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Productive Office and Political Elitism

Auerbach, Jan (2022): Productive Office and Political Elitism.

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Abstract

Many representative democracies experience political elitism in the sense that virtually all members of the national legislature are high-income citizens. However, evidence suggests that electoral prospects are independent of income in the sense that voters do not consider low-income candidates less competent or less likely to get their vote. I explore a financial-rewards channel through which political elitism can arise by self-selection when citizen-candidates’ electoral prospects are independent of income. Elitism arises if and only if the office is attractive and the difference in differences in income between holding office, collecting a salary and outside income, and being a private citizen is large enough. Higher income premia or more productive outside activity for high-income citizens are not necessary or sufficient. Outside income limits can always prevent elitism, while salary reform often cannot. The results offer context for some somewhat mixed evidence on the association between politician pay and politician background.

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