Banerjee P., Iversen V., Mitra S., Nicolò A. , Sen K. (2020).
Moral reputation and political selection in a decentralized democracy. WIDER Working Paper 2020/26
What motivates individuals to become politicians? This is an important question in
decentralized democracies, where local politicians play a key role in public goods provision.
However, and in emerging economies, bureaucratic hurdles and administrative failures introduce
uncertainty about the returns to a politician’s effort towards public goods provision. This paper
presents a theoretical enquiry of political selection in the presence of such uncertainty. When
individuals differ in their concern for reputation, our model predicts that politicians’ effort is
increasing in their reputation concern. With uncertainty about the public goods production (and
thus reputational) returns to politician effort, our model also predicts that reputation-concerned
individuals are more reluctant to join politics than those who worry less about their perceived
moral stature. Using data from lab-in-the-field experiments in rural India with local politicians and
non-politician participants, we find support for the main predictions of our model.