Abigail Barr, Truman Packard, and Danila Serra
Government accountability is a public good that only citizens can provide. Governments can put institutions in place that allow citizens to hold public servants to account, but citizens must participate in those institutions if accountability is to be achieved. Owing to the public good nature of accountability, citizens face a social dilemma. Each must decide whether to participate in holding public servants to account at a personal cost in terms of time and effort or free ride, i.e. do not participate, while benefiting from the efforts of those who do. If this characterization of accountability is valid, we would expect more cooperatively inclined citizens to participate in accountability institutions, while the less cooperatively inclined do not.
In this Nottingham School of Economics working paper, in the European Economic Review, Abigail Barr and co-authors test the validity of this characterization by investigating the correlation between individual behaviour in a simple incentivized public goods game and the same individuals' participation in local and national accountability institutions in Albania. A nationally representative sample of 1800 Albanians with children in primary school participated in the study. The authors find significant correlations between cooperativeness in the game and participation in school accountability institutions and national elections. The correlations are observed at both the individual level and the district level, are robust to the inclusion of many controls and, in the case of national elections, are also observed when official election turn-out statistics are used in place of self-reported turn-out. These findings indicate that characterizing government accountability as a public good is appropriate and that experiments involving incentivized public goods games may be used to generate insights that have relevance to accountability systems.
European Economic Review, “Participatory Accountability and Collective Action: Experimental evidence from Albania” by Abigail Barr, Truman Packard, and Danila Serra.
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Posted on Wednesday 22nd July 2015