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Who Becomes a Politician?

Author

Listed:
  • Ernesto Dal Bó
  • Frederico Finan
  • Olle Folke
  • Torsten Persson
  • Johanna Rickne

Abstract

Can a democracy attract competent leaders, while attaining broad representation? Economic models suggest that free-riding incentives and lower opportunity costs give the less competent a comparative advantage at entering political life. Moreover, if elites have more human capital, selecting on competence may lead to uneven representation. This paper examines patterns of political selection among the universe of municipal politicians and national legislators in Sweden, using extraordinarily rich data on competence traits and social background for the entire population. We document four new facts that together characterize an “inclusive meritocracy.” First, politicians are on average significantly smarter and better leaders than the population they represent. Second, this positive selection is present even when conditioning on family (and hence social) background, suggesting that individual competence is key for selection. Third, the representation of social background, whether measured by parental earnings or occupational social class, is remarkably even. Fourth, there is at best a weak tradeoff in selection between competence and social representation, mainly due to strong positive selection of politicians of low (parental) socioeconomic status. A broad implication of these facts is that it is possible for democracy to generate competent and socially-representative leadership.

Suggested Citation

  • Ernesto Dal Bó & Frederico Finan & Olle Folke & Torsten Persson & Johanna Rickne, 2017. "Who Becomes a Politician?," NBER Working Papers 23120, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:23120
    Note: DEV PE POL
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Folke, Olle & Rickne, Johanna, 2014. "The Glass Ceiling in Politics: Formalization and Empirical Tests," Working Paper Series 1034, Research Institute of Industrial Economics.
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    Blog mentions

    As found by EconAcademics.org, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
    1. Can we attract good political leaders? Hint – yes
      by Nicholas Gruen in Club Troppo on 2017-02-20 15:01:40

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    1. repec:eee:pubeco:v:159:y:2018:i:c:p:54-65 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Thomas Tobias & Heß Moritz & Wagner Gert G., 2017. "Reluctant to Reform? A Note on Risk-Loving Politicians and Bureaucrats," Review of Economics, De Gruyter, vol. 68(3), pages 167-179, December.
    3. Hyytinen, Ari & Meriläinen, Jaakko & Saarimaa, Tuukka & Toivanen, Otto & Tukiainen, Janne, 2018. "Public Employees as Politicians: Evidence from Close Elections," American Political Science Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 112(01), pages 68-81, February.
    4. Pierre André & Paul Maarek, 2017. "Education, social capital and political participation Evidence from school construction in Malian villages," THEMA Working Papers 2017-18, THEMA (THéorie Economique, Modélisation et Applications), Université de Cergy-Pontoise.
    5. Meriläinen, Jaakko & Tukiainen, Janne, 2016. "Primary Effect in Open-List Elections," Working Papers 79, VATT Institute for Economic Research.
    6. repec:oup:qjecon:v:132:y:2017:i:4:p:1877-1914. is not listed on IDEAS
    7. Thomas Braendle & Alois Stutzer, 2017. "Voters and Representatives: How Should Representatives Be Selected?," CREMA Working Paper Series 2017-05, Center for Research in Economics, Management and the Arts (CREMA).
    8. Ernesto Dal Bó & Frederico Finan & Olle Folke & Torsten Persson & Johanna Rickne, 2017. "Who Becomes A Politician?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 132(4), pages 1877-1914.
    9. Framcisco Cavalcanti & Gianmarco Daniele & Sergio Galletta, 2016. "Popularity shocks and political selection : the effects of anti-corruption audits on candidates' quality," IdEP Economic Papers 1607, USI Università della Svizzera italiana.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • H10 - Public Economics - - Structure and Scope of Government - - - General
    • H70 - Public Economics - - State and Local Government; Intergovernmental Relations - - - General
    • J45 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Particular Labor Markets - - - Public Sector Labor Markets
    • P16 - Economic Systems - - Capitalist Systems - - - Political Economy of Capitalism

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