Theses Doctoral

Essays on Political Institutions and Institutional Design

Nakaguma, Marcos

This dissertation attempts to understand the factors that determine the performance and choice of political institutions. We start with the recognition that these two aspects of the problem are fundamentally connected given that political institutions are themselves endogenous, i.e. the way in which they perform and function depends importantly on the reasons behind their adoption. Each chapter of this dissertation analyzes a different class of institutions, identifying specific features of the political and social environment that impact their performance and deriving, whenever possible, implications for institutional design. The first chapter studies the main factors that determine the constitutional preferences of citizens over the form of government. We focus on the case of Brazil, where a referendum in 1993 allowed the population to choose between a presidential and a parliamentary system of government. A model is proposed to explain the main facts emerging from the data. It is shown that the parliamentary regime requires a strong system of protection against expropriation, particularly at the local level, and a class of politicians that can be trusted to represent well the interests of voters. We also show that the poor groups of the population are more likely to vote for the presidential regime since the low quality of their local accountability institutions makes them more vulnerable to the expropriation by legislators. The second chapter studies the question of why checks and balances work well in some cases, but not in others. We investigate the conditions under which a system of checks and balances is beneficial to the society. The analysis emphasizes the important role played by political transparency, which is defined as the ability of voters to observe the proposals submitted to congress during the legislative process. We show that transparency is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for an effective system of checks and balances. The model yields the surprising result that political transparency may be harmful to voters depending on the characteristics of the social and political environment. The third chapter studies a committee decision-making problem with career oriented agents who may be biased towards one of the alternatives. We investigate how the interaction between career concerns and bias affects the behavior of members and how this effect depends on transparency. The main result is that public voting leads to better decisions when the magnitude of the bias is large relative to the common value, while secret voting performs better otherwise. We also show that the interaction between transparency and reputation concerns may exacerbate the biases of incompetent members, leading them to vote more in accordance with their individual interests.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Morelli, Massimo
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 6, 2012