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When Dynasties Lose, Development Wins, Suggests Harvard Paper

File photo of Parliament.

File photo of Parliament.

For the first time, a Harvard University research paper has attempted to empirically dissect the impact of democratically elected political dynasties on various social and economic parameters.

New Delhi: How do dynasties affect the socio-political-economic milieu in a country? Clintons, Bushs, Kennedys, Kirschners, Gandhis, Bhuttos, Yudhyonos, Aquinos, Abes, Kims and Lees, it’s a long list.

For the first time, a Harvard University research paper has attempted to empirically dissect the impact of democratically elected political dynasties on various social and economic parameters.

With India as their case study, the co-authors of the paper Siddharth Eapen George and Dominic Ponattu of University of Mannheim, Germany show that constituencies where dynast narrowly win grow 6.5 percentage points slower annually than where they narrowly lose.

Referring to previous studies, the paper lists how there has been evidence to show that dynasts may behave like “stationary bandits” and invest more in their constituencies. Or they “may have particularly strong incentives to foster long-term clientelistic relationships, which may chill political competition and worsen governance.”

The study has used various empirical methods to draw its conclusions like night-time luminosity as a measure of local economic activity. The study says these results hold even when comparing neighbouring villages that are in the same administrative district but different political constituencies.

The other important findings of the paper include: dynastic rule worsens public good provision, voters subjectively assess dynastic politicians to perform worse. But this effect is only observed among non-coethnic voters- claims the paper as dynasts tend to foster ethnic patronage.

For the purpose of this study, a dynast has been defined as a candidate with “at least one family member who has previously held political office in the state or national assembly”.

By this definition nearly 16% of winners and runners-up in Lok Sabha elections over the past two decades are dynasts.

The study looks closely at specific close family connections: 2/3 of dynastic politicians are sons, daughters or spouses (usually wife) of a current or former office-holder.

However, the study also finds that negative impacts of dynastic rule do not appear to be driven by greater rent-seeking among dynasts measured by personal wealth gains while in office); lower effort exerted by dynastic politicians measured by participation in the legislature; and dynastic victories reducing political competition in subsequent periods.

first published:August 21, 2017, 13:02 IST