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The Costs of Patronage: Evidence from the British Empire


Guo Xu
Ph.D Candidate, Department of Economics, London School of Economics


Gaurav Khanna
Postdoctoral Fellow, Center for Global Development

Xu studies how patronage affects the promotion and performance of senior bureaucrats within a global organization: the British Empire. He combines newly digitized personnel and public finance data from the colonial administration 1854-1966 to study the inner workings of a bureaucracy that controlled close to a fifth of the earth’s land mass at its peak. Exploiting the ministerial turnover in London as a source of within-governor variation in social connections, he finds that governors are more likely to be promoted to higher salaried colonies when connected to their superior during the period of patronage. At the same time, they provide more tax exemptions, generate less revenue, invest less and are less likely to be recognized for their service. The promotion and performance gaps disappear after the abolition of patronage appointments. Exploiting a fixed allocation rule to predict the appointment of connected governors unrelated to colony characteristics, colonies administered for longer periods by connected governors during the period of patronage exhibit lower fiscal capacity today. Exposure to connected governors after the removal of patronage has no long-run impact.
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