Voting out incumbents raises economic growth, cuts corruption, study says

Voting out incumbents raises economic growth, cuts corruption, study says

Reason magazine reports on a study finding that voting out incumbents boosts the economy and shrinks corruption:

Throwing the bums out is, for lack of a better word, good. Electing new political leaders and tossing out incumbents is correlated with improvements in economic growth and social well-being, according to a trio of economists from Harvard, MIT, and the French-based university Sciences Po. After reviewing more than 2,493 national elections since 1945, they found that electoral turnovers—situations in which a ruling party was defeated at the polls—stimulate new policy ideas that translate into more dynamic conditions both within political structures and in the economies subject to regulation by them.

“While other studies have focused on the benefits of democracy, which gives citizens the opportunity to remove incumbents from office, we focus on a different question: what happens when citizens seize this opportunity,” write Benjamin Marx, Vincent Pons, and Vincent Rollet, in the National Bureau of Economic Research paper.  “Overall, we find that voting for change matters: electoral turnovers deliver improvements in country-level performance along many dimensions.”

As they point out, this finding is somewhat surprising. A common criticism of democracy is that the will of the people can swing wildly from election to election, potentially undermining the stability that authoritarian regimes (or even more static democracies) can supposedly provide.

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But the benefits of having a sort of market within politics outweigh those costs, according to Marx, Pons, and Rollet. This is especially true when it comes to corruption, which is effectively checked by electoral turnovers. “Strikingly, turnovers have a large and robust negative effect on various measures of perceived corruption,” they write, because incumbent politicians “learn over time how to extract rents” as they sit in office. The three researchers “hypothesize that the main force driving the positive effects of turnovers is the role they play in terms of renewing a country’s political leadership, and in allowing new leaders facing stronger reputation concerns to rise to power.”

LU Staff

LU Staff

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