The Curley Effect
38 Pages Posted: 17 May 2002 Last revised: 18 May 2002
Date Written: May 2002
James Michael Curley, a four-time mayor of Boston, used wasteful redistribution to his poor Irish constituents and incendiary rhetoric to encourage richer citizens to emigrate from Boston, thereby shaping the electorate in his favor. Boston as a consequence stagnated, but Curley kept winning elections. We present a model of the Curley effect, in which inefficient redistributive policies are sought not by interest groups protecting their rents, but by incumbent politicians trying to shape the electorate through emigration of their opponents or reinforcement of class identities. The model sheds light on ethnic politics in the United States and abroad, as well as on class politics in many countries including Britain.
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