Voting Out Incumbents Boosts Economic Growth, Decreases Corruption

A new paper makes the economic case for throwing the bums out as often as possible.


Throwing the bums out is, for lack of a better word, good.

Electing new political leaders and tossing out incumbents is correlated with improvements in economic growth and social well-being, according to a trio of economists from Harvard, MIT, and the French-based university Sciences Po. After reviewing more than 2,493 national elections since 1945, they found that electoral turnovers—situations in which a ruling party was defeated at the polls—stimulate new policy ideas that translate into more dynamic conditions both within political structures and in the economies subject to regulation by them.

"While other studies have focused on the benefits of democracy, which gives citizens the opportunity to remove incumbents from office, we focus on a different question: what happens when citizens seize this opportunity," write Benjamin Marx, Vincent Pons, and Vincent Rollet, in the National Bureau of Economic Research paper.  "Overall, we find that voting for change matters: electoral turnovers deliver improvements in country-level performance along many dimensions."

As they point out, this finding is somewhat surprising. A common criticism of democracy is that the will of the people can swing wildly from election to election, potentially undermining the stability that authoritarian regimes (or even more static democracies) can supposedly provide.

But the benefits of having a sort of market within politics outweigh those costs, according to Marx, Pons, and Rollet. This is especially true when it comes to corruption, which is effectively checked by electoral turnovers. "Strikingly, turnovers have a large and robust negative effect on various measures of perceived corruption," they write, because incumbent politicians "learn over time how to extract rents" as they sit in office.

The three researchers "hypothesize that the main force driving the positive effects of turnovers is the role they play in terms of renewing a country's political leadership, and in allowing new leaders facing stronger reputation concerns to rise to power."

Fittingly, the world's attention is turned toward Russia this week—and there might not be a better example of how a lack of political competition breeds corruption and stifles economic dynamism. But you don't have to look to Vladimir Putin to understand this phenomenon, because there are plenty of examples closer to home.

From ballot access laws to partisan redistricting, American politics is full of mechanisms that are used by incumbent political powers to make it more difficult for voters to throw them out. Often, these tools are used not to obtain a partisan advantage over the other "team" but in pursuit of preventing political competition from even taking place.

Look at Illinois' new congressional map, for example. Democrats, who drew the new districts, prioritized the protection of some heavily Republican districts—effectively abandoning any attempt at winning them—in order to eliminate swingier districts and consolidate their own majority in the state's congressional delegation. The net result is that fewer districts are likely to be contested in future elections, and therefore, electoral turnovers are unlikely.

Illinois is hardly the only state where lawmakers engage in this cynical game. The number of contested congressional districts is on the decline across the country.  Regardless of what this might mean for the Team Red vs. Team Blue debate in Washington, D.C., and on cable news, there's no doubt that one of the most serious effects is to entrench incumbency.

The same thing is happening at the state level, where 20 states have been fully controlled by one party for at least the past 10 years. Five of them have been under unified Republican control since before 2000.

Whether you're looking at Russia, Illinois, or Texas, decreased political competition seems to mean that counterproductive policies are more likely to go unchallenged, while factions within majority parties become more important than the general consensus of the electorate.

Thankfully, the democratic societies around the world are getting more dynamic despite attempts by ruling parties to entrench incumbent control. Marx, Pons, and Rollet find that the frequency of turnovers at the national level has increased sharply since the early 1990s and averages 40 percent in recent years.

Democracy generally works, when it is allowed to. The problem, of course, is that throwing some bums out usually means having to put others in charge.

NEXT: Arizona House Committee Approves Bill To Criminalize Filming Cops on the Job

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Canada just denied bail to the organizer of the convoys because they didn't believe she'd go home and stop talking to others.

    Cuba even taking a step back here.

    1. What kind of state worries that it’s citizens might talk to others?

      1. Every tyranny ever.

        1. [JOIN NOW] I am making a real GOOD MONEY ($200 to $300 / hr.) online from my laptop. ggp Last month I got cheek of nearly 30,000$, this online work is simple and straightforward, don’t have to go office, Its home online job. You become independent after joining this job. I really thanks to my friend who refer me this:-
          SITE….., http://moneystar33.blogspot.com/

        2. "Democracy generally works, when it is allowed to."

          Lie of the Day.

          Democracy is a resounding, repeat failure which is why our Founders rejected it for the Republic.

          Democracy devolves to Mob Rule.

          1. Democracy is a resounding, repeat failure which is why our Founders rejected it for the Republic.

            This common statement isn't even being pedantic about the specific form of government. It is actually negating what the speaker is intending to communicate. To ordinary people that aren't looking to score a point in an argument, the word "democracy" is a broad term for voting on things. In the context of a discussion about "voting the bums out", it is clearly in reference to electing representatives and other government officials. Is that not something done in a republic?

            Boehm, like anyone else that uses the word, means "democracy" in a way that includes all kinds of specific systems of government. It is like calling a vehicle a "car". You only need to be specific if it matters for the discussion.

            John: Where did you park your car?
            Richard: It isn't a car, it's a sedan.

            Notice what Richard is doing here. He isn't just being pedantic and insisting on his automobile being referred to by its precise body type, but denying that the word "car" even applies to it at all. Richard might even talk about how that's not the right word to use because (in America, at least) it was used to refer to cargo or passenger "cars" on trains or the "streetcars" that came to be used in cities. And that is clearly not what his "sedan" is.

            Simply put, when someone like daveca whines about the U.S. being a republic and not a democracy, they are doing so to derail the conversation from its original topic in order to bring people into a different argument.

            1. Personal attacks off topic show a low IQ.

              And a liar...Troll theyre called.

              Liberal at that

              1. daveca got his ass kicked, so resorts to personal insults, and then accuses the other party of what daveca is clearly doing (in spades) himself!

                But daveca isn't a "hypocrite"... He is a "do as I say, and not as I do"-type person! Use the RIGHT personal pronouns and other terms, when addressing daveca, or... Or... Or daveca might INSULT you!

      2. Canada is run by Trudeau. He is the epitome of a beta male. So naturally he is terrified of any dissent.

  2. It feels like the researchers did not show any evidence that they aren't getting cause and effect reversed. It is equally likely that if incumbents reach a certain level of corruption they are more likely to be voted out. Just increasing the likelihood of an incumbent to be voted out of office, might actually result in a lessening of the correlation between reductions in corruption and being voted out of office.

    1. They showed correlation, not causation. Granted, the article summary and quotes make it seem like they are arguing for causation, but the first sentence makes it clear that they found a correlation.

      No need to fret that voting our your favorite authoritarian won't lead to an economic downturn. It's just correlation, no need to be concerned that libertarians and classic liberals might be taking over.

      1. Ice cream causes rape.
        Every summer ice cream sales and rapes both increase.

        (Am I woke now?)

        1. Government Almighty printing butt-tons of money, and inflation, go together...

          Aha! Inflation causes Government Almighty to print a butt-ton of money!!!

        2. No. You failed to blame White Ice Cream

          It has disproportionate power compared to Chocolate and Strawberry.

      2. Who cares. Less corruption is good. Vote everyone out , every time.

  3. THIS is why those who lust after a literal 1-party state are UTTERLY full of shit!!!

    WHO is it, right now in the USA, who is lusting horribly after a 1-party state? Trump, and those who follow the cult of personality, of Trump!

    Der TrumpfenFuhrer ***IS*** responsible for agitating for democracy to be replaced by mobocracy!
    A list of the times Trump has said he won’t accept the election results or leave office if he loses

    Essential heart and core of the LIE by Trump: “ANY election results not confirming MEEE as Your Emperor, MUST be fraudulent!”

    September 13 rally: “The Democrats are trying to rig this election because that’s the only way they’re going to win,” he said.

    Trump’s constant re-telling and supporting the Big Lie (any election not electing Trump is “stolen”) set up the environment for this (insurrection riot) to happen. He shares the blame. Boys will be boys? Insurrectionists will be insurrectionists, trumpanzees gone apeshit will be trumpanzees gone apeshit, so let’s forgive and forget? Poor Trump was misunderstood? Does that sound good and right and true?

    It really should immediately make us think of Krystallnacht. Hitler and the NAZIs set up for this by constantly blaming Jews for all things bad. Jew-haters will be Jew-haters, so let’s forgive and forget? Poor Hitler was misunderstood? Does that sound good and right and true?

    1. Seek help.

      1. WHEN are you going to give us an example of a 1-party state that led to long-term peace and prosperity? Since you SOOO clearly advocate for a 1-party "R"-party state?

        1. SQRLSY: you advocate for a one party state; you echo the leftist bullshit that accuses everybody who does not toe their party line of being Nazis.

          1. He’s a parody who forgot he was a parody.

          2. I see! So you’re saying that the Intergalactic Sub-Smegmonic Boogoidian-Strawmen-Hybrids have deployed booger-beams (Those unspeakable BASTARDS) and have hijacked your tinfoil hat! You have my sympathies, but no more… I have no good advice for you, sorry! Other victims of the Intergalactic Sub-Smegmonic Boogoidian-Strawmen-Hybrids that I have known? They all ended up on Skid Row, and I could NOT help them!

          3. SQRLSY: you advocate for a one party state; you echo the leftist bullshit that accuses everybody who does not toe their party line of being Nazis.

            How many regular commenters around here constantly talk about Democrats as being the fascist, Nazi-like party? I've been called such for opposing Trump and the GOP more times than I can count.

            1. hlthats bc you are, Douchebag Troll

        2. I have not now, nor have I ever, advocated for a one party state.

          You continue your Big Lie that Trump and the Republicans have any real power at the federal level, and completely ignore the one thing that will most likely keep us from ever having a one party state under them: the media, being almost 100% in the tank for Dems, will hold a Republican administration accountable. Even for shit they never actually do.

          1. Trump and the Republicans have no real power?

            They could stop their Big Lie (about stolen elections) RIGHT NOW! They DO have that power! WHEN will they do it, and STOP being sore losers?

    2. THIS is why those who lust after a literal 1-party state are UTTERLY full of shit!!!

      Says the guy who lusts after a literal 1-party state.

      It really should immediately make us think of Krystallnacht. Hitler and the NAZIs set up for this by constantly blaming Jews for all things bad. Jew-haters will be Jew-haters, so let’s forgive and forget? Poor Hitler was misunderstood? Does that sound good and right and true?

      It sounds like you, because you're a fascist through and through, SQRLSY.

      1. Darned blockquote misfired. The second paragraph is obviously SQRLSY's.

        1. Yes, because Noy-Boy-Toy is UTTERLY INCAPABLE of thinking about Krystallnacht.

          Those who can't or won't remember their history, are often condemned to repeat the ugliness of history, it has been said!

          WISE people recognize wisdom when they see it! Here, check out these web sites that I have discovered!

          “Do-gooder derogation” (look it up) is a socio-biologically programmed instinct. SOME of us are ethically advanced enough to overcome it, using benevolence and free will! For details, see http://www.churchofsqrls.com/Do_Gooders_Bad/ and http://www.churchofsqrls.com/Jesus_Validated/ .

    3. Trump? The guy who LOST the popular vote thanks to Gary getting 4 million pro-choice votes? Then LOST in both counts when he insisted on girl-bullying and superstitious prohibitionism. This is how looters learn or get tossed.

      1. Who is Gary, and how did Trump to lose to him?

        1. He's talking about Gary Johnson in 2016. He received over 4 million votes nationwide.

          Of course, there were complaints from the left that he helped Trump by draining votes from Hillary, so take what Hank is claiming with several grains of salt.

    1. Divorce celebrations I totally support.

  4. So, it turns out that 'wrong, but within normal parameters' isn't quite as awesome as we were hoping.

  5. Throw the bums out, put new bums in, but only give the new bums a short term of office...don't give them enough time to learn how to steal effectively. Well, it sounds good on paper, but I think it underestimates the ability of official thieves to to "learn on the job." And from their years in opposition, they'll know techniques of stealing because they investigated those techniques while posing as reformers.

    1. If they're learning on the job then the terms aren't short enough.

    2. Thats what The Swamp exists for.

      To continue the grifting and grabbing.

      Short term wont matter till the Agencies are dissolved. They are where the debt goes.

  6. "While other studies have focused on the benefits of democracy, which gives citizens the opportunity to remove incumbents from office, we focus on a different question: what happens when citizens seize this opportunity," write Benjamin Marx

    It was only a matter of time before Boehm started quoting Marx.

    1. His brothers are funnier.

  7. In a capitalist society competition is viewed as a good thing that drives the economy forward. But politicians don't like competition and will do whatever they can to avoid it in their own races. The partisan divide, jerrymandered districts, and unlimited campaign spending all inhibit competition in elections. Unless we are willing to address these there is little hope for the big changes we need. The problem I see is that we have little in the line of tools to address these issues. The courts want no part in addressing jerrymandering or campaign spending. Legislatures have little interest in allowing people to address these through referendums.

    "Throw the bums out" is a great idea that is not really possible.

    1. It’s totally possible.

  8. Throw out the bums that are entrenched polititions
    Is that why bohem supported Biden? Or is bohem still a disingenuous cunt?

  9. If I could write a constitutional amendment? A person can't represent the same district as representative or state as senator more the 2 times (probably need to nail down what happens in redistricting wrt: House). With midterm replacements modeled after the President's term )Senators, as I think house seat is vacant until special election?). It makes a sense, in a parallel way to the presidential term limit: 2x per body represented. (States with only 1 rep are odd ducks, could be house 2x, senate 2x, same 'body of voters' but different chambers, so I'll allow it. So Cheney's should be happy).

    A person can't serve in executive branch more than 20 years (lifetime) as employee, unless a Flag Officer (0-7+) or E-9, then 25 years. So, essentially no career military to President, AG, Sec Def etc.

    We need more turnover in the government, not less.

    I'd consider allowing returns to the house or senate after a break of at 4 years for the house, 12 for the senate.

    1. Any concern at all for depriving citizens of voting for their preferred candidate?

      1. None from me. But then I'd prefer a list of House candidates picked at random, like a jury pool.

      2. About as much as for President.

        And the reasons for not allowing that are similar.

      3. BINGO.

        Thats the Communist method called Term Limits.

        OP just tried to hide it.

        1. No, not term limits as the Executive. Just trying to get a Diversity of Representation and have career Representatives and Senators represent a Diversity of Voters. It for diversity. Doesn't that make it equitable and inclusive?

          1. That makes you Communist, regardless of getting caught, desperately trying to back away and change directions.

      4. Not after Hitler took office there wasn't. This is the fallacy of thinking the idiot on the platform is important instead of bothering to read the platform.

    2. See? No idiocy is too vapid if it changes the subject away from using leveraged Libertarian spoiler vote clout to cause the looters to change their forking laws. Though outnumbered, all we need is 3 or 3% of the vote. The greater our share, the faster the parasites draw back... and vice-versa.

    3. Term limits, by themselves, do little to increase political competition. It just moves more of the power to those behind the scenes, such as the donor class. When legislators can't stay in office long enough to build up their own donor networks, they rely on the fundraising of the party apparatus and become beholden to party bosses that never face voters.

      Florida is a perfect example of how the good intentions of term limits go wrong. In more than two decades of living in Florida, I have seen how the Speaker of the Florida House is essentially tapped for that position years in advance. In one case, it was a guy that was running for his first term. He wasn't even in office yet, and insiders were talking about how he was slated to be the leader of the Florida House several years in the future.

      An amendment that imposed term limits on Congress would need to come with a whole package of other reforms or it would be more likely to make things worse than to make them better.

  10. Just throwing the bums out can get you new, even worse bums.
    You would think Reason would talk about a candidate and party's policies, not give the blanket advice to just throw the bums out. Another thing Reason could suggest is to actually look at and vote for independent and third party candidates that have good policy. Throwing one bum out for another bum, makes no sense.

    1. My way works as well as any.
      Read the party platforms and vote for the party that least infringes on your personal freedoms.
      Nothing during the Biden administration has been in conflict with the stated goals of the democrat party.
      Vote for fascists, get fascism.

    2. Ever see anything about the head Libertarian here?

      Ron Paul?

      ( crickets )

      1. Ron Paul is a superstitious, girl-bullying mystical Republican and has been for 50 years, like Randal, his clone. Observe how looters infiltrate and suddenly only the infiltrating looter is real, as women voters flee to non-superstitious parties.

      2. No Hank I didnt say " head crackpot"

        Less glue for you.

        And stop mixing antidepressants and Box Wine.

  11. >>A new paper makes the economic case for throwing the bums out as often as possible.

    Publius et al. probably covered it.

  12. The problem isn't the people in office, it's the type of people who want the job.

    If I was king most of these jobs would be selected by lottery. Like jury duty. Guess what, you're our representative now. Don't fuck it up.

    1. Related, the number of Representatives in the House should be dramatically expanded. It's kind of ludicrous how disconnected we are from our representatives: Canada's 1/10 our population and our lower house is only a touch larger than theirs; the UK's is almost 50% larger than ours and they have like 1/6 our pop.

      1. agree...as much as i hate the thought of more congress critters, we should easily have 1,000 people in the house.

        i'd like to think it'd make it a bit harder to form the unified blocks we see now where either the red or blue ties get 50% + 1 then vote almost in perfect lockstep.

      2. And require them to spend majority time home, not in the DC bubble.

        1. I'd rather require them to spend the majority of their time doing their jobs instead of raising money for reelection.

      3. that disconnect is not numbers. Its them being owned by Special Interests and REFUSING to communicate with us.

        There was a ' thing' sone 20 or so years ago about Congress- critters not spending money on ' Franking privileges' which boked down to not communicating with constituents by mail.

        Like Church Lady said - " how conveeeeenient!"

    2. As is the case every day, it's a damn fine thing you're not a king.

      1. "If nominated I won't run, if elected I won't serve."

        I don't think your clever ass has anything to fret about.

  13. If we abolished the civil service and went back to a spoils system the voters could throw the bureaucrats out too

  14. Wait, wasn't Boehm the pinhead who said he would "strategically" vote for Joe Biden? A corrupt fossil who has been sucking off the public teat for more years than Boehm has teeth?

    Do they not remember a single thing they've said, or are they all sniffing glue?

    Or maybe both?

    1. Industrial glue. The consumer type doesnt work anymore.

  15. "The post noted that no anti-Russia content would be published, per The Washington Post."

    MSN Business Insider.

    Neither will the Washington Compost print anything a teensy bit anti Communist.

    Thats " together" as screamed the Lead Lemming as the rest followed it over the cliff.

    1. Speaking of Glue Sniffers, theres Hank

    2. Readers observe that Republicans are still copying Father Coughlin/Silvershirt National Socialism calling the other Socialism black. THAT is the learning disability Goebbels and Hitler & dupes garnished with suicide.

  16. Eric's article is the stupid that needs fixing. Voting in a gaggle of prohibitionist fascists to replace a pack of prohibitionist communists is what got us in this Nixon-subsidized whack-a-mole. Every GOP vote says to send men with guns to threaten doctors and torment pregnant women--that and shoot blacks and hippies. Every DEM vote says to raise taxes, import moochers and suicide madmen, and shoot blacks and hippies (per the Biden-Reagan Pact of 1986). Only libertarian votes demand abandonment of the coercive policies looters prefer. They who copy us survive.

  17. Not that the new candidates are more honest, they're just less experienced at graft.

    1. Graft. The Grift that keeps on Giving !

  18. Gerrymandering is used to keep the two parties in power. They create safe districts and fewer and fewer districts have an honest chance at good governance. Arizona Republicans just leave Phoenix to Democrats. When by chance someone else is elected Dems redraw the district. This is mutually beneficial to the parties and terrible for Americans. Lots of noise and political funding for seats that are unlikely to be up for competition. Anyone but the two parties are in for a major uphill battle. This is the stuff of Venice, Florence, and Machiavelli and will end just as badly.

    1. Boehner, 8th D. O H. had the Boards of Election running interference for him to keep challengers out...

      Fortunately that Assweasels gone.

      Twas interesting to see Mason OH go from a m/ l rural farm area to a filthy rich Yuppie enclave so quickly.

    2. The two looter parties are tax-subsidized since the day the LP first organized. Observe the looters bring this up as often as Germans bring up Auschwitz and Hitler Bells in Christian Churches.

  19. "Russia has been backing an armed rebellion in the region since 2014. More than 14,000 people have died in the conflict."


    Ah so THATS what the Leftist- Communist Media have NOT been telling us about!

    Arent the Left all up in " plight of poor people caught up in conflicts?

    OK if its ' conflict diamonds' but not ' conflict oil and natural gas pipelines?'

    Expect nothing less from baby murderers.

    And Leftists comparing people to Nazis when THEY are.

  20. Term limits. Throw the incumbents out. The leftist intelligentsia agrees.


    Because, if people who were elected hang around too long they start to notice what the permanent bureaucratic state has been doing.

    When that happens the PBS has several course of action open.

    1.Corrupt them in a fashion that will not allow them to reveal what they know and make them part of the problem willing or not.

    2. Discredit them to the point where no one will believe them.

    3. Eliminate them.

    Far far easier to gin up resentment against the other person's guys enough to get all the sheep bleating 'term limits'. Almost a easy as it was to get them bleating 'individual votes don't matter' or 'four legs good, two legs BETTER!'

  21. graphene
    Graphene is an atomic-scale honeycomb lattice made of carbon atoms. It is the world's first 2D material and is one million times smaller than the diameter of a single human hair. https://www.matexcel.com/category/products/graphene/

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.