Having Smart People Makes It Easier to Hire Smart People

A new paper from James Hollyer of NYU:

Methods of bureaucratic recruitment are widely viewed as having a critical effect on governance outcomes. Yet the literature – particularly the empirical literature – on bureaucratic recruitment has not substantially expanded beyond examinations of the US Federal Government and the Pendleton Act. In this paper, I examine the determinants of merit reforms more generally. I argue that governments trade off the gains from patronage – in terms of in-kind and monetary payments from seekers after posts – against the costs patronage imposes in terms of bureaucratic quality. These costs emerge because those most able to ‘pay’ for office under patronage may not be those best suited for administrative service. I test this claim, taking advantage of the rich temporal and cross-sectional variation in bureaucratic regimes in late 19th and early 20th century Europe. As is consistent with theoretical expectations, I find that governments are more likely to adopt merit reforms as education becomes more widespread. This is particularly true for regimes in which the politically advantaged class is small – i.e., in more autocratic regimes. (emphasis added)

This may not be an earth-shattering finding, but this is one of the more interesting ways to show this kind of evidence. Recommended.