The Political Economy of Public Debt: A Laboratory Study, with Marco Battaglini and Thomas R. Palfrey, Journal of the European Economic Association, Forthcoming, Replication Data, [Show/Hide Abstract]This paper reports the results from a laboratory experiment designed to study political distortions in the accumulation of public debt. A legislature bargains over the levels of a public good and of district specific transfers in two periods. The legislature can issue or purchase risk-free bonds in the first period and the level of public debt creates a dynamic linkage across policymaking periods. In line with the theoretical predictions, we find that public policies are inefficient and efficiency is increasing in the size of the majority requirement, with higher investment in public goods and lower debt associated with larger majority requirements. Debt is lower when the probability of a negative shock to the economy in the second period is higher indicating that even in a political equilibrium debt is used to smooth consumption and to insure against economic uncertainty. Also in line with the theoretical predictions, we find that dynamic distortions are eliminated when the first period proposer can commit to a policy for both periods. The experiment, however, highlights two phenomena that are surprising in terms of standard theory and have not been previously documented. First, balancing the budget in each period is a focal point, leading to lower distortions than predicted. Second, higher majority requirements induce significant delays in reaching an agreement.
The Economic Effects of Electoral Rules: Evidence from Unemployment Benefits, with Vincenzo Galasso, Quarterly Journal of Political Science, 2019, 14(3): 259–291, Replication Data, [Show/Hide Abstract]This paper provides a novel test of the link from electoral rules to economic policies. We focus on unemployment benefits because their classification as a broad or targeted transfer may vary — over time and across countries — according to the geographical dispersion of unemployed citizens, the main beneficiaries of the program. A simple theoretical model delivers unambiguous predictions on the interaction between electoral institutions and the unemployment rate in contestable and safe districts. Due to electoral incentives, the difference in the unemployment generosity between majoritarian and proportional systems depends on the difference in the unemployment rate between contestable and safe districts. We test this prediction using a novel dataset with information on electoral competitiveness and unemployment rates at district level, and different measures of unemployment benefit generosity for 16 OECD countries between 1980 and 2011. The empirical analysis strongly supports the theoretical predictions.
Durable Coalitions and Communication: Public versus Private Negotiations, with Renee Bowen and David Baron, Journal of Public Economics, 2017, 156: 1–13, Online Appendix, Replication Data, [Show/Hide Abstract]We present a laboratory experiment to study the effect of communication on durable coalitions — coalitions that support the same allocation from one period to the next. We study a bargaining setting where the status quo policy is determined by the policy implemented in the previous period. Our main experimental treatment is the opportunity for subjects to negotiate with one another through unrestricted cheap-talk communication before a proposal is made and comes to a vote. We compare committees with no communication, committees where communication is public and messages are observed by all committee members, and committees where communication is private and any committee member can send a private message to any other committee member. We find that the opportunity to communicate has a significant impact on outcomes and coalitions. When communication is public, there are more universal coalitions and fewer majoritarian coalitions. With private communication, there are more majoritarian coalitions and fewer universal coalitions. With either type of communication coalitions occur more frequently and last longer than with no communication. The volume and content of communication is correlated with coalition type. These findings suggest a coordination role for communication that varies with the mode of communication.
- How does political polarization affect the welfare of the electorate? We analyze this question using a framework in which two policy and office motivated parties compete in an infinite sequence of elections. We propose two novel measures to describe the degree of conflict among agents: antagonism is the disagreement between parties; extremism is the disagreement between each party and the representative voter. These two measures do not coincide when parties care about multiple issues. We show that forward-looking parties have an incentive to implement policies favored by the representative voter, in an attempt to constrain future challengers. This incentive grows as antagonism increases. On the other hand, extremism decreases the electorate’s welfare. We discuss the methodological and empirical implications for the existing measures of political actors’ ideal points and for the debate on elite polarization.
Gambler's Fallacy and Imperfect Best Response in Legislative Bargaining, with Jan Zapal, Games and Economic Behavior, 2016, 99: 275–294, Supplementary Material, [Show/Hide Abstract]We investigate the implications of imperfect best response—in combination with different assumptions about correct (QRE) or incorrect beliefs (Quantal-Gambler’s Fallacy or QGF)—in the alternating offer multilateral bargaining game. We prove that a QRE of this game exists and characterize the unique solution to the proposer’s problem—that is, the proposal observed most frequently in a QRE. We structurally estimate this model on data from laboratory experiments, and show that it explains behavior better than the model with perfect best response: receivers vote probabilistically; proposers allocate resources mostly within a minimum winning coalition of legislators but do not fully exploit their bargaining power. Incorporating history-dependent beliefs about the future distribution of proposal power into the QRE model (QGF) leads to an even better match with the data, as this model implies slightly lower shares to the proposer, maintaining similar or higher frequencies of minimum winning coalitions and similar voting behavior.
Quantal Response and Nonequilibrium Beliefs Explain Overbidding in Maximum-Value Auctions, with Colin Camerer and Thomas R. Palfrey, Games and Economic Behavior, 2016, 98: 243–263, Replication Data, [Show/Hide Abstract]We report new experimental data on a simple common value auction to investigate the extent to which bidding can be explained by logit QRE, in combination with different models about bidder beliefs: cursed equilibrium, level-k, and cognitive hierarchy. There is a close correspondence between the predicted bidding patterns in those models and the distribution of observed bids. The pattern of median bids in the data consists of a combination of overbidding with low signals, and near-value-bidding with higher signals. Logit QRE with heterogeneous bidders approximates this pattern. Combining QRE with any of the other models of belief formation leads to a closer match with the data. All the estimated models predict only small treatment effects across different versions of the game, consistent with the data. We also reanalyze an earlier dataset for the same game (Ivanov et al., 2010), which exhibited much more overbidding, and reach similar qualitative conclusions.
The Dynamic Free Rider Problem: A Laboratory Study, with Marco Battaglini and Thomas R. Palfrey, American Economic Journal: Microeconomics, 2016, 8(4): 268–308, Replication Data, [Show/Hide Abstract]We report the results of an experiment that investigates free riding in the accumulation of durable public goods. We consider economies with reversibility, where contributions can be positive or negative; and economies with irreversibility, where contributions are nonnegative. Aggregate outcomes support the qualitative predictions of the Markov Perfect Equilibria (MPE) characterized in Battaglini, Nunnari, and Palfrey (2014): steady state levels of public good are lower with reversibility than irreversibility; accumulation is inefficiently slow; and the public good is under-provided in both regimes. On the other hand, public good levels are higher than MPE, and some evidence of history dependence is detected.World democracies widely differ in legislative, executive, and legal institutions. Different institutional environments induce different mappings from electoral outcomes to the distribution of power. We explore how these mappings affect voters’ participation in an election. We show that the effect of such institutional differences on turnout depends on the distribution of voters’ preferences. We uncover a novel contest effect: Given the preferences distribution, turnout increases and then decreases when we move from a more proportional to a less proportional power-sharing system; turnout is maximized for an intermediate degree of power sharing. Moreover, we generalize the competition effect, common to models of endogenous turnout: Given the institutional environment, turnout increases in the ex ante preferences evenness, and more so when the overall system has lower power sharing. These results are robust to a wide range of modeling approaches, including ethical voter models, voter mobilization models, and rational voter models.We study the Markov equilibria of a model of free riding in which n infinitely lived agents choose between private consumption and irreversible contributions to a durable public good. We show that the set of equilibrium steady states converges to a unique point as depreciation converges to zero. For any level of depreciation, moreover, the highest steady state converges to the efficient level as agents become increasingly patient. These results are in contrast to the case with reversible investments, where a continuum of inefficient equilibrium steady states exists for any level of depreciation, discount factor, and size of population.
Legislative Bargaining and the Dynamics of Public Investment, with Marco Battaglini and Thomas R. Palfrey, American Political Science Review, 2012, 106(2): 407–429, Online Appendix, [Show/Hide Abstract]We present a legislative bargaining model of the provision of a durable public good over an infinite horizon. In each period, there is a societal endowment that can either be invested in the public good or consumed. We characterize the optimal public policy, defined by the time path of investment and consumption. In a legislature representatives of each of n districts bargain over the current period’s endowment for investment in the public good and transfers to each district. We analyze the Markov perfect equilibrium under different voting q-rules where q is the number of yes votes required for passage. We show that the efficiency of the public policy is increasing in q because higher q leads to higher investment in the public good and less pork. We examine the theoretical equilibrium predictions by conducting a laboratory experiment with five-person committees that compares three alternative voting rules: unanimity (q = 5), majority (q = 3), and dictatorship (q = 1).
- Negative advertising is frequent in electoral campaigns, despite its ambiguous effectiveness: negativity may reduce voters’ evaluation of the targeted politician but have a backlash effect for the attacker. We study the effect of negative advertising in electoral races with more than two candidates with a large scale field experiment during an electoral campaign for mayor in Italy and a survey experiment in a fictitious mayoral campaign. In our field experiment, we find a strong, positive spillover effect on the third main candidate (neither the target nor the attacker). This effect is confirmed in our survey experiment, which creates a controlled environment with no ideological components nor strategic voting. The negative ad has no impact on the targeted incumbent, has a sizable backlash effect on the attacker, and largely benefits the idle candidate. The attacker is perceived as less cooperative, less likely to lead a successful government, and more ideologically extreme.
Dynamic Legislative Bargaining with Veto Power: Theory and Experiments, Invited to Revise & Resubmit at Games and Economic Behavior, [Show/Hide Abstract]In many domains, committees bargain over a sequence of policies and a policy remains in effect until a new agreement is reached. In this paper, I argue that, in order to assess the consequences of veto power, it is important to take into account this dynamic aspect. I analyze an infinitely repeated divide-the-dollar game with an endogenous status quo policy. I show that, irrespective of legislators’ patience and the initial division of resources, policy eventually gets arbitrarily close to full appropriation by the veto player; that increasing legislators’ patience or decreasing the veto player’s ability to set the agenda makes convergence to this outcome slower; and that the veto player supports reforms that decrease his allocation. These results stand in sharp contrast to the properties of models where committees bargain over a single policy. The main predictions of the theory find support in controlled laboratory experiments.
- This paper provides a theory of how war onset and war duration depend on the distribution of power when conflict triggers a reallocation of power but the loser is not eliminated. In the model, players take into account not only the expected consequences of war on the current distribution of resources, but also its expected consequences on the future distribution of military and political power. We highlight three main results: the key driver of war, in both the static and the dynamic game, is the mismatch between military and political power; dynamic incentives usually amplify static incentives, leading forward-looking players to be more aggressive; and a war is more likely to last for longer if political power is initially more unbalanced than military power and the politically under-represented player is militarily advantaged.
Audi Alteram Partem: An Experiment on Selective Exposure to Information, with Giovanni Montanari, [Show/Hide Abstract]This paper presents a model of selective exposure to information and an experiment to test its predictions. An agent interested in learning about an uncertain state of the world can acquire information from one of two sources which have opposite biases: when informed on the state, they report it truthfully; when uninformed, they report their favorite state. When sources have the same reliability, a Bayesian agent is better off seeking confirmatory information. On the other hand, it is optimal to seek contradictory information if and only if the source biased against the prior is sufficiently more reliable. We test these predictions with an online experiment. When sources are symmetrically reliable, subjects are more likely to seek confirmatory information but they listen to the other side too frequently. When sources are asymmetrically reliable, subjects are more likely to consult the more reliable source even when prior beliefs are strongly unbalanced and listening to the less reliable source is more informative. Moreover, subjects follow contradictory advice sub-optimally; are too trusting of information in line with a source bias; and too skeptic of information misaligned with a source bias. Our experiment suggests that biases in information processing and simple heuristics — e.g., listen to the more reliable source — are important drivers of the endogenous acquisition of information.
- A broad literature examines how politicians distribute benefits in contingent exchange for vote choices and turnout. This article shifts attention to how such “clientelism” affects citizens’ choices beyond the ballot box. Under what conditions do rewards influence citizens’ decisions to express political preferences publicly? When voters can obtain post-election benefits by declaring support for victorious candidates, their choices to display campaign paraphernalia on their homes or bodies may reflect more than just political preferences. We argue that various factors — such as the size of rewards and punishments, the competitiveness of the election, and whether multiple candidates employ clientelism — affect citizens’ propensity to declare support in response to clientelist inducements. Building on insights from fieldwork, theoretical analyses reveal how and why such factors can distort patterns of political expression observed during electoral campaigns. We conduct an online laboratory experiment with a sample of 1,259 citizens in Brazil. Various findings are consistent with theory; for example, citizens are more likely to declare support for a clientelist politician who offers larger material rewards or is heavily favored to win the election, and they are less likely to declare support when clientelism is competitive or if it involves both rewards and punishments. The experiment also reveals empirical patterns not predicted by theory: citizens are insensitive to whether their declarations can be easily monitored or can influence the election, and they increase declarations for clientelist candidates who punish their declared opposers.
Looking into Crystal Balls: An Experiment on Reputational Cheap Talk, with Debrah Meloso and Marco Ottaviani, [Show/Hide Abstract]We experimentally study cheap talk by reporters motivated by their reputation for being well informed. Evaluators assess reputation by cross checking the report with the realized state of the world. We manipulate the key drivers of misreporting incentives: the uncertainty about the state of the world and the beliefs of evaluators about the strategy of reporters. Consistent with theory, reporters are more likely to report truthfully when there is more uncertainty and when evaluators conjecture that reporters always report truthfully. However, the experiment highlights two phenomena not predicted by standard theory. First, a large fraction of reports is truthful, even when this is not a best response. Second, evaluators have difficulty learning reporters’ strategies and overreact to message accuracy. We show that a learning model where accuracy is erroneously taken to represent truthfulness fits well evaluators’ behavior. This judgement bias reduces reporters’ incentives to misreport and improves information transmission.
- This paper develops a model of voters’ and politicians’ behavior based on the notion that voters focus disproportionately on and, hence, overweigh certain attributes of policies. We assume that policies have two attributes—resources devoted to two distinct issues (e.g., defense and education)—and that voters focus more on the attribute in which their options differ more. First, we consider exogenous policies and show that focusing polarizes the electorate. Second, we consider the endogenous supply of policies by politicians running for office and show that focusing leads to inefficiencies: voters that are more focused are more influential; distorted attention empowers social groups that are larger and more sensitive to changes on either issue; resources are channelled towards divisive issues. Finally, we show that augmenting classical models of electoral competition with focusing can contribute to explain puzzling stylized facts such as the inverse correlation between income inequality and redistribution.
Resources for Experimental Economics
oTree App for Bargaining in Ad Hoc Committees (i.e., Legislative Bargaininig à la Baron and Ferejohn 1989)