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Political Preferences for the Pork Barrel: A Generalization

Kenneth A. Shepsle and Barry R. Weingast
American Journal of Political Science
Vol. 25, No. 1 (Feb., 1981), pp. 96-111
DOI: 10.2307/2110914
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2110914
Page Count: 16
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Political Preferences for the Pork Barrel: A Generalization
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Abstract

This paper provides a rational explanation for the observation of oversized coalitions, often approaching unanimous size, in the realm of distributive policies. Distributive policies are those which concentrate benefits in specific geographic areas (states, congressional districts) while spreading costs through general taxation. The explanation offered here--that legislators may rationally prefer universalism to "hard-ball" coalition politics--generalizes earlier work of Weingast and Fiorina. In particular, it extends their results to pork-barrel politics, i.e., projects that are economically inefficient, and demonstrates how packages of economically inefficient projects can nevertheless be politically popular. The main theoretical feature that induces preferences for universalism is uncertainty over the composition of winning coalitions and, consequently, the desire for the political "insurance" that universalism provides.

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