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Politicians, Bureaucrats, and Development: Evidence from India


When do politicians prompt bureaucrats to provide effective services? Leveraging the uneven overlap of jurisdictions in India, we compare bureaucrats supervised by a single political principal with those supervised by multiple politicians. With an original dataset of nearly half a million villages, we find that implementation of India’s National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, the largest employment program in the world, is substantially better where bureaucrats answer to a single politician. Regression discontinuity estimates help increase confidence that this result is causal. Our findings suggest that politicians face strong incentives to motivate bureaucrats as long as they internalize the benefits from doing so. In contrast to a large literature on the deleterious effects of political interventions, our results show that political influence may be more favorable to development than is commonly assumed.

Corresponding author
Saad Gulzar is Ph.D. Candidate, Wilf Family Department of Politics, New York University, 19 West 4th St. 2nd Floor, New York, NY 10012 (
Benjamin J. Pasquale is an independent researcher (
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The authors thank Graeme Blair, Eric Dickson, Guy Grossman, Patrick James, Woo Chang Kang, Horacio Larreguy, Livio Di Londardo, Umberto Mignozzetti, Karthik Muralidharan, Dan Posner, Alan Potter, Pablo Querubin, Peter Rosendorff, Cyrus Samii, Shanker Satyanath, David Stasavage, Jake Shapiro, Bryce Steinberg, and Austin Wright for helpful discussions and insightful comments. We also thank Himanshu Mistry at NYU Library Data Services for his assistance with GIS. We thank discussants and seminar participants at the 2015 Annual Conference of the Midwest Political Science Association, American University, New York University, Princeton University, University of California-Los Angeles, University of Southern California, and Yale University.
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This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

Christopher R. Berry 2009. Imperfect Union: Representation and Taxation in Multilevel Governments. NY, New York: Cambridge University Press.

John Brehm , and Scott Gates . 1997. Working, Shirking, and Sabotage: Bureaucratic Response to a Democratic Public. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.

Bruce Cain , John Ferejohn , and Morris Fiorina . 1987. The Personal Vote: Constituency Service and Electoral Independence. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Frank de Zwart . 1994. The Bureaucratic Merry-Go-Round. Amsterdam, Netherlands: Amsterdam University Press.

Puja Dutta , Rinku Murgai , Martin Ravallion , and Dominque van de Walle . 2014. Right to Work: Assessing India’s Emloyment Guarantee Scheme in Bihar. Washington, D.C.: The World Bank.

Arthur Lupia . 2003. “Delegation and its Perils.” In Delegation and Accountability in West European Parliamentary Democracies, eds. Kaare Strøm, Wolfgang C. Müller , and Torbjörn Bergman . Oxford: Oxford University Press: 3354.

Shylashri Shankar , and Ragav Gaiha . 2013. Battling Corruption: Has NREGA Reached India’s Rural Poor? New Delhi, India: Oxford University Press.

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American Political Science Review
  • ISSN: 0003-0554
  • EISSN: 1537-5943
  • URL: /core/journals/american-political-science-review
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Supplementary Materials

Gulzar and Pasquale supplementary material
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