Federalist No. 41: Does Polarization Inhibit Coordination?

Published date01 December 2011
Date01 December 2011
AuthorAnthony M. Bertelli
Anthony M. Bertelli holds the C. C.
Crawford Chair in Management and Per-
formance in the School of Policy, Planning,
and Development and the Gould School of
Law at the University of Southern California.
He is also senior lecturer in politics at the
University of Manchester. His research fo-
cuses on political institutions in the United
States and Western Europe.
E-mail: bertelli@usc.edu
S62 Public Administration Review • December 2011 • Special Issue
Anthony M. Bertelli
University of Southern California
Federalist Nos. 41–43 provide a unif‌i ed justif‌i cation
for the powers granted to the national government by
posing a series of questions about the four classes of
responsibilities, such as declaring war.  is essay examines
the role of polarization in limiting the coordination
of powers needed for ef‌f ective administration and
uses ideology estimates for four states to illustrate the
dif‌f‌i culties embedded in shared power between national
and state governments.
Coordination problems occur when all parties
or actors can gain from making consistent
decisions but do not have individual incen-
tives to structure their choices in that way. Publius
recognized the variety and breadth of coordination
problems in governance, justifying a number of
constitutional provisions as institutions to help solve
them. While the design of our government protects
citizens as a whole from the tyranny of the majority,
its realities make coordination dif‌f‌i cult.
A principal force working against coordination in con-
temporary governance is the ideological polarization
that divides our elected public of‌f‌i cials. In this essay,
I argue that the coordination problems recognized by
Publius remain at the heart of contemporary gov-
ernance in the United States. What Publius did not
anticipate is the impact of polarization on them. If
he had, Federalist Nos. 41–43 may have incorporated
alternative strategies for coordination into arguments
for the necessity of certain federal powers. My essay
concludes with a pragmatic gloss that, in light of cur-
rent polarization patterns, Publius might have placed
on these papers.
Coordination Problems in Federalist
Nos. 41–43
Consider a simple game in which the president and
Congress seek to coordinate their interests to make
public policy. Suppose that the president and Con-
gress must choose a strategy for controlling the emis-
sion of a particularly toxic chemical from industrial
facilities.  e choice is between a total ban and a
partial ban of the substance.  e president scores
more political points by implementing a total ban, a
campaign promise, and Congress placates important
constituencies more ef‌f ectively by partially banning
the substance, making it easier for some industrial
facilities to comply with the regulation. Disagreement
yields no law and no utility for either actor—neither
can claim credit for a policy achievement.  e normal
form of this game is represented in table 1.  e presi-
dent is the row player and Congress is the column
player. Readers may recognize it as a version of the
“battle of the sexes” game.
ere are two pure strategy equilibria in this game
requiring coordination on either a partial or a total
ban. However, both equilibria privilege one party;
coordination is possible only through communication
or institutions.  is is one institutional design prob-
lem that Publius confronts in the papers I reviewed.
e other occurs when the row player is one state and
the column player is another state. Public interest in
good social outcomes is institutionally focused and
incentivized by the federal government.  e intent
of constitutional design in certain areas is to make it
possible for the federal government to coordinate state
action in the public interest.
Publius engages three broad classes of powers granted
to the federal government in the papers I examined
for this essay.  e f‌i rst regards “security against foreign
danger” (Wills 1982, 203). One important problem
with noncentralized military power is coordination.
e national interest and that of every state is to be
secure, yet the burden of war—from f‌i nancing to
troop deployments—is not shared equally among
them. Publius writes, “America, united with a handful
of troops, or without a single soldier, exhibits a more
forbidding posture to foreign ambition, than America
Federalist No. 41: Does Polarization Inhibit Coordination?
Table 1 Coordination Game
Total Ban Partial Ban
Total Ban 6, 5 0,0
Partial Ban 0,0 5,6

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