Populism and Institutional Capture

NICHOLAS CHESTERLEY, PAOLO ROBERTI

EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF POLITICAL ECONOMY

Abstract: This paper analyzes the relationship between populism and institutional capture. Populist politicians provide voters with a utility boom followed by a subsequent bust. Non-populists provide a constant level of utility. Once elected, however, politicians of both types are able to seize control of institutions to ensure their re-election. We show that in equilibrium, populist politicians may capture institutions to avoid being voted out of power during the bust: non-populists do not. Voters rationally elect a populist if voters discount the future sufficiently or if it is too costly for the populist to seize control of institutions. Unfortunately, both types of politician may prefer not to strengthen institutions, either to allow their capture or to discourage the election of the populist.