The Political Economy of Bureaucratic Overload: Evidence from Rural Development Officials in India
54 Pages Posted: 24 Oct 2017 Last revised: 3 Mar 2019
Date Written: October 23, 2017
Government programs often fail because of weak implementation by dysfunctional local bureaucracies. This paper develops a theory of bureaucratic overload: or why politicians under-invest in local bureaucracy, resulting in an overload of bureaucratic responsibilities relative to resources, and how this contributes to inefficient organizational behavior and weak state capacity. Drawing on an survey of local rural development officials across India, including time-usage diaries which measure their daily behavior, we provide quantitative evidence that: i) resource scarcity forces officials to multi-task excessively; ii) this inability to specialize harms the implementation of rural development programs; iii) variation in the ability of state-level ruling parties to claim credit for investments in local state capacity explains variation in the degree of bureaucratic overload. The results provide a micro-level perspective on the political economy of weak state capacity.
Keywords: Bureaucracy; Political Economy
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