If you have any trouble downloading any of the manuscripts, please let me know and I will be happy to send you a copy by mail or e-mail.

I always appreciate comments.

    1. Bednar, Jenna. 2008. "An Identity-Based Theory of Federalism (Response to Rubin and Feeley)". Publius: The Journal of Federalism 38(2):197-201.
    2. Bednar, Jenna. 2008. Review of Daniel Ziblatt, Structuring the State: The Formation of Italy and Germany and the Puzzle of Federalism. Perspectives on Politics 6(1)199-200.
    3. Bednar, Jenna. 2004. "Authority Migration in Federations: A Framework for Analysis." PS: Political Science & Politics July pp. 403-408.
    4. Bednar, Jenna. "Formal Theories of Federalism." Winter, 2000 newsletter of the APSA Comparative Politics section. ( review in .pdf ) (bibliography in .pdf )

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file updated February 24, 2010


The Robust Federation (book project) August 2005.

In democracies, the relationship between the citizen and the state is problematic, but in federal democracies, the decentralized structure pits governments against one another in ways that may be destructive to the union and to the citizens. This same decentralized structure stymies citizen control. This book develops a theory of a robust ``self-enforcing'' federalism. Robustness differs from the stability, or maintenance of a fixed balance of power. Robustness requires an adaptive and ends-oriented functionalism that accommodates unavoidable intergovernmental opportunism, tolerates shocks, and adapts to changing circumstances, from globalization to evolving citizen preferences. A robust federation withstands challenges and still provides economic efficiency, improved representation, and military strength. Through a positive analysis illustrated by case histories, this book develops a theory of robust federations based upon a network of institutional safeguards that complement one another to manage this opportunism. This network operates like an immune system. Electoral rules, the party system, separation of powers and other forms of fragmentation, and the judiciary combine to form the web that makes the federation self-enforcing even though it cannot eliminate opportunism. It is impossible, therefore, to understand performance by examining institutional components in isolation. The analysis also embraces the intuition that culture matters to federalism by considering the effect of norm-generation and the common knowledge necessary to make institutions legitimate, and therefore effective.

The book begins with the following premise: the distribution of authority between the national and the state governments may be engineered to provide benefits to the citizens in the form of meta public goods: national security, economic efficiency, and quality representation. From this basic framework, the book makes two theoretical contributions to the study of federalism's design. First, while the division of authority may be set to optimize the federation's performance, the optimal division may not be sustainable. Distributions suggested by a constitution mean nothing if the governments have no incentive to abide by them, and intergovernmental retaliation, the baseline enforcement mechanism in any union (including international organizations), tends to be inefficient. The union's performance could be improved through design of its institutions to affect the incentive environment of the governments. This insight leads to the book's second contribution: while no institutional safeguard is sufficient to improve the union's prosperity, institutions work together to improve compliance with the distribution of authority, thereby boosting the union's performance. The second half of this book develops criteria for evaluating the efficiency of a network of institutional safeguards, based on their coverage of the internal sources of non-compliance, the redundancy of this coverage, and the complementarity of response, exploiting the additive properties of institutional safeguards.

"The Madisonian Scheme to Control the National Government." May 2002.

Madison set out to cure state mischief by strengthening the national government, a solution that begs the question: how do we control this new power? Madison had a two-pronged approach: interinstitutional conflict and electoral control. This essay discusses the weaknesses of both approaches. First, the federal structure creates a national power that at times has incentives to put aside its internal disagreements and compete with the state governments. Second, electoral control can fail because of the federal paradox: in a federation, voters have no way of articulating a general will regarding the union considered in its entirety. The consequence of oversubscription to Madison's political science is that we undervalue judicial review's stabilizing potential.

"Is Full Compliance Possible?"

Games of public good provision, collective action, and collusion share concern for the free rider that shirks on its obligations. According to the Folk Theorem, the free rider problem can be resolved through punishment mechanisms. Versions of the Folk Theorem even apply when monitoring is imperfect. Empirical evidence from E. Ostrom and others contradicts this theory: while often subjects cooperate significantly, rarely is all shirking eliminated. To reconcile theory with empirical evidence, I construct a general class of compliance models with imperfect monitoring through a common signal. I derive sufficient conditions---on both the utility of agents and the monitoring capabilities---under which slippage from full compliance is unavoidable, showing the limits of the Folk Theorem logic. The results cover most cases of concern to political scientists and political economists including public goods provision, contract and treaty compliance, collective action, and even Cournot competition. The paper concludes with a discussion about institutional design. (return to list)

"Can Game(s) Theory Explain Culture?" (with S. Page).

The hallmarks of “cultural behavior” are consistency within and across individuals, variance between populations, and often suboptimal performance. In this paper, we build a formal model that derives each of these four behavioral attributes. Our model rests on two simple assumptions: (i) agents play ensembles of games, not just single games as is traditionally the case in evolutionary game theory models and (ii) agents have limited cognitive abilities. We analyze our model using both agent-based techniques and mathematics. The former enable us to explore dynamics of the model and the latter allow us to prove when the behaviors produced by the agents are equilibria. Our results provide game theoretic foundations for cultural diversity and agent-based support for how cultural behavior might emerge. (return to list)

"Credit Assignment and Federal Encroachment."

Opportunistic encroachment by the national government on state policy domains erodes the robustness of federal unions.   Theories of electoral and political safeguards of federalism suggest that the political process protects federalism's boundaries.   This article develops a theory distinguishing risk-seeking and risk-avoiding political behavior and applies its insights to the debate about the sufficiency of the political process to police federalism.   Under average conditions, the political process deters encroachment, but under more extreme conditions it fails: elected officials set policy according to the risk associated with their electoral retention rather than the policy's expected return to the voters or the health of the federation; this manipulation of the risk environment may lead a central government to encroach upon a state's domain opportunistically.   The federal problem of credit assignment exposes a weakness in the political safeguards theory to protect federalism's boundaries: electoral mechanisms both encourage and discourage encroachment.   Due to this fallibility in the political process, judicial intervention in federalism disputes may be justified.

"Shirking and Stability in Federal Systems" April 2001.

Intergovernmental regimes, from treaty organizations to federations, never operate in perfect harmony. Our instinct is to fine-tune the institutions that regulate relations between the governments until we eliminate all tension. With a model of incomplete information, this paper explains the persistence of shirking in intergovernmental organizations by showing that except under special circumstances, no full contribution equilibrium exists. Instead, the optimal possible equilibrium includes a suboptimal productive level from the union with occasional serious disputes. The institutionalized shirking and periodic disputes can be reinterpreted as evidence of an institutional structure that works well, rather than needing repair.

The results are extended in two ways. First, the players can opt out of the union. In the symmetric example, exit options only increase benefits if they are superior to the union's offerings: moderate to mediocre exit options {\it reduce} utility. In a second extension, the paper considers the effect of various forms of asymmetry on the equilibrium contributions by members. Here, we see that exit options may be of benefit to certain players, but not all.

The paper concludes with the suggestion that we design institutions that accommodate the natural tendency to shirk and efficiently manage any resulting tension. Although the model is motivated by federalism, the results may be interpreted generally for all repeated public good provision problems with a continuous action space and imperfect monitoring.

"Judicial Predictability and Federal Stability"

Institutions structure incentive environments for strategic actors. What is the effect of a flawed institution---one that is not perfectly predictable---on strategic behavior? This paper focuses on the influence of the judiciary on intergovernmental rivalry in a federation, in particular considering how shifts in judicial predictability affect federal opportunism. Results of the model indicate that governments in a federation challenge one another’s behavior in court less frequently as the judiciary grows more predictable, but the effect of predictability on opportunism depends upon the cost of challenging an agent. When costs are low, increasing the predictability of the court increases opportunism, contrary to intuition. The model is extended to consider the effect of a biased court. (return to list)

"Federalism, Judicial Independence, and the Power of Precedent." February 2001.

In this essay I discuss the importance of judicial independence to federalism. After setting the stage with a brief argument on the inadequacy of political safeguards to protect federalism and the usefulness of judicial safeguards, I turn to a discussion of judicial independence and two necessary conditions for judicial safeguards. In the final section I propose an argument about the power-creating force of precedent.