Family Ties

A casual comment in an email from my coauthor Christine Neill made me realise that I’d forgotten to blog on this – very cool – paper. My favourite summary statistic is that 9% of US Congressional representatives have close relatives who also served in Congress.

Political Dynasties
Ernesto Dal Bó, Pedro Dal Bó, Jason Snyder
We study political dynasties in the United States Congress since its inception in 1789. We document historic and geographic patterns in the evolution and profile of political dynasties, study the extent of dynastic bias in legislative politics versus other occupations, and analyze the connection between political dynasties and political competition. We also study the self-perpetuation of political elites. We find that legislators who enjoy longer tenures are significantly more likely to have relatives entering Congress later. Using instrumental variables methods, we establish that this relationship is causal: a longer period in power increases the chance that a person may start (or continue) a political dynasty. Therefore, dynastic political power is self-perpetuating in that a positive exogenous shock to a person’s political power has persistent effects through posterior dynastic attainment. In politics, power begets power.

So far as I know, there’s been no work done on this in the Australian context. Which is odd, given the proliferation in federal parliament of Downers and Creans, Beazleys and Anthonies.

An aside: A commenter has given examples of other Australian political families. If anyone has the time and inclination, Wikipedia is presently asking for people to create entries in its category Political families of Australia.

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5 Responses to Family Ties

  1. Not to mention my local NSW state member who was ousted recently.

    Jeff Hunter took over from his father, who himself was only the second member for my seat of Lake Macquarie since it was created 60 or so years ago.

    Jeff Hunter was ousted for Independent and mayor Greg Piper at the recent election.

    I think dynasties are common in Australia, given the combination of compulsory voting and casual (or no) engagment with issues in the mainstream non-politicsjunkie electorate. People recognise the surname and vote for the name they recognise.

    Very Safe Labor 11.6%

    Full Results for Lake Macquarie:

    New Margin: IND 0.1% v ALP

    Muuhahahaha…

  2. Oh, also the current member for my federal electorate, Kelly Hoare, MP for Charlton also took over from her Father, Bob Brown (yes, that was his name).

    She has been disgarded in favour of one Greg Combet this year.

    It seems this is the year my electorates have had their dynasties ended, as well they should.

  3. Damien Eldridge says:

    I wonder to what extent this is simply a reflection of the fixed costs of building up a support network. Are there economies of scale in the production of politicians?

  4. harry clarke says:

    The are obvious externalities in learning about politics when you are a MP’s son or daughter. But I am sure Damien is also right – big fixed costs of developing network externalities.

    A good case too for retaining a herititary Monarchy Andrew – think of the incumbent’s advantages as Head of State in this situation when part of the desired service flow is public theatre and drama!

  5. christine says:

    Sorry, let me just check on that, Harry. The fact that, under a republic, there might be a higher probability that an incumbent head of state and his/her family will be elected relative to a newbie is a good reason to retain a system where the incumbent head of state is … er … always by definition from the same family? I wouldn’t recommend adding that to any pro-monarchy literature next time there’s a referendum.

    But I do agree with you that if the desired service flow was really public entertainment (which I am quite sympathetic to, and I admit perhaps might be part of the reason for my personal preference for Paul Keating or Bob Hawke over John Howard), it would be hard to beat the family drama angle of our current arrangement.

    Andrew, thanks for digging this paper out. Looks very cool indeed.

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