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The claim that institutions “matter” is a subject of lively debate in the study of politics today. It is also something of a nonissue that is not really being debated at all. The reason it can be both at once is that the claim is loaded with theoretical baggage. If it is taken to mean that the actions of politicians or bureaucrats are in fundamental respects autonomous of social interests, the statement can easily prove controversial. If it is taken to mean that institutional context shapes the decisions of political actors, or that the relation between social interests and political outcomes varies with the institutional setting, then there is not much to debate; for there has long been a virtual consensus among students of politics that institutions do matter in these general respects.
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