Journal article written by 1991 Abe Fellow Sadafumi Kawato based on his project “Comparative Study of Legislatures and the Development of Political Parties.” Co-authors include David Epstein, David Brady, and Sharyn O’Halloran.
Theory: This paper provides a comparative study of legislative institutions in the United States and Japan. It explains the rise of committee-based legislative organizations as an institutional choice made by rational legislators deciding how best to regularize their career advancement subject to electoral and constitutional constraints. Hypotheses: We argue that the rise of careerism within a legislature leads to a regularized system of career advancement, or a seniority system. Furthermore, the details of this system depend on the heterogeneity of intra-party preferences and each country’s electoral and constitutional system. To the extent that parties can offer members electoral security and influence over policy, they will retain control over the policy-making process. Otherwise, control will devolve to smaller organizational units, such as committees. Methods: We develop a new measure of seniority within committees. We present statistical evidence linking a rise in average tenure within both legislatures to a regularization of careers, and detailing the nature of committee-based seniority in each country. Results: In the United States, single-member electoral districts, alternating party control, and a separation of powers system gave legislators an incentive to create committee-based policy jurisdictions. In Japan, multi-member districts, single-party control, and a parliamentary system led to a unique two-tiered seniority system in which members rise first through committees and then through cabinet posts.