NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

The Effect of Patronage Politics on City Government in American Cities, 1900-1910

Rebecca Menes

NBER Working Paper No. 6975
Issued in February 1999
NBER Program(s):   DAE   PE

In this paper I explore the effect of patronage or machine' politics on government performance in American cities during the Progressive era. I use game theoretic models and an empirical analysis of spending and public goods provision during the first decade of the twentieth century in a cross section of American cities with and without governments dominated by political machines. The ability to buy votes relaxes the electoral constraints on the government. Taxes, budgets, municipal wages, and (unobserved) corruption are all predicted to rise under a patronage based regime. But in a city, patronage politics does not relax the incentives to provide public goods. A politician who buys his way into office will still be motivated to provide optimal levels of government goods and services because he can capture the resulting locational rents in higher taxes and graft. Empirically, city governments dominated by political machines paid city government employees more and had larger budgets but provided high levels of public goods.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w6975

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