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Eaton: Can politicians control bureaucrats

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Eaton. 2003. Can politicians control bureaucrats? Applying theories of political control to Argentina's democrac. Latin American Politics and Society 45.


The author's main point is that there are notable variations in the legislators' preferences over the methods of bureaucratic control. Moving away from the presidential-parliamentary dichotomy on bureaucratic control, he argues instead that we should examine legislative incentive structures (based on electoral design and party systems) in order to understand variations in methods of political control. In a case study of the reform effort on Argentinean tax collection agency (DGI) during the first Menem administration (1989-1995), the author finds legislative preference towards streamlining rather than deck-stacking as a method for bureaucratic control.


Disadvantages of legislators in developing democracies:

  • Lower reelection rates
  • Instability of democratic regimes
  • Low incumbency advantage
  • Legacy of corporatism and authoritarianism --> lack of development of interest groups and executive branch bias
  • No independent press


  • Electoral and party system:
    • Closed and blocked lists encourage party loyalty
    • Weak electoral incentives for individual legislators to push for particularistic policies (inapplicability of capture theory)
    • Centralization of party politics --> catering to wider range of interests than narrower ones
    • Reliance on more costly police patrol for monitoring due to lack of ties with interest groups (i.e. can't rely on fire alarms)
  • Tax collection agency reform:
    • Lax control on the agency because the government had been able to finance the agency loss with loans and monetary policy
    • The main cause for bureaucratic discretion was that politicians could not rely on the fire alarm. However, police patrol on the other hand is costly. [Wouldn't this lead you to limit discretion severely?]
    • Changing economic conditions (financial crises and stringent requirement for international loans) necessitated increased efficiency in tax collection
    • Lack of particularistic electoral incentives, party loyalty, and overlap of political interests between the legislative and executive branches resulted in streamlining the DGI instead of deck-stacking