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Busy Doing Nothing – Why Politicians Implement Inefficient Policies

PublikationArtikel (med peer review)
Anders Gustafsson, Reforms Inefficiency, Special Interest Groups, Strategic Obfuscation

Sammanfattning

A substantial body of literature suggests that politicians are blocked from implementing efficient reforms that solve substantial problems because of special interest groups or budget constraints. Despite the existing mechanisms that block potentially efficient reforms, real-world data show that a large number of new programs and policies are implemented every year in developed countries. These policies are often selective and considered to be fairly inefficient by ex post evaluation, and they tend to be small in size and scope. With this background, this paper studies the reasons why a rational politician would implement an inefficient public policy that is intended to obfuscate the difficulties in achieving reforms. The paper uses a simple competence signaling model that suggests that if an effective reform is impossible, engaging in strategic obfuscation through an inefficient program increases the probability of winning a re-election compared to doing nothing at all. This is because an inefficient reform does not lead voters to believe that the politician is incompetent, which a lack of action risks doing. Intentional inefficiency aiming to obfuscate the difficulty of efficient reforms can therefore complement the previous theories’ explanations of political failure.

Gustafsson, A. (2019). Busy Doing Nothing – Why Politicians Implement Inefficient Policies. Constitutional Political Economy, 30(3), 282-299. DOI: 10.1007/s10602-019-09280-8


Liknande innehåll

Municipally Owned Enterprises as Danger Zones for Corruption? How Politicians Having Feet in Two Camps May Undermine Conditions for Accountability
Artikel (med peer review)Publikation
Bergh, A., Erlingsson, G., Gustafsson, A. & Wittberg, E.
Publiceringsår

2019

Publicerat i
Sammanfattning

The market-inspired reforms of New Public Management have been particularly pronounced in Swedish local government. Notably, municipally owned enterprises (MOEs) have rapidly grown in numbers. Principal-agent theory gives rise to the hypothesis that the massive introduction of MOEs has impacted negatively on the conditions for accountability in Swedish local government. To study this, social network analysis was employed in mapping networks for 223 MOEs in 11 strategically chosen municipalities, covering a total of 732 politicians. The analysis reveals substantial overlaps between principals (representatives of the ultimate stakeholders, citizens) and agents (the boards of the MOEs). Hence, corporatization of public services seems to imply worrisome entanglements between the politicians who are set to steer, govern, and oversee MOEs on the one hand, and the board members of MOEs on the other. The increasing numbers of MOEs may therefore have adverse effects on accountability in important and growing parts of Swedish local government.

Ratio Working Paper No. 321: Busy Doing Nothing – Why Politicians Implement Ineffcient Policies
Working paperPublikation
Gustafsson, A.
Publiceringsår

2019

Publicerat i

Ratio Working Paper

Sammanfattning

A substantial body of literature suggests that politicians are blocked from implementing efficient reforms that solve substantial problems because of special interest groups or budget constraints. Despite the existing mechanisms that block potentially efficient reforms, real-world data show that a large number of new programs and policies are implemented every year in developed countries. These policies are often selective and considered to be fairly inefficient by ex post evaluation, and they tend to be small in size and scope. With this background, this paper studies the reasons why a rational politician would implement an inefficient public policy that is intended to obfuscate the difficulties in achieving reforms. The paper uses a simple competence signaling model that suggests that if an effective reform is impossible, engaging in strategic obfuscation through an inefficient program increases the probability of winning a re-election compared to doing nothing at all. This is because an inefficient reform does not lead voters to believe that the politician is incompetent, which a lack of action risks doing. Intentional inefficiency aiming to obfuscate the difficulty of efficient reforms can therefore complement the previous theories’ explanations of political failure.

Industrial policy: Political considerations, payoffs, and peculiar incentives
BokPublikation
Gustafsson, A
Publiceringsår

2018

Publicerat i
Sammanfattning

This thesis consists of four independent papers. They deal with some aspects of industrial policy, namely public supports to firms that are intended to support innovation and growth at the firm level, using Swedish data. Two papers study the efficiency of current Swedish policies by estimating the effects of subsidies and public loans to firms, respectively.
The results on subsidized firms suggests that there are some positive effects on profits and productivity, but these diminish and disappear over time. The results of public loans are more positive with long lasting effects on productivity and sales but only for smaller firms. Public loans do not lead to an increase in the number of employees in the firms that receive them.
The third paper studies the selection of firms for subsidies and the incentives firms have to seek them. By modeling the decision to seek subsidies as a trade off between producing in the market and seeking grants, the results suggest that firms with low market productivity might self-select into seeking grants. The empirical results are in line with the theoretical predictions.
The final paper studies the incentives that politicians have to implement programs and policies that they know will be inefficient. Since a lack of political action can make the politicians look incompetent, incumbentens have incentives to implement policies even though they know that these will be ineffective, to signal competence towards the voters.

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