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Article

Conal Duddy and Ashley Piggins

Kenneth Arrow’s “impossibility” theorem is rightly considered to be a landmark result in economic theory. It is a far-reaching result with implications not just for economics but for political science, philosophy, and many other fields. It has inspired an enormous literature, “social choice theory,” which lies on the interface of economics, politics, and philosophy. Arrow first proved the impossibility theorem in his doctoral dissertation—Social Choice and Individual Values—published in 1951. It is a remarkable result, and had Arrow not proved it, it is unlikely that the theorem would be known today. A social choice is simply a choice made by, or on behalf of, a group of people. Arrow’s theorem is concerned more specifically with the following problem. Suppose that we have a given set of options to choose from and that each member of a group of individuals has his or her own preference over these options. By what method should we construct a single ranking of the options for the group as a whole? Any such method may be represented mathematically by a “social welfare function.” This is a function that receives as its input the preference ordering of each individual and then generates as its output a social preference ordering. Arrow defined some properties that would seem to be essential to any reasonable social welfare function. These properties are called “unrestricted domain,” “weak Pareto,” “independence of irrelevant alternatives,” and “non-dictatorship.” Each of these properties, when taken alone, does appear to be very necessary indeed. Yet, Arrow proved that these properties are in fact mutually incompatible. This troubling fact has been central to the study of social choice ever since.

Article

Most people in human history have lived under some kind of nondemocratic rule. Political scientists, on the other hand, have focused most efforts on democracies. The borders demarcating ideal types of democracies from nondemocracies are fuzzy, but beyond finding those borders is another, arguably greater, inferential challenge: understanding politics under authoritarianism. For instance, many prior studies ignored transitions between different authoritarian regimes and saw democratization as the prime threat to dictators. However, recent scholarship has shown this to be an error, as more dictators are replaced by other dictators than by democracy. A burgeoning field of authoritarianism scholarship has made considerable headway in the endeavor to comprehend dictatorial politics over the past two decades. Rather than attempting to summarize this literature in its entirety, three areas of research are worth reviewing, related to change inside of the realm of authoritarian politics. The two more mature sets of research have made critical contributions, the first in isolating different kinds of authoritarian turnover and the second in separating the plethora of authoritarian regimes into more coherent categories using various typologies. How do we understand authoritarian turnover? Authoritarian regimes undergo distinct, dramatic, and observable changes at three separate levels—in leaders, regimes, and authoritarianism itself. Drawing distinctions between these changes improves our understanding of the ultimate fates of dictators and authoritarian regimes. How do we understand the diversity of authoritarian regimes? Scholarship has focused on providing competing accounts of authoritarian types, along with analyses of institutional setup of regimes as well as their organization of military forces. Authoritarian typologies, generally coding regimes by the identities of their leaders and elite allies, show common tendencies, and survival patterns tend to vary across types. The third research area, still developing, goes further into assessing changes inside authoritarian regimes by estimating the degree of personalized power across regimes, the causes and consequences of major policy changes—or reforms—and rhetorical or ideological shifts.

Article

Lucia Quaglia

The banking union is considered to be one of the main steps in economic integration in the European Union. Given the rather recent establishment of this policy, academic research on the banking union does not have a long lineage, yet it is an area of bourgeoning academic enquiry. There are three main “waves” of research on the banking union in political science, which have mostly proceeded in a chronological order. The first wave of scholarly work focused on the “road” to banking union, from the breaking out of the sovereign debt crisis in the euro area in 2010 to the agreement on the blueprint for the banking union in 2012, explaining why it was set up. The second wave of literature explained how the banking union was set up and took an “asymmetric” shape, whereby banking supervision was transferred to the European Central Bank (ECB); however, banking resolution partly remained at the national level, whereas other components of the banking union, namely, a common deposit guarantee scheme and a common fiscal backstop, were not set up. The third wave of research discussed the functioning of the banking union, its effects and defects. The banking union has slowly brought about significant changes in the banking systems of the member states of the euro area and in government–business relations in the banking sector, even though these effects have varied considerably across countries.

Article

Capitalist peace theory (CPT) has gained considerable attention in international relations theory and the conflict literature. Its proponents maintain that a capitalist organization of an economy pacifies states internally and externally. They portray CPT either as a complement or as a substitute to other liberal explanations such as the democratic peace thesis. They, however, disagree about the facet of capitalism that is supposed to reduce the risk of political violence. Key contributions have identified three main drivers of the capitalist peace phenomenon: the fiscal constraints that a laissez-faire regimen puts on potentially aggressive governments, the mollifying norms that a capitalist organization creates; and the increased ability of capitalist governments to signal their intentions effectively in a confrontation with an adversary. Defining capitalism narrowly through the freedom entrepreneurs enjoy domestically, this article evaluates the key causal mechanisms and empirical evidence that have been advanced in support of these competing claims. The article argues that CPT needs to be based on a narrow definition of capitalism and that it should scrutinize motives and constraints of the main actors more deeply. Future contributions to the CPT literature should also pay close attention to classic theories of capitalism, which all considered individual risk taking and the dramatic changes between booms and busts to be key constitutive features of this form of economic governance. Finally, empirical tests of the proposed causal mechanism should rely on data sets in which capitalists appear as actors and not as “structures.” If the literature takes these objections seriously, CPT could establish itself as central theory of peace and war in two respects. First, it could serve as an antidote to the theory of imperialism and other “critical” approaches that see in capitalism a source of conflict rather than of peace. Second, it could become an important complement to commercial liberalism that stresses the external openness rather than the internal freedoms as an economic cause of peace and that particularly sees trade and foreign direct investment as pacifying forces.

Article

Simona Piattoni and Laura Polverari

Cohesion policy is one of the longest-standing features of the European construction; its roots have been traced as far back as the Treaty of Rome. Over time, it has become one of the most politically salient and sizable policies of the European Union, absorbing approximately one-third of the EU budget. Given its principles and “shared management” approach, it mobilizes many different actors at multiple territorial scales, and by promoting “territorial cooperation” it has encouraged public authorities to work together, thus overcoming national borders. Furthermore, cohesion policy is commonly considered the most significant expression of solidarity between member states and the most tangible way in which EU citizens “experience” the European Union. While retaining its overarching mission of supporting lagging regions and encouraging the harmonious development of the Union, cohesion policy has steadily evolved and adapted in response to new internal and external challenges, such as those generated by subsequent rounds of enlargement, globalization, and shifting political preferences regarding what the EU should be about. Just as the policy has evolved over time in terms of its shape and priorities, so have the theoretical understandings of economic development that underpin its logic, the nature of intergovernmental relations, and the geographical and administrative space(s) within which the EU polity operates. For example, whereas overcoming the physical barriers to economic development were the initial targets in the 1960s and 1970s, and redesigning manufacturing clusters were those of the 1980s and 1990s, fostering advanced knowledge and technological progress became the focus of cohesion policy in the new century. At the same time, cohesion policy also inspired or even became a testing ground for new theories, such as multilevel governance, Europeanization, or smart specialization. Given its redistributive nature, debates have proliferated around its impact, added value, and administrative cost, as well as the institutional characteristics that it requires to function. These deliberations have, in turn, informed the policy in its periodic transformations. Political factors have also played a key role in shaping the evolution of the policy. Each reform has been closely linked to the debates on the European budget, where the net positions of member states have tended to dominate the agenda. An outcome of this process has been the progressive alignment with wider strategic goals beyond cohesion and convergence and the strengthening of linkages with the European Semester. However, some argue that policymakers have failed to properly consider the perverse effects of austerity on regional disparities. These unresolved tensions are particularly significant in a context denoted by a rise of populist and nativist movements, increasing social discontent, and strengthening Euroskepticism. As highlighted by research on its communication, cohesion policy may well be the answer for winning back the hearts and minds of European citizens. Whether and how this may be achieved will likely be the focus of research in the years ahead.

Article

Ever since Aristotle, the comparative study of political regimes and their performance has relied on classifications and typologies. The study of democracy today has been influenced heavily by Arend Lijphart’s typology of consensus versus majoritarian democracy. Scholars have applied it to more than 100 countries and sought to demonstrate its impact on no less than 70 dependent variables. This paper summarizes our knowledge about the origins, functioning, and consequences of two basic types of democracy: those that concentrate power and those that share and divide power. In doing so, it will review the experience of established democracies and question the applicability of received wisdom to new democracies.

Article

Nick Sitter and Elisabeth Bakke

Democratic backsliding in European Union (EU) member states is not only a policy challenge for the EU, but also a potential existential crisis. If the EU does too little to deal with member state regimes that go back on their commitments to democracy and the rule of law, this risks undermining the EU from within. On the other hand, if the EU takes drastic action, this might split the EU. This article explores the nature and dynamics of democratic backsliding in EU member states, and analyses the EU’s capacity, policy tools and political will to address the challenge. Empirically it draws on the cases that have promoted serious criticism from the Commission and the European Parliament: Hungary, Poland, and to a lesser extent, Romania. After reviewing the literature and defining backsliding as a gradual, deliberate, but open-ended process of de-democratization, the article analyzes the dynamics of backsliding and the EU’s difficulties in dealing with this challenge to liberal democracy and the rule of law. The Hungarian and Polish populist right’s “illiberal” projects involve centralization of power in the hands of the executive and the party, and limiting the independence of the judiciary, the media and civil society. This has brought both governments into direct confrontation with the European Commission. However, the EU’s track record in managing backsliding crises is at best mixed. This comes down to a combination of limited tools and lack of political will. Ordinary infringement procedures offer a limited toolbox, and the Commission has proven reluctant to use even these tools fully. At the same time, party groups in the European Parliament and many member state governments have been reluctant to criticize one of their own, let alone go down the path of suspending aspect of a states’ EU membership. Hence the EU’s dilemma: it is caught between undermining its own values and cohesion through inaction on one hand, and relegating one or more member states it to a second tier—or even pushing them out altogether—on the other.

Article

The 1992 Salvadoran peace accords ended a 12-year civil war and forced modest democratic reforms on a state long dominated by a ruthless oligarchy and military. However, the new system represented a shallow version of democracy that remained largely unresponsive to the population. For two decades the far-right Alianza Republicana Nacionalista (Nationalist Republican Alliance [ARENA]) party held the presidency and used it to enact pro-business economic policies of austerity, privatization, and deregulation. In 2009, the left-wing opposition party, the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), won the presidential elections for the first time. Yet despite winning some notable progressive reforms, the FMLN did not seek, much less achieve, a radical break from the neoliberal policies of previous administrations. FMLN leaders opted to continue a number of pro-capitalist policies while pursuing reforms to ameliorate the worst symptoms of the system, not overthrow it. The FMLN’s shift away from revolutionary socialism is attributable to several factors: a political and media terrain that still heavily favors the right, the continued influence of the United States government, and private investors’ control over the economy. These constraints were vitally important during the tenures of FMLN presidents Mauricio Funes (2009–2014) and Salvador Sánchez Cerén (2014–2019). El Salvador’s political trajectory since 1992, and especially during the FMLN’s decade in the presidency, offers insights into the constraints facing various left-of-center governments elected across Latin America in the early 21st century.

Article

Despite theoretical assumptions about the potential for financial liberalization in Latin America to foster economic growth, empirical developments revealed a different story. With financial liberalization came greater macroeconomic instability, exposing countries to financial crises even when domestic economic fundamentals were mostly in order. At the policy front, capital account liberalization posed crucial challenges to macroeconomic governance. Indeed, international political economy literature on financial globalization has highlighted that developing countries’ governments who chose to implement policies that contradicted financial markets’ expectations could be “disciplined” or “punished” by the threat of capital outflows. Yet, capital flows to emerging economies are not determined solely by domestic (push) factors. Even in the most extreme case of noncompliance with investors’ (creditors’) preferences—i.e., sovereign default—evidence shows that market re-access and the cost of new debt are a function of credit cycles rather than solely determined by investors’ decisions to “punish” defaulters. In addition, to the extent that the “market” can indeed be considered as a single analytical category, industry-specific incentives shape portfolio investors’ bets. Caveats also apply to how market reforms differed in nature and degree, even in Latin American countries subjected to similar external pressures. The same is true for policy responses to the 2008 financial crisis. These dynamics add necessary nuance to broad depictions of financial liberalization as a deterministic process unequivocally constraining domestic policy autonomy in predictable ways.

Article

The open economic policies Latin American countries adopted in the wake of the debt crisis of the early 1980s were expected to bring a variety of benefits. Trade liberalization and privatization make domestic firms more competitive, and deregulation helps to create an efficient business climate. Notably, such policies are also likely to spur foreign investment seeking new opportunities, and Latin American countries did indeed begin to see large inflows in the 1990s. Foreign direct investment (FDI) is thought to be particularly complementary to economic development. Compared to portfolio investment in stocks and bonds, FDI consists of the construction or purchasing of physical assets including manufacturing facilities, retail outlets, hotels, and mines. FDI should spur local economic activity and bring with it jobs and technology transfers. Furthermore, because divestment takes planning and time, direct investment is relatively long-term, so investors are expected to display greater commitments to the economic and political futures of their hosts. As a result of these substantial potential benefits, a body of scholarship has emerged to try to understand the political dynamics of FDI. Is investment more likely to flow to democratic or authoritarian regimes? Are direct investors seeking countries with few labor protections and weak environmental regulations or are they attracted to public investments in human capital? Do they eschew governments with poor human rights records or do they see abusers as potential partners in managing a compliant workforce? What are the effects of FDI flows on the political contexts of their hosts? Among others, these questions have received significant scholarly attention, and while we have learned a great deal about the behavior and effects of FDI, considerable potential remains. Having received massive inflows averaging more than $100 billion between 2000 and 2017 and consisting of countries with broadly similar development trajectories, Latin America offers a rich landscape for such analysis. In particular, finer-grained examinations of FDI to Latin American countries can help us understand how it might affect political systems and which types of investment best complement national development projects. In so doing, studies of FDI flows to Latin America are poised to make major contributions to the fields of international political economy, development studies, and comparative politics.

Article

Anna M. Meyerrose, Thomas Edward Flores, and Irfan Nooruddin

The end of the Cold War, heralded as the ideological triumph of (Western) liberal democracy, was accompanied by an electoral boom and historically high levels of economic development. More recently, however, democratic progress has stalled, populism has been on the rise, and a number of democracies around the world are either backsliding or failing entirely. What explains this contemporary crisis of democracy despite conditions theorized to promote democratic success? Research on democratization and democracy promotion tends to focus predominantly on elections. Although necessary for democracy, free and fair elections are more effective at promoting democratic progress when they are held in states with strong institutions, such as those that can guarantee the rule of law and constraints on executive power. However, increased globalization and international economic integration have stunted the development of these institutions by limiting states’ economic policy options, and, as a result, their fiscal policy space. When a state’s fiscal policy space—or, its ability to collect and spend revenue—is limited, governments are less able to provide public goods to citizens, politicians rely on populist rather than ideological appeals to win votes, and elections lose their democratizing potential. Additional research from a political–economic framework that incorporates insights from studies on state building and institutions with recent approaches to democratization and democracy promotion, which focus predominantly on elections, is needed. Such a framework provides avenues for additional research on the institutional aspects of ongoing democratization and democratic backsliding.

Article

Globalization, or increased interconnectedness between world regions, is a dialectical and recursive phenomenon that consequently tends to deepen through time as one set of flows sets off other related or counterflows. This is evident in the history of the phenomenon in Africa, where transcontinental trade, and later investment, were initially small but have grown through different rounds including slavery, colonialism, neocolonialism, and the early 21st-century era of globalization. However, globalization on the continent, as in other places, is not unilinear and has generated a variety of “regional responses” in terms of the construction of organizations such as the African Union and other more popularly based associations. The phenomenon of globalization on the continent is deepening through the information technology “revolution,” which also creates new possibilities for regional forms of association.

Article

Land-related disputes and land conflicts are sometimes politicized in elections in African countries, but this is usually not the case. Usually, land-related conflict is highly localized, managed at the micro-political level by neo-customary authorities, and not connected to electoral competition. Why do land conflicts sometimes become entangled in electoral politics, and sometimes “scale up” to become divisive issues in regional and national elections? A key determinant of why and how land disputes become politicized is the nature of the underlying land tenure regime, which varies across space (often by subnational district) within African countries. Under the neo-customary land tenure regimes that prevail in most regions of smallholder agriculture in most African countries, land disputes tend to be “bottled up” in neo-customary land-management processes at the local level. Under the statist land tenure regimes that exist in some districts of many African countries, government agents and officials are directly involved in land allocation and directly implicated in dispute resolution. Under “statist” land tenure institutions, the politicization of land conflict, especially around elections, becomes more likely. Land tenure institutions in African countries define landholders’ relations to each other, the state, and markets. Understanding these institutions, including how they come under pressure and change, goes far in explaining how and where land rights become politicized.

Article

The labor market of the 21st century is evolving at a rapid pace, making traditional manufacturing and agricultural jobs increasingly precarious and generating significant pressure for turnover, retraining, and adaptation by workers. Latin America’s labor regulation, adopted in the middle of the 20th century to foster industrial development and incorporate urban workers, has been slow to adapt to these conditions. Its restrictive and costly hiring and firing rules offer stronger protections than in many other parts of the world, but they often apply to a diminishing minority of laborers. Despite a few exceptions, once-strong unions have been hollowed out in the region, and workers have become increasingly atomized in their job seeking. The region’s educational systems are plagued by underinvestment, and they struggle to provide the needed technical skills that could galvanize investment that would provide higher-wage employment. Large segments of the workforce—a majority in most countries—find themselves in the informal sector, in jobs that are not registered with the state and that do not make contributions to pensions and social security systems. Why has Latin America—a region endowed with a variety of natural resources and a resilient entrepreneurial spirit—exhibited these patterns in its labor market regulation? The answer lies in an overlapping nexus of economic and political influences in the region. In this complex mix, one strand of scholarship has documented the lasting and recurrent alliance between organized labor and political parties on the left. Another strand has highlighted the concentrated power of business interests—both local and transnational—that have had the power to shape policies. And a third body of research concentrates on the electoral dynamics that have given rise to a growing set of politically motivated policies that seek to support informal sector workers, but may incentivize their remaining in that status. Finally, considerable attention has been given to the under-resourced state agencies that are not adequately monitoring labor regulations, allowing for widespread evasion of required payroll taxes. A change-resistant cycle has predominated in the region, in which protected insiders in the unionized sectors seek to preserve a set of protections that apply to a shrinking few, while politicians court support among outsiders with direct benefits that address immediate needs but have not yet achieved long-term or intergenerational change. Business interests have largely benefited from the status quo of labor law evasion and social security avoidance, so they have been slow to invest in upgrading the workforce or changing technology that would inspire additional investment in education. Addressing this situation will require efforts at both the political and economic levels, perhaps loosening the partisan ties that lock in preferential policies, as well as increasing the skill levels that would attract higher-tech industries and higher-paying jobs.

Article

The relationship between social movements and left governments in Latin America since the postwar period has evolved from top-down relationships of populism and vanguardism to more contemporary attempts to blend new social movement practices of horizontalism and direct democracy with the hierarchical structures of the capitalist state and the party system. This evolution represents a long and unfinished transformation in the character of popular struggles, which today stands at the crossroads between referring back to more traditional structures of resistance, and pushing forward to the creation of a new left that can feature radical democratic participation from below as its centerpiece.

Article

Dwight David Eisenhower delivered one final address to the American public on January 17, 1961, as he prepared to step down from the U.S. presidency. Often remembered as an inarticulate public speaker, Eisenhower surprised his audience with his clear warning that “in the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.” Eisenhower’s words resonated with both his audience and subsequent generations because he gave voice to the growing level of popular anxiety over whether armaments’ increasing importance to national security would ultimately endow defense firms with a degree of power incompatible with liberal democracy. Although Eisenhower’s concerns about defense firms’ antidemocratic potential echoed those of policymakers and scholars since the First World War, Eisenhower’s formulation of the military-industrial complex problématique followed on the heels of earlier analytic models—notably the “merchants of death” and “garrison state” hypotheses—and preceded later rearticulations, such as that of the “iron triangle.” It is possible now, with a century of perspective on this literature, to assess which hypotheses about defense firms’ deleterious impact on society and government have been borne out by subsequent events and which have not. Within this context, many of the worst fears embodied in the earlier theories have not been borne out by subsequent events. Defense firms did not “cause” wars as per the merchants-of-death hypothesis, and democracy did not give way in states where it already existed to the authoritarian rule of “specialists of violence.” Nonetheless, the core insight of the military-industrial complex and iron triangle schools of thought—that defense industries and their allies in the military and politics will act as an interest group to promote procurement projects—has proven robust. The way that these dynamics occur, however, varies from state to state as a function of their institutions. Even though the production of armaments by defense firms headquartered in one’s state exercises a distorting effect on national politics and military procurement, few states can escape this dynamic. The national security advantages of greater supply security and enhanced military adaptation, combined with the fear that once abandoned, defense-industrial capabilities cannot be quickly reconstituted, compels most states that can produce armaments to do so. A military-industrial complex, of some form, is thus a fatality for the modern state.

Article

Santiago Anria and Christopher Chambers-Ju

Since the dual transition to democracy and the market in Latin America, associational linkages or the exchanges between parties and interest associations representing different groups in society gained prominence for their crucial role in structuring political representation and framing policy processes. In the early 21st century, how do the relationships between political parties and interest associations vary across and within countries? The literature on party–voter linkages has begun to examine the distinct relations that emerge when political parties interact with interest associations that represent societal groups in order to incorporate those groups into party organizations or coalitions. Although associational linkages can be constructed when party leaders reach out to interest associations, they can also be constructed when interest associations negotiate the terms of their political support. One approach to analyzing associational linkages involves focusing on the diverse relationships that emerging societal actors established with political parties. Social movements have constructed movement-based parties. These parties are a particularly puzzling phenomenon because they incorporate social movements into their organizations without necessarily demobilizing them. Emerging sectors of organized labor have also established an array of relationships to parties, with unions engaging in contentious or electoral mobilization, with different degrees of support for political parties. There are major opportunities to advance a broad agenda for research on associational linkages that highlights cross-regional contrasts and changes in the political economy.

Article

On a continent where the majority of people are poor, do political parties represent class cleavages? Do parties have strong linkages to ordinary voters? Do economic policies address their needs? In the initial years following democratic transitions across the African continent in the 1990s, the answers to such questions were negative. Clientelism and patronage were the principal means by which parties interacted with their constituencies; elites and elite interests determined the objectives of political parties; voters in many African countries shifted parties frequently; and neoliberal economic policies largely reflected the preferences of foreign donors and international financial institutions. As parties and voters have adjusted to the institutional arrangements and political demands associated with democracy, a more heterogeneous political landscape has materialized since 2010. Party systems demonstrate distinct patterns of variation, from the more stable, institutionalized systems in Ghana and Botswana to fluid, inchoate configurations in Benin and Malawi. These variations in the degree to which party systems have institutionalized affect economic policy choices by parties and those who benefit from them. Furthermore, democratic politics has intensified pressures on ruling parties to provide goods such as electricity and education. Here too, patterns of goods provision show substantial variation over time and across countries, calling attention to the differences in the incentives and capacities of parties to respond to distributive demands by the electorate. To explore the political and economic heterogeneity of contemporary Africa, scholars have combined well-established qualitative and comparative approaches with new analytical tools. The use of cross-national public opinion surveys, field and survey experiments, satellite imagery, and geo-coded data have enabled more systematic, fine-grained study of the economic determinants of party system competition, economic voting, the distribution of goods, and the management of private sector development by ruling parties in recent years. These empirical approaches enrich understanding of the relationship between parties and political economy in Africa and facilitate more fruitful comparisons with other regions of the world.

Article

Danielle Resnick

Although widely used in reference to the Americas and Europe, the concept of populism has been less frequently applied to political dynamics in sub-Saharan Africa. Populism is variously viewed as a political strategy aimed at fostering direct links between a leader and the masses, an ideational concept that relies on discourses that conjure a corrupt elite and the pure people, and a set of socio-cultural performances characterized by a leader’s charisma, theatrics, and transgression of accepted norms. A cumulative approach that combines all three perspectives allows for identifying episodes of populism in Africa. These include historical cases of populist regimes in the 1980s as well as more contemporary examples of party leaders in the region’s democracies who use populism in their electoral campaigns to mobilize subaltern groups, especially those living in urban areas. As found in other regions of the world, those African leaders who have ascended to the presidency on the back of populism typically exert anti-democratic practices once in office. This reaffirms that populism can allow for greater representation of the poor and marginalized in the electoral process, but that populists’ celebration of popular will and supposedly unmediated ties to the people become convenient justifications for bypassing established institutions and undermining the rule of law.

Article

The real property tax (RPT) is a major, stable revenue source for local governments to provide basic public services. The quality, quantity and reliability of public services in a locality are key indicators of the living standards. The service responsibilities require local governments to maintain stable revenues. RPT is a tax on owning and holding land and structures on land, and RPT is a very old tax, dating back to ancient times when land and products thereof were the most important assets. RPT has been used by governments of all countries throughout history, although with huge variation in formats and ways of use. Despite numerous pitfalls in its design and administration, RPT has remained a pillar of local revenue, accounting for a high percentage of total local revenue. Thus, it is important to understand RPT and its roles in local public finance. RPT was mistakenly dubbed the worst tax, a misnomer that has caused misperception of the tax that should be corrected. RPT is one essential pillar of a modern tax system. The design and maintenance of an optimal RPT should follow six principles. The complexity of RPT is with key aspects in its administration, with the weakest link in property value assessment. Exemptions and limitations add to the complexity of RPT, causing unintended consequences. From a panoramic view, RPT has adapted to changes of the society and economy; it still holds prospects as an optimal tax and remains the cornerstone of accountable and sustainable local public finance.