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We know from observation that some democracies intervene deeply in their domestic economies while others adopt a more laissez faire approach. Can we explain these differences solely with ideology, or are other political influences also at work? I argue in this paper that elected leaders sometimes opt for hefty economic regulation purely to generate sources of patronage that can be used to maintain their political positions. Leaders are most tempted to take this approach, I contend, when their political parties are not stably linked to sources of electoral support. Unstably linked governing parties will tend to have very short time horizons, focusing on the immediate objective of avoiding massive vote losses in the next election. As a result, they will be less concerned with the potential future damage that a patronage-based policy may inflict on the national economy. I find support for this argument with a close examination of Indian economic policy under Indira Gandhi. Prime Minister Gandhi, I contend, increased the Indian state’s control over trade, industrial production, and credit allocation just as the Congress Party’s linkages to the electorate were destabilizing.


Published in Business and Politics, vol. 8, issue 3, article 4, (2006).