Criminality and clientelism: a game-theoretic exploration

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Research Article

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Indian Economic Review


We conceptualise a scenario that juxtaposes two well-known and hitherto separately studied aspects of today’s democratic polity—criminality and clientelism. Our game-theoretic model is based on certain empirically established facts: that parties are increasingly nominating criminal candidates in elections; that these criminal candidates are wealthy and outperform non-criminal candidates electorally; and that there is increasing clientelism (direct transfer of benefits to the electorate). This paper propounds the following channel: wealthier candidates are more able to grant clientelistic benefits to the electorate which are valued by the voters, even though they may morally not like supporting criminal candidates. Parties grant candidacy to these tarnished individuals, because they electorally perform better, irrespective of their criminal charges and even if parties themselves may not ideologically like supporting criminal candidates. I assume the existence of both criminality and clientelism and then explore their ramifications. For instance, we find that the equilibrium level of ‘criminality’ varies non-monotonically with the ‘cost’ and ‘benefit’ parameters, and is lower when parties are ‘ideological’ (with respect to criminality of candidates) than when they are pure office-seekers. Moreover, equilibrium criminality increases with increase in rents from office and as competition falls.

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