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Acemoglu, D., Robinson, J. A., Torvik, R. (2013). Why Do Voters Dismantle Checks and Balances?

Voters often dismantle constitutional checks and balances on the executive. If such checks and balances limit presidential abuses of power and rents, why do voters support their removal? We argue that by reducing politician rents, checks and balances also make it cheaper to bribe or influence politicians through non-electoral means. In weakly-institutionalized polities where such non-electoral in?uences, particularly by the better organized elite, are a major concern, voters may prefer a political system without checks and balances as a way of insulating politicians from these influences. When they do so, they are e?ectively accepting a certain amount of politician (presidential) rents in return for redistribution. We show that checks and balances are less likely to emerge when the elite is better organized and is more likely to be able to in?uence or bribe politicians, and when inequality and potential taxes are high (which makes redistribution more valuable to the majority). We also provide case study evidence from Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela and econometric evidence on voter attitudes from a Latin American survey consistent with the model.


Acemoglu, Daron

Daron Acemoglu is Charles P. Kindleberger Professor of Applied Economics in the Department of Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He has received a BA in economics at the University of York, 1989, M.Sc. in mathematical economics and econometrics at the London School of Economics...

Robinson, James

James Robinson is David Florence Professor of Government at Harvard University and a faculty associate at the Institute for Quantitative Social Science and the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs. He studied economics at the London School of Economics, the University of Warwick and...

Torvik, Ragnar

Ragnar Torvik is Professor of Economics at the Department of Economics of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. He is the editor of the Scandinavian Journal of Economics.

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