The aim of this Collaborative Research Center is to gain novel insights into the constraints on political reforms in welfare states. To this end, the interdisciplinary Center brings together more than 80 senior and junior researchers from economics, political science, sociology and informatics. The projects hosted at the Center address various aspects of the political economy of reforms, including individual attitudes on reforms and the aggregation of these attitudes into organized interests (project group A), the context and spatial dimension of reforms in welfare states (project group B), and the political process of reform making with a focus on the role of political parties (project group C).
The research projects share the common approach of evaluating competing theoretical models from a political economy perspective. Through interdisciplinary cooperation, the Center promotes research that empirically evaluates to what extent actors (citizens, interest groups, political parties, governments) rationally evaluate reforms based on their available information and to what extent they fail to fully understand the consequences of complex reform proposals. The research findings will have important implications for both the scientific understanding of reform-making and the practical advice for policy makers.
The Collaborative Research Center stands for a rigorous methodological approach in studying reform making and the projects involved aim to overcome the terminological blurriness surrounding the term reform. Empirically, the projects avoid the selection bias generated by the tendency to focus on reform failures rather than on both failures and success. Since the empirical evaluation of competing views of reform-making is a challenging econometric endeavour, the Center promotes the development of novel econometric tools for the analysis of complex decisions involving multiple issues and actors with changing positions over time. The Data Center of the Research Center collects and manages the vast amount of quantitative data on reform-making in Germany and other welfare states.
The quantitative political economy approach for the study of political reforms requires collaborative efforts in data gathering, the evaluation of competing views on reform-making and a long-term research strategy. The Center is thus divided into three specific research groups:
Individual Attitudes and Multi-Level Aggregation of Reform Interests
To examine the micro-foundations of reforms, i.e. the formation and aggregation of actors’ attitudes and interests. The theoretical analysis mainly applies the tools of game theory and mechanism design theory to study the feasibility of reforms under (in)complete information about individual and collective reform costs and benefits. The theoretical analysis will guide the empirical research that will be based on new data on individual reform preferences, reform-related knowledge, expectations, and on experiments in which participants will be confronted with different stimuli representing various policy options and their likely consequences.
The Spatial Dimension of Reform Making in Welfare States
A second research area studies the spatial contexts of reforms, i.e. differences in contexts across countries, regions, and policy sectors. The projects in this areas pay particular attention to labour markets, social security, and the public sector. The quantitative analysis of sectoral reform-making considers the contextual implications of both reform successes and failures. A special emphasis of this research will be on the ex-post evaluation of economic policy reforms. This also involves RCTs in Europe and developing countries.
The Political Process of Reform Making
This research group concentrates on the political process of reform making. The projects investigate this dimension by developing measures for the need for reform, the motivations, and the restrictions of political actors to initiate and adopt reforms. The common empirical analysis will use state of the art techniques to estimate the reform potential and in particular the roles of parties.
As the core infrastructure of the SFB, the Data Center will build an internet panel survey in order to gain data on individual attitudes and preferences relevant for reform decision-making. This internet panel will constitute the core engine to collect individual micro data for the projects of the SFB. The Data Center will also provide the infrastructure for additional survey instruments, focusing on political elites. These data will be commonly used by researchers and eventually be made available to the scientific community.