The Political Economy of Weak Treaties
In recent decades, democratic countries have signed hundreds of international environmental agreements (IEAs). Most of these agreements, however, are weak: they generally do not include effective enforcement or monitoring mechanisms. This is a puzzle in standard economic models. To study this phenomenon, we propose a positive theory of IEAs in which the political incumbents negotiate them in the shadow of reelection concerns. We show that, in these environments, incumbents are prone to negotiate treaties that are simultaneously overambitious (larger than what they would be without electoral concerns) and weak (might not be implemented in full). The theory also provides a new perspective for understanding investments in green technologies, highlighting a channel through which countries are tempted to rely too much on technology instead of sanctions to make compliance credible. We present preliminary evidence consistent with these predictions.
For useful comments and discussions we thank Stephen Coate, Eleonora Patacchini, Torsten Persson and seminar participants at Cornell, Harvard, Rice, Stanford GSB, the 2016 EEA meeting and the 2016 Warwick political economy conference in Venice. We thank Angela Cools, Torje Hegna and Esteban Mendez Chacon for outstanding research assistance. Harstad received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No 683031). The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Marco Battaglini & Bård Harstad, 2020. "The Political Economy of Weak Treaties," Journal of Political Economy, vol 128(2), pages 544-590.