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The price of pork: The seniority trap in the U.S. House

Jason DeBacker ()

Journal of Public Economics, 2011, vol. 95, issue 1-2, 63-78

Abstract: Using data on federal outlays and U.S. House elections, I estimate the effect of the pork barrel on the quality of officeholders, taking into account the fact that seniority creates a dynamic linkage across periods. After estimating the parameters governing the influence of seniority on federal outlays and the parameters governing the distributions of candidate quality, I conduct several policy experiments to uncover the size of the welfare loss created by the seniority system. I find that the seniority system negatively impacts the quality of representatives, but has little effect on the outcomes of elections. Furthermore, the most commonly proposed solution to the distortion, term limits, may have a significant, negative effect on the quality of sitting representatives. Instead of a quantity constraint (term limits), I propose a change in the relative price of seniority by way of a Pigouvian tax on seniority. Such a policy achieves the first-best outcome.

Keywords: Pork; barrel; Seniority; system; Incumbency; advantage; House; of; Representatives; Term; limits (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2011
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