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Political Control and the Power of the Agent


  • Terry M. Moe


In the study of public bureaucracy, the relationship between political authorities and bureaucrats is commonly understood as one of principal and agent, and analysis centers on how the authorities can try to overcome the information asymmetry at the heart of this relationship--arising from the bureaucrats' expertise and other private information--to exercise a measure of control over their subordinates. In this standard view, information is the source of bureaucratic power. There is a second basis of bureaucratic power, however, that the literature overlooks. Precisely because the authorities are elected, bureaucrats can take political action--especially if organized by public sector unions--to influence who gets elected and what choices they make in office. This gives bureaucrats a political capacity to control their own controllers, putting the usual principal-agent relationship in a very different light. The purpose of this paper, then, is to make a case for the political power of the agent, and to argue for a reorientation of the current theory. In the empirical analysis, the argument is applied to the electoral behavior and impact of public school teachers and their unions--showing that they are quite active and influential in choosing the key authorities that are supposed to be governing them. Copyright 2006, Oxford University Press.

Suggested Citation

  • Terry M. Moe, 2006. "Political Control and the Power of the Agent," Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 22(1), pages 1-29, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:jleorg:v:22:y:2006:i:1:p:1-29

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    Cited by:

    1. Rossi, Stefano & Yun, Hayong, 2015. "What Drives Financial Reform? Economics and Politics of the State-Level Adoption of Municipal Bankruptcy Laws," CEPR Discussion Papers 10984, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    2. Tana Johnson, 2013. "Looking beyond States: Openings for international bureaucrats to enter the institutional design process," The Review of International Organizations, Springer, vol. 8(4), pages 499-519, December.
    3. Tamer Çetin & M. Zahid Sobacı & Mehmet Nargeleçekenler, 2016. "Independence and accountability of independent regulatory agencies: the case of Turkey," European Journal of Law and Economics, Springer, vol. 41(3), pages 601-620, June.
    4. 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.
    5. Gergely Ujhelyi, 2014. "Civil Service Rules and Policy Choices: Evidence from US State Governments," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 6(2), pages 338-380, May.
    6. repec:eee:poleco:v:51:y:2018:i:c:p:57-68 is not listed on IDEAS
    7. Thomas Braendle & Alois Stutzer, 2010. "Public servants in parliament: theory and evidence on its determinants in Germany," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 145(1), pages 223-252, October.
    8. Brunner, Eric J. & Squires, Tim, 2013. "The bargaining power of teachers’ unions and the allocation of school resources," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 76(C), pages 15-27.
    9. David K Levine & Andrea Mattozzi, 2017. "Voter Turnout with Peer Punishment," Levine's Working Paper Archive 786969000000001401, David K. Levine.
    10. Ivo Bischoff & Frédéric Blaeschke, 2013. "Incentives and Influence Activities in the Public Sector: the Trade-off in Performance Budgeting and Conditional Grants," MAGKS Papers on Economics 201320, Philipps-Universität Marburg, Faculty of Business Administration and Economics, Department of Economics (Volkswirtschaftliche Abteilung).
    11. Wyss, Simone, 2008. "Ist die relative Schlechterstellung niedrigqualifizierter Arbeitskräfte Mythos oder Realität? - Eine Analyse der Schweizer Disparität von Lohn- und Arbeitslosenquote nach Qualifikation," Working papers 2008/06, Faculty of Business and Economics - University of Basel.
    12. Cowen, Joshua M. & Strunk, Katharine O., 2015. "The impact of teachers’ unions on educational outcomes: What we know and what we need to learn," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 48(C), pages 208-223.
    13. Blaeschke, Frédéric & Haug, Peter, 2014. "Does Intermunicipal Cooperation Increase Efficiency? Evidence from the Hessian Wastewater Sector," IWH Discussion Papers 11/2014, Halle Institute for Economic Research (IWH).
    14. Thomas Braendle & Alois Stutzer, 2008. "Bureaucrats in Parliament: Theory and Evidence on Its Determinants in Germany," CREMA Working Paper Series 2008-23, Center for Research in Economics, Management and the Arts (CREMA).
    15. Fitzpatrick, Maria D., 2017. "Pension-spiking, free-riding, and the effects of pension reform on teachers' earnings," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 148(C), pages 57-74.
    16. Christopher R. Berry & Jacob E. Gersen, 2009. "Fiscal Consequences of Electoral Institutions," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 52(3), pages 469-495, August.
    17. Michael Becher & Stegmueller, Daniel & Käppner, Konstantin, 2016. "Local Union Organization and Lawmaking in the U.S. Congress," CAGE Online Working Paper Series 304, Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE).
    18. Ivo Bischoff & Frédéric Blaeschke, 2012. "Window-Dressing and Lobbying in Performance-Budgeting: a Model for the Public Sector," MAGKS Papers on Economics 201212, Philipps-Universität Marburg, Faculty of Business Administration and Economics, Department of Economics (Volkswirtschaftliche Abteilung).

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