Published March 1, 2000
We present a simple theory of the quality of elected officials. Quality has (at least) two dimensions: competence and honesty. Voters prefer competent and honest policymakers, so high-quality citizens have a greater chance of being elected to office. But low-quality citizens have a “comparative advantage” in pursuing elective office, because their market wages are lower than the market wages of high-quality citizens (competence), and/or because they reap higher returns from holding office (honesty). In the political equilibrium, the average quality of the elected body depends on the structure of rewards from holding public office. Under the assumption that the rewards from office are increasing in the average quality of office holders there can be multiple equilibria in quality. Under the assumption that incumbent policymakers set the rewards for future policymakers there can be path dependence in quality.
Download Paper (PDF)