Corruption in Cities: Graft and Politics in American Cities at the Turn of the Twentieth Century
AbstractThe essay is an exploration of corruption as practiced by city politicians in the United States at the turn of the twentieth century. Corruption is generally considered to be bad for the performance of governments and for the growth and development of economies, but American cities grew rapidly and were, as far as tangible evidence suggests, relatively well governed. I propose the answer to this conundrum lies in the exact types of graft which were possible. Skimming from city contracts and manipulating local real estate markets encouraged politicians to pursue growth enhancing policies. Many of the most damaging forms of government interference - closing borders and pursuing input-substituting policies - are not possible in cities. Patronage politics made corruption more likely by insulating politicians from (some) voter wrath, but the ability of the tax base to depart the city provided some constraints on rent-extraction. The city Boss did not want to kill the goose that laid the golden eggs. The analysis of urban graft is based on contemporary reports, especially the very detailed reports in Shame of the Cities' by Lincoln Steffens. The analysis also answers other important questions raised by the experience of Progressive Era cities: Why did businessmen back reform? And why did machine politics rise, and fall, between 1890 and 1930?
Download InfoIf you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.
Bibliographic InfoPaper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 9990.
Date of creation: Sep 2003
Date of revision:
Contact details of provider:
Postal: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138, U.S.A.
Web page: http://www.nber.org
More information through EDIRC
Find related papers by JEL classification:
- H7 - Public Economics - - State and Local Government; Intergovernmental Relations
- N4 - Economic History - - Government, War, Law, International Relations, and Regulation
This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:
- NEP-ALL-2004-08-31 (All new papers)
- NEP-HIS-2004-08-31 (Business, Economic & Financial History)
- NEP-PBE-2003-09-28 (Public Economics)
- NEP-POL-2004-08-31 (Positive Political Economics)
- NEP-URE-2003-09-28 (Urban & Real Estate Economics)
Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:
- Mauro, Paolo, 1995. "Corruption and Growth," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 110(3), pages 681-712, August.
- Murphy, Kevin M & Shleifer, Andrei & Vishny, Robert W, 1993. "Why Is Rent-Seeking So Costly to Growth?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 83(2), pages 409-14, May.
- Charles M. Tiebout, 1956. "A Pure Theory of Local Expenditures," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 64, pages 416.
- Joseph D. Reid, Jr. & Michael M. Kurth, 1992. "The Rise and Fall of Urban Political Patronage Machines," NBER Chapters, in: Strategic Factors in Nineteenth Century American Economic History: A Volume to Honor Robert W. Fogel, pages 427-445 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
- Martin C. McGuire & Mancur Olson Jr., 1996. "The Economics of Autocracy and Majority Rule: The Invisible Hand and the Use of Force," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 34(1), pages 72-96, March.
- Krueger, Anne O, 1993. "Virtuous and Vicious Circles in Economic Development," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 83(2), pages 351-55, May.
- Pranab Bardhan & Dilip Mookherjee, 2005.
"Decentralization, Corruption and Government Accountability: An Overview,"
Boston University - Department of Economics - The Institute for Economic Development Working Papers Series
dp-152, Boston University - Department of Economics.
- Dilip Mookherjee & Pranab Bardhan, 2005. "Decentralization, Corruption And Government Accountability: An Overview," Boston University - Department of Economics - Working Papers Series WP2005-023, Boston University - Department of Economics, revised Jun 2005.
- David Cutler & Grant Miller, 2005.
"Water, Water, Everywhere: Municipal Finance and Water Supply in American Cities,"
NBER Working Papers
11096, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
- David M. Cutler & Grant Miller, 2006. "Water, Water Everywhere. Municipal Finance and Water Supply in American Cities," NBER Chapters, in: Corruption and Reform: Lessons from America's Economic History, pages 153-184 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: ().
If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.