Research Agenda I: The Political Economy of Public Bureaucracy
Imperial Rule, the Imposition of Bureaucratic Institutions, and their Long-Term Legacies (Published in World Politics, Vol. 71, No. 4, October 2019, pp. 806–863) (Link to Journal) (PDF Download)
Abstract: Significant variation in the institutions and efficiency of public bureaucracies across countries and regions are observed. These differences could be partially responsible for divergence in the effectiveness of policy implementation, corruption levels, and economic development. Do imperial legacies contribute to the observed variation in the organization of public administrations? Historical foreign rule and colonization have been shown to have lasting effects on legal systems, political institutions, and trade in former controlled territories. Imperial legacies could also explain variations in the performance of public administrations. The author uses the case of Poland to investigate the long-term effects of foreign rule on bureaucratic systems. Historically, Poland was split between three imperial powers with very different public administrations: Prussia, Austria, and Russia. Statistical analyses of original data collected through a survey of more than 650 Polish public administrations suggest that some present-day differences in the organization and efficiency of bureaucracies are due to imperial legacies.
Other Versions: Abbreviated and updated version published (2022) as “Empires, State Building, and Long-Term Legacies in Bureaucratic Organization: The Case of Poland” (In: Im Büro des Herrschers: Neue Perspektiven der historischen Politikfeldanalyse [In the Ruler’s Office: New Perspectives of Historical Policy Field Analysis]) (PDF Download)
The Political Economy of Public Bureaucracy: The Emergence of Modern Administrative Organizations (Working Paper) (PDF Download)
Abstract: How can we explain the significant variation in the organization and performance of public bureaucracies across countries? Considering the high level of path dependence in bureaucratic organization, this article explains variation in the institutions of public administrations through a historical analysis of the political conflicts between socio-economic groups. When modern bureaucracies emerged in the 19th and early 20th centuries, three social classes—the landed elites, the middle classes, and the urban working class—had fundamentally different interests in the organization of the state apparatus. Thus, their relative political influence was a key factor that determined the organization of public bureaucracies. After a theoretical analysis of group preferences based on their socio-economic position, several case studies are conducted to examine the theory's validity in a wide variety of settings.
The Complex Imprint of Foreign Rule: Tracking Differential Legacies along the Administrative Hierarchy (Published in Studies in Comparative International Development) (Link to Journal & PDF Download)
Abstract: Could imperial rule affect state institutions at the national, regional, and local level differently? No systematic theory to answer this question exists, which is surprising given the importance that is attributed to foreign rule for political-administrative organization around the world. The effectiveness of imperial rule may differ along the administrative hierarchy because empires are often subject to financial constraints, limits on organizational capabilities, and informational asymmetries. Therefore, a commonly used approach—aggregation at the national level—may yield erroneous findings about colonial legacies by ignoring vital nuances. To address this gap, I develop a novel theory of imperial pervasiveness and test it through a number of statistical analyses. Leveraging an original dataset of citizen perceptions of state institutions in Romania, this study reveals vastly different long-term effects of historical Habsburg rule at the regional and local levels. The results indicate that we need to rethink the study of colonial origins.
The Entanglement of Public Bureaucratic Institutions: Their Interactions with Society, Culture, Politics, and the Economy (Published in Interdisciplinary Studies of the Political Order, 2019) (PDF Download)
Abstract: Scholars of public administration apply different perspectives to understand bureaucratic institutions. Many excellent studies consider the influence of bureaucracies on one aspect of their environment, like politics, society, culture, or the economy. Alternatively, scholars sometimes analyze the impact of one of these factors on the public administration. However, the recent literature on institutional entanglement shows us that relationships between social institutions are often mutually constitutive, meaning that their interaction is not one-directional. In this chapter, I build upon a large number of previous studies on public administration to create a synthesized perspective of how public bureaucracies interact with their broader environment, including the social, cultural, economic, and political context in which they operate. Through a number of empirical examples, I show how useful this view can be for understanding the characteristics of public bureaucracies.
Bureaucracy Bashing and Perceptions of Public Employees (Working Paper, with Edgar Cook) (PDF Download)
Abstract: In popular fiction and the news media, the words “government” and “bureaucracy” are often used interchangeably to describe the administrative state. However, these terms carry distinct positive and negative connotations, which we argue have diverging second-order effects on how citizens view public employees of the administrative state. Indeed, the term “bureaucracy” has a pejorative etymology, dating back to the eighteenth century when it was first used to disparage governments managed by unelected administrators and desk jockeys. Based on the term's history, we hypothesize that bureaucratic depictions of public employees should negatively affect survey respondents' perceptions of their trustworthiness and competence. We test this hypothesis with two separate equivalence framing experiments and find that describing public employees as either “bureaucrats” or “government bureaucrats” instead of “government employees” leads respondents to view them as significantly less trustworthy and more corrupt. We further examine our results for heterogeneous treatment effects across several key political predispositions and find that respondents who are low in social dominance orientation (SDO) are more likely to change their attitudes toward public employees in response to bureaucratic depictions. We provide additional empirical evidence that respondents associate bureaucracies with inflexibility, hierarchy, and reinforcement of the status quo, which we speculate is the mechanism that leads individuals who are low in SDO to perceive bureaucrats more negatively.
Building Better Bureaucracy: The Historical Origins of the American Administrative State (Working Paper, with Rachel Potter)
Abstract: The institutions of public bureaucracy—including recruitment and promotion systems, regulatory mechanisms, and opportunities for the external monitoring of bureaucratic activity—differ widely across the American states. To what extent are these substantial differences related to historical conditions? In this paper, we examine the long-term impact that colonial legal systems and configurations of economic elites had on the design of bureaucratic institutions across America. The strong divergence between colonial civil and common law systems created fundamentally different relationships among the branches of government. Similarly, variation in economic structures—often tied to geographic conditions—affected the composition of elites, with implications in terms of demands for an independent bureaucratic apparatus. We argue that both of these historical features potentially affected the development of bureaucratic systems in the American states; and we empirically assess the relative explanatory power of both arguments using several measures of bureaucratic quality and professionalism.
Bureaucracies in Historical Political Economy (Forthcoming in the Oxford Handbook of Historical Political Economy, Expected 2023) (Link to Volume) (PDF Download)
Abstract: Modern public bureaucracies are essential to the task of governing complex social systems. Thus, when industrialization significantly increased socioeconomic complexity, bureaucracies became an indispensable aspect of most polities. The institutional design of these administrative organizations not only shapes the prospects for economic growth, but it is also influenced by a variety of socioeconomic and political factors. Moreover, modern bureaucracies were central to global imperialism in the nineteenth century and industrialized interstate warfare in the twentieth century. All of these factors make bureaucracies a fundamentally important object of interest to the field of historical political economy. Therefore, in this chapter, I provide an overview of the historical development of modern bureaucracies and their impact on socioeconomic structures. After introducing these systems' key features, I discuss several prominent classification schemes that provide further conceptual differentiation. Then, I examine the historical context in which modern bureaucracies emerged and the factors that influenced their organizational structures. Furthermore, I consider the effects that public administrative systems had on their environment throughout history, emphasizing their impact on economies, but also discussing society and politics as additional dimensions.
Managing Social and Economic Externalities: Industrialization and the Rise of the Bureaucratic State (Working Paper) (PDF Download)
Abstract: Which role did externalities play in the emergence of modern bureaucracies? Many scholars argue that general increases in socioeconomic complexity caused by industrialization were a key reason for the rise of the modern bureaucratic state. I build upon this established perspective by examining the critical role of externalities. Industrialization led to an exponential increase in externalities because (1) it meant the intensification, amplification, and spatial concentration of economic exchange and social interaction, and (2) it was accompanied by forceful processes of “creative destruction.” Resulting externalities—such as widespread health issues, crime, social conflicts, and the recurring mass socioeconomic dislocation of workers—could become so severe that they often threatened the stability of political systems. Moreover, the economic frictions associated with externalities had a significant potential to reduce rulers' tax revenues, which gave them further incentives to address their fallout. I argue that the combination of these circumstances with contemporary technological constraints made bureaucratization an effective political response. Accordingly, governments created modern administrative organizations because they were capable of implementing policies aimed at addressing externalities in a comprehensive and standardized fashion. I illustrate the suggested dynamics through comparative case studies of Germany and the United States in the nineteenth century.
Bureaucracy and Democracy: The Importance of Public Services to Citizens’ Lives and Trust in Government (Working Paper)
Abstract: How much importance do citizens attribute to public goods and services in their daily lives? And—if public goods are important to them—which impact do anticipated changes to funding and quality have on trust in government and fundamental beliefs in democracy? I use a major, original dataset collected in five OECD countries (the United States, Germany, Spain, Poland, and Sweden) to assess the importance of public goods to citizens’ lives and trust in government. Through a conjoint experiment I show that the quality of public goods and services is as important (or even more important) to many citizens as other key (personal) aspects of their lives. Then, through a survey experiment, I demonstrate that information about anticipated changes in public goods and services (1) makes citizens concerned about the future and (2) increases the importance of public goods to their trust in government. Additionally, there is also some (more limited) evidence of an impact on their fundamental beliefs in democracy.
Priming and Prejudice: Unequal Treatment of Unemployment Benefit Claimants in Germany(Working Paper, with Stefanie Rueß and Gerald Schneider)
Abstract: Does the priming of “street-level bureaucrats” with news frames about welfare fraud influence decisions on unemployment benefits? Previous research has established that regional peer pressure on public employees and the salience of immigration debates at the national level intensify bureaucratic discrimination against ethnic minorities. In this article, we examine how reports about welfare fraud at the national and regional levels affect administrative decision-making regarding unemployment benefits. Our theoretical framework synthesizes insights from the framing and discrimination literatures by suggesting that the priming of street-level bureaucrats with a regional news frame about regional welfare fraud activates out-group stereotypes more strongly than a national news frame. The discriminatory behavior that results from these frames should be particularly pronounced if the street-level bureaucrat lives in a region with strong anti-immigration attitudes. To investigate our theoretical propositions, we conducted a conjoint experiment with a large, representative sample of German street-level bureaucrats (N = 1400) on unemployment benefit requests in so-called job centers. In the experiment, we discover considerable regional differences and demonstrate how variation in regional political ideology amplifies discriminatory tendencies. In line with our theoretical framework, we show that respondents living in federal states with strong anti-immigration attitudes are more likely to delay requests from ethnic minorities after they were confronted with a negative media frame. This effect is more pronounced for regional news frames.
Populist Government Support and Frontline Workers’ Self-efficacy during Crisis (Working Paper, with Michelle Fernandez, Gabriela Lotta, and Eva Thomann; also with Arthur Leandro and Marcela Corrêa)
Abstract: Frontline workers who are confronted with crises need enormous resilience and the ability to deal with stress from crisis-related increases in demands and risks. Simultaneously, populist governments with an illiberal agenda may undermine the work of street-level bureaucracies for political reasons. Little is known about how deconstruction of the administrative state by populist government—through lacking government support when it is needed the most—affects frontline work. Thus, this paper asks: how does lacking support by a populist government affect frontline workers’ self-efficacy when they face a crisis? Based on unique data from an online survey of 3229 Brazilian frontline workers during the early COVID-19 pandemic, when the Bolsonaro government denied the existence of the pandemic, we test the relationship between government support, demands, and resources on frontline workers’ perceived self-efficacy. Results show that lacking government support from the federal and local government are negatively associated with frontline workers’ self-efficacy. At the same time, resources and managerial support exhibit positive associations—but they cannot fully compensate for a lack of government assistance.
Research Agenda II: The Political Economy of Rivalry and Competition
Economic Elites and the Constitutional Design of Sharing Political Power (With Victoria Paniagua) (Published in Constitutional Political Economy, Vol. 33, No. 1, March 2022, pp. 25-52) (Link to Journal & PDF Download)
Abstract: What explains the emergence and persistence of institutions aimed at preventing any ruling group from using the state apparatus to advance particularistic interests? To answer this recurring question, a burgeoning literature examines the establishment of power-sharing institutions in societies divided by ethnic or religious cleavages. Going beyond existing scholarly work focused on these specific settings, we argue that political power-sharing institutions can also be the result of common disputes within the economic elite. We propose that these institutions are likely to emerge and persist where competition between elite factions with dissimilar economic interests is balanced. To address possible endogeneity between elite configurations and institutions, we leverage natural resource diversity as an instrument for elite configurations. We show that, where geological resources are more diverse, competition between similarly powerful economic groups is more likely to emerge, leading ultimately to the establishment of power-sharing mechanisms that subsequently allow elite groups to protect their diverging economic interests.
Swing Voters, Electoral Risk, and the Provision of Public Services (Working Paper) (PDF Download)
Abstract: Why is there such enormous variation in public services expenditures across and within advanced democracies? The internal composition of the electorate may be an important factor in explaining this variation. When either core or swing voters dominate in their electoral relevance, incumbents can be expected to allocate more resources to the predominant group through targeted goods and fewer resources to public services. However, when the electoral relevance of both groups is at balance, transfer spending is associated with high political risks because no single voter group can ensure election victory and particularistic benefits can cause alienation among non-beneficiaries. Therefore, under such circumstances, the highest level of public services provision—as a means to hedge against electoral uncertainty, accommodate both groups simultaneously, and demobilize opposition voters—can be expected. Two empirical analyses in different contexts—one across American states and one across OECD countries—deliver evidence in favor of this theory.
Rivalry and Empire: How Competition among European States Shaped Imperialism (Published in the Journal of Historical Political Economy [JHPE], Vol. 2, No. 2, July 2022, pp. 189–234) (Link to Journal) (PDF Download) (Live Presentation)
Abstract: For centuries, European history was characterized by a fundamental asymmetry. While interpolity relations on the continent were often relatively balanced—without any dominant power being able to permanently establish a hierarchical relationship to the other major powers—the relations between European states and polities in other world regions were generally hierarchical and exploitative, as manifested in colonialism and imperialism. How can we explain this difference? I argue that the symmetrical character of relationships among major European powers, particularly in the form of sustained and intense military and economic competition, was partly constitutive of the hierarchical relationships between those same powers and other parts of the world. Specifically, three mechanisms connect sustained rivalries to imperialism: (1) political elites' desire to improve their relative status/prestige through territorial gains, (2) pressure from public budget deficits that incentivized colonial exploitation, and (3) the creation of powerful interest groups in the form of navies and armies that favored imperialism. Moreover, when territorial conflict over colonies escalated, imperial expansion could ultimately feed back into interpolity competition in Europe. I demonstrate these dynamics through systematic analyses of the rivalries between England and France (1689–1815) and between Imperial Germany and Great Britain (1871/1897–1918).
Research Agenda III: The Political Economy of the European Union
Does EU Funding Improve Local State Capacity? Evidence from Polish Municipalities(With Paweł Charasz) (Published in European Union Politics, Vol. 22, No. 3, September 2021, pp. 446-471) (Link to Journal & PDF Download)
Recipient of the SAGE Award for the Best Article Published in European Union Politics (chosen by the European Union Politics Associate Editors)
Abstract: Does EU funding improve local state capacity? We focus on two specific types of state capacity, namely (1) the ability to provide information to third parties and (2) to discriminate between different kinds of inquiries. Because the EU's structural funds are distributed through a competitive mechanism and incentivize expansions in administrative personnel, our theory predicts that high levels of EU funding bring about a higher bureaucratic capacity equilibrium. Empirically, we analyze the effect of structural funds on local government capacity in the largest recipient country: post-communist Poland. Through a randomized survey with more than 2,400 municipal administrations, we find that administrations that have benefited more from EU funding, have developed higher levels of discrimination capacity. Yet we find no evidence for higher information provision capacity.
How Do European Citizens Form their Views of the EU Public Administration? Exploring the Role of Heuristics (Published in the Journal of Political Institutions and Political Economy [JPIPE], Vol. 4, No. 2, August 2023) (PDF Download)
Abstract: Complex multi-level governance systems face a variety of challenges. As one of the most prominent multi-level administrative systems in the world, the EU has experienced a legitimacy crisis for several years, with many citizens displaying skeptical or even hostile views of European integration in general and the EU's central bureaucracy specifically. Despite the prevalence of such negative views of the EU public administration, citizens have almost no direct interactions with or substantive knowledge of this institution. Given these circumstances, my study seeks to answer the following question: How do citizens form their views of the EU bureaucracy? The theory presented here suggests that people use mental shortcuts—specifically a variation of the “representativeness heuristic”—to make inferences about the EU's administrative institutions. Empirically, I focus on the case of Romania and use survey data to show that perceptions of domestic bureaucracies are significant predictors of perceptions of the EU bureaucracy. These findings have wide-ranging academic and practical-political implications.
The Political Economy of the European Union: An Exploration of EU Institutions and Governance from the Perspective of Polycentrism (Published in Exploring the Political Economy and Social Philosophy of Vincent and Elinor Ostrom, 2020) (PDF Download)
Abstract: The analytical framework of polycentrism—extensively developed by Elinor and Vincent Ostrom—is one of the most prominent theoretical approaches in political economy. According to this theory, social systems with multiple layers of decision-making and a mix of shared and individual responsibilities among subunits often have advantages in the provision of public goods and other aspects of governance. This chapter explores the extent to which the European Union (EU) can be described, categorized, and analyzed as a polycentric governance system. The EU consists of a large number of individual states that retain a certain degree of autonomy, yet operate under an overarching institutional superstructure with a common set of rules. The superstructure itself is characterized by a high degree of decentralization in decision-making authority. Furthermore, many responsibilities for the provision of public goods and services remain in the hands of regional and local governments. Therefore, the division of power within the EU largely mirrors the ideals of polycentricity. In addition to an analysis of the EU’s institutional framework, I investigate polycentric governance “in action” by analyzing (1) the sovereign debt crisis and (2) the international refugee crisis. When facing these major political-economic challenges, the EU’s response consisted of a mix of centralized and decentralized initiatives. As we would expect from a polycentric system of governance, only the combination of policies initiated at both levels successfully addressed the consequences of the crises. Finally, I consider theoretical and practical aspects of “leaving a polycentric system,” with a focus on Brexit.
Recipient of the Kellogg/Notre Dame Award for the Best Paper in Comparative Politics (by the Midwest Political Science Association, MPSA)
Abstract: Do pandemics have lasting consequences for political behavior? The authors address this question by examining the consequences of the deadliest pandemic of the last millennium: the Black Death (1347–1351). They claim that pandemics can influence politics in the long run if the loss of life is high enough to increase the price of labor relative to other factors of production. When this occurs, labor-repressive regimes, such as serfdom, become untenable, which ultimately leads to the development of proto-democratic institutions and associated political cultures that shape modalities of political engagement for generations. The authors test their theory by tracing the consequences of the Black Death in German-speaking Central Europe. They find that areas hit hardest by that pandemic were more likely to adopt inclusive political institutions and equitable land ownership patterns, to exhibit electoral behavior indicating independence from landed elite influence during the transition to mass politics, and to have significantly lower vote shares for Hitler’s National Socialist Party in the Weimar Republic’s fateful 1930 and July 1932 elections.
The Political Economy of the Third Reich: From the Great Depression to Total Mobilization for War (Working Paper)
Abstract: The literature in comparative political economy has provided analytical frameworks describing, categorizing, and comparing a large number of different political-economic systems. However, there is a notable absence of the German Third Reich in this strand of the literature. How can we classify the Third Reich's political economy? Does it fit into the classifications developed by the literature on comparative political economic systems? And how did it change over time? Considering the lasting impact of historical National Socialist rule on the world, as well as current threats of authoritarian backsliding, providing an analytical framework of the political economy of the Third Reich would be of great contemporary relevance. Thus, we systematically discuss and categorize the political-economic organization of Nazi Germany according to four distinct phases. In general, the Nazi regime aimed for creating a hybrid economy that had elements of both capitalist and socialist economic organization. Despite this long-term goal, the totalitarian character of National Socialist rule in combination with changing circumstances allowed for multiple transformations in German political-economic organization between 1933 and 1945.
When are Junctures Critical? The Legacies and Non-Legacies of Interruptions in Local Self-Government(Working Paper, with Daniel W. Gingerich) (PDF Download)
Abstract: Interruptions in local self-government are a common feature of imperial rule and centralized authoritarianism. Extant scholarship considers interruptions in both contexts as potentially legacy-producing. But under which circumstances do these denials of political autonomy lead to sustained changes in political behavior? We develop a novel framework that elucidates when interruptions in local self-rule will or will not produce political legacies. Two factors are crucial: the duration of an interruption and the scope of repression. Enduring interruptions characterized by encompassing repression are the most likely to generate persistent changes. Contrariwise, transient interruptions characterized by limited repressiveness are unlikely to produce legacies. Given our theory's broad character, we conduct empirical analyses in two markedly different settings: Poland, which was split between three major empires, and Brazil, where a military regime installed appointed mayors in certain cities. Our results demonstrate that interruptions in local self-government have varying potential to create legacies.