Autumn 2015


Fall 2015


Download the seminar series poster here.


22 September

Lanny W. Martin 

Rice University

Government Responsiveness, Legislative Institutions, and Unemployment Policy in Parliamentary Democracies

A central normative claim in favor of liberal democracy is that it promotes the continuing responsiveness of the government to the preferences of its citizens.  In most of the world’s democracies, however, where governments are typically composed of multiple political parties, the connection between government policy and citizen preferences can be quite tenuous.  That is, the electoral commitments made by parties in a coalition often diverge significantly, but the government can adopt only one common policy on any specific issue.  This raises a critical question that has far-reaching implications for the quality of democratic representation: Whose preferences are ultimately reflected in coalition policy choices?  Two predominant answers to this question have emerged in the literature.  One line of argument has stressed the dominant role of cabinet ministers, leading to the expectation that policy primarily reflects the commitments of those parties that control the relevant cabinet portfolios.  Another argument suggests that the policy choices of a coalition represent a compromise among the positions of all its members, regardless of how they divide up ministerial responsibilities.  In this paper, we contend that the extent to which either argument holds depends on the presence of legislative institutions that make effective monitoring and enforcement of compromise agreements possible.  Where such institutions are present—in particular, in strong legislative committee systems—policy will tend to reflect a compromise among the preferences of coalition partners.  In the absence of such institutions, ministers are able to dominate the policy process.  We evaluate our argument by analyzing changes made to unemployment policy in 15 European democracies over the past several decades.  Our results demonstrate that in environments that privilege ministerial proposals, and make it more difficult for coalition partners to monitor and enforce compromise agreements, policy choices are driven by the commitments of parties that control relevant ministries. In contrast, in institutional environments that “level the playing field” by reducing the informational advantage of ministers and providing effective opportunities for challenging and amending ministerial proposals, policies reflect a compromise position among all coalition partners. In those cases, parties that control a relevant portfolio tend to be no more influential than other members of the coalition in shaping policy choices.


6 October

Pierre Boyer 

École Polytechnique, Université Paris-Saclay

Efficiency, Welfare, and Political Competition (joint with Felix Bierbrauer)

We study political competition in an environment in which voters have private information about their preferences. Our framework covers  models of income taxation, public-goods provision, or publicly  provided private goods Politicians are vote-share-maximizers. They can propose any policy that is resource-feasible and incentive-compatible. They can also offer special favors to subsets of the electorate. We prove two main results. First, the unique symmetric equilibrium is such that policies are surplus-maximizing and hence first-best Pareto-efficient. Second, there is a surplus-maximizing policy that wins a majority against any welfare-maximizing policy. Thus, in our model, policies that trade off equity and efficiency considerations are politically infeasible.


13 October

Stephane Wolton 

London School of Economics and Political Science

Mass Purges

Totalitarian regimes, such as the USSR and China, have frequently used mass purges to shape the membership of the single ruling party. In this paper, we show how mass purges can be a  tool for incentive provision and selection of party members. Unlike standard one-to-many models of accountability such as elections, mass purges are an example of many-to-one accountability. The autocrat as principal must form beliefs about a large number of agents. This feature generates a host of interesting strategic interdependencies not previously examined in the literature. The model also provides for substantive prediction such as the effect of violence on the nature of the purge and the non-monotonic relationship between breadth and violence of a purge.


27 October

Giacomo Ponzetto 

Universitat Pompeu Fabra Barcelona

Globalization and Political Structure

Globalization is rapidly changing economic borders and yet political borders change only slowly. In this paper we study the nature and consequences of this growing mismatch. We show that globalization requires a political structure that redistributes power away from the centralized jurisdictions or states and towards a new set of overlapping jurisdictions that are both larger and smaller than existing states. Our theory suggests that globalization provides a unified explanation for the rise of large nation-states, followed by a period in which the creation of international unions is accompanied by political fragmentation within states.


3 November

Vera Troeger 

The University of Warwick

The Politics of Strategic Budgeteering

Governments want to be reelected but increasing fiscal transparency has imposed many challenges for them to pursue opportunistic fiscal policies. This paper demonstrates that governments can electioneer even when fiscal transparency is high. We argue that governments can use several strategies to increase public good provision before elections, and they choose the strategies that are most effective given the level of transparency. Whereas deficit spending is an effective strategy to artificially increase voters’ perceived welfare before elections when voters cannot observe these distortionary practices, increasing fiscal transparency makes these strategies more costly (conservative voters would punish the government). Consequently, when fiscal transparency is high governments resort to less visible strategies, such as the redistribution of budgetary resources from long-term efficient investment spending to short-term consumption spending. We test the predictions with data on the composition of government spending for 32 countries over up to 38 years and data on individual budget items for 17 OECD countries over 35 years. The preliminary findings suggest that governments indeed redistribute resources from long-term efficient investment to short-term public goods provision before elections especially if elections are contested


10 November CANCELLED

David Levine 

European University Institute


17 November

Ruben Durante 


Attack when the World is not Watching? International Media and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Policy makers may strategically time unpopular measures to coincide with other newsworthy events that distract the media and the public, so as to minimize the political cost of these measures. We test this hypothesis in the context of the recurrent Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Combining daily data on attacks on both sides of the conflict with data on the content of evening news for top U.S. TV networks, we show that Israeli attacks are more likely to be carried out when U.S. news are expected to be dominated by important (non-Israel-or-Palestine-related) events on the following day. Several findings indicate that this association is a result of the strategic behavior of Israeli authorities: i) only attacks that bear higher risk of civilian casualties are timed to newsworthy events; ii) attacks are timed to events that are predictable, and iii) the timing of Israeli retaliations against Palestinian attacks is related to U.S. news only in periods of less intense fighting, when retaliation is less urgent. Based on comprehensive content analysis of conflict-related news, we document that the strategic timing of Israeli attacks is aimed at minimizing news coverage on the following day because next-day news stories are especially charged with negative emotional content. We find no evidence of strategic timing for Palestinian attacks.


24 November

Ernesto Dal Bò 

Haas School of Business, University of California Berkeley

Who becomes a politician? Selection and representation in an advanced democracy

We use rich data from Sweden to comprehensively characterize, for the first time, patterns of political selection in a country. Economic theories suggest that free riding incentives and lower opportunity costs will give the incompetent a comparative advantage to enter public life. Also, if elites have more human capital, selecting for competence may lead to uneven representation. Can a democracy (even if advanced) attract the competent and attain broad representation? We rely on individual measures of competence and social origin for virtually the entire Swedish population (for some measures, only males), and document strong positive selection along competence among municipal politicians. Municipal politicians are significantly more educated, have higher earnings potential, are smarter, and have stronger leadership skills, than the population they represent. The competence of mayors compares well to some of the country’s elite occupations. This positive selection comes at a negligible cost in terms of representation. Selection seems driven less by family or social background than by individual traits conditional on family background, and by a tendency for even stronger positive selection among lower SES groups. We document substantial variation in the municipal degrees of selection and representation. We investigate that variation through predictions from a simple model postulating supply and demand factors in politics. We find support for these predictions, namely that higher wages, intrinsic motivation, and lower returns to experience in alternative occupations all play a role in attracting competent types to politics, and that parties play a positive role screening them in.


1 December

Ruben Enikolopov 

Barcelona GSE - Graduate School of Economics

Electoral Rules and Political Selection: Theory and evidence from a field experiment in Afghanistan

Voters commonly face a choice between competent candidates and those with policy preferences similar to their own. This paper explores how electoral rules, such as district magnitude, mediate this trade-o§ and affect the composition of representative bodies and policy outcomes. We show formally that anticipation of bargaining over policy causes voters in elections with multiple single-member districts to prefer candidates with polarized policy positions over more competent candidates. Results from a unique field experiment in Afghanistan are consistent with these predictions. Specifically, representatives elected in elections with a single multi-member district are better educated and exhibit less extreme policy preferences.


For More Information:

Carlo F. Dondena Centre for Research on Social Dynamics & Public Policy

tel. +39 025836.5384



Last updated 04 September 2016 - 08:11:49