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The price of pork: The seniority trap in the U.S. House

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  • DeBacker, Jason

Abstract

Using data on federal outlays and U.S. House elections, I estimate the effect of the pork barrel on the quality of officeholders, taking into account the fact that seniority creates a dynamic linkage across periods. After estimating the parameters governing the influence of seniority on federal outlays and the parameters governing the distributions of candidate quality, I conduct several policy experiments to uncover the size of the welfare loss created by the seniority system. I find that the seniority system negatively impacts the quality of representatives, but has little effect on the outcomes of elections. Furthermore, the most commonly proposed solution to the distortion, term limits, may have a significant, negative effect on the quality of sitting representatives. Instead of a quantity constraint (term limits), I propose a change in the relative price of seniority by way of a Pigouvian tax on seniority. Such a policy achieves the first-best outcome.

Suggested Citation

  • DeBacker, Jason, 2011. "The price of pork: The seniority trap in the U.S. House," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 95(1), pages 63-78.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:pubeco:v:95:y:2011:i:1:p:63-78
    DOI: 10.1016/j.jpubeco.2010.09.007
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Andersen, Jørgen Juel & Fiva, Jon H. & Natvik, Gisle James, 2014. "Voting when the stakes are high," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 110(C), pages 157-166.
    2. Smart, Michael & Sturm, Daniel M., 2013. "Term limits and electoral accountability," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 107(C), pages 93-102.
    3. S. Borağan Aruoba & Allan Drazen & Razvan Vlaicu, 2015. "A Structural Model of Electoral Accountability," NBER Working Papers 21151, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Jason Matthew DeBacker, 2015. "Flip-Flopping: Ideological Adjustment Costs In The United States Senate," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 53(1), pages 108-128, January.
    5. Christopher Duquette & Franklin Mixon & Richard Cebula, 2013. "The Impact of Legislative Tenure and Seniority on General Election Success: Econometric Evidence from U.S. House Races," Atlantic Economic Journal, Springer;International Atlantic Economic Society, vol. 41(2), pages 161-172, June.
    6. repec:eee:regeco:v:64:y:2017:i:c:p:1-11 is not listed on IDEAS
    7. Curto-Grau, Marta & Zudenkova, Galina, 2016. "Party Discipline and Government Spending: Theory and Evidence," Working Papers 0624, University of Heidelberg, Department of Economics.
    8. Fowler, Anthony & Hall, Andrew B., 2015. "Congressional seniority and pork: A pig fat myth?," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 40(PA), pages 42-56.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Pork barrel; Seniority system; Incumbency advantage; House of Representatives; Term limits;

    JEL classification:

    • H11 - Public Economics - - Structure and Scope of Government - - - Structure and Scope of Government
    • C1 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Econometric and Statistical Methods and Methodology: General
    • D72 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Political Processes: Rent-seeking, Lobbying, Elections, Legislatures, and Voting Behavior

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