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Political Accountability Under Alternative Institutional Regimes


Matthew Stephenson


Harvard Law School

Jide Nzelibe


Northwestern University - School of Law

June 17, 2008

Harvard Law and Economics Discussion Paper No. 615

Abstract:     
We analyze the interaction between electoral accountability and separation-of-powers as mechanisms for reducing political agency slack. We compare three stylized regimes: a "Unilateral Authority" setting in which the President has exclusive authority over some policy decision; a "Mandatory Checks and Bal-ances" regime in which the President cannot enact the policy unless Congress approves; and an "Opt-In Checks and Balances" system in which the President may seek congressional authorization, but may also act unilaterally. The analysis generates three principal insights. First, voters respond to the risk of politi-cian bias by making the political rewards and punishments for policy success or failure asymmetric. Vot-ers rely less on this instrument, however, when internal checks screen out some undesirable policies. Second, the addition of a veto player need not alter the ex ante likelihood of policy change. Third, voter welfare is highest under the Opt-In Checks regime and lowest under the Unilateral Authority regime.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 58

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Date posted: July 23, 2008  

Suggested Citation

Stephenson, Matthew and Nzelibe, Jide, Political Accountability Under Alternative Institutional Regimes (June 17, 2008). Harvard Law and Economics Discussion Paper No. 615. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1152452 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1152452

Contact Information

Matthew Caleb Stephenson (Contact Author)
Harvard Law School ( email )
1575 Massachusetts
Hauser 406
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-495-9863 (Phone)
Jide Nzelibe
Northwestern University - School of Law ( email )
375 E. Chicago Ave
Unit 1505
Chicago, IL 60611
United States
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