Good Government

Good Government

The Relevance of Political Science

Edited by Sören Holmberg and Bo Rothstein

In all societies, the quality of government institutions is of the utmost importance for the well-being of its citizens. Problems like high infant mortality, lack of access to safe water, unhappiness and poverty are not primarily caused by a lack of technical equipment, effective medicines or other types of knowledge generated by the natural or engineering sciences. Instead, the critical problem is that the majority of the world’s population live in societies that have dysfunctional government institutions. Central issues discussed in the book include: how can good government be conceptualized and measured, what are the effects of ‘bad government’ and how can the quality of government be improved?

Chapter 1: Introduction: Political Science and the Importance of Good Government

Sören Holmberg and Bo Rothstein

Subjects: development studies, development studies, politics and public policy, international politics, political economy, public policy, regulation and governance


Sören Holmberg and Bo Rothstein In October 2009, a senator in the United States Congress from the Republican Party, Tom A. Colburn, proposed an amendment to cut off funding from the US National Science Foundation (NSF) to research in political science. His argument was that research produced by political scientists was a waste of taxpayers’ money because it is irrelevant to human well-being. Instead, Colburn argued, the NSF should redirect its funding to research in the natural sciences and engineering that would, for example, produce new biofuels or help people with severe disabilities. Although Colburn’s initiative was much criticized and eventually voted down, it has given rise to a lengthy discussion within the discipline as well as in the media about the issue of relevance. In October 2009, The New York Times ran an article in which several leading political scientists recognized that the discipline was experiencing increasing difficulty making a case for its relevance in broader social and political discourse. Among these were Joseph Nye, who stated: “the danger is that political science is moving in the direction of saying more and more about less and less”.1 Moreover, in 2010, panels at the annual meetings of both the American and the British political science associations were organized around the issue if, or to what extent, or for whom, political science should or could be relevant.2 The issue also came up in journals3 and reports from both the American and the European political science associations. An example is...