Candidates, Character, and Corruption

50 Pages Posted: 22 Nov 2010 Last revised: 1 Apr 2015

See all articles by B. Douglas Bernheim

B. Douglas Bernheim

Stanford University - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Navin Kartik

Columbia University, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Department of Economics

Date Written: November 2010


We study the characteristics of self-selected candidates in corrupt political systems. Potential candidates differ along two dimensions of unobservable character: public spirit (altruism toward others) and honesty (the disutility suffered when selling out to special interests after securing office). Both aspects combine to determine an individual's quality as governor. We characterize properties of equilibrium candidate pools for arbitrary costs of running for office, including the case where those costs become vanishingly small. We explore how policy instruments such as the governor's compensation and anti-corruption enforcement affect the expected quality of governance through candidate self-selection. We also show that self-selection can have surprising implications for the effect of information disclosures concerning candidates' backgrounds.

Suggested Citation

Bernheim, B. Douglas and Kartik, Navin, Candidates, Character, and Corruption (November 2010). NBER Working Paper No. w16530. Available at SSRN:

B. Douglas Bernheim (Contact Author)

Stanford University - Department of Economics ( email )

Landau Economics Building
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National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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Navin Kartik

Columbia University, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Department of Economics ( email )

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New York, NY 10027
United States


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