IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this article

The Political Economy of Clientelism


  • James A. Robinson
  • Thierry Verdier


Income redistribution often takes highly inefficient forms, such as employment in the bureaucracy. We argue that this arises as an optimal political strategy in situations where politicians cannot commit to policies. Political exchanges between politicians and voters must be self-enforcing and some types of policies, particularly those generating non-excludable or irreversible benefits (such as public goods and public investment) do not generate incentives. A job is a credible, excludable and reversible method of redistribution that ties the continuation utility of a voter to the political success of a particular politician. It is thus very attractive politically even if it is socially highly inefficient. Our model provides a formalization of a style of redistributive politics known as ‘clientelism’. We show that inefficient redistribution and clientelism becomes a relatively attractive political strategy in situations with high inequality and low productivity. Inefficiency is increased when (1) the ‘stakes’ from politics are high, (2) inequality is high, and (3) when money matters less than ideology in politics.
(This abstract was borrowed from another version of this item.)

Suggested Citation

  • James A. Robinson & Thierry Verdier, 2013. "The Political Economy of Clientelism," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 115(2), pages 260-291, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:bla:scandj:v:115:y:2013:i:2:p:260-291 DOI: sjoe.12010

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: Access to full text is restricted to subscribers.

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to look for a different version below or search for a different version of it.

    Other versions of this item:

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Alberto Alesina & Dani Rodrik, 1994. "Distributive Politics and Economic Growth," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 109(2), pages 465-490.
    2. Persson, Torsten & Tabellini, Guido, 1999. "Political economics and macroeconomic policy," Handbook of Macroeconomics,in: J. B. Taylor & M. Woodford (ed.), Handbook of Macroeconomics, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 22, pages 1397-1482 Elsevier.
    3. Assar Lindbeck & Jörgen Weibull, 1987. "Balanced-budget redistribution as the outcome of political competition," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 52(3), pages 273-297, January.
    4. Alesina, Alberto & Baqir, Reza & Easterly, William, 2000. "Redistributive Public Employment," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 48(2), pages 219-241, September.
    5. Avinash Dixit & John Londregan, 1998. "Ideology, Tactics, and Efficiency in Redistributive Politics," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 113(2), pages 497-529.
    6. Nicola Persico & Alessandro Lizzeri, 2001. "The Provision of Public Goods under Alternative Electoral Incentives," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(1), pages 225-239, March.
    7. Persson, Torsten & Tabellini, Guido, 1999. "The size and scope of government:: Comparative politics with rational politicians," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 43(4-6), pages 699-735, April.
    8. Besley, Timothy & Coate, Stephen, 1998. "Sources of Inefficiency in a Representative Democracy: A Dynamic Analysis," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 88(1), pages 139-156, March.
    9. Timothy Besley & Stephen Coate, 1997. "An Economic Model of Representative Democracy," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 112(1), pages 85-114.
    10. Persson, Torsten & Tabellini, Guido, 1994. "Is Inequality Harmful for Growth?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 84(3), pages 600-621, June.
    11. Alberto Alesina & Guido Tabellini, 1990. "A Positive Theory of Fiscal Deficits and Government Debt," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 57(3), pages 403-414.
    12. Albert Alesina & Stephan Danninger & Massimo Rostagno, 2001. "Redistribution Through Public Employment: The Case of Italy," IMF Staff Papers, Palgrave Macmillan, vol. 48(3), pages 1-2.
    13. Alesina, Alberto & Tabellini, Guido, 1988. "Credibility and politics," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 32(2-3), pages 542-550, March.
    14. repec:cup:apsrev:v:63:y:1969:i:04:p:1142-1158_26 is not listed on IDEAS
    15. Acemoglu, Daron, 2001. "Inefficient Redistribution," American Political Science Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 95(03), pages 649-661, September.
    16. Dixit, Avinash K & Londregan, John, 1994. "The Determinants of Success of Special Interests in Redistributive Politics," CEPR Discussion Papers 1054, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    17. Wittman, Donald, 1989. "Why Democracies Produce Efficient Results," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 97(6), pages 1395-1424, December.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • H10 - Public Economics - - Structure and Scope of Government - - - General
    • H20 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - General


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:bla:scandj:v:115:y:2013:i:2:p:260-291. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Wiley-Blackwell Digital Licensing) or (Christopher F. Baum). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.