right.  This is reflective of a state that has been a Democratic stronghold for years, but has voters who are willing to vote for moderate Republicans for at least some state offices.  Path dependence is relevant here because the investment in the rules, process and norms by Romney’s predecessors and prior legislatures into Massachusetts government over the past 250+ years make deviations by modern day officials very costly.  Even if we just consider the past century, Democrats have invested more into this governing framework than Republicans just by virtue of the fact that Democrats have won more elections.  While the governorship oscillates between Democrats and Republicans, the Democrats have (and have had) a supermajority in both Houses, meaning that legislation can be passed over the governor’s veto if the governor is a Republican.  Because of path dependent effects (and an overwhelmingly Democratic culture), there is a strong status quo bias that makes it difficult, if not impossible, for Republicans like Romney to shift the Massachusetts government to the right.  At best, all Romney could have done (if he wanted to get anything done) is govern in the middle.

Now you may argue that this has little to do with Romney being for abortion, on one hand, and then against it, on another.  Or passing universal health care in Massachusetts and then threatening to defund a similar program on the federal level.  Maybe it does not, but I think that it is worth recognizing that, in assessing Mitt’s policy positions, he was a red governor in a blue state and this fact did affect his ability to govern to the right.  At the end of the day, you may still conclude that he is a "flipflopper," but standing up for “core conservative principles” does not mean much if nothing gets done.  Governance requires compromise.

No comments:

Post a Comment