Political Institutions and Economic Policies: Lessons from Africa

CID Faculty Working Paper No. 94

Macartan Humphreys and Robert Bates
September 2002


Scholars, activists, and policy makers have argued that the route to economic growth in Africa runs through political reform. In particular, they prescribe electoral accountability as a step toward economic reform, seeing it as inducing the choice of publicly beneficial as opposed to privately profitable economic policies. To assess the validity of such arguments, we first characterize a set of political institutions that render political elites accountable and derive their expected impact on the policy choices of governments. Using ratings of macro-economic policy produced by the World Bank and ratings of corrupt practices produced for private investors, we explore the relationship between institutional forms and policy choices on both an African and global sample. While key elements of the model find empirical support, the central argument receives mixed support in the data. Political institutions have a stronger influence on policy making in Africa than elsewhere and variation in African institutions and in the structure of African economies account for differences between policy choices in Africa and those made in the rest of the world. Political accountability however does not influence the choice of macro-economic policies in the manner suggested by reformist arguments; although it does appear to lead to less political predation.

Keywords: Africa, political economy, corruption, elections, policy choice

JEL subject codes: D72, D78, O0