American Government and Politics

A Political-Economic Theory of Political Time



Skowronek’s theory of “political time” is one of the most cited theories of the presidency. But it does not specify a causal mechanism. Each president merely reacts to their predecessor or to historical circumstance. Skowronek also suggests that the power of history may be diminishing over time. This paper addresses the causality issue in both instances. It argues two points. First, political time is ultimately driven by the widely perceived failure of existing political commitments to deal with a timely, deep, and prolonged economic crisis. Second, since the late 1970s, Reagan-era commitments to modern macroeconomic management strategies have been used to avoid a prolonged economic crisis. There may be sudden sharp economic downturns, but they do not affect enough voters for a long enough time to trigger a Disjunctive-Reconstructive transition. Hence the power of history has not waned. Rather, the causal nature of political time has been under-specified.


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