William Keech-Social and Decision Sciences - Carnegie Mellon University

William Keech

Emeritus Professor of Political Economy, Social and Decision Sciences


Ph.D.: University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1966


A consistent theme in my academic career has been the nature and consequences of democratic institutions. My initial investigation of this topic was a study of the consequences of enfranchisement for the well-being of black citizens. This study was a simple, empirical project in an area where there seemed to be very little relevant theory. Early in my career as a political scientist, it became apparent to me that economics included some theoretical concepts that were relevant to political analysis, but were not part of the normal political science training. Since then, and with the help of a National Science Foundation Professional Development Grant taken in 1977-1978, I have sought to learn the parts of economics that help us to understand politics.

Both political science and economics deal with the aggregation of preferences: for the former predominantly in elections and for the latter predominantly in markets. One of the features of economics that attracted me the most was that it had clear standards for the valuation of outcomes, such as Pareto optimality, and that it offered a basis for assessing the relationship between institutions, such as competitive markets, and outcomes, such as the allocation of resources. I had imagined that this logic could be applied to political questions, and used as a basis for choosing among institutional arrangements.

In the world of politics that I observe, the relationship between preferences, institutions, and outcomes is more fluid than that in economics. Whereas most economists consider individual preferences as given and fixed, I believe that many important political preferences are not predetermined, but rather a function of experience. Also, the desirability of outcomes is contestable, and neither preferences nor outcomes provide Archimedean points that are a solid basis for the choice of political institutions. Moreover, we know from Kenneth Arrow, a leading economist, that when there are more than two alternatives, there are no perfect institutional mechanisms for the aggregation of political preferences.

Therefore, democratic politics involves an iterative series of processes in which institutions filter existing preferences into outcomes. If the outcomes are unsatisfactory, the institutions may be changed, or, possibly, even the preferences may change. My research interests are guided by this framework, and have involved, among other things, the assessment of American democratic institutions with regard to macroeconomic policy. They currently involve the comparison of democracy and dictatorship in the Americas regarding economic performance. As part of this project, I have recently travelled to Argentina and Chile.


Keech, W.R., 1968, 1981. The impact of Negro voting: The role of the vote the quest for equality. Chicago: Rand McNally, Westport, CT: Greenwood.

Chappell, Jr., H.W. & W.R. Keech 1983. Welfare consequences of the six year presidential term evaluated in the context of a model of the U.S. economy. American Political Science Review, 77:75-91.

Chappell, Jr., H.W. & W.R. Keech 1986. Policy motivation and party differences in a dynamic spatial model of party competition American Political Science Review, 80:881-899.

Keech, W.R. & K. Pak 1989. Electoral cycles and budgetary growth in veteran's benefit programs. American Journal of Political Science, 33: 901-911.

Keech, W.R. 1991. Politics, economics, and politics again. Journal of Politics, 53:597-611.

Keech, W.R. 1995. Economic Politics: The Costs of Democracy. New York: Cambridge University Press. Paperback and Hardback