The Trade-Off between Reforms and Checks and Balances

Produced by: 
Universidad de la República - Uruguay
Available from: 
September 2016
Paper author(s): 
Alvaro Forteza
Juan S. Pereyra
Politics and Economy

Strong checks and balances are key features of well performing democracies aimed at protecting citizens from government abuse of power. Nevertheless, some presidents have enjoyed strong and often explicit popular support when they undermined these controls. We present a formal model of the tradeoff between control on the executive and delegation geared to enhancing our understanding of this phenomenon. We argue that voters may support the loosening of checks and balances, even when this allows rent extraction, if they are convinced that checks on the executive are blocking necessary reforms. We discuss several cases of strong presidents in Latin America who, alleging that radical reforms were necessary, obtained popular support that allowed them to loosen checks on the executive. Some of these presidents had a pro- and some an anti-market reform agenda so, as our model suggests, voters’ willingness to remove checks and balances can emerge under both right- and left-wing executives.


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