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Why Do Voters Dismantle Checks and Balances?

  • Daron Acemoglu
  • James A. Robinson
  • Ragnar Torvik

Voters often dismantle constitutional checks and balances on the executive. If such checks and balances limit presidential abuses of power and rents, why do voters support their removal? We argue that by reducing politician rents, checks and balances also make it cheaper to bribe or influence politicians through non-electoral means. In weakly-institutionalized polities where such non-electoral influences, particularly by the better organized elite, are a major concern, voters may prefer a political system without checks and balances as a way of insulating politicians from these influences. When they do so, they are effectively accepting a certain amount of politician (presidential) rents in return for redistribution. We show that checks and balances are less likely to emerge when the elite is better organized and is more likely to be able to influence or bribe politicians, and when inequality and potential taxes are high (which makes redistribution more valuable to the majority). We also provide case study evidence from Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela and econometric evidence on voter attitudes from a Latin American survey consistent with the model.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 17293.

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Date of creation: Aug 2011
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Publication status: published as Daron Acemoglu & James A. Robinson & Ragnar Torvik, 2013. "Why Do Voters Dismantle Checks and Balances?," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 80(3), pages 845-875.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:17293
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  1. Daron Acemoglu & James A. Robinson & Thierry Verdier, 2004. "Alfred Marshall Lecture: Kleptocracy and Divide-and-Rule: A Model of Personal Rule," Journal of the European Economic Association, MIT Press, vol. 2(2-3), pages 162-192, 04/05.
  2. Gene M. Grossman & Elhanan Helpman, 1992. "Protection For Sale," NBER Working Papers 4149, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Daron Acemoglu & Davide Ticchi & Andrea Vindigni, 2006. "Emergence and Persistence of Inefficient States," Carlo Alberto Notebooks 34, Collegio Carlo Alberto.
  4. Acemoglu, Daron & Robinson, James A, 2006. "Persistence of Power, Elites and Institutions," CEPR Discussion Papers 5603, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  5. Francesco Caselli & Massimo Morelli, 2000. "Bad politicians," Discussion Paper / Institute for Empirical Macroeconomics 134, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
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  7. Persson, Torsten & Roland, Gerard & Tabellini, Guido, 1997. "Separation of Powers and Political Accountability," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 112(4), pages 1163-1202, November.
  8. Daron Acemoglu & Georgy Egorov & Konstantin Sonin, 2011. "A Political Theory of Populism," NBER Working Papers 17306, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Li, Wei & Xu, Lixin Colin, 2002. "The Political Economy of Privatization and Competition: Cross-Country Evidence from the Telecommunications Sector," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, vol. 30(3), pages 439-462, September.
  10. Alessandro Lizzeri & Nicola Persico, 2004. "Why Did the Elites Extend the Suffrage? Democracy and the Scope of Government, With an Application to Britain's "Age of Reform"," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 119(2), pages 705-763, May.
  11. Roger B. Myerson & Daniel Diermeier, 1999. "Bicameralism and Its Consequences for the Internal Organization of Legislatures," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(5), pages 1182-1196, December.
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