The Project on Political Reform

Featured PPR Scholarship

How the U.S. Constitution undermines effective government 

William Howell, Sydney Stein Professor in American Politics, presented his book Relic: How Our Constitution Undermines Effective Government - And Why We Need A More Powerful Presidency at the University of Texas Center for Politics and Governance. The book, co-authored with Stanford University Professor Terry Moe, points to the Constitution as the main culprit behind governmental dysfunction in the United States. The framers designed the Constitution some 225 years ago for a simple agrarian society. But the form of government they settled upon, a separation of powers system with a parochial Congress at its center, is entirely ill-equipped to address the serious social problems that arise in a complex, post-industrial nation. We are prisoners of the past, burdened with an antiquated government that cannot make effective policy, and often cannot do anything at all. The solution is to update the Constitution for modern times. Relic was published by Basic Books in 2016.


The first political theory of special purpose jurisdictions

Christopher Berry, Associate Professor of Public Policy, authored a book entitled Imperfect Union: Representation and Taxation in Multilevel Governments. Published in 2009 by Cambridge University Press, Imperfect Union offers the first political theory of special purpose jurisdictions, including 35,000 special districts and 13,500 school districts, which constitute the most common form of local government in the United States today. Collectively, special purpose governments have more civilian employees than the federal government and spend more than all city governments combined. The proliferation of special purpose jurisdictions has fundamentally altered the nature of representation and taxation in local government. Imperfect Union was featured on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver:


A model of political accountability in sequential policymaking

In their 2015 paper entitled Political Accountability and Sequential Policymaking, Professor Ethan Bueno de Mesquita and his co-author, NYU Associate Professor Dimitri Landa, present a model of political accountability with sequential policymaking. When a bureaucrat’s actions are transparent, his overseer faces a political time inconsistency problem—she is tempted to revise her retention rule in the middle of the policymaking process. As a result, the bureaucrat’s equilibrium behavior overemphasizes later tasks. If the overseer knows the technology by which policies translate into outcomes, then she can eliminate these distortions using task-specific budget caps. However, if the overseer is uncertain about this technology, such budget caps introduce ex post inefficiency. When uncertainty is sufficiently large and consequential, the overseer prefers an institutional environment with a fungible budget and no transparency. Such an environment allows the overseer to exploit the bureaucrat’s expertise, though at the cost of weaker overall incentives. The paper was published in the Journal of Public Economics 132:95--108.


The long-term consequences of election outcomes on political representation

In this study, Assistant Professor Anthony Fowler and his co-author, Stanford University Assistant Professor Andrew Hall, examine the long-term consequences of election outcomes on political representation. Voters in US elections receive markedly different representation depending on which candidate they elect, and because of incumbent advantages, the effects of this choice persist for many years. Combining electoral and legislative roll-call data in a dynamic regression discontinuity design, this study assesses the long-term consequences of election results for representation. Across the US House, the US Senate and state legislatures, the effects of ‘coin-flip’ elections persist for at least a decade in all settings, and for as long as three decades in some. Further results suggest that elected officials do not adapt their roll-call voting to their districts’ preferences over time, and that voters do not systematically respond by replacing incumbents. Published in 2015 by the British Journal of Political Science.