How we (should?) study Congress and history

Abstract

Applying an array of quasi-experimental designs, proponents of causal inference approaches to studying American politics are setting their sights on the study of Congress. In many ways, that focus makes sense: improved research design allows us to draw stronger analytical inferences from observational data, bolstering our understanding of legislative politics. But are the pursuit and methods of causal inference equally well suited to the study of Congress and history? In this article, I consider the application of causal inference methods in historically oriented studies of Congress. Drawing from my coauthored work on the interdependence of Congress and the Federal Reserve over the Fed’s first century and earlier work on the institutional evolution of Congress, I point to the tradeoffs between knowledge and certainty that are endemic in causal inference approaches—and arguably especially so in the study of Congress and history.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Also keep in mind that before 1995, the Federal Reserve did not announce its rate decisions publicly; analysts had to back out rate changes by observing shifts in inter-bank overnight lending.

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Acknowledgements

I thank Chris Tausanovitch and participants in the USC Causal Inference and American Political Development Conference for insightful comments and Eric Lawrence and Mark Spindel for helpful conversations and collaborations along the way.

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Correspondence to Sarah Binder.

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Binder, S. How we (should?) study Congress and history. Public Choice 185, 415–427 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11127-019-00693-5

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Keywords

  • Congress
  • History
  • Federal Reserve
  • Monetary politics

JEL Classification

  • N00
  • H00
  • G28