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Delegation to International Organizations: Agency Theory and World Bank Environmental Reform


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  • Nielson, Daniel L.
  • Tierney, Michael J.
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    Current international relations theory struggles to explain both the autonomy and transformation of international organizations (IOs). Previous theories either fail to account for any IO behavior that deviates from the interests of member states, or neglect the role of member states in reforming IO institutions and behavior. We propose an agency theory of IOs that can fill these gaps while also addressing two persistent problems in the study of IOs: common agency and long delegation chains. Our model explains slippage between member states interests and IO behavior, but also suggests institutional mechanisms staff selection, monitoring, procedural checks, and contracts through which states can rein in errant IOs. We evaluate this argument by examining multiple institutional reforms and lending patterns at the World Bank from 1980 to 2000.Several people gave us helpful comments on earlier drafts of the manuscript. In particular, we thank Lisa Baldez, Michael Barnett, T.J. Cheng, Scott Cooper, David Dessler, Daniel Drezner, Jay Goodliffe, Darren Hawkins, Wade Jacoby, Robert Keohane, Ralf Leiteritz, Dave Lewis, Mona Lyne, Scott Morgenstern, Sue Peterson, Brian Sala, Steve Swindle, Mike Thies, Robert Wade, Kate Weaver, Sven Wilson, and Bennet Zelner. We owe a special debt of gratitude to Lisa Martin and two anonymous reviewers, as their criticisms were the most painful and helpful. We also thank the participants in the faculty research seminars at Brigham Young University, the College of William and Mary, and Duke University. The research for this article would not have been possible without support from BYU s David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies and College of Family, Home and Social Sciences, Duke University s Political Science Department, and the Reves Center for International Studies at the College of William and Mary. For research assistance, we are grateful to Nate Bascom, Spencer Bytheway, Adam Ekins, Eric Hatch, Jen Keister, Jennifer Neves, Chris O Keefe, Joshua Wheatley, and, especially, Kari Sowell.

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    Bibliographic Info

    Article provided by Cambridge University Press in its journal International Organization.

    Volume (Year): 57 (2003)
    Issue (Month): 02 (March)
    Pages: 241-276

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    Handle: RePEc:cup:intorg:v:57:y:2003:i:02:p:241-276_57

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    Cited by:
    1. Thomas Hale & Charles Roger, 2014. "Orchestration and transnational climate governance," The Review of International Organizations, Springer, vol. 9(1), pages 59-82, March.
    2. Buntaine, Mark T., 2011. "Does the Asian Development Bank Respond to Past Environmental Performance when Allocating Environmentally Risky Financing?," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 39(3), pages 336-350, March.
    3. Marcoux, Christopher & Parks, Bradley C. & Peratsakis, Christian M. & Roberts, Timmons & Tierney, Michael J., 2013. "Environmental and climate finance in a new world: How past environmental aid allocation impacts future climate aid," Working Paper Series UNU-WIDER Research Paper , World Institute for Development Economic Research (UNU-WIDER).
    4. Tim Büthe, 2008. "Politics and institutions in the regulation of global capital: A review article," The Review of International Organizations, Springer, vol. 3(2), pages 207-220, June.
    5. Roland Vaubel & Axel Dreher & Ugurlu Soylu, 2003. "Staff Growth in International Organizations: A Principal-Agent Problem? An Empirical Analysis," Public Economics 0306006, EconWPA, revised 08 Jul 2003.
    6. Hicks, Robert L. & Parks, Bradley C. & Tierney, Michael J., 2005. "Explaining the Allocation of Bilateral and Multilateral Environmental Aid to Developing Countries," 2005 Annual meeting, July 24-27, Providence, RI 19346, American Agricultural Economics Association (New Name 2008: Agricultural and Applied Economics Association).
    7. Mark Pollack & Emilie Hafner-Burton, 2010. "Mainstreaming international governance: The environment, gender, and IO performance in the European Union," The Review of International Organizations, Springer, vol. 5(3), pages 285-313, September.
    8. Alexandra Lindenthal & Martin Koch, 2013. "The Bretton Woods Institutions and the Environment: Organizational Learning within the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF)," Administrative Sciences, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 3(4), pages 166-201, October.
    9. repec:spo:wpecon:info:hdl:2441/6881 is not listed on IDEAS
    10. Ralph Luken, 2009. "Greening an international organization: UNIDO’s strategic responses," The Review of International Organizations, Springer, vol. 4(2), pages 159-184, June.
    11. Tierney, Michael J. & Nielson, Daniel L. & Hawkins, Darren G. & Roberts, J. Timmons & Findley, Michael G. & Powers, Ryan M. & Parks, Bradley & Wilson, Sven E. & Hicks, Robert L., 2011. "More Dollars than Sense: Refining Our Knowledge of Development Finance Using AidData," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 39(11), pages 1891-1906.
    12. Axel Michaelowa & Katharina Michaelowa, 2011. "Climate business for poverty reduction? The role of the World Bank," The Review of International Organizations, Springer, vol. 6(3), pages 259-286, September.
    13. Kenneth Abbott & Duncan Snidal, 2010. "International regulation without international government: Improving IO performance through orchestration," The Review of International Organizations, Springer, vol. 5(3), pages 315-344, September.
    14. Michele FRATIANNI & John PATTISON, 2007. "Who Is Runninc the IMF: Critical Shareholders or the Staff?," Working Papers 279, Universita' Politecnica delle Marche (I), Dipartimento di Scienze Economiche e Sociali.
    15. Helen Milner & Dustin Tingley, 2013. "The choice for multilateralism: Foreign aid and American foreign policy," The Review of International Organizations, Springer, vol. 8(3), pages 313-341, September.
    16. Jérôme Sgard, 2004. "IMF in Theory: Sovereign Debts, Judicialisation and Multilateralism," Sciences Po publications 2004-21, Sciences Po.
    17. Daniel Nielson, 2013. "Mark Copelovitch. 2010. The International Monetary Fund in the Global Economy: Banks, bonds, and bailouts (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press)," The Review of International Organizations, Springer, vol. 8(1), pages 117-120, March.
    18. David Lake, 2007. "Delegating divisible sovereignty: Sweeping a conceptual minefield," The Review of International Organizations, Springer, vol. 2(3), pages 219-237, September.
    19. Rechkemmer, Andreas, 2004. "Global environmental governance: The United Nations convention to combat desertification," Discussion Papers, Presidential Department P 2004-001, Social Science Research Center Berlin (WZB).
    20. Manfred Elsig, 2010. "The World Trade Organization at work: Performance in a member-driven milieu," The Review of International Organizations, Springer, vol. 5(3), pages 345-363, September.
    21. Mona Lyne & Daniel Nielson & Michael Tierney, 2009. "Controlling coalitions: Social lending at the multilateral development banks," The Review of International Organizations, Springer, vol. 4(4), pages 407-433, December.
    22. Darren Hawkins & Wade Jacoby, 2008. "Agent permeability, principal delegation and the European Court of Human Rights," The Review of International Organizations, Springer, vol. 3(1), pages 1-28, March.


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