Politics Everywhere

Politics Everywhere

Jun 10 '09

One of the fun things about being a political scientist is that politics is everywhere. It’s in Washington, state capitols, towns, schools, churches, businesses, organizations, families, etc. This is a point I always try to convey to students.

To me, the ubiquity of politics is underappreciated. At least, it’s underappreciated relative to some other foundational phenomena, such as markets. Indeed, economists have been quite entrepreneurial and effective in describing the many ways in which economic logic applies to “daily life.”

So, in the spirit of Marginal Revolution’s recurring and always interesting feature “Markets in Everything” — don’t miss this one! — this is the inaugural “Politics Everywhere.”

I’ll be operationalizing “politics” based on the definitions quoted in this earlier post, such as this one:

bq. Politics refers to conflicts over the character, membership, and policies of any organization to which people belong. As Harold Lasswell, a famous political scientist once put it, politics is the struggle over “who gets what, when, and how.”

The first installment involves surfing (story). Instead of “governing the commons,” we might call this “governing the Pipeline.”

Here’s the problem:

bq. At Pipeline, large, punishing waves break over a shallow-water reef. With a small takeoff zone comes a small window of time to make critical decisions and dozens of surfers vying for the same waves. Pipeline is considered one of the world’s most dangerous surf spots…

And here’s the politics:

bq. They are known as the Wolfpak or simply “the boys.” They use fear and their fists to command respect in the surf along the North Shore of Oahu, a seven-mile stretch of some of the world’s most renowned waves. At the celebrated Banzai Pipeline, they determine which waves go to whom, and punish those who breach their code of respect for local residents and the waves…

bq. …As surfing has become increasingly popular, some say fear of violent reprisal ensures order and safety at congested and perilous surf spots like Pipeline.

bq. “It’s a dangerous environment, and without a self-governing control pattern it would just be chaos out there,” Rarick said.

More installments to come. Please feel free to send me suggestions.