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The Costs of Populism for the Bureaucracy and Government Performance: Evidence from Italian Municipalities

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Document pages: 38 pages

Abstract: We study the consequences of populism on bureaucratic expertise and government performance. We use novel data on about 8,000 municipalities in Italy, over a period of 20 years, and we estimate the effect of electing a populist mayor with a close-election regression discontinuity design. We find that the election of a populist mayor leads to (1) higher turnover among top bureaucrats; (2) an increase in the probability of replacing expert with non-expert bureaucrats; (3) a decrease in the percentage of highly educated bureaucrats; (4) and lower performance overall. Moreover, we find evidence that the increased inefficiency of the bureaucracy is accompanied by proliferation of council and executive resolutions, in line with the recent literature on overproduction of laws and bureaucratic inefficiency.

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