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Sanctions, Benefits, and Rights: Three Faces of Accountability


  • Grindle, Merilee

    (Harvard University)


As countries throughout the world democratize and decentralize, citizen participation in public life should increase. In this paper, I suggest that democratic participation in local government is enhanced when citizens can reply affirmatively to at least three questions about their ability to hold local officials accountable for their actions: Can citizens use the vote effectively to reward and punish the general or specific performance of local public officials and/or the parties they represent? Can citizens generate response to their collective needs from local governments? Can citizens be ensured of fair and equitable treatment from public agencies at local levels? The findings of a study of 30 randomly selected municipalities in Mexico indicate that, over the course of a decade and a half, voters were able to enforce alternation in power and the circulation of elites, but not necessarily to transmit unambiguous messages to public officials or parties about performance concerns. More definitively, citizens were able to build successfully on prior political experiences to extract benefits from local governments. At the same time, the ability to demand good performance of local government as a right of citizenship lagged behind other forms of accountability.

Suggested Citation

  • Grindle, Merilee, 2010. "Sanctions, Benefits, and Rights: Three Faces of Accountability," Working Paper Series rwp10-026, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government.
  • Handle: RePEc:ecl:harjfk:rwp10-026

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    1. Jack L. Knetsch & J. A. Sinden, 1984. "Willingness to Pay and Compensation Demanded: Experimental Evidence of an Unexpected Disparity in Measures of Value," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 99(3), pages 507-521.
    2. Knetsch, Jack L, 1989. "The Endowment Effect and Evidence of Nonreversible Indifference Curves," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 79(5), pages 1277-1284, December.
    3. Raymond S. Hartman & Michael J. Doane & Chi-Keung Woo, 1991. "Consumer Rationality and the Status Quo," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 106(1), pages 141-162.
    4. Samuelson, William & Zeckhauser, Richard, 1988. "Status Quo Bias in Decision Making," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 1(1), pages 7-59, March.
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