Wednesday, October 12, 2011

IRCPPS in the Links: The Unintended Consequences of Campaign Promises

Chris Blattman's blog offers an analysis of the Liberian elections, and an interesting vignette from Rob Blair about the unintended consequences of unfulfilled campaign promises:
In one community I visited, I asked the town chief how he adjudicated among the dozens of candidates on the ballot. He pointed to the village’s dilapidated school. During the previous congressional campaign, the district’s current representative had promised that he would repair the building, but never did. Now an opposition candidate has promised that he’ll do the job instead. That was enough to convince the town chief, who rallied the village in the opposition’s favor.
The tragedy is this: the government is almost certainly not going to rebuild that school. Campaign promises are always suspect, but they are especially so in a place like Liberia, where the tax base is meager and the capacity of any given politician to deliver social services to any given community is, to say the least, slim.

Promises like these risk alienating citizens from a government they ostensibly elected. Worse, campaign cheap talk may stifle local-level collective action. In this village, the school was run-down but not beyond repair. When I asked the town chief what he would do if the government didn’t deliver, his answer was disheartening: he would wait for the next election. It’s hard to say whether or not the community would succeed if it attempted reconstruction on its own. But as long as candidates’ campaign pledges continue to resonate, it is less likely to try.