The Political Economy of Bureaucratic Overload: Evidence from Rural Development Officials in India
46 Pages Posted: 24 Oct 2017 Last revised: 16 Jun 2019
Date Written: October 23, 2017
Government programs often fail because of poor implementation by local bureaucrats. What explains this chronic weakness of local state capacity? Prominent explanations emphasize rent-seeking by bureaucrats or capture by politicians and special interest groups. This paper documents a different pathology – rooted not in malfeasance but in systemic political failure to invest adequately in local state capacity – that we term bureaucratic overload. Drawing on a nationwide survey of local rural development officials across India, including time-usage diaries which measure their daily behavior, we provide quantitative evidence that: i) resource scarcities force rural development officials to multi-task excessively; ii) the inability to focus on managerial activities harms the implementation of development programs; iii) bureaucratic overload is linked to an absence of electoral incentives for ruling parties to invest in local state capacity. The results provide a micro-level perspective on the political economy and bureaucratic behavior underpinning weak state capacity.
Keywords: Bureaucracy; Political Economy
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