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political economy

Taxing Clients? How Clientelism Hurts Citizen Tax Morale in Benin: Guest post by Sanata Sy-Sahande

This is the seventh in this year’s job market series.
Developing countries regularly underperform in their capacity to collect taxes, with tax revenue to GDP ratios that are 20 to 30 percent less than those of high-income countries (Besley and Persson, 2014). This tax capacity gap represents lost revenue that could have provided much-needed public goods and services while reducing reliance on foreign aid. This issue is especially relevant in Africa, where “shadow economies” comprise up to 75% of national GDP (Schneider and Enste 2000), indicating that large swaths of these countries’ populations manage to evade taxation. What accounts for this failure to convince citizens to pay taxes?
Structural roadblocks to tax collections in developing countries include poor service quality, dysfunctional bureaucracies, and outdated equipment. In contrast, my job market paper provides a political explanation centered on clientelism, or politicians' exchange of targeted goods for votes from loyal supporters.

Jobs for Votes: RDD Evidence on Patronage in Brazilian Public Sector Hiring: Guest post by Edoardo Teso

This is the fourth in this year’s series of job market posts.
As the quality of a country's public sector workforce is an essential factor in its effectiveness in providing services, governments should try to hire qualified individuals in the public sector (Finan et al. 2017). However, there may be an important obstacle to the quality of this recruitment process, especially in developing countries: politicians could engage in patronage - the use of public sector jobs to reward their political supporters.

Virtually all modern bureaucracies are characterized by a civil service system, where the introduction of meritocratic hiring criteria was meant to shield public sector jobs from patronage practices. However, politicians typically retain some discretion in the selection of public workers, for instance through the use of temporary contracts (Grindle 2012). As a consequence, patronage could still play an important role in public sector hiring.  Despite the potentially significant impact of this phenomenon on the quality of the public workforce, no study has systematically documented its presence in a modern bureaucracy, limiting our understanding of its consequences for the public sector.

In my job market paper "Patronage in the Allocation of Public Sector Jobs" (joint work with Emanuele Colonnelli and Mounu Prem), I study patronage in the context of Brazilian local governments during the 1997-2014 period.

Six Questions with Rohini Pande

David McKenzie's picture

Rohini Pande is Mohammed Kamal Professor of Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, where she also co-directs their Evidence for Policy Design (EPoD) program. She has described her research as examining the economic costs and benefits of informal and formal institutions in the developing world and the role of public policy in changing these.

1. You have worked on a range of different topics – including rural banking and microfinance, governance, environmental regulation, son preference, and housing – but almost exclusively in one country, India. When you think about your broad research agenda, how to you think about the tradeoffs involved in focusing deeply on one country, vs exploring these topics in different places?

Starting with my PhD work on political reservations in India, I have been fascinated by the why and how of public policy in democracies and, in particular, how the political and social context shapes the choice of policy. I have also found that viewing problems of economic development through a political lens that engages with questions of power creates links across questions and topics that might before have seemed disparate.

Once you adopt this perspective, the advantage of focussing on a single country becomes apparent. Over time, one begins to understand how power structures operate and which policy lessons are generalizable and which remain specific to a location. The Indian economist Jean Drèze, who very much inspired my career choice to become a development economist, told me that he has never been to Africa. “Once I got to India,” he said, “there was more than enough for me to do for a lifetime.” His most recent book – Sense and Solidarity – provides a strong rationale for an action-research agenda that is focussed on a single country.