Elite Identity and Political Accountability: A Tale of Ten Islands
NBER Working Paper No. 22777
This paper examines the relationship between elite identity and political outcomes from a theoretical and empirical perspective. Elite members with distinct economic and social identities vote for or against an extractive policy, which benefits them at the expense of the citizenry. Voting is disciplined by the threat of citizen revolt, with some elite members being more accountable than others. The relationship between elite identity and political accountability is complex and non-monotonic. As their share in the elite grows, accountable elite members are more likely to vote for extractive policies. When the elite becomes too accountable as a whole, elite members may pursue extractive policies by altering the institutional framework. The model is grounded in an empirical exploration of ten British Caribbean sugar colonies where the emancipation of slaves in 1838 created a mixed local and British elite and for which we have unique data on elite composition and voting. Voting behavior depends on an individual's identity and the overall composition of the elite in a manner predicted by the theory. In all but one of the islands elites eventually dissolved their legislative assemblies, ceding their formal powers to the British Crown. Consistent with the theory, we find evidence linking this to rising accountability of the islands' elites.
Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w22777
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