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Good Politicians' Distorted Incentives

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  • Margherita Negri

    () (School of Economics and Finance, University of St Andrews)

Abstract

I construct a political agency model that provides a new explanation for sub-optimal policy making decisions by incumbents. I show that electoral incentives can induce politicians to address less relevant issues, disregarding more important ones. Issue importance is defined in terms of the utility voters would receive if the issue was solved. Contrary to existing literature, sub-optimal policy making occurs even when voters are perfectly informed about issues’ characteristics and politicians are policy oriented. I provide an explanation that relies on the negative correlation between issue importance and probability of solving it: for a given effort exerted by incumbents, less relevant issues guarantee higher probability of success. In equilibrium, voters cannot commit to re-elect the incumbent if and only if the most important issue was solved. This is because solving the easy issue also constitutes a positive signal about incumbents’ type. Whenever re-election is sufficiently valuable, then, politicians will choose to address less relevant and easier issues.

Suggested Citation

  • Margherita Negri, 2017. "Good Politicians' Distorted Incentives," Discussion Paper Series, School of Economics and Finance 201713, School of Economics and Finance, University of St Andrews.
  • Handle: RePEc:san:wpecon:1713
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    File URL: http://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/~wwwecon/repecfiles/4/1713.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Besley, Timothy & Smart, Michael, 2007. "Fiscal restraints and voter welfare," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 91(3-4), pages 755-773, April.
    2. Ashworth, Scott & Shotts, Kenneth W., 2010. "Does informative media commentary reduce politicians' incentives to pander?," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 94(11-12), pages 838-847, December.
    3. Gabriele Gratton & Luigi Guiso & Claudio Michelacci & Massimo Morelli, 2015. "From Weber to Kafka: Political Activism and the Emergence of an Inefficient Bureaucracy," Working Papers 560, IGIER (Innocenzo Gasparini Institute for Economic Research), Bocconi University.
    4. Timothy Besley & Anne Case, 1995. "Does Electoral Accountability Affect Economic Policy Choices? Evidence from Gubernatorial Term Limits," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 110(3), pages 769-798.
    5. Gabriele Gratton & Luigi Guiso & Claudio Michelacci & Massimo Morelli, 2017. "From Weber to Kafka: Political Instability and the Rise of an Inefficient Bureaucracy," EIEF Working Papers Series 1708, Einaudi Institute for Economics and Finance (EIEF), revised May 2017.
    6. John Ferejohn, 1986. "Incumbent performance and electoral control," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 50(1), pages 5-25, January.
    7. Eric Maskin & Jean Tirole, 2004. "The Politician and the Judge: Accountability in Government," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(4), pages 1034-1054, September.
    8. Rogoff, Kenneth, 1990. "Equilibrium Political Budget Cycles," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 80(1), pages 21-36, March.
    9. Robert Barro, 1973. "The control of politicians: An economic model," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 14(1), pages 19-42, March.
    10. Fox, Justin & Van Weelden, Richard, 2015. "Hoping for the best, unprepared for the worst," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 130(C), pages 59-65.
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    More about this item

    Keywords

    political agency; elections; incumbent behavior; politicians’ incentives;

    JEL classification:

    • D02 - Microeconomics - - General - - - Institutions: Design, Formation, Operations, and Impact
    • D72 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Political Processes: Rent-seeking, Lobbying, Elections, Legislatures, and Voting Behavior
    • D78 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Positive Analysis of Policy Formulation and Implementation

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