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Tutor profile: Vincent B.

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Vincent B.
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Questions

Subject: US Government and Politics

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Question:

How does the "pivotal politics" model of congressional decision-making conceptualize the incentive structure for legislators?

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Vincent B.
Answer:

Outlined in Keith Krehbiel’s Pivotal Politics, “pivotal politics” sets forth a model of lawmaking wherein the enactment of different parliamentary rules and procedures dictate which members are pivotal and when. A member becomes “pivotal” whenever their sole support is needed to win the vote, essentially whenever conditions of collective action locate a specific legislator as the barrier to victory (Krehbiel 23). Such conditions are framed within a unidimensional policy space that can be visualized as a continuous ideological spectrum from liberal to conservative on which one can place all members (Krehbiel 21). There also exists an exogenous status quo point that consists of currently operative policy, or more generally as prior outcomes of collective decision-making, that acts as the backdrop for current policy considerations (Krehbiel 22). Each member, or “lawmaker,” retains an “ideal point” along this unidimensional policy space, wherein a policy exists that will grant the lawmaker maximal benefits when compared to all other policies under consideration (Krehbiel 22). This claim highlights a central assumption of the pivotal politics model: members will always vote for the policy that is ‘closest’ to their ideal point (Krehbiel 22). Lawmakers are thus individuated, utility-maximizing actors that are always acting in their own static policy interests, against the backdrop of the status quo, and under the constraints of supermajoritarian procedures (Krehbiel 23-25).

Subject: Philosophy

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Question:

How does Immanuel Kant's epistemology counteract the empirical skepticism of David Hume?

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Vincent B.
Answer:

Kant seeks to undo Hume’s skepticism by proving the existence of a category of judgment that Hume believes is impossible: synthetic a priori judgments. Kant dissents from Hume first by claiming that experience is necessary but insufficient for the creation of ideas, insofar as our sense provide the content of our knowledge but our reason provides the form. Synthetic a priori judgments are then facts about the world that we can know prior to our experiences, such as “everything has a cause” or “nothing comes from nothing.” Such judgments originate from pure understanding and pure reason while concurrently expanding beyond their defined subject as to provide new knowledge about the world. This new category of judgment, which Kant finds in math and geometry and wishes to extend to metaphysics, acts as the foundation for Kant’s transcendental idealism and serves to counter Hume’s empiricist skepticism.

Subject: Comparative Government and Politics

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Question:

How did Cold War ideology influence the United States' postwar view of developing nations?

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Vincent B.
Answer:

IBroadly construed, the United States viewed developing nations as key sites of opportunity for gaining footholds on either side of the capitalism-communism chasm (Westad 131). On one level, the United States sought a mix of developmental and defensive approaches to new states, wherein the provision of “structural solutions to the Communist challenge” through assisted institutional reform would be conceived as explicitly against existing or potential left-wing or Communist elements (Westad 111). By implementing political-economic reform as a means of safeguarding nascent nations against current or future Communist influence, the United States sought to pave the road to capitalist convergence and pro-Western sentiment through institutional and economic liberalization. However, the ideological rigidity that undergirds this dual orientation towards developing nations retrenched a “perceptual dilemma” for US policymakers: do domestic politics need to be righted before US reform initiatives could occur, and if so, how? (Westad 111). Often, this dilemma would be solved through the creation of bilateral alliances based on a notion of mutually beneficial reciprocity with pro-Western, moderate leaders (Jackson 22). In many instances, however, such a leader would need to be found, created, and installed through a three-pronged strategy of beneficial economic aid, military alliances or support, and mutually agreed-upon ideological commitments to pro-Western sentiment and explicit anti-Communism (Jackson 22-23).

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