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Money, Political Ambition, and the Career Decisions of Politicians


  • Michael P. Keane

    () (Department of Economics, Arizona State University)

  • Antonio Merlo

    () (Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania)


In this paper we assess the impact of a variety of policies that may influence the career decisions of members of the U.S. Congress, using the empirical framework of Diermeier, Keane and Merlo (2005). These policies alter incentives to run for re-election, run for higher office or leave Congress, by altering wages, nonpecuniary rewards and career prospects (both in and out of Congress). We find that reducing the relative wage of politicians would substantially reduce the duration of congressional careers. Notably, however, the effect varies considerably across different types of politicians. A reduction in the congressional wage would disproportionately induce exit from Congress by “skilled” politicians, Democrats, politicians who were relatively young when first elected, and those without pre-congressional political experience. Interestingly, however, it would not cause the type of politicians who most value legislative accomplishments (“achievers”) to disproportionately exit Congress. Thus, wage reductions would not reduce the “quality” composition of Congress in this sense. Term limits also have similar effects on achievers and non-achievers. However, we find that term limits would disproportionately induce members of the majority party to exit Congress. This has the interesting implication that term limits make it more difficult to sustain substantial congressional majorities over time. We do find three types of policies that disproportionately induce nonachievers to leave Congress: (i) elimination of seniority as a determinant of key committee assignments, (ii) restricting private sector employment after leaving Congress, and (iii) reducing the seniority advantage in elections.

Suggested Citation

  • Michael P. Keane & Antonio Merlo, 2007. "Money, Political Ambition, and the Career Decisions of Politicians," PIER Working Paper Archive 07-016, Penn Institute for Economic Research, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania.
  • Handle: RePEc:pen:papers:07-016

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Daniel Diermeier & Michael Keane & Antonio Merlo, 2005. "A Political Economy Model of Congressional Careers," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(1), pages 347-373, March.
    2. Mattozzi, Andrea & Merlo, Antonio, 2008. "Political careers or career politicians?," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 92(3-4), pages 597-608, April.
    3. Ernesto Dal Bó & Pedro Dal Bó & Jason Snyder, 2009. "Political Dynasties," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 76(1), pages 115-142.
    4. Caselli, Francesco & Morelli, Massimo, 2004. "Bad politicians," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 88(3-4), pages 759-782, March.
    5. Messner, Matthias & Polborn, Mattias K., 2004. "Paying politicians," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 88(12), pages 2423-2445, December.
      • Matthias Messner & Mattias Polborn, 2003. "Paying Politicians," Working Papers 246, IGIER (Innocenzo Gasparini Institute for Economic Research), Bocconi University.
    6. Antonio Merlo, 2005. "Whither Political Economy? Theories, Facts and Issues," PIER Working Paper Archive 05-033, Penn Institute for Economic Research, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania, revised 01 Dec 2005.
    7. Tim Groseclose & Jeffrey Milyo, 1999. "Buying the Bums Out: What's the Dollar Value of a Seat in Congress?," Discussion Papers Series, Department of Economics, Tufts University 9923, Department of Economics, Tufts University.
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    More about this item


    politicians; political careers; monetary and non-monetary incentives; U.S. Congress;

    JEL classification:

    • D72 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Political Processes: Rent-seeking, Lobbying, Elections, Legislatures, and Voting Behavior
    • J44 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Particular Labor Markets - - - Professional Labor Markets and Occupations
    • J45 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Particular Labor Markets - - - Public Sector Labor Markets

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