Buying Votes on Credit

By Peter Shannon, M.A. Economics, Queen’s University

Ontario’s 2018 budget was released March 28, projecting an unanticipated deficit of $6.7 billion for the 2018-19 fiscal year. The 2017 budget projected that Ontario was on track for consecutive balanced budgets and indeed, Ontario ended a 10 year string of deficits with a $642 million surplus in 2016-17. [1] Given the province’s rapid growth and low unemployment in recent years, tighter fiscal policy seemed imminent. However, pre-election promises of free childcare, expanded prescription drug coverage and increased health care spending will push Ontario back into red ink this year. [2]

The political motivations of Ontario’s 2018 budget are clear: with the June 7 election looming, Premier Wynne’s Liberals are attempting to replicate the success of their federal counterparts. Like Justin Trudeau in 2015, the Ontario Liberals are promising to run a series of deficits to expand social programs, with an emphasis on families with young children, seniors, and mental health. [2] Both governments display a shift in focus from net debt levels to debt-to-GDP ratios as a measure of sustainability.

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Campaign finance reform and the market for access

img_0928By Christopher Cotton, Queen’s University

Earlier this year, the government of Ontario was involved in a campaign finance scandal, accused of selling access to ministers in exchange for campaign donations. Most people see the exchange of contributions for access to politicians as obvious evidence of corruption. But, this view is too simple. Much of my academic research has focused on how special interests influence policy making. This research has led to a number of insights.Read More »

Campaign finance reform not enough: More public research funding also needed

Even when one takes the most optimistic view of interest groups and lobbying, their participation in the policy making process can lead to worse policy. This doesn’t mean that campaign finance reform is not worthwhile. Just that it may not go far enough to eliminate the biases in favor of interest groups. We shouldn’t fool ourselves. Although removing private money from elections will help, it isn’t enough to fully eliminate the disproportionate influence of rich and powerful special interests on policy making. 

By Christopher Cotton, Queen’s University
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Be scared of politicians who refuse to disclose information

Game theory makes a clear prediction about when people will disclose information, and when they will keep it hidden. The prediction: they will disclose their information when it is better than others expect, and they will refuse to do so only when it is worse than expected. Game theory says that Clinton will choose not to release her speeches, and Trump will choose not to make public his recorded conversations or tax returns, only if they are worse than their voters anticipate.

By Christopher Cotton, Queen’s University
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How long campaigns can make candidates more extreme

By Christopher Cotton, Queen’s University

An except from an article published in The Washington Post.

As the 2016 U.S. presidential hopefuls begin announcing their candidacies, Americans are readying themselves for more than a year and a half of political campaigning.  That’s a long time. Long enough to perhaps cost $5 billion.

There are benefits to a long campaign season. As Calvin Coolidge said, “The purpose of a campaign is to send an intelligent and informed voter to the ballot box.” Campaigns may help inform voters and enable them to develop more accurate assessments of the candidates. Long campaigns have the potential to do this even more effectively.

But there is also a downside. In a new article (ungated here) Raphael Boleslavsky and I show that informative campaigns can also decrease the incentives for candidates to moderate their views. In other words, more informative campaigns encourage polarization between politicians, which tends to make voters worse off.

Keep reading at The Washington Post

How corporate money will reshape politics: Help for challengers

By Christopher Cotton (Queen’s University)

Critics of the court’s decision in Citizens United say that deep-pocketed interests (the oil, electricity, and telecommunications businesses, for example) have been given a dangerous level of influence over election outcomes. It is true that the absence of spending limits increases the likelihood of politicians accepting campaign funding for policy favors. But the overall impact may be less harmful than critics fear.

Continue reading the original article at The New York Times