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Published August 7, 2017 | Submitted
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To Elect or to Appoint? Bias, Information, and Responsiveness of Bureaucrats and Politicians


In this paper, we address empirically the trade-offs involved in choosing between bureaucrats and politicians. In order to do this, we need to map institutions of selection and retention of public officials to the type of public officials they induce. We do this by specifying a collective decision-making model, and exploiting its equilibrium information to obtain estimates of the unobservable types. We focus on criminal decisions across US states' Supreme Courts. We find that justices that are shielded from voters' influence ("bureaucrats") on average (i) have better information, (ii) are more likely to change their preconceived opinions about a case, and (iii) are more effective (make less mistakes) than their elected counterparts ("politicians"). We evaluate how performance would change if the courts replaced majority rule with unanimity rule.

Additional Information

We thank Yosh Halberstam, Jean-Laurent Rosenthal, Matt Spitzer, and participants in seminars at NYU, Northwestern-Kellogg, and UC Davis for useful comments to a previous version of this paper. Published in Journal of Public Economics 97 (2013): 230-244.

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August 19, 2023
August 19, 2023