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Why do public sector employees provide political services? Since the exchange of political support for jobs is sequenced and the law cannot be used to enforce the exchange, patronage contracts leave ample opportunity for deception and betrayal (see Chapter 2). When the political support is expected after the benefit has been received, individuals who receive public sector jobs can always opt to renege on their side of the agreement by refusing to provide the promised support (e.g., Calvo and Ujhelyi 2012; James 2006; Robinson and Verdier 2013).1 Most of the literature argues that clients comply with their side of the agreement – by providing electoral support or broader political support –because of either the threat of punishment or norms of reciprocity. The theory of self-enforcing patronage set forth in this book posits that public employees under patronage contracts provide political services because their incentives are aligned with those of the politician who hired them. Using two survey experiments embedded in the survey of public employees described in Chapter 3, as well as interviews with political brokers, politicians, and public sector employees, this chapter tests this claim – the main empirical implication of the theory.
This final chapter revisits the book’s main argument and discusses the main findings and implications. It begins by summarizing its theory about the sustainability of patronage contracts that exchange public sector jobs for political services without a need for punishment or reciprocity and the main empirical findings that support the theory. It then discusses the theory’s implications for our understanding of patronage employees’ motives and behavior, as well as of clientelistic exchanges more broadly. Following this, the chapter discusses the likelihood of curbing clientelism if the theory of self-enforcing patronage advanced here is correct. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the particularly damaging effects of patronage for the quality of democracy and equal access to the state.
Patronage contracts are distributed to perceived supporters in exchange for political services. Politicians hire supporters for patronage positions because their commitment to provide these political services in the future is credible (see Chapter 2). Indeed, public sector employees under patronage contracts often help during elections by attending rallies, assisting the campaign with a variety of tasks, and acting as partisan poll watchers. Between elections, they also fulfill their side of the agreement by dispensing favors to voters. Chapters 3 to 6 test the theory of self-enforcing patronage using individual-level data I collected from a survey of public employees fielded in three Argentinean municipalities. I also rely on months of ethnographic work, during which I interviewed public sector employees, political brokers, high-level public officials, and politicians.
In countries around the world – from Bolivia (e.g., Lazar 2004) and Ghana (e.g., Brierley forthcoming; Driscoll 2018) to Mexico (e.g., Chambers-Ju 2021; Larreguy, Montiel Olea, and Querubin 2017) and Pakistan (e.g., Callen, Gulzar, and Rezaee 2020) – public sector employees are involved in electoral mobilization. In Argentina, the number of public employees involved in this mobilization by helping with electoral campaigns, attending rallies, and monitoring elections is in the range of 12–22 percent (see Chapter 4). One of the advantages that incumbents enjoy in utilizing public employees as political workers is that patronage agreements do not end on Election Day; patronage employees also provide political services between elections. In this chapter, I focus on one of the main activities that patronage employees perform between elections: the provision of favors.
In office, politicians distribute many low- and mid-level public sector jobs in order to maintain a network of activists on the ground who perform various political activities. These activities, if enough of them and successful, can improve a politician’s electoral returns. Incumbents use the perceived support of potential employees at the time of hiring as a proxy for their willingness to provide political services: only perceived supporters can credibly commit to provide political services in the future (see Chapter 2). This chapter provides a detailed description of three different political activities performed by public employees during elections. Using the list experiment technique described below, I estimate the proportion of employees – particularly supporters – who help with campaigns, attend rallies, and monitor elections. These are not the only types of political services that patronage employees provide, but they are among the most important ones provided by mid- and low-level local employees in the Argentinean context.1
Although conventional wisdom holds that control of patronage significantly increases an incumbent’s chance of staying in power, we actually know very little about the specific mechanisms that explain the relationship between patronage contracts and political competition. We know even less about what sustains these contracts. While the literature on clientelism has grown spectacularly in the past two decades, most of it has focused on vote buying – the exchange of goods or favors for electoral support – rather than on understanding the workings of patronage – the exchange of public sector jobs for political support.1
Based on data collected from local administrations in Argentina, Chapters 3 to 6 provide strong evidence in support of the theory of self-enforcing patronage. Can this theory help explain the functioning of patronage employment in other places? While the data to test the theory systematically in other countries is not available,1 this chapter presents additional evidence from Latin America as an out-of-sample test of the theory, providing more confidence about the external validity of the argument. I draw attention to a series of patterns found in other Latin American countries that is consistent with the theory of self-enforcing patronage, increasing the likelihood that the theory and the findings of this book are portable to other contexts. In this chapter, I describe the remarkably weak Latin American civil service systems and provide evidence in line with the empirical implications of the theory: that public employees are more involved in the provision of political services than non-public employees are, that there is political bias in hiring decisions, and that patronage employees have good reasons to fear losing their jobs or suffering negative changes in their working conditions under a new administration. The first section in this chapter discusses Latin American civil service systems and their characteristics in order to assess whether the theory of self-enforcing patronage fits the general patterns found across the region. The second section considers three particular cases in more detail – Argentina (beyond the three municipalities analyzed before), Bolivia, and Chile.
During the Argentine winter of 2009, I was returning from a two-hour interview with Pablo and José,1 sharing a taxi as we headed back to Buenos Aires from La Plata. As soon as we got into the car, both men started making phone calls. One of those conversations went as follows: “How many?” asked José; someone replied on the other end of the line. “Great! Thanks!” he responded in excitement and hung up. Then Pablo asked, “So? How many?” “Fifteen!” replied José, with obvious satisfaction. He continued, naming potential recipients, “María, Cecilia, Susana …, ” while counting on his fingers. Then, looking in my direction, he added, “You see? This is political activism – live! (¿Ves? Esto es militancia ¡En vivo y en directo!).”2 In my most innocent voice, I asked, “How many what?” While Pablo seemed quite uncomfortable to disclose the information in my presence, José quickly replied, “Social welfare benefits! (¡Planes sociales!).”
In countries around the world, politicians distribute patronage jobs to supporters in exchange for a wide range of political services – such as helping with campaigns and electoral mobilization. Patronage employees (clients) engage in these political activities that support politicians (patrons) because their fates are tied to the political fate of their patrons. Although conventional wisdom holds that control of patronage significantly increases an incumbent's chance of staying in power, we actually know very little about how patronage works. Drawing on in-depth interviews, survey data, and survey experiments in Argentina, Virginia Oliveros details the specific mechanisms that explain the effect of patronage on political competition. This fascinating study is the first to provide a systematic analysis of the political activities of mid and low-level public employees in Latin America. It provides a novel explanation of the enforcement of patronage contracts that has wider implications for understanding the functioning of clientelist exchanges.