Spring 2000

A Message from the Dean

Cities at the Horizon
Communities at the Horizon
Eastward from Our Horizon: U.S., China & Russia
Beyond the Horizon: Innovation and Technology

ILE Lecture: Charles A. Heimbold, Jr. L'60
Profile: Richard E. Rosin L'68
Profile: Pamela Daley L'79
Profile: Professor Jason Johnston
Profile: Howard Chang
Profile: Robert A. Gorman
Oral Legal History Project

Snippets of History
Symposium
Faculty Notes
Alumni Briefs
In Memoriam

Penn Law


The interesting thing is that theyíre making these decisions not as citizens of a fixed jurisdiction, but as purchasers of a particular package of services and opportunities. With respect to the United States, we feel that this is where we live. For most people, it is just a given and it becomes sort of a moral framework in which your whole life gets played out. But I donít think people treat cities that way. With respect to a city, people are really doing what the economists say theyíre doing, which is making choices between jurisdictions based on a package of services. Many people want to move back into cities but they are not going to exercise that choice if they have to give up too much of what theyíre used to.

Towards Civic Re-engagement

One problem a lot of people talk about regarding civic engagement is Americaís notoriously low voter turnout. But there is an element of modern technology that could increase levels of voting tremendously that we havenít taken advantage of. Thatís not the Internet; itís the telephone. We still insist that people trudge down to voting booths, either because of cynical judgments based on who will be disadvantaged by a low turnout or an atavistic notion that people have to gather in person in order to cast their votes.

Now that we have the Internet, itís even more obvious that you could completely eliminate the low turnout that so many politicians and pundits wring their hands over, just by allowing the use of this very modern technology to make voting even easier. When you think about the Internet, not only can people vote over it, they can get the kind of information that you couldnít conceivably communicate face-to-face or in a booklet. People can take the time to look at a Web page, click down and read about the issues. You couldnít solely rely on the Internet (until everyone has access) but you can begin with using the telephone as a voting instrument and use the Internet as a supplement.

As far as other forms of civic engagement are concerned, we tend to regard voting and forms of selfless participation, like campaigning, as virtue and self-interested participation, like lobbying, as a sort of a vice. In fact, there are very high levels of engagement of people with government in different capacities. Lobbying is probably the primary way that people are engaged with government. Over thirty years ago, William Riker and Mancur Olson wrote books using a public choice analysis for government. (Riker: The Theory of Political Coalitions, 1962; Olson: The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups, 1965.)They each claimed that small narrow interest groups would dominate the lobbying process, and they based this claim on the idea that you could not get a large diffuse group of people with interests that werenít immediately economic in nature to form interest groups and participate in government. 

That theory was empirically invalidated within two years when the consumer movement and the environmental movement got organized. Most of the people involved in the consumer movement are people who donít need consumer protection. Theyíre campaigning on behalf of the poor. Most of the environmental movement is about saving the whales, saving the Alaska wilderness Ė itís not exactly the immediate recreational opportunities of the people who are campaigning.

These are things that public choice analysts predicted would be impossible. But these movements have become powerful and have been sustained because of peopleís willingness to become involved. This is really a major part of the political landscape of our era Ė itís based on involvement and engagement. Itís a very intensive citizenship and a very intensive participation.


Next Section