Recognition of politicians” names by voters plays a key role in the self-perpetuation of political power by dynasties, according to a study of Argentina by Martin Rossi, published in the October 2017 issue of the Economic Journal. What”s more, the outcomes are not desirable: on a variety of measures, legislators with family connections have lower performance.

Tracking Argentine politicians over the period from the return to democracy in 1983, the new research shows that those who hold power for longer become more likely to move to higher political positions in the future and more likely to have relatives entering Congress in the future.

The effect is large: five additional years in office increases the probability of moving to higher political positions by about 45 percentage points, and the probability of having a relative in future congresses by about 20 percentage points.

Why is political power self-perpetuating? Because voters recognise family names. Two pieces of evidence support this conclusion:

• First, the advantage from longer tenure in terms of the probability of establishing a political dynasty disappears for politicians with a common surname.

• Second, those women legislators who are married to a recognised politician are more likely to use their husband”s surname for political purposes.

Do political dynasties really matter? The answer is yes. Dynastic legislators have lower performance: dynastic legislators present 26% fewer bills than non-dynastic ones; and the proportion of bills approved to bills presented is 43% lower for dynastic legislators.

The evidence presented in this study suggests that shocks to political power (like the one provided by the random allocation of terms in the foundational Congress of 1983 in Argentina) can have long-lasting effects in terms of the composition of the future political class.

The findings are important as they help us to understand the determinants of political success and the composition of the political class, stressing the importance of dynamic effects.

”Self-Perpetuation of Political Power: Evidence from a Natural Experiment in Argentina” by Martin Rossi is published in the October 2017 issue of the Economic Journal. Martin Rossi is at the Universidad de San Andres in Argentina.

Martin A. Rossi

+54-11-47256948 | mrossi@udesa.edu.ar