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Revealed Political Power

This paper adopts a revealed preference" approach to the question of what can be inferred about bias in a political system. We model an economy and its political system from the point of view of an outside observer." The observer sees a finite sequence of policy data, but does not observe either the citizens' preference profile or underlying distribution of political power that produced the policies. The observer makes inferences about distribution of political power as if political power were derived from a wealth-weighted voting system with weights that can vary with the state of the economy. The weights determine the nature and magnitude of the wealth bias. Positive weights on relative income in any period indicate an elitist" bias in the political system whereas negative weights indicate a populist" one. As a benchmark, any policy data is shown to be rationalized by any system of wealthweighted voting. However, by augmenting the observer's observations with polling data, nontrivial inference is possible. We show that joint restrictions resulting from the policy and polling data together imply upper and lower bounds on the set of rationalizing biases. These bounds can be explicitly calculated and can be used to discern instances of elitist bias; in other times they show populist bias. Additional restrictions on the preference domain can rule out the unbiased benchmark case of equal representation.

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Paper provided by Georgetown University, Department of Economics in its series Working Papers with number gueconwpa~10-10-01.

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Date of creation: 10 May 2010
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Handle: RePEc:geo:guwopa:gueconwpa~10-10-01
Contact details of provider: Postal: Georgetown University Department of Economics Washington, DC 20057-1036
Phone: 202-687-6074
Fax: 202-687-6102
Web page: http://econ.georgetown.edu/
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Order Information: Postal: Roger Lagunoff Professor of Economics Georgetown University Department of Economics Washington, DC 20057-1036
Web: http://econ.georgetown.edu/ Email:


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  1. Mantel, Rolf R., 1974. "On the characterization of aggregate excess demand," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 7(3), pages 348-353, March.
  2. Kalandrakis, Tasos, 2010. "Rationalizable voting," Theoretical Economics, Econometric Society, vol. 5(1), January.
  3. Szenberg, Michael & Ramrattan, Lall & Gottesman, Aron A. (ed.), 2006. "Samuelsonian Economics and the Twenty-First Century," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780199298839.
  4. Campante, Filipe R., 2011. "Redistribution in a model of voting and campaign contributions," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 95(7), pages 646-656.
  5. Gans, Joshua S. & Smart, Michael, 1996. "Majority voting with single-crossing preferences," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 59(2), pages 219-237, February.
  6. Degan, Arianna & Merlo, Antonio, 2009. "Do voters vote ideologically?," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 144(5), pages 1868-1894, September.
  7. Chiappori, Pierre-Andre & Rochet, Jean-Charles, 1987. "Revealed Preferences and Differentiable Demand: Notes and Comments," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 55(3), pages 687-91, May.
  8. David Austen-Smith, 1987. "Interest groups, campaign contributions, and probabilistic voting," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 54(2), pages 123-139, January.
  9. Prat, A., 1998. "Campaign Spending with Office-Seeking Politicians, Rational Voters and Multiple Lobbies," Discussion Paper 1998-123, Tilburg University, Center for Economic Research.
  10. Bourguignon, F. & Verdier, T., 1997. "Oligarchy, Democracy, Inequality and Growth," DELTA Working Papers 97-10, DELTA (Ecole normale supérieure).
  11. Debreu, Gerard, 1974. "Excess demand functions," Journal of Mathematical Economics, Elsevier, vol. 1(1), pages 15-21, March.
  12. Stephen Coate, 2001. "Political Competition with Campaign Contributions and Informative Advertising," NBER Working Papers 8693, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  13. Boldrin, Michele & Montrucchio, Luigi, 1986. "On the indeterminacy of capital accumulation paths," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 40(1), pages 26-39, October.
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