Publications by Author: James%20Alt

2012
Alt, James, David Dreyer Lassen, and Joachim Wehner. 2012. “Moral Hazard in an Economic Union: Politics, Economics, and Fiscal Gimmickry in Europe”.Abstract

This paper examines empirically how transparency of the budget process affects fiscal rules and incentives for fiscal gimmickry or creative accounting in the European Union. Using stock-flow adjustment data for EU countries from 1990–2007, we show that pressure from a deficit limit rule as in the Stability and Growth Pact creates incentives for fiscal gimmicks, as does political pressure from the electoral cycle and economic pressure from negative shocks in the business cycle. However, we show that where institutional transparency is higher, these incentives are damped and largely disappear. We infer that fiscal rules do not work well when institutional transparency is low.

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2011
Alt, James. 2011. “Disentangling Accountability and Competence in Elections: Evidence from U.S. Term Limits.” Journal of Politics. Journal of Politics. Publisher's VersionAbstract

We exploit variation in U.S. gubernatorial term limits across states and time to empirically estimate two separate effects of elections on government performance. Holding tenure in office constant, differences in performance by reelection- eligible and term-limited incumbents identify an accountability effect: reelection-eligible governors have greater incentives to exert costly effort on behalf of voters. Holding term-limit status constant, differences in performance by incumbents in different terms identify a competence effect: later-term incumbents are more likely to be competent both because they have survived reelection and because they have experience in office. We show that economic growth is higher and taxes, spending, and borrowing costs are lower under reelection-eligible incumbents than under term-limited incumbents (accountability), and under reelected incumbents than under first-term incumbents (competence), all else equal. In addition to improving our understanding of the role of elections in representative democracy, these findings resolve an empirical puzzle about the disappearance of the effect of term limits on gubernatorial performance over time.

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2007
Aldrich, Daniel P, James Alt, and Arthur Lupia. 2007. Positive Changes in Political Science: The Legacy of Richard D. McKelvey's Most Influential Writings. University of Michigan Press. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Richard D. McKelvey was a pioneer in the use of mathematical modeling for understanding the nature of political choices. Positive Changes in Political Science brings together his most important articles, accompanied by original essays from contemporary political scientists, some his colleagues or students, who reflect upon his contributions, their continuing relevance today, and how they are still shaping research for the future.
Alt, James, and David Dreyer Lassen. 2007. “Political and Judicial Checks on Corruption: Evidence from American State Governments”.Abstract

The paper investigates the effects of checks and balances on corruption. Within a presidential system, effective separation of powers is achieved under divided government, with the executive and legislative branches being controlled by different political parties. When government is unified, no effective separation exists even within a presidential system, but, we argue, can be partially restored by having an accountable judiciary. Our empirical findings show that divided government and elected, rather than appointed, state supreme court judges are associated with lower corruption and, furthermore, that the effect of an accountable judiciary is stronger under unified government, where government cannot control itself.

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