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Candidates, Character, and Corruption


  • B. Douglas Bernheim
  • Navin Kartik


We study the characteristics of self-selected candidates in corrupt political systems. Individuals differ along two dimensions of unobservable character: public spirit (altruism) and honesty (disutility from selling out to special interests). Both aspects combine to determine an individual's quality as governor. We characterize properties of equilibrium candidate pools for arbitrary costs of running for office, including when costs become vanishingly small. We explore how policy instruments such as the governor's compensation and anticorruption enforcement affect the expected quality of governance through candidate self-selection. We show that self-selection can have surprising implications for the effect of information disclosures concerning candidates' backgrounds.

Suggested Citation

  • B. Douglas Bernheim & Navin Kartik, 2014. "Candidates, Character, and Corruption," American Economic Journal: Microeconomics, American Economic Association, vol. 6(2), pages 205-246, May.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:aejmic:v:6:y:2014:i:2:p:205-46 Note: DOI: 10.1257/mic.6.2.205

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Aghion, Philippe & Tirole, Jean, 1997. "Formal and Real Authority in Organizations," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 105(1), pages 1-29, February.
    2. L. J. Bourgeois, III & Kathleen M. Eisenhardt, 1988. "Strategic Decision Processes in High Velocity Environments: Four Cases in the Microcomputer Industry," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 34(7), pages 816-835, July.
    3. Mathias Dewatripont & Isabelle Brocas & Juan Carrillo, 2004. "Commitment devices under self-control problems: an overview," ULB Institutional Repository 2013/9665, ULB -- Universite Libre de Bruxelles.
    4. Alessandro Bonatti & Johannes Horner, 2011. "Collaborating," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 101(2), pages 632-663, April.
    5. Hongbin Cai, 2009. "Costly participation and heterogeneous preferences in informational committees," RAND Journal of Economics, RAND Corporation, vol. 40(1), pages 173-189.
    6. Ufuk Akcigit & Qingmin Liu, 2011. "The Role of Information in Competitive Experimentation," Levine's Working Paper Archive 786969000000000321, David K. Levine.
    7. Anat R. Admati & Motty Perry, 1991. "Joint Projects without Commitment," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 58(2), pages 259-276.
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    Cited by:

    1. Aragonès, Enriqueta & Xefteris, Dimitrios, 2017. "Voters' private valuation of candidates' quality," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 156(C), pages 121-130.
    2. Cerina, Fabio & Deidda, Luca G., 2017. "Rewards from public office and the selection of politicians by parties," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 47(C), pages 1-18.
    3. repec:eee:jeborg:v:144:y:2017:i:c:p:204-218 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. Buisseret, Peter & Prato, Carlo, 2016. "Electoral control and the human capital of politicians," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 98(C), pages 34-55.
    5. Tommaso Giommoni, 2017. "Exposition to Corruption and Political Participation: Evidence from Italian Municipalities," CESifo Working Paper Series 6645, CESifo Group Munich.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D64 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Altruism; Philanthropy; Intergenerational Transfers
    • D72 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Political Processes: Rent-seeking, Lobbying, Elections, Legislatures, and Voting Behavior
    • H41 - Public Economics - - Publicly Provided Goods - - - Public Goods
    • K42 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior - - - Illegal Behavior and the Enforcement of Law


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