Family affairs: The two faces of political dynasties

Posted on October 04, 2012

LET'S FACE IT. The likelihood that an anti-political dynasty bill will be passed by Congress is grimly low, plainly because it is against the interest of most of our legislators -- a little less than 70% of whom are members of political clans themselves. Generally, political dynasties are deemed to have inimical effects on the development and welfare of the populace.

- Photo by Jonathan L. Cellona
There is, however, a growing body of literature that suggests that political clans aren’t necessarily unfavorable to economic development, and that they may actually facilitate progressive policies since a longer time horizon in office gives them incentive to develop their jurisdictions. In this context, it is quite interesting to review the existing literature pertaining to political dynasties.

As a prelude to establishing the importance of empirical mapping and analysis of political dynasties, Mendoza et al. (2011) identify three conduits through which political clans can affect socio-economic outcomes in a perverse manner. First, political dynasties can weigh down on the government’s response to social and economic issues if the clans’ pervasiveness thwarts the citizenry’s means to communicate their needs to the government. Second, should dynastic officials use the powers of their political positions for self-serving purposes, democratic institutions will necessarily be compromised.

Last, given the massive political machinery that political clans possess, they can effectively discourage political competition in elections, skewing the electoral results towards them -- away from other candidates who could well be ‘the best and the brightest’-- which could bring sub-optimal policy choices and feeble socio-economic outcomes.

While the findings of Mendoza et al. (2011) involve correlations and do not establish causation, these somewhat corroborate the abovementioned observations on the effect of political dynasties on socio-economic development.

They find that the majority of representatives in the 15th congress are dynastic politicians; that they tend to be more affluent compared to non-dynastic legislators; that legislators who belong to political dynasties also win by wider margins relative to those who are not clan members; that political dynasties are inclined to dominate major political parties; and that, on average, they can be found in jurisdictions that have relatively higher inequality and poverty levels.

Work by other scholars also lead to the “predatory view� of political dynasties (i.e. Asako et al, 2010, 2012; Hutchcroft and Rocamora, 2003; McCoy, 1994; Coronel, 2007; Teehankee, 2007). Basically, political clans are seen to have inimical effect on socio-economic outcomes and development, that is, their presence may exacerbate poverty, inequality, fear, and backwardness due to rent-seeking behavior, self-serving and populist policies, sub-optimal policy choices, and corruption linked to them.

In Japan, the results of Asako et al. (2010, 2012) suggest that although districts represented by dynastic legislators enjoy more intergovernmental transfers, their economic performance is rather laggard because dynastic legislators tend to spend the amount inefficiently -- only for the benefit of a small portion of the constituents in the district.

There exists a strand in the literature, however, that sees political dynasties as not necessarily detrimental to development, and that a jurisdiction may actually be better-off by having them. Solon et al. (2001) contend that the decisive factor behind poor public services provision and low-level welfare in many local areas may actually be the lack of competition among political families -- not their presence per se. They find that incumbent dynastic governors adopt projects and programs that are anchored towards development when faced with challenges from other political clans, basically to differentiate themselves from rival political families.

More importantly, a classic work by well-known economist Mancur Olson facilitates viewing political clans in a positive light. In Dictatorship, Democracy, and Development, Olson (2003) builds up the notion of “Roving Bandits vs. Stationary Bandits�.

The idea is that, leaders with relatively longer tenure in office -- or expect to be in office for a longer period (Stationary Bandits) -- will have the incentive to develop their respective jurisdictions, as they foresee the future benefits it will reap for them. On the other side, leaders who resemble the behavior of “Roving Bandits� do not have the incentive to perform well in office or to invest for the future since they will leave the position soon enough. In this manner, political dynasties can be likened to the Stationary Bandits.

Indeed, several political dynasties have been largely involved in the development of their areas, the most remarkable are the Ynareses of Rizal province, Binays of Makati City, and Lee Kwan Yew and Lee Hsien Loong (father and son; both served as prime minister) of Singapore.

Still on a positive note, Dal Bo et al. (2009) credit membership in a political clan as a possible catalyst of women’s political participation in the U.S. Congress, by facilitating the entrance of more female legislators in the political arena through kinship connections.

In sum, we see that the impact of political dynasties on development remains rather ambiguous. Whether or not Congress will ever pass anti-political dynasty legislation that will finally define the term “political dynasty,� -- the missing piece in the futile constitutional stipulation proscribing political clans (Article II, section 26 of the 1987 Philippine Constitution) -- is a matter of political will on the part of our congressmen. At the end of the day though, it is the electorate who will choose their leaders. Their decision must be respected, whomever they choose fit to serve them.

Asako, Y., Iida, T., Matsubayashi, T., & Ueda, M. (2010). Dynastic legislators: Theory and evidence from Japan. University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Asako, Y., Iida, T., Matsubayashi, T., & Ueda, M. (2012). Dynastic politicians: Theory and evidence from Japan. Waseda University Organization for Japan-US Studies Working Paper No. 201201.

Coronel, S. (2007). The seven Ms of dynasty building. Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism. Retrieved from the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism Web site.

Dal Bo, E., Dal Bo, P. & Snyder, J. (2009). Political dynasties. Review of Economic Studies 76(1):115-142. Retrieved from Review of Economic Studies Web site.

Hutchcroft, P., & Rocamora, J. (2003). Strong demands and weak institutions: The origins and evolution of democratic deficit in the Philippines. Journal of East Asian Studies 3.
McCoy, A. (1994). An anarchy of families: State and family in the Philippines. (Ed.). Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press.

Mendoza, R., Beja, E., Venida, V., & Yap, D. (2011). Political dynasties: An empirical analysis of in the 15th Philippine congress. Asian Institute of Management Policy Center.

Olson, M. (2003). Dictatorship, democracy and development. American Political Science Review 87: 567-576.

Solon, O, Fabella, R., & Capuno, J. (2001). Is local development good politics? Local government expenditures and the re-election of Governors in the Philippines for 1992, 1995 and 1998. (UPSE Discussion Paper No. 0104) Quezon City: School of Economics, University of the Philippines.

Teehankee, J. (2007). And the clans play on. Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism. Retrieved from Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism Web site.

Villanueva, J.E., & Mauricio, M. (2012). Political dynasty and local fiscal performance (Undergraduate thesis). Quezon City: UP School of Economics, UP Diliman.

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