Rebecca Menes

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NBER Working Papers and Publications

March 2006Limiting the Reach of the Grabbing Hand. Graft and Growth in American Cities, 1880 to 1930
in Corruption and Reform: Lessons from America's Economic History, Edward L. Glaeser and Claudia Goldin, editors
September 2003Corruption in Cities: Graft and Politics in American Cities at the Turn of the Twentieth Century
The essay is an exploration of corruption as practiced by city politicians in the United States at the turn of the twentieth century. Corruption is generally considered to be bad for the performance of governments and for the growth and development of economies, but American cities grew rapidly and were, as far as tangible evidence suggests, relatively well governed. I propose the answer to this conundrum lies in the exact types of graft which were possible. Skimming from city contracts and manipulating local real estate markets encouraged politicians to pursue growth enhancing policies. Many of the most damaging forms of government interference - closing borders and pursuing input-substituting policies - are not possible in cities. Patronage politics made corruption more likely by insul...
February 1999The Effect of Patronage Politics on City Government in American Cities, 1900-1910
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 beca...
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