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Elite Identity and Political Accountability: A Tale of Ten Islands

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  • Jean-Paul Carvalho
  • Christian Dippel

Abstract

This paper examines the relationship between elite identity and political outcomes from a theoretical and empirical perspective. Elite members with distinct economic and social identities vote for or against an extractive policy, which benefits them at the expense of the citizenry. Voting is disciplined by the threat of citizen revolt, with some elite members being more accountable than others. The relationship between elite identity and political accountability is complex and non-monotonic. As their share in the elite grows, accountable elite members are more likely to vote for extractive policies. When the elite becomes too accountable as a whole, elite members may pursue extractive policies by altering the institutional framework. The model is grounded in an empirical exploration of ten British Caribbean sugar colonies where the emancipation of slaves in 1838 created a mixed local and British elite and for which we have unique data on elite composition and voting. Voting behavior depends on an individual's identity and the overall composition of the elite in a manner predicted by the theory. In all but one of the islands elites eventually dissolved their legislative assemblies, ceding their formal powers to the British Crown. Consistent with the theory, we find evidence linking this to rising accountability of the islands' elites.

Suggested Citation

  • Jean-Paul Carvalho & Christian Dippel, 2016. "Elite Identity and Political Accountability: A Tale of Ten Islands," NBER Working Papers 22777, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:22777
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. S.D.Smith & Martin Forster, 2013. "'The curse of the Caribbean'? Agency's impact on the efficiency of sugar estates in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, 1814-1829," Oxford Economic and Social History Working Papers _112, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
    2. Christian Dippel & Avner Greif & Daniel Trefler, 2015. "Outside Options, Coercion, and Wages: Removing the Sugar Coating," NBER Working Papers 20958, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Simon D. Smith & Martin Forster, 2013. "‘The Curse of the Caribbean’? Agency’s impact on the efficiency of sugar estates in St.Vincent and the Grenadines, 1814-1829," Oxford University Economic and Social History Series _112, Economics Group, Nuffield College, University of Oxford.
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D71 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Social Choice; Clubs; Committees; Associations
    • N66 - Economic History - - Manufacturing and Construction - - - Latin America; Caribbean
    • O43 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Growth and Aggregate Productivity - - - Institutions and Growth

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