The Political Economy of Clientelism

35 Pages Posted: 8 Mar 2002

See all articles by James A. Robinson

James A. Robinson

Harvard University - Department of Government; Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR); National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Thierry Verdier

Paris School of Economics (PSE); Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro (PUC-Rio) - Department of Economics; Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

Date Written: February 2002

Abstract

Income redistribution often takes highly inefficient forms, such as employment in the bureaucracy. We argue that this arises as an optimal political strategy in situations where politicians cannot commit to policies. Political exchanges between politicians and voters must be self-enforcing and some types of policies, particularly those generating non-excludable or irreversible benefits (such as public goods and public investment) do not generate incentives. A job is a credible, excludable and reversible method of redistribution that ties the continuation utility of a voter to the political success of a particular politician. It is thus very attractive politically even if it is socially highly inefficient. Our model provides a formalization of a style of redistributive politics known as 'clientelism'. We show that inefficient redistribution and clientelism becomes a relatively attractive political strategy in situations with high inequality and low productivity. Inefficiency is increased when (1) the 'stakes' from politics are high, (2) inequality is high, and (3) when money matters less than ideology in politics.

Keywords: Political competition, income redistribution, public policy

JEL Classification: H10, H20

Suggested Citation

Robinson, James A. and Verdier, Thierry, The Political Economy of Clientelism (February 2002). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=303185

James A. Robinson (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Department of Government ( email )

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Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) ( email )

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National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

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Thierry Verdier

Paris School of Economics (PSE) ( email )

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Paris, 75014
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Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro (PUC-Rio) - Department of Economics ( email )

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Rio de Janeiro, RJ 22453
Brazil

Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

London
United Kingdom

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