Politicians and their promises in an uncertain world: Evidence from a lab-in-the-field experiment in India

Prof. Kunal Sen, UNU-WIDER

Politicians' pro-social conduct is fundamental for citizens' welfare, especially in emerging economies, where public purse constraints often are binding, and weaker institutional settings lead to bureaucratic inefficiency, corruption and other self-interested behaviour by elected or non-elected office holders. Using data from lab-in-the-field experiments conducted in rural India with local politicians and non-politician participants, we study the pro-sociality of politician decision-making in a modified dictator game where it is easy for politician-dictators to blame self-serving decisions on factors outside their control. We show how the combination of two non-monetary routes change politicians behaviour, bolstering pro-social decisions in this `hard to govern' environment. The first one is a commitment device, a (non-binding) promise, while the second adds a relational lever between the politician dictator and the recipient. In an anonymous standard dictator game politicians behave selfishly: they keep almost everything per se. Reducing social distance by breaking anonymity changes their behaviour—making them more generous but still far from 50-50. Adding a non-binding promise has a positive effect, because politicians tend to keep their promise. Combining promise and non-anonymity has a large effect in inducing a fair outcome. These findings provide new insights to debates about the design of cost-effective mechanisms to prevent capture-induced policy implementation failures in developing country settings with decentralised systems of governance.

About the speaker

Professor Kunal Sen has over three decades of experience in academic and applied development economics research. He is the author of eight books and the editor of five volumes on the economics and political economy of development. From 2019 he is the Director of UNU-WIDER, and he is a professor of development economics at the Global Development Institute, University of Manchester. Professor Sen is a leading international expert on the political economy of growth and development. He has performed extensive research on international finance, the political economy determinants of inclusive growth, the dynamics of poverty, social exclusion, female labour force participation, and the informal sector in developing economies. His research has focused on India, East Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa.Professor Sen’s books include The Political Economy of India’s Growth Episodes (2016), The Process of Financial Liberalization in India (1997), and the Economic Restructuring in East Asia and India: Perspectives on Policy Reform (1995). His is a co-editor of Deals and Development: The Political Dynamics of Growth Episodes (2018) and The Politics of Inclusive Development (2016). And has also written twenty-five chapters in other volumes and published more than ninety peer-reviewed journal articles on topics in his field. He has been awarded the Sanjaya Lall Prize in 2006 and Dudley Seers Prize in 2003 for his publications.

Venue: 0.16/0.17

Date: 02 May 2019

Time: 12:00 - 13:00  CET