03 January 2012

The Political Economy of Privatisation

Adam Smith or Machiavelli? Political incentives for contracting out local public services 
Why do some local governments deliver public services directly while others rely on providers from the private sector? Previous literature on local contracting out and on the privatization of state-owned enterprises have offered two competing interpretations on why center-right governments rely more on private providers. Some maintain that center-right politicians contract out more because, like Adam Smith, they believe in market competition. Others claim that center-right politicians use privatization in a Machiavellian fashion; it is used as a strategy to retain power, by ‘purchasing’ the electoral support of certain constituencies. Using a unique dataset, which includes the political attitudes of over 8,000 Swedish local politicians from 290 municipalities for a period of 10 years, this paper tests these ideological predictions together with additional political economy factors which have been overlooked in previous studies, such as the number of veto players. Results first indicate support for the Machiavellian interpretation, as contracting out increases with electoral competition. Second, irrespective of ideological concerns, municipalities with more veto players in the coalition government contract out fewer services. 

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