Politics Encyclopedia

Politics Encyclopedia

If you would like to prepare for school subjects or simply increase your general knowledge, then enjoy our politics encyclopedia. We tried to focus only on very important terms and definitions. We also kept our terminology very brief so that you absorb the concept more quickly and easily.

Politics Glossary (Page 1)


ACTORS (INTERNATIONAL): Individuals or organizations that play a direct role in the conduct of world politics.
ADJUDICATION: The legal process of deciding an issue through the courts.
ADMINISTRATION: The organized apparatus of the state for the preparation and implementation of legislation and policies, also called bureaucracy.
ADVERSARIAL DIPLOMACY: A negotiation situation where two or more countries' interests clash, but when there is little or no chance of armed conflict.
ADVERSE SELECTION: An unequal or inefficient exchange on the market caused by differences in information (or information asymmetry) between the two parties. For example, a used-car salesman has better information on the cars he's selling than the customer, and therefore a better idea of its true market value. If the two begin negotiating over price, the salesman will accept offers that are too high, and reject offers that are too low. The result is that the only cars that get sold are the ones customers overpay for. (Hence, adverse selection is also known as "the market for lemons," after the title of George Akerlof's famous paper introducing the concept.) Another common example of adverse selection is the insurance industry. Adverse selection occurs when customers who are sick hide their risk while applying for health insurance. Adverse selection is also said to occur when insurers screen for low-risk applicants they won't have to pay out to. The effect is to undermine the entire premise of risk pooling by attempting to identify the risks for individuals. (See also information asymmetry; market failure.).
AFDC: See Aid to Families with Dependent Children.
AFFIRMATIVE ACTION: A public program that attempts to end discrimination against hiring, admitting and promoting women and minorities in public institutions or private companies that contract with the government. Affirmative action takes two forms. "Classical" affirmative action studies the local population, determines the pool of qualified applicants for a particular public institution or contractor, and asks the organization to hire a cross section of that talent pool. "Set asides" are more proactive, using preferential admissions and hiring to achieve diversity. Set asides are more commonly used when it is difficult to determine the available talent pool, yet minorities appear to be underrepresented anyway.
AGENCY PROBLEM: Also called the "principle-agency problem." This is the problem of making sure that individuals ("agents") who are supposed to represent a group and look after its interests do not use their authority or power to help themselves at the expense of the group. The agency problem exists in virtually all organizations. In the public sector, representatives are supposed to look out after the interests of the districts that elected them. But they often take bribes and raise their perks and pay at the public's expense. In the private sector, CEO's are supposed to look out after the profitability of the company, and attend to the satisfaction and welfare of its customers, stockholders and workers. But ceos often help themselves to skyrocketing salaries and golden parachutes, even as they downsize their employees and defraud stockholders. Attempts to solve the agency problem include holding elections, tying incentive pay to the welfare of the group or organization, screening agents for good character and personal backgrounds, and setting up a system of regular scrutiny and punishment for direlect behavior. Ultimately, no organization solves its agency problem 100 percent, because the costs of ensuring such agency eventually outweigh the benefits.
AGENDA-SETTING: Controlling the focus of attention by establishing the issues for public discussion.
AID TO FAMILIES WITH DEPENDENT CHILDREN: The anti-poverty program most commonly referred to as "welfare." This federal and state program gives monthly financial assistance to parents (usually single mothers) in need.
ALTRUISM: An unselfish concern for the welfare of others.
AMORALITY: The philosophy that altruistic acts are unwise and even dangerous, or that morality should never be the absolute guide of human actions, particularly in regard to international law.
ANARCHIC ORDER: Order resulting from mutual coordination in the absence of a higher authority.
ANARCHICAL POLITICAL SYSTEM: An anarchical system is one in which there is no central authority to make rules, to enforce rules, or to resolve disputes about the actors in the political system. Many people believe that a system without central authority is inevitably one either of chaos or one in which the powerful prey on the weak. There is, however, an anarchist political philosophy that contends that the natural tendency of people to cooperate has been corrupted by artificial political, economic, or social institutions. Therefore, anarchists believe that the end of these institutions will lead to a cooperative society. Marxism, insofar as it foresees the collapse of the state once capitalism is destroyed and workers live in proletariat harmony, has elements of anarchism.
ANARCHISM: A stateless society that allows total individual freedom.
ANARCHISM (MUTUALIST): A proposed socialist economic system calling for businesses to be owned and controlled by employees, not private capitalist individuals. These businesses would then compete on the free market, without a central government. (See also anarchy; anarchism (social); anarcho-syndicalism; libertarianism (left); and socialism. Compare to anarcho-capitalism and libertarianism (right).).
ANARCHISM (SOCIAL): A proposed classless, stateless socialist society of directly democratic self-governing communities and workplaces freely united in a confederation by a system of mandated, recallable delegates. Decisions flow from the bottom up and are based upon intensive discussion by those affected by them. Production is for use, not profit, and the community owns and workers control the means of production. Anarchists think that direct democracy within voluntary associations and the abolition of wage slavery is the best way to maximize individual liberty. Also known as libertarian socialism or libertarian communism. (See anarchy; anarcho-syndicalism; libertarianism (left); and socialism. Compare to anarcho-capitalism; libertarianism (right) and social democracy.).
ANARCHO-CAPITALISM: A proposed economic system calling for an anarchic society with sovereign individual property rights and a capitalist free market. Any public services that are deemed valuable, such as law enforcement, would be privatized. (See anarchy; Austrian school of economics; capitalism; libertarianism (right) and Objectivism. Compare to anarcho-socialism.).
ANARCHO-SOCIALISM: A term which broadly refers to anarchism (social) and anarchism (mutualist). Most anarcho-socialists deem the term redundant, however, and prefer to be called "anarchists," not "anarcho-socialists." This is because they believe that the only true anarchy is socialist, and the only true socialism is anarchic. However, it remains a useful term, because it distinguishes them from others who, right or wrong, also consider themselves anarchists and socialists: for example, anarcho-capitalists and social democrats. (See anarchy; anarcho-syndicalism; libertarianism (left); and socialism. Compare to anarcho-capitalism; libertarianism (right) and social democracy.).
ANARCHO-SYNDICALISM: A political philosophy that proposes that workers organise into decentralised, self-governing workplace and community organisations to take over and run the means of production and create a left-libertarian society. Heavily influenced by social anarchist ideas. (see anarchy; anarchism (social); Libertarianism (left) and socialism. Compare to anarchism (mutualist).).
ANARCHY: 1) In the purest etymological sense, anarchy is a society without rulers, after the Greek word an-archos, meaning "without ruler." It does not mean "without rule," since all societies must have rules in order to function and cooperate well. In an anarchist society, individuals are self-rulers, or at least contribute or agree directly to the rules of their groups. 2) A term of disputed definition among those who consider themselves anarchists. Anarchists who are socialists define anarchy as "A society without state, a government or other forms of hierarchy, and is based upon voluntary cooperation between individuals for their own mutual benefit." The "other forms of hierarchy" mentioned here include private rulers (capitalist owners and bosses). Instead, they advocate worker control and ownership of the workplace. On the other hand, anarcho-capitalists define anarchy as "A society without state or government." They would retain capitalist owners and bosses, arguing that workers are free to contract their labor however they wish on the labor market. Socialists argue that the capitalist definition of anarchy is a giant self-contradiction, since public authority and law are merely privatized, and workers are still coerced and exploited, despite what capitalists claim. As anarcho-socialist Noam Chomsky points out, "There is no human institution that approaches totalitarianism as closely as a business corporation. I mean, power is completely top-down. You can be inside it somewhere and you take orders from above and hand 'em down. Ultimately, it's in the hands of owners and investors." According to this school of thought, the only true anarchy is socialist, never capitalist. (See or compare anarchism (mutualist); anarchism (social); anarcho-capitalism; anarcho-socialism; anarcho-syndicalism; Austrian school of economics; libertarianism (left); libertarianism (right); Objectivism; and socialism.).
ANOMIC GROUP: Spontaneously formed interest group with concern over a specific issue.
ANTITRUST LAW: A law that breaks up monopolies, or prevents them from forming. (See also monopoly; oligopoly.).
ARISTOCRACY: A form of government in which a minority rules under the law.
ARMS CONTROL: A variety of approaches to the limitation of weapons. Arms control ranges from restricting the future growth in the number, types, or deployment of weapons; through the reduction of weapons; to the elimination of some types of (or even all) weapons on a global or regional basis.
ASIA-PACIFIC ECONOMIC COOPERATION (APEC): A regional trade organization founded in 1989 that includes 21 countries.
ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS (ASEAN): A regional organization that emphasizes trade relations, established in 1967; now includes Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar (Burma), the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.
ASSOCIATIONAL GROUP: Formally organized group which articulates the interests of its members over long periods of time.
ASYMMETRIC INFORMATION: See information asymmetry.
ASYMMETRICAL FEDERALISM: A federal system of government in which powers are unevenly divided between provinces, i.e. Some provinces have greater responsibilities or more autonomy than others.
AUCTION POLITICS: A danger in democratic politics in which state power may be "sold" to the highest bidding groups.
AUDITOR GENERAL: The official of Parliament whose staff audit the expenditures of government departments and who provides an annual report on instances of funds being unlawfully or unwisely spent.
AUSTRIAN SCHOOL OF ECONOMICS: A forerunner of right libertarian economics, championed by Ludwig von Mises, Carl Menger, F. A. Hayek and Murray Rothbard. Today it is one of many variants of libertarianism, emphasizing free markets, sovereign individual property rights, and freedom of association. The Austrian school differs from mainstream economics in several areas. First, it calls for abolishing the central bank and returning to the gold standard, a move opposed even by most mainstream conservative economists. Second, it would eliminate insurance of bank deposits, allowing bank panics to run their course, to correct malinvestment. Mainstream economists believe the Great Depression is a historical lesson against such a policy. Third, Austrians believe that economic information is best conveyed through prices, not aggregate economic statistics, like the ones for inflation and unemployment. They believe that such statistics can only be used to manage the economy, which they are opposed to. In other words, they believe in a highly individualized information system. Fourth, they believe that mainstream economists are too heavily dependent on mathematical models. Austrians view economics as a soft science, like history, filled with too many intangibles to calculate mathematically. Although Hayek won the Nobel prize in 1974 for a contribution to business cycle theory, mainstream economists largely ignore Austrian economics today - for example, it is barely mentioned in most introductory economics texts. (See also Libertarianism (right).).
AUTARKY: Economic independence from external sources.
AUTHORITARIAN GOVERNMENT: A political system that allows little or no participation in decision making by individuals and groups outside the upper reaches of the government.
AUTHORITARIANISM: A system of government in which leaders are not subjected to the test of free elections.
AUTHORITY: A form of power based on consensus regarding the right to issue commands and make decisions.
BACKBENCHER: Members of Parliament on the government side who sit on the backbenches and are not in cabinet, or those similarly distant from shadow cabinet posts in opposition parties.
BALANCE OF PAYMENTS: A state's running account of economic transactions (exports and imports) with the rest of the world.
BALANCE OF POWER: The distribution of power in a system such that no one state may overwhelm others.
BALANCE OF POWER POLICY: The active prevention of any one state becoming too strong by the major powers in the system.
BEHAVIOURAL REVOLUTION: The introduction of more empirical analysis into the study of government and politics.
BEIJING + 5 CONFERENCE: A meeting held at the UN in New York City in 2000 to review the progress made since the 1995 fourth World Conference on Women.
BICAMERAL LEGISLATURE: A legislative body that is divided into two chambers. An example is the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. The rational for a bicameral chamber is to compel compromise between special interest groups, and to slow down the pace of mob rule. The latter point is the subject of an unconfirmed anecdote about George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson is supposed to have asked Washington why he agreed to two chambers of Congress. "Why do you pour your coffee into your saucer?" Washington asked. "To cool it," Jefferson replied. "Even so," Washington said, "we pour legislation into the senatorial saucer to cool it." More formally, the longer terms of the Senate (six years, compared to the House's two) insulate Senators from public opinion, and they can afford to make calmer, more rational decisions. This effect was evident in the Gulf War, when Congress voted to give President Bush the authorization to launch an attack of Kuwait. The measure - supported by 90 percent of the public - passed in the House by a landslide. But it barely passed in the Senate. Bicameral legislatures have also been heavily criticized for being corrupt, archaic, inefficient and torn by rivalry. (See also conference committee; unicameral government.).
BICAMERALISM: A system of government in which the legislature is divided into two chambers, an upper and lower house.
BILATERAL (FOREIGN) AID: Foreign aid given by one country directly to another.
BILL: A piece of legislation under consideration by a legislative body.
BILL OF RIGHTS: 1) The first 10 amendments to the U.S. constitution, establishing individual rights that the federal government may not violate. Originally, however, the constitution did nothing to prevent state and local governments from violating them. States had their own similar, but sometimes different, constitutions protecting individual rights. It wasn't until 1878, with the passage of the 14th amendment, that states were forbidden to "deprive any person of life, liberty or property without due process of law." 2) The British Bill of Rights of 1689, which served as a model for the U.S. Bill of Rights. (See also constitution.).
BINATIONAL STATE: Two nations co-existing within one state.
BIOPOLITICS: This theory examines the relationship between the physical nature and political behavior of humans.
BIPOLAR: An international system in which there are two dominant nation-states. Bourgeoisie. A Marxist term referring to those who own the means of production.
BIPOLAR SYSTEM: A type of international system with two roughly equal actors or coalitions of actors that divide the international system into two poles.
BRETTON WOODS SYSTEM: The international monetary system that existed from the end of World War II until the early 1970s; named for an international economic conference held in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, in 1944.
BUREAUCRACY: A type of administration characterized by specialization, professionalism, and security of tenure.
BUSINESS CYCLE: The recurrent expansion and contraction of the economy (as measured by the Gross Domestic Product). During an expansion, the nation's productivity grows as more people enter the workforce and productive technology improves. During a contraction, the nation's productivity falls as unemployment rises. The business cycle is aperiodic (irregular), for reasons economists are still debating. No serious economist claims to know the underlying cause of the business cycle, and there is a Nobel prize waiting for the first one who does. Even so, certain features of the business cycle are well understood. Expansions are generally much longer than recessions, because the economy grows in the long run, thanks to constant population growth and improving productive technology. (See also Keynesianism; recession.).
CABINET SOLIDARITY: A convention that all cabinet ministers publicly support whatever decisions the cabinet has taken, regardless of their personal views.
CAPITAL: Wealth. Capital is one of the four requirements for production, the other three being land, labor and enterprise. "Financial capital" refers to money assets; "capital" by itself refers to buildings, machinery, productive technology, inventories, or any other investments like art, wine, or classic automobiles. On a farm, the land itself is not considered capital, but all the improvements to the land - that is, the farm - are. In other words, capital is humanly-made material. Another broad distinction is the one between circulating capital and fixed capital. The former consists of raw materials and labor effort that are sold as a product for profit. The latter consists of tools and machinery that yield profits without circulating.
CAPITAL GAINS: An increase in the value of capital.
CAPITAL GAINS TAX: A tax on the increased value of capital at the moment of sale. Capital gains taxes are not levied between sales, or if a capital asset has lost value.
CAPITALISM: An economic system in which private individuals or corporations own and invest in the means of production.
CARRYING CAPACITY: The number of people that an environment, such as Earth, can feed, provide water for, and otherwise sustain.
CARTEL: An international agreement among producers of a commodity that attempts to control the production and pricing of that commodity.
CAUCUS: A meeting of legislators of any one party to discuss parliamentary strategy and party policy.
CENTRAL AGENCY: Government agencies such as the PMO, the PCO, the Treasury Board, and the Finance Department that have certain coordinating functions across the whole federal public service.
CENTRAL BANK: The central monetary authority of a country. Central banks issue currency, control the size of the money supply (through monetary policy), and manage the country's foreign exchange rate reserves as well as the strength of its currency on international markets. (See also Federal Reserve System; monetary policy.).
CHAOS THEORY: A theory describing chaotic systems, such as weather, turbulence, land formation, and fluctuations in populations and economies. More formally, it is the study of nonlinear systems. Scientists have been finding order in what we used to believe was chaos, and chaos in what we used to believe was order. One of the central concept of chaos theory - fractals - has obvious if complex applications to economics and political science. (See also fractals.).
CHARISMATIC AUTHORITY: Authority based on the admiration of personal qualities of an individual.
CHECKS AND BALANCES: A system of government in which power is divided between the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government, and these powers check and balance each other.
CHEMICAL WEAPONS CONVENTION (CWC): A treaty that was signed and became effective in 1995 under which signatories pledge to eliminate all chemical weapons by the year 2005; to submit to rigorous inspection; to never develop, produce, stockpile, or use chemical weapons; and to never transfer chemical weapons to another country or assist another country to acquire such weapons.
CHICAGO SCHOOL OF ECONOMICS: An influential branch of conservative and libertarian economics, based at the University of Chicago. It is a major ideological defender of free markets and capitalism, with a heavy emphasis on mathematical analysis. Milton Friedman boosted the prestige of the Chicago School in the 1960s, with the development of such theories as monetarism and the natural rate of unemployment. He won a Nobel prize for the latter, but has lost mainstream academic support for the former. Nobels have also been awarded to seven other economists from the University of Chicago, such as George Stigler (deregulation theory), Robert Lucas (Rational Expectations), Merton Miller (financial economics), Ronald Coase (Coase Theorem), and Gary Becker (microeconomic applications to non-market behavior). Liberal economists like Edward Herman charge that the relationship between the Nobel Committee and the Chicago School is incestuous - the more Nobels the Chicago School wins, the more leverage it gains with the Nobel Committee. Indeed, some of Nobel selections have generated academic controversy, which the Committee itself has acknowledged and attempted to defend. For example, it awarded Lucas a Nobel for a theory that, although tremendously influential in the 70s, had lost currency in academia a long time ago, and which Lucas himself no longer works on. Critics also charge that the School's over-emphasis on math fails to ground its analysis in other fields of science, which allows it to prove anything it wants to prove. Conservatives dismiss these criticisms as sour grapes. (See also Coase theorem; monetarism; natural rate of unemployment; Rational Expectations.).
CITIZENSHIP: Legal membership in a community known as a nation-state.
CLASH OF CIVILIZATIONS: Samuel P. Huntington's thesis (1996, 1993) that the source of future conflict will be cultural.
CLASSICAL LIBERALISM: A liberal ideology entailing a minimal role for government in order to maximize individual freedom.
COALITION: An alliance between two or more political units in response to opposing forces.
COALITION DIPLOMACY: A negotiation situation where a number of countries have similar interests, which are often in opposition to the interests of one or more other countries.
COALITION GOVERNMENT: A parliamentary government in which the cabinet is composed of members of more than one party.
COASE THEOREM: An economic theorem which attempts to solve the problem of externalities like pollution by specifying who has property rights to previously unowned entities like air or water. The Coase theorem has two starting assumptions. First, property rights must be well-defined. Second, negotiations for polluting rights between polluter and neighbor must be costless (that is, not derailed by huge legal battles or stubborn, expensive negotiations). If these two criteria are met, then the amount of pollution will be efficient and identical no matter who is given property rights to the air or water. Conservatives present this as a private alternative to public regulation. Liberals criticize it for a number of shortcomings, chief among them that it results in more pollution. (See also externality.).
CODE CIVIL: The unique system of civil law used in Quebec.
CODE OF LAW: A comprehensive set of interrelated legal rules.
CODIFY: To write down a law in formal language.
COERCION: A form of power based on forced compliance through fear and intimidation.
COERCIVE DIPLOMACY: The use of threats or force as a diplomatic tactic.
COERCIVE POWER: Hard power such as military force or economic sanctions.
COGNITIVE DECISION MAKING: Making choices within the limits of what you consciously know.
COLD WAR: The confrontation that emerged following World War II between the bipolar superpowers, the Soviet Union and the United States. Although no direct conflict took place between these countries, it was an era of great tensions and global division.
COLLECTIVE (PUBLIC) GOODS: Goods and services enjoyed in common and not divisible among individuals.
COLLECTIVE DEFENCE: An alliance among states against external threats.
COLLECTIVE SECURITY: A commitment by a number of states to join in an alliance against member states that threaten peace.
COLLECTIVISM: The principle of organized group effort.
COMINFORM: Communist Information Bureau; an international communist organization after World War II.
COMINTERN: Communist International; also known as the Third International, the communist international organization between the two World Wars.
COMMON LAW: The accumulation of judicial precedents as the basis for court decisions.
COMMUNICATIONS (MASS) MEDIA: A general term for all modern means of conveying information.
COMMUNISM: 1) A social and economic system in which all (or nearly all) property is public, not private. That is, resources are shared by everyone. Not to be confused for socialism, which only grants ownership of the means of production to workers. 2) A technically incorrect but widely used term for the system practiced by the Soviet empire. 3) In Marxist ideology, a utopia achieved in the final stage of workers' struggles. The first stage is capitalism, in which the proletariat (workers) are exploited by capitalists (business owners). The second stage would be socialism, or a "dictatorship of the proletariat." Marx envisioned that this stage would be brief. In the final stage - communism - society would become so classless and collectivist that the formal state would wither away, and society could spontaneously operate as a collective whole without government. (See also Marxism.).
COMMUNITARIANISM: The concept that the welfare of the collective must be valued over any individual rights or liberties.
COMPARATIVE POLITICS: An area of political study concerned with the relative similarities and differences of political systems.
CONDITIONALITY: A term that refers to the policy of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and some other international financial agencies to attach conditions to their loans and grants. These conditions may require recipient countries to devalue their currencies, to lift controls on prices, to cut their budgets, and to reduce barriers to trade and capital flows. Such conditions are often politically unpopular, may cause at least short-term economic pain, and are construed by critics as interference in the sovereignty of recipient countries.
CONFEDERATION: A federal system of government in which sovereign constituent governments create a central government but balance of power remains with constituent governments.
CONFERENCE COMMITTEE: The place where select members of the two chambers of a bicameral legislature meet to form a compromise version of their different versions of the same bill. Critics charge that it is the most corrupt feature of a bicameral legislation. The process runs thus: after public debate, both chambers will pass their respective versions of the bill, and then meet in conference committee to hammer out a compromise. During committee, which is often closed to the public, special interests quietly insert their amendments into the bill. Then the compromise bill comes up for a second vote by each chamber. Often, there is almost no debate the second time around, and almost no one reads the contents of the final bill. Legislators simply pass whatever the conference committee has produced. Unicameral government, which is actually what most legislatures around the world use, is designed to avoid this practice. (See also bicameral legislature; unicameral legislature.).
CONFIDENCE: Support for the government by the majority of the members of parliament.

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