6 Journal of Legal Analysis 185 (2014)

59 Pages Posted: 19 Aug 2015

Date Written: August 18, 2015


Although ensuring the “accountability” of agents to their principals is widely considered a core objective of institutional design, recent work in political economy has identified and elucidated an important class of situations in which effective accountability mechanisms can decrease, rather than increase, an agent’s likelihood of acting in her principal’s interests. The problem, which we call “over-accountability,” is essentially an information problem: sometimes even a fully rational but imperfectly informed principal (e.g., the citizens) will reward “bad” actions rather than “good” actions by an agent (e.g. the President). In these cases, not only do accountability mechanisms fail to remedy the agency problem inherent in representative government, they actually make the problem worse. This Article offers a conceptual and empirical overview of over-accountability problems, and also considers a range of potential solutions. By surveying both the distortions themselves and a range of possible responses, this article aspires to assist both public law scholars and institutional reformers in producing more effective solutions.

Keywords: accountability, bureaucracy, judicial review, separation of powers

Suggested Citation

Gersen, Jacob E. and Stephenson, Matthew Caleb, Over-Accountability (August 18, 2015). 6 Journal of Legal Analysis 185 (2014), Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2646687

Jacob E. Gersen (Contact Author)

Harvard University ( email )

1875 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Matthew Caleb Stephenson

Harvard Law School ( email )

1575 Massachusetts
Hauser 406
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-495-9863 (Phone)

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