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Published January 2013 | public
Journal Article Open

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 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

© 2012 Elsevier B.V. Received 19 May 2011. Received in revised form 1 August 2012. Accepted 6 August 2012. Available online 25 August 2012. We thank Juliana Bambaci, Charles Cameron, Yosh Halberstam, Jean-Laurent Rosenthal, and participants in seminars at NYU, Northwestern-Kellogg, UC Davis and UPenn for useful comments to a previous version of this paper. Financial support from NSF grants SES-1061326 (Iaryczower) and SES-1061266 (Shum) is gratefully acknowledged.

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August 22, 2023
August 22, 2023